Song Of The Day 8/31/2013: ABBA - "The Visitors (Crackin' Up)"

Mental Health Week: Even the causes celebré of Swedish pop music weren't immune to bouts of psychological distress. No fermented stockfish is going to get you out of this. "The Visitors" was the title track of ABBA's final album, recorded just as everybody in the band had divorced each other, so it wasn't exactly Happytown. It produced no hit singles in the US except the depressing-in-context "When All Is Said And Done."

The song itself is a great summation of the paranoia, fear and dread that envelops and isolates a soul that's just gone through traumatic romantic loss... except it isn't: It's about the Russkies! "The Visitors" was inspired by how the Communist regime in the Soviet Union was oppressing the free speech of political dissidents. According to the blog Svedenland Björn Ulvaeus broke it down: "I thought about what it would be like to live in a dictatorship... I pictured myself in an apartment somewhere in Moscow, where one might (have) held secret meetings talking about and planning for freedom and what it would feel like. And also the threat, terror and fright what would happen if someone would find out about these meetings."

ABBA got in even more deep skita with the Commies. No less than President Ronald Reagan, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, put together a musical gala -- a tamer, gentler slice of agitprop -- in support of union organizer and activist Lech Walesa called Let Poland Be Poland. Among the luminaries on board were Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Kirk Douglas, Max Von Sydow, Margaret Thatcher -- and ABBA. But not only did they play on the special, Benny and Björn gave an impromptu speech about how screwed up Poland was, freedom-wise. They didn't stop at Poland: "They specifically pointed out that there was no freedom of speech, not only in Poland, but also in El Salvador, Chile, Afghanistan and Iraq." That just about did it for the Soviet Union, and they immediately banned all ABBA records. Europop lovers in Leningrad were just going to have to get "Dancing Queen" on the black market.

Of course, we all know what happened with Russia after that. The Soviet Union broke apart, Communism became as unfashionable as a poodle skirt, and it was okay to sell ABBA again. But most importantly Russia softened their approach and never, ever, ever again tried to silence the alternative voices who spoke in protest about social or government policies, welcoming divergent viewpoints with openness, curiosity and generous exchange! (Huh?... I'm sorry, could you repeat that?)

And... uh, well, that's the end of Mental Health Week. Just like that. Dammit, I didn't want to end it with politics. There's almost nothing insane about this post at all. Jeez, I hate it when I go off message. Well, anyway. Bye kids, don't do drugs, unless they're your meds.
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