Thank you for the music: ABBA, oldies and generosity

ABBAPROMO IMAGE FROM ABBAVOYAGE.COM

Music has lost its fair share of talent recently, from Little Richard, Bill Withers and Eddie Van Halen to Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider and recently Lee “Scratch” Perry and Charlie Watts. So much swept away in such a short time (not necessarily from Covid) that it’s hard to focus on the gains we made over this grim period. And there have been gains – gifts, even – in the world of music. ABBA

Many artists have used this “off tour” time to make and release new material. On the Rockonteurs podcast, Noel Gallagher said it had been a creative period for him, but “[Paul] Weller… has written and recorded and released two albums in lockdown!” He concluded, “From now on all pandemics should be measured in Paul Weller albums.” Noel isn’t wrong, Weller fired out On Sunset in 2020, followed by Fat Pop in 2021 – before which he released albums every year between 2019 and 2017, taking a break in 2016 (the slouch) and Saturns Pattern in 2015.

Cynical voices might say, “it’s their job, they’re in it for money/ego-boost/huge-tax-bill-to-pay”, but when it comes to older “heritage” acts, I think new music is actually a gift. They don’t need to do it any more, unless to comply with some nasty small print in a recording contract signed in 1982. They’re doing it for us, and none more so than the glittering surprise delivered by 70s pop legends ABBA.

The Swedish foursome recently announced a new album and “virtual” tour, prefacing this with two tracks released online. Only the most jaded could see these glorious “sad bangers” as a cash-in attempt by Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. I reckon ABBA saw the world’s parlous state and decided to come to our rescue, like Scandinavian superheroes. Listen to the rousing chorus of “I Still Have Faith in You”: “We do have it in us/ New spirit has arrived/ The joy and the sorrow/ We have a story and it survived.” If that isn’t an anthem to humanity’s strength against a globe-crippling pandemic, I don’t know what is. And although “Don’t Shut Me Down” begins slightly like a West End musical, it soon morphs into a groovy disco shuffle that sends a big daft grin cascading across your face. Thanks, ABBA.

But it isn’t only Weller and the bearded wonders who’ve been busy. Many more of our musical elders are knocking out new releases. Proudly repping the 1980s, Duran Duran are BACK and, like the start of a Premier League season, boast new signings in Blur’s Graham Coxon and production’s Mr Cool, Erol Alkan. In mid-September Simon and crew were blasting out the hits at the Isle of Wight Festival. And proving that death cannot dim his purple majesty, the Minneapolis vaults were thrust open this summer and out came a brand “new” Prince album, Welcome 2 America.

While the monetary worth of physical albums may have gone down, many established musicians’ playfulness, creativity and – yes – generosity have increased in the last two years. Ozzy Osbourne has fought off drink, drugs, near-death accidents, illness (to him and wife Sharon) to deliver the raucous Ordinary Man album in 2020, with a follow-up already in the offing. AC/DC and Deep Purple brought us hard-rocking albums in 2020, with Alice Cooper and Foo Fighters cranking out new riffs in 2021. Back in March 2020 Bob Dylan and Neil Young were number one and two in the UK album charts! And right now a battle is raging between Steps and Manic Street Preachers for the top spot. Strange but true.

And biggest of them all, Paul McCartney, finally followed up his “II” album of 1980 with the lavishly named “III” in time for Christmas 2020. Even if his voice doesn’t always carry the punch it once did, his creative vigour is clearly evident – he also played every instrument on the record. McCartney III Imagined dropped this April, on which a host of super-cool accomplices twist Macca’s tracks in fascinating and funky ways. Not to be outdone, Elton John is about to release The Lockdown Sessions, with Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, Dua Lipa and Nicki Minaj some of the many VIPs onboard.

We may not have asked for – and some may not want – these late in the day releases from our musical elders, many of whom are looking to 80 as their next big birthday. But this is no time to be churlish. Let’s be thankful that music’s “great and good” didn’t raise their gilded drawbridges to shut out the dirty virus-ridden world, but instead knuckled down to deliver us some munificent audio goodies. I have faith that even without Charlie perched on his drum stool, the Rolling Stones will soon release new material. So I say to all you oldies out there, thank you for the music.

Will Stubbs is a screenwriter and TV commercials writer. Music is his first love

Life

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