By the time Abba’s fourth studio album, Arrival, was released in October 1976, the group was already an established pop phenomenon, with a worldwide fan-base and the first of several greatest hits compilations behind them. The second track on the album, “Dancing Queen,” became one of the Swedish quartet’s most celebrated songs, topping the charts in 13 countries. Recorded sporadically over the course of about three months starting in early August ’75, the song was released as a single in August ’76.
Following a plunging keyboard glissando, the song sparks into life with an eight-bar-long intro in the tonic key of A major. Fingerstylist Gunnarsson sets his stall out immediately, laying down a basic two-bar-long groove that he employs—with minor variations—throughout the track.
During the intro, and beyond, note how he underscores the root of the chord with the same basic rhythmic pattern across beats one and two, before introducing a 16th rest on beat three, thus imbuing the groove with a mature sense of space and pacing. Rutger, a classically trained guitarist, sprinkles his lines with telling slides and funkifying ghost notes throughout (as heard in bars 1, 3 and 5 etc.), subtly enhancing and enlivening the low end.
Vocal material that will later be revealed as the second half of the chorus kicks in at letter A with a strong move to the dominant chord, E, at bar 9, prior to a brief V-I cadence in F♯ minor, the relative minor of the home key, in bars 10-11. Note how Rutger colours the harmony with an E♯ (the 3rd of the V chord, C♯7) on his way to F♯ minor, giving rise to a smoothly ascending chromatic line.
In bar 12, Gunnarsson employs a striking first inversion: a strong D♯ over the B major chord, allowing for a silky smooth move to the D major chord that manifests in bar 13.
Sections B and C serve as the first and second verses, respectively. Here, Rutger drives the song along based on his main groove, though watch out for his brief foray up the neck in bar 31 and the nimble slide work in bar 65, leading into the chorus at D via a II-V-I cadence in A major through bars 35-37.
At letter E, dig Gunnarsson’s savvy use of rising chromaticism through bars 45-46, culminating in the leading-note E♯ on the last 16th of bar 46, heralding the F♯ minor chord on the downbeat of bar 47.
An interesting moment occurs going into the final verse at F, and keen ears may well identify the splice in the tape that marks the spot where the original third verse was edited out, shortening the section by eight bars. This edit-point can be confirmed by Rutger’s bass part: On beat four on bar 56, the four-stringer slides up to an eighth-note A on the 7th fret of the A string, holding it for its full value. This is followed by an unnatural-sounding splice-induced jump to the low F♯ on the 2nd fret of the E string going into the downbeat A of bar 57. (A video of the band recording this “missing verse” in the studio can be found here on YouTube.)
During this final verse, Gunnarsson reprises familiar material, though he also introduces several interesting variations. Highlights include the neat slides on beat four of bars 61 and 62, the playful grace notes in the latter half of bar 65, and the syncopated minor 7th leaps in bar 66. For the last full verse (G) and outro (H), Rutger generally adheres to the main groove, though there’s another interesting moment at the end of bar 79, where he plays a somewhat incongruous C♮ dotted-eighth note (briefly generating a non-functional V7 in G major) instead of the anticipated C♯. It’s highly likely that this was a simple slip that, for one reason or another, was never fixed. Also note his buoyant parting idea during the outro (first heard in bar 86), where he uses the open E string to chromatically bounce back to the downbeat tonic A via some snappy 16ths (as in the second half of bar 88).
Despite his sterling work on countless Abba tracks, Gunnarsson modestly plays down his contribution. “I consider myself a utility bassist, not a flash guy,” he said in an interview for the U.S. publication Bass Player in December 2000. “I never really listened to bassists per se, not even when I first picked up the bass in the ’60s—although I appreciate players like Chuck Rainey, Joe Osborn, and Duck Dunn.” Of his work with Abba, he notes, “It all begins with a good melody and a strong bass line.”
Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2011