In Focus: Take A Chance On Me – ABBA’s farewell to innocence
Few would dispute that ‘Take A Chance On Me’ is one of ABBA’s most enduring hit recordings. January 2019 marked the 41th anniversary of its release as a single, and in this feature we trace the story of the last ABBA song to retain the joyful innocence of their early years.
The biggest hit
When ABBA – The Album was recorded in the summer and autumn of 1977, the stated ambition of song writers Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus was to move forward with their music, take better care with the lyrics and generally aim for a more ambitious framework. As the completed album proves, they certainly succeeded in that goal. The first single, ‘The Name Of The Game’, was more adventurous and complex than anything ABBA had released on single before, and the ballad ‘One Man, One Woman’ was a compelling study of a couple struggling to save their marriage. Perhaps the most overtly ambitious part of the album was the three songs from the mini-musical The Girl With The Golden Hair, the story of which has been detailed in a previous essay at this site.
But one thing that ABBA never forgot was the importance of communicating with their audience in a very direct way. As they would prove time and again over the following years, they never lost the knack for creating a pure pop hit single. The difference, however, was that ABBA had pretty much left their innocent “teen girl” pop behind them, and moved into more grown-up subject matters. The songs wanted to tell stories of marriage break-ups rather than relate the juvenile excitement of ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. But ABBA – The Album featured one last song to retain some of the bouncy innocence of early ABBA. Perhaps it was no coincidence that ‘Take A Chance On Me’ became the biggest hit from the album.
The song was first brought to the recording studio on August 3, 1977. At the time it bore the working title ‘Billy Boy’ – perhaps it should be pointed out that it didn’t much resemble the 19th Century folk song of the same title. However, this first rocky attempt at the tune didn’t progress beyond the backing track. A fragment of that recording can be heard in the ‘ABBA Undeleted’ medley of session outtakes, available in the box sets Thank You For The Music and The Complete Studio Recordings. This early take of the song featured a guitar-piano-and-drums riff that would not be included in the final version.
Björn and Benny obviously felt that they hadn’t quite captured the full potential of the song with this first attempt, and so the backing musicians – Lasse Wellander, guitar, Rutger Gunnarsson, bass, Roger Palm, drums – were brought back to the studio on August 15 for a second version. This time they got it right and created a much more tightened-up, metronomic version of the song. The recording shifted between the almost nursery-rhyme simplicity of its chorus and the country-twangy feel of its middle section – today Björn refers to the song as “a German march crossed with country music”.
The next step in the creative process was for Björn to come up with the right lyrics for the song. As he explains in the book Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You?, “Ideas for the lyrics pop up in different ways. Often it’s a little scenario that comes into my mind, but sometimes I start with a title. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ is a case in point.” Björn, who was an avid jogger at the time – he even ran the Stockholm Marathon at one point – found this particular title while out jogging in the Stockholm suburb of Lidingö, where he and Agnetha lived at the time. He knew that the backing track recording of the song suggested a percussive title, and as his feet moved relentlessly forward in his jogging path, the sounds “t-k-ch” started an equally insistent run around his brain. Within those sounds he found the phrase ‘Take A Chance’, and then he just added ‘On Me’ to make it a complete title.
The completed lyrics for ‘Take A Chance On Me’ built on the up-beat mood of the backing track to make it a truly affirmative love song, something that would not feature very frequently in ABBA’s future repertoire. It certainly was the catchiest track on ABBA – The Album: the a cappella opening, with Agnetha and Frida’s crystalline high-register singing contrasting against Björn and Benny’s low-register “take a chance, take a chance” repeats, draws the listener into the song immediately. By the way, the boys’ repeats of that phrase, recurring throughout the song, was not recorded in one go, since the singers needed to catch their breaths every now and again. The solution was to record their parts in sections, overlapping the previous piece to make it one continuous section. Of course, with the digital technique of today they would simply have had to sing it a couple of times, and then insert that section into the recording however many times they wanted.
When ‘Take A Chance On Me’ was released as a single in January 1978, it became a big hit, going to number one on the charts in Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico, Austria and Belgium, and reaching the Top Three in at least a further five countries. Notably, it was ABBA’s second most successful single in the United States, where it reached number three on the Billboard chart (their biggest song was of course ‘Dancing Queen’, which was a number one single). For the song, Lasse Hallström also put together a tongue-in-cheek promo clip, featuring the ABBA members flirting with each other in a split screen. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ was a truly appropriate farewell to the joyful early days of ABBA.
Like so many other ABBA songs, ‘Take A Chance On Me’ has endured through the decades. It is, of course, included on the multi-million selling ABBA Gold compilation, and is also featured in the Mamma Mia! musical. It was, perhaps, no co-incidence that the synth duo Erasure chose to record an affectionate tribute version of the song. Their recording of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ was the most popular track on their 1992 EP Abba-esque, which went to number one in places such as the UK and Sweden. The duo made a fun video that parodied ABBA’s original promo clip, emphasising the colourful “kitschy ‘70s” angle that was such an important part of the early stages of the 1990s ABBA revival. Altogether a proud legacy for one of ABBA’s happiest songs.
NOTE: The Deluxe Edition of ABBA – The Album, released in 2007, contains the familiar version of ‘Take A Chance On Me’, but also, among its bonus tracks, a rare live version of the song, recorded during the group’s tour of 1979.
ABBA – The Album – Deluxe Edition also contains a DVD which features two rare TV performances of ‘Take A Chance On Me’, alongside a wealth of other unique and intriguing TV appearances and news reports from the time of ABBA – The Album. Additionally, the Deluxe Edition contains a comprehensive essay about the making of ABBA – The Album.