ABBA – It’s War! (Updated article including Tim Rice’s riposte)

(see also the link to the rather good follow-up article below, entitled  ‘ABBA: It’s War!’)

To those of us around in the 1970 or 80s, this polarisation of opinions is nothing new, of course. First the success and then the backlash, then more success followed by more backlash.

I didn’t really want to draw attention to the original Telegraph article (I feel obliged to now because someone commented on it in another thread*). Not because the contents of the Telegraph article offended me (far from it) but because having some people around who don’t like ABBA makes for a better world. Even ABBA were happy to give someone who "hated" them a mouthpiece in The Movie, remember? 

There will always be people that don’t like ABBA, and a balance of opinion is a good thing. I ‘ignored’ the article on first reading it because to me it is plainly contrived to provoke a reaction. I mean, why publish it now, with Mamma Mia! a rip-roaring commercial success and Gold back at the top of the charts? Come on people, don’t fall for it!

*I’ve moved the comment I received (thanks for writing Dave!) regarding The Telegraph article to this thread but I should point out that it was submitted to me before I put together this article. It’s certainly proof that opinions vary.

Update: Due to the ‘avalanche of internet posts’ caused by his original article, the Telegraph’s Neil McCormick has written another piece entitled ‘ABBA: It’s War!’ – the link is below.

Update on the update: Tim Rice has now waded in on behalf of the ABBA.  Many thanks to Jonathan for bringing Tim’s letter to my attention. You can see the letter in its original context on Neil McCormick’s blog

"Dear Neil:

I read your amusing and well-written piece about Abba today and can understand your frustration about their continuing presence in your life, but cannot remotely sympathise with it. 

Obviously I have to declare an interest but I feel most strongly that their music (if not their English lyrics) is way up there with the best. The very best. They are certainly much closer to Lennon-McCartney than they are to Stock-Aitken-Waterman. In 1974, almost the only way a non-British or American act, in particular one from Sweden, could hope to make any impact outside their own territory was through Eurovision, not a route that encourages subtlety. Having made it internationally, their work developed remarkably – most of the songs you have a go at are from their very early days. 

But leaving Abba aside, and here is my obvious bias, have you heard Chess, the musical I wrote with them in 1984? You may think my words for the project or the project itself dire but I would be amazed if you could say that the music is without merit. Some (I believe virtually all) of the tunes (and there is a huge variety) and orchestrations are quite outstanding – sophisticated while retaining the very elusive quality of memorable melody. Cock an ear to Pity The Child, Anthem or Endgame. Or even the instrumental opening to One Night In Bangkok. Then there is their Swedish language opera Kristina från Duvemåla which is a magnificent achievement, far outstripping attempts by other pop writers to move into classical fields. I don’t think that Status Quo, SAW or even Paul McCartney could do what Benny Andersson has done in both musical theatre and opera. He also has a very successful folk-influenced orchestra. 

Abba was brilliant (I accept you don’t accept that) but just as Waterloo and Honey Honey were stepping stones to The Winner Takes It All and The Visitors, the group was a stepping stone to other fields. 

I fear you may get a lot of stick for your article which will delight your editor. Much of it will be pretty inane but I hope my respectful comments give you cause and pause to re-think Andersson-Ulvaeus if not Abba.

Best wishes

Tim Rice

PS I always fancied Frida most"

ABBA: It’s War!


  • Has anybody read the piece in the British Telegraph slating Abba and calling their music cheap and nasty?? I suggest you read what it has to say…
    Firstly who is this idiot? Probably some middle class Brit with no musical experience, sizzling with his middle class bitterness and hatred of anything that’s successful and doesn’t come out of middle England. He touches on racism, criticising their use of lyrics and wonders if Swedish is really Abba’s second language.

    Have we not all heard these rantings before ?? Oh yes we have..and we remember it well. Those who pulled Abba to bits in the seventies who, as we all know have admitted to loving them now and even stealing their ideas for their own.
    I say to this miserable critic, in these days of stabbings, shootings, credit crunches and other miserable goings on, open your one track mind, stop using Abba as an excuse to express your machoism – it’s getting a bit boring to say the least. Leave the critisism to those who know best i.e. those who can recognise depth and skill. There are better men than him with real talent who could put up an argument to put your cheesy comments in the EUROTRASH.

  • I love ABBA, but Neil McCormick’s attack on them is hysterically funny, I recommend it, and the reader comments are even better. There’s a smidgen of truth in almost everything says, but ultimately McCormick just doesn’t "get" ABBA, oh well. Most of his criticisms could be applied to The Beach Boys as well, and I’d wager he’s a fan.

  • I’d have to agree with Kenneth. Hilarious read…and it only gets better. There’s a third part of the saga posted today, in which Neil McCormick shares with us a very gracious response he got from none other than Tim Rice!

    (Please see above for Tim’s letter – Ice)

  • The debate this is causing actually amuses me. Bring it on !!!!!!!

  • Am I the only person that thinks this piece is very tongue in cheek, because as soon as he criticises ABBA, he then contradicts himself and makes a positive comment and anyone that really hated them that much wouldnt bother to write a piece that actually gives them more exposure and publicity. Remember chaps,,,all publicity is good publicity!

  • The opinion piece has also appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, but there hasn’t been anywhere near the same reaction.

  • Neil

    You need to buy a comfy chair and a six foot by four foot mirror. Sit down in front the mirror and quietly have a word with yourself.

  • Looks like Neil has gone away on leave..enforced by his editor no doubt

  • It’s apparent that this piece is "retaliatory" in nature. The guy admits to lifelong the lifelong animosity he has harbored for all things ABBA and condescendingly acknowledges he can intellectually grasp the reasons why some would find this music appealing.

    He fails to acknowledge a well-established fact: that by design, sheer luck, or divine intervention, ABBA has millions of fan who have an almost paternalistic feeling for the group.

    I would assume that there are millions who care little about the Queen and some who harbor blatantly hostile attitudes towards her. There are just as many, I presume, who feel a great deal of affection for Queen Elizabeth.

    A columnist who publicly mocks the latter should not be surprised to
    receive heated responses to a column he pens demeaning the woman or her subjects.

  • This is so funny. The more this guy tries to defends his point of view, the further he sinks into the mud!

  • It´s really amazing! While some people who call themselves "ABBA fans" spend a lot of time taking part of ABBA forums and writing about how the memebers of the group were dressed during an event or asking what song are you listening or even talking about what the "stars of the sky" are planning for the future of ABBA…and all this 25 years after the group got separated!, another people get sick ´cos it seems that ABBA fever are here again and that it´s a torture for them. Love and hate living together again, but it´s really necesary to discuss this?
    At the end ABBA is here again like it or not, Mamma Mia is an excuse to listen ABBA music, the movie itself is nothing special, the music is the star of the show.
    I don´t know who is the one who wrote that telegraph and I don´t care at all, when I read it I laugh a lot! He is only someone who hates ABBA…and so…

  • Andrew said: Sounds like that Neil guy is one angry individual if he hates ABBA. For me they are on top with Sinatra , Elvis , Michael Jackson and Beatles. Whether he likes that or not, It really doesn’t matter to me.

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