David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 25: Abba (Knowing Me, Knowing You)

May 21, 2020

There was a time I made a lot of fun of ABBA. I probably had to get in line to mock officially, as every musical snob loves to pile on acts that routinely make the Top 40. ABBA routinely, and spectacularly for the time, did that.

Most of the time I made fun of their titles, which seemed to provide an echo sound reading regarding their depth . . . or lack thereof. I mean, come on, they provide us these redundant titles:

"Ring Ring"

"Honey, Honey"

"I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do"

"Money, Money, Money"

"Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"

"On And On And On"

"Knowing Me, Knowing You"

Yet, at the same time, I heard of respected musicians openly appreciating ABBA, at least to some degree, most notably Elvis Costello, whose keyboard aficionado, Steve Nieve, outright admitted to stealing the "Dancing Queen" keyboard riff for "Oliver's Army." For the musical snobs, in the end we saw the kind of unlikely theft as if we'd heard of a great chef stealing a Taco Bell recipe. I suppose in this case, we are learning that the Taco El Chapo, or whatever crime they are now serving, is actually a damn fine meal.

The harmonies of the chorus with the quiet background interjections of the moments of realization -- "aaaahaaa" -- are sensational. As the male vocals parrot the lines about decision: "this time we're through/this time we're through" as well as "I have to go this time/I have to go this time," ABBA shows a shared response about the break-up. There isn't blame to be laid at one set of feet or the other, it's mutual resignation. Me and You are interchangeable.

There's also the delightful double meaning of "knowing me, knowing you/it's the best I can do," where the knowing is a dependent clause setting up why it's the best one can do, but also where knowing is an equal independent clause, signifying that the relationship was the best she/he can [ever] do. Even hearing the song for a kabillionth time, I want to interject my own "aaaahaaaa" at that moment.

ABBA's strength was always the layering of the vocals. Single voice, Frida, for the first couplet; second voice, almost always the second female voice, Agnaetha, layering on top of the original voice for the second couplet. Then all four come in full attack on the chorus. "Knowing Me, Knowing You" tweaks that predictability with Agnaetha adding breathy echoes to the "solo" part of the second verse (whispers of "memories", "good days" and "bad days.") Let's face it, there is a lot of sexy breathing for a song basically about a failed love affair.

The thing with an ABBA song is that the vocals are always so powerful that it is not easy to pick out a predominant instrument. In the end it is almost always a happy-go-lucky keyboard, as it is with "Knowing Me, Knowing You," although there is a pretty nifty guitar riff after chorus number two, which if part of a different band and different intent, may have come out sounding a little more hard rock, anywhere in the range between Tommy Shaw and Brian May (if that is even a range).

In the end, I have come to love ABBA in their own right. When once in my life I was tempted to say, "no, no, no," I now secretly crow, "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do."

'Knowing Me, Knowing You." ABBA. Arrival. Polar. 1976. Link here.

Day 24: Elvis Costello "How To Be Dumb."

Day 26: The Motors "Love And Loneliness."

See complete list here.