Just One Look and I Can Hear a Bell Ring

Get out your bellbottoms and put on your white sombrero: 100 Albums covers Abba Gold over on Haunted Jukebox.

Abba, “Love Isn’t Easy (But it Sure is Hard Enough)”

About a year ago, I began posting videos from YouTube under the heading Song of The Week, occasionally with commentary, more often without much. Going forward, I’d like to try out a series of these under a new heading, Obscurity Knocks: lesser-known singles and album tracks by well-known artists.

Beginning chronologically naturally means kicking it off with Abba. Although few could deny the fearless foursome’s worth as a singles band, their catalogue contains a lot of hidden gems–not necessarily consistent albums, mind you, but surely enough to produce a compilation at least half as great as Abba Gold (Abba Silver?). Take this single from their first album, Ring Ring, released about a year prior to their international breakthrough “Waterloo”. Although as grating and cheery as a chewing-gum commercial and containing a grammatically clumsy title that will appease the band’s skeptics where their “English as a second language” lyrics are concerned, the song still showcases Benny and Bjorn’s way with a hook. Actually, multiple hooks: the ladies’ commanding bridge to the chorus, the BOOM! right before the title (wonderfully accentuated by the ladies in the video above), xylophone precisely highlighting each note of said title, and the lovely “sweet, sweet, our love is bittersweet” harmonies immediately following it.

It would all teeter towards an excess of dopey aw-gosh bubblegum love song-ness if it weren’t so tightly constructed. In hindsight, knowing that within the next decade each couple in the band would split makes the song a little more perceptive than it initially seems. According to Wikipedia, it didn’t seem to chart anywhere; although not nearly as sophisticated, it’s almost the earlier, happier flipside to “Knowing Me, Knowing You”.

Top 50 Tracks of the 1980s: # 25-21

25. The Mekons, “Last Dance”
You could live a whole life without ever hearing this venerable cult band, but such a life would lack something essential. I know, I can barely stand Tom Greenhalgh’s strangled croak either, but when you combine that croak with such sweetness and spirit, you wish this song was as much of a standard as the Donna Summer tune of the same name.

24. ABBA, “The Visitors”
Who are The Visitors? Immigrant hordes? Alien invaders? Mere figments of the singer’s imagination? The title track on the fantabulous foursome’s final album crackles with ambiguity; the music’s sinuous complexity proves how far they progressed from “Ring Ring” in just under ten years.

23. The Jam, “That’s Entertainment”
This crisp, cutting sketch is so proto-Smiths (predating their first single by three years), it’s no wonder that Morrissey later covered it early in his solo career. However, even Morrissey’s more lamenting, ennui-laden version can’t match the sharpness and urgency of Paul Weller’s original.

22. They Might Be Giants, “Ana Ng”
I honestly did not know what to make of this in 1988 (extreme geek-rock?); only 5 years later (when I was 18) did all of its clever and catchy compartments click. Memorable like ABBA, and quirky like Zappa (but not at all mean-spirited), John and John’s ode to a Japanese woman they never met is somehow both universal (a subject anyone can relate to) and unique (a sound that could come from no one else).

21. Prince, “Kiss”
Oh, silly Prince who does not allow his videos to stream on YouTube. Because of that, I nearly axed you off this list entirely–hey, I can think of tracks by fifty other ’80s artists, all of ’em just as good as you. Still, I can’t deny this, your startlingly stripped-down three-minute masterpiece; this existing abbreviated clip doesn’t even contain the best part (your scream-to-a-whisper near the end), but it’ll have to do.