ABBA are back – here’s 10 songs their “ABBAtars” must play live

With the news that the legendary pop group are set to put on "revolutionary" shows as part of an innovative digital concert experience, NME's Nick Levine has already started dreaming about the perfect ABBA setlist

So, ABBA are back. Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Frida have spent five weeks recreating their old moves in front of a green screen so they can be immortalised as “ABBAtars” at an innovative digital concert experience. They’re even building their own ‘ABBA Arena’ in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to house the show when it launches next May.

Benny and Björn have already revealed that the ‘ABBA Voyage’ concert will feature 22 songs including the new singles ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ and ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’. This leaves space for 20 classic bangers from back in the day, so here’s a list of 10 that they absolutely have to perform. For what it’s worth, though, we’d also really like to hear ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’…

‘Dancing Queen’

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You probably can’t remember the first time you heard ‘Dancing Queen’ because it’s a song that seems to have been burned into every single person’s soul – whether they’re Gen Z or a septuagenarian. The only question for ABBA is where to sequence it in their setlist. Right at the climax – but before the encore – seems like a safe bet, but it probably needs to be about 12 minutes long.

‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’

ABBA’s campest track is a staple at hen nights and Pride parties the world over. Performing it as a mash-up with ‘Hung Up’, the Madonna hit that sampled it, would be a witty touch, but perhaps a bit gimmicky coming from these proper pop legends. So, let’s have the original in all its storming disco glory, but with the bassline cranked up to 11.

‘The Name of the Game’

ABBA have more obvious bops in their catalogue – hello, ‘Voulez Vous’! – but a 22-song set needs a little light and shade. Kicking off with a Stevie Wonder-inspired riff, this slinky midtempo is one of their most sophisticated and intriguing songs. As it builds to that dazzling bridge – “If I said I care for you? Ah-ah!” – the crowd will be completely mesmerised.

‘Mamma Mia’

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This massive banger was top-tier ABBA even before its title was borrowed for a jukebox musical and the movie remake. Its brilliance springs from the way it pivots between euphoria and desperation as Agnetha and Frida sing about a lousy relationship that they can’t shake off. By the time they get to the “yes, I’ve been broken-hearted…” part, the whole arena will be singing along.

‘SOS’

Released in 1975, ‘SOS’ became ABBA’s third really huge hit – after ‘Waterloo’ and the wedding-ready ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ – and proved they were built to last. It remains one of their most heartbreaking songs, as Agnetha laments the one that got away over melancholy piano chords: “When you’re gone, though I try, how can I carry on?” Gulp. Just pass the tissues already.

‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’

On the one hand, this break-up number exemplifies ABBA’s ability to distil complex romantic emotions into incredibly melodic and concise songwriting. On the other, it’s an absolute banger with a genius hook that even Alan Partridge couldn’t spoil: “A-ha!” And if you’re a really terrible singer, you can just mouth along to Agnetha’s whispery bits instead of singing the main lyrics with Frida. Everyone’s a winner.

‘Take a Chance on Me’

Take a chance, take a-take a chance-chance, take a chance, take a chance… If you’re going to pull at an ABBA concert – and frankly, is there anywhere more iconic to meet your future life partner? – you should make the move during ‘Take a Chance on Me’. Incredible hook, incredible spoken word bits, incredible song.

‘The Winner Takes It All’

Is it crass to call this a “divorce banger”? Anyway, that’s what it is, and there’s no way it won’t make the ‘ABBA Voyage’ setlist. Not only is it Agnetha’s personal fave – because obviously she has great taste – but it’s also been voted the UK’s favourite ABBA song on several occasions.  For optimum effect, they should probably save it until pretty late in the gig, then immediately raise the tempo with a run of disco tunes. If only to give our poor broken hearts chance to recover.

‘Waterloo’

In theory, ABBA’s Eurovision winner should feel like a bit of a novelty. Using 1815’s Battle of Waterloo as a metaphor for a fractious romantic relationship is, well, a definite choice on Benny and Björn’s part. But this song transcends its potential naffness with pure enthralling pop brilliance. And in fairness, when they sing that “the history book on the shelf / Is always repeating itself“, you can’t argue with them.

‘Super Trouper’

It’s kind of ironic that this 1979 chart-topper ranks among ABBA’s biggest crowd-pleasers. After all, it’s a deceptively glossy condemnation of the drudgery of life on tour. “All I do is eat and sleep and sing / Wishing every show was the last show,” Frida sings on the verse. Still, the band members will have completed their hard work long before we arrive at the ABBA Arena in May 2022, so we can enjoy its glistening chorus guilt-free on the night. Hurrah!

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