Poster ABBA in the 1970s
The members of ABBA — from left, Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus — pose after winning the Swedish branch of the Eurovision Song Contest with their song "Waterloo" in Stockholm in 1974.
Olle Lindeborg/AFP/Getty Images

It's OK to like ABBA and Handel

Recently I visited Seattle’s superb Museum of Pop Culture. While strolling past the museum’s signature tower of guitars sculpture on the second floor, I was suddenly face to face with the giant screen that covers the entire length of two floors on one wall. What was showing on that mammoth screen stopped me in my tracks.

It was ABBA lip-synching “Waterloo,” their smash hit from the mid-’70s. But it was so much more than that.

The real fun was observing the reaction of the teenagers and 20-somethings on either side of me. Watching them staring at the screen, slack-jawed as if they were seeing something from another galaxy, I wanted to offer encouragement — perhaps a cold glass of Tang or some Hamburger Helper.

The ‘70s weren’t that bad.

I can understand their reaction. Here was this grainy, old video from a 1975 Dutch TV variety show that didn’t transfer all that well to the massive MoPop screen. (Pixels, relax — this doesn’t concern you.) There was a cornucopia of color, significant sequins, a profusion of polyester (mostly on the men), platform shoes with heels seemingly capable of housing a family of four, some unique dancing and a few other European touches.

But the star of the show was that marvelous song:

The history book on the shelf
Is always repeating itself
I was defeated, you won the war

C’mon, sing it with me! And quit rolling your eyes!

And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose
Promise to love you forever more. (Wa, wa, wa, wa.)


It’s a little more than two-and-a-half minutes of pure pop pleasure, Swedish style, and I love it. I also love pretty much everything by the Carpenters. I turn up the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” and sing along enthusiastically whenever it comes on. (Yes, you will find a playlist on my phone that contains “Only Yesterday,” “Sugar Sugar” and more than a few other gems that some might refer to as “guilty pleasures.”

Ugh. Guilty pleasures.

I’m not crazy about that reference, but it often rears its head in our social media-crazed times of what is hip, what is “in” and what is “out.” I have no idea how these determinations are made. Is there a Hipster Czar somewhere (probably back east) calling the shots on all things regarding culture?

George Frideric Handel - high res
George Frideric Handel, who died in 1759, was a German-British Baroque composer well known for his operas and organ concertos.
Painting by Balthasar Denner

To be considered “with it,” must I really kneel at the throne of Tom Waits or appear mesmerized by the minimalist style of Arvo Pärt’s tintinnabuli (which I still haven’t figured out exactly how to pronounce)? Perhaps.

But I won’t.

As a classical music host, I try not to drop the trademark exasperated sigh when music by George Frideric Handel, Franz Joseph Haydn or any other 17th- or 18th-century composer shows up on my playlist. After all, it is there for a reason. It played well with the masses three centuries ago and continues to do so today.

Make no mistake: I’m all in on works by new composers and the unearthed works by composers long gone who never received the attention they deserved. Keeping things fresh is always best. Granted, new music isn’t always great music, but it’s music that needs to be heard.

However, we shouldn’t turn our backs on the old guard. Bach. Handel. Haydn. Mozart. They were the Beatles of their age. Back then, “hip” was still merely a projection of the pelvis and upper thigh bone on each side of the body in human beings and quadrupeds. Nothing else.

On any given day, I’ve been known to fire up one of the Water Music suites, Eine Lleine Nachtmusik or even (shudder) Henry Mancini’s Greatest Hits. And you know what? I never really wanted to see Hamilton. It just didn’t appeal to me and still doesn’t. Must I apologize for any of that?


I guess when you reach a certain age, concerning yourself with what people think just kind of fades away. So for all the people like those I watched in Seattle who were dumbstruck by some vintage ‘70s ABBA, let it go. Relax. It’s all just music. Embrace it. Love some of it. Hate some of it. Wear it. Don’t be afraid to share it. There’s something for everyone.

But no judging.

Love the music?

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