While Mick Jagger was recovering in a New York hospital from heart surgery, the Swedish rock group ABBA celebrated an important anniversary. Forty-five years ago, ABBA won the EuroVisie song festival with the mega hit “Waterloo.”
Mick Jagger is 75. Benny Andersson, Abba’s musical genius, is 72. The end of their careers is literally coming into view. Thus, the question can be posed: Whose music will still be played in 2119? The Stones or ABBA?
On the surface, the answer seems obvious. The Stones! They’ve had unbroken success for 60 years. In 2018 they were the top-earning touring rock band, well ahead of the Eagles and U2. In 2017, the magazine Money summarized their success:
The average age of the band members is 73 and they haven’t had a hit record in two decades.
But the Rolling Stones are making more money on tour per night than any other live music act right now, according to Pollstar, a publication that tracks live events.
The Stones grossed about $10 million per show on their recent 12-city, 14-show “No Filter” tour, selling approximately 63,000 tickets a night at an average price of about $159.
The success of the Rolling Stones is understandable. They’ve done an incredible job of marketing their act. They’re supported by successful baby boomers who screamed their concerts in the 60s and are still willing to pay big bucks to see them.
But the Money article points to the obvious. The Stones aren’t writing music anymore. Ten years from now – or less – they won’t be touring anymore either. Will their music survive the end of tours?
I’ll wager the Stones’ music will quickly fade once Mick and Co. and their faithful boomer fans exit the stage. Songs like “Gimme Shelter” will function only as a musical soundtrack for movies about the 60s or the Vietnam War.
But what about ABBA?
In contrast to the Stones, ABBA stopped touring in 1982, sparing its aging baby boomer members the grind of a life on the road. With the exception of two new songs in 2018, ABBA produced all of its music between 1972 and 1982. Yet ABBA has still sold around 200 million albums, as many as the Rolling Stones.
This success was achieved in part by Benny Andersson’s musical, “Mama Mia,” which uses the ABBA repertoire. Grossing around $2.5 billion, the stage and movie version has made ABBA every bit as successful as the Rolling Stones.
So who will win the long game?
My guess is that ABBA will be remembered in the 22nd Century while the Stones will be a curiosity. As a longtime Rolling Stones fan who bought his first album in 1966, I realize suggesting “Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Money, Money, Money” will outlast “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Jumping Jack Flash” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is pretty subjective.
But I will suggest two reasons.
First, ABBA’s song are full of melancholy and unhappiness. “Knowing Me Knowing You” and “S.O.S.” are pain-filled numbers. “Take a Chance on Me” has a desperate undertone. And despite the happy tone of “Dancing Queen,” the upbeat music is only a thin veneer covering a layer of sadness. In an age where depression is rising, melancholy music resonates with and reflects the human condition far more than Rolling Stones jingles.
Second, ABBA’s lyrics speak to the heart and are very adaptable for other singers. A perfect example of this is opera star Anne Sophie von Otter singing ABBA’s “Like an Angel Passing Through My Room.” It’s endearing even without the stars of ABBA singing it.
By contrast, Paul McCartney’s son James does an interpretation of “Gimme Shelter.” It’s a Rolling Stones classic, but it doesn’t have the same thrust as when one of the original band members sings it.
For baby boomers like me, Rolling Stones songs will always be classics. But will they stand the test of time? Unless music can speak to the heart and address the issues with which each generation struggles, then we won’t “get no satisfaction.”