These acts have produced some pretty stellar versions of ABBA’s chart-toppers
Timelessness is not easy to come by in the music industry, but it does seem that ABBA have done it. An absurdly wide range of musicians count ABBA among their influences, from huge western pop acts and European girl groups to British indie bands and American alternative rockers. ABBA’s tracklist has been mined for covers since the seventies and well into present day. In fact, only last year the viral #dancingqueenchallenge saw users on TikTok attempting to sing a difficult rewrite of one of ABBA’s greatest hits.
As ABBA Voyage prepares to land at the ABBA Arena in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, we’re taking a look at some of our favourite ABBA covers of all time.
Madonna – ‘Like An Angel Passing Through My Room’
Years before Madonna wrote an imploring letter to Benny and Bjorn begging them to allow her to sample ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ in ‘Hung Up’, she proved her superfan status by covering one of their deep cuts – the closer on 1981’s The Visitors. Madonna’s version of ‘Like An Angel’ is dreamy, backed by strings, with vocals less clear than on ABBA’s version but instead blending into the instrumentation to create a real sense of something otherworldly. Safe to say she earned that sample.
Sinead O’Connor – ‘Chiquitita’
In-keeping with the spirit of the original, O’Connor’s ‘Chiquitita’ feels like having a cup of coffee with a friend. The music video plays into this, with O’Connor bustling around the camera in her kitchen and occasionally sitting down to sing directly to it with a concerned expression. She is of course the kind of vocalist who could sing just about anything and wring emotion out of it, but ABBA’s simple lyrics and soaring melody do much of the work for her. O’Connor’s version of ‘Chiquitita’ was originally recorded for Across The Bridge Of Hope, an album compiled to raised money for victims of the Omagh bombings.
Ash – ‘Does Your Mother Know’
Listening to the Northern Irish rockers playfully crash their way through ‘Does Your Mother Know’ makes the listener think that there must be more untapped pop punk possibility in ABBA’s catalogue. Regardless, this one certainly works – Ash’s version of the tongue-in-cheek favourite is highly convincing as an indie track, although the breathless vocals do make it all feel a tad creepy.
Pale Honey – ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’
Thanks to Mamma Mia, this is the song we all associate with flippers, rolling around in the sand and Dominic Cooper’s vocals. Pale Honey’s version does something entirely different to the lyrics, stripping away everything disco for a quiet, intense chorus that feels dark, possessive and vaguely threatening. Tuva Lodmark’s vocals are mesmerising, and the whole experience is unsettling in the best way.
First Aid Kit – ‘Chiquitita’
The Swedish folk duo let their voices soar here, as is their style, with their band steadily building the instrumental as the song continues. Their ‘Chiquitita’, a cover they have been rolling out at live shows for almost a decade, is a true campfire song, complete with the sisters’ signature harmonies.
The Czars – ‘Angel Eyes’
The Czars strip it all back in this one, a gently-strummed guitar the only instrument backing their harmonies. John Grant’s low, resonant vocals are beautiful, taking the track to its lyrical roots to create a true heartbreak ballad. The track comes from band’s 2006 album aptly titled Sorry I Made You Cry.
Portishead – ‘SOS’
You definitely can’t dance to this one. Portishead lay Beth Gibbons’ gentle vocals over a droning instrumental, creating an isolated voice that cries out to the listener for help. The emptiness of the track makes it a far more tragic rendition than ABBA’s original.
Camera Obscura – ‘Super Trouper’
Scottish indie pop band Camera Obscura lay down a dreamy, melodic version of ‘Super Trouper’ that feels as if they are telling us a story. Vocalist Tracyanne Campbell lets her accent shine here, lending an intimate and emotive voice to the track. The slight structural changes shorten the choruses and give more attention to the verses, focusing more on the tired woman offstage rather than the performer under the lights.
Cher – ‘SOS’
In complete contrast to Portishead, Cher finds everything that is large, loud and joyful in ‘SOS’ and turns up the volume. The instrumentation is very true to the original – with a little added distortion here and there – but with Cher’s distinctive powerful vocals she creates a thing of pure theatricality. Dramatic, colourful and made with evident love, it’s the perfect homage.
Carla Bruni – ‘The Winner Takes It All’
The Italian-French singer tackles one of the greatest break-up ballads ever penned with gentle, breathy vocals and a great deal of sensibility. The sigh on ‘I was in your arms’ is wonderfully moving, and she holds herself back on the big notes, preferring to move us with tone and emphasis rather than with power. It’s simple and it’s plain, and how can we complain?
B*witched – ‘Does Your Mother Know?’
There’s nothing especially remarkable in B*witched’s ‘Does Your Mother Know’, to the point where a casual listener might be convinced that the song was written for an early 00s girl group. The Irish band’s Abba-meets-Sugababes rendition of the track doesn’t do much with the instrumentation, but the sugary vocals are just condescending enough to completely sell the cover.
ABBA Voyage arrives in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this May. Get tickets now.