If you play in a wedding band and have managed to gig without having to play this song, then I congratulate you. Joking aside, ‘Dancing Queen’ gets dismissed by many as a soundtrack for middle-aged women to dance round their handbags to but actually has a well-crafted, Motown-influenced bass line.
Dancing Queen was the first single from 1976’s Arrival album. The song became a worldwide hit and (for better or worse) is possibly ABBA’s best known song for many people. This was one of the band’s attempts to put a European spin on the sound of American disco music, with sweeping string lines, soaring vocal melodies and a funky, syncopated bass part.
As with many of ABBA’s hits, Rutger Gunnarsson is responsible for the superb bass playing. Here he is many years after the recording (the white Fender Jazz Bass in the video was used on the original session):
Taking a closer look at the bass part ‘Dancing Queen’ reveals that Rutger has achieved the bass player’s dream: the all-important ‘sub hook’. What’s a ‘sub hook’? It’s a melody that isn’t prominent, but still gives the listener something to latch on to.
The bass line of ‘Dancing Queen’ manages to combine rhythmic syncopation with melodic phrases and somehow never gets in the way of the vocals. Examining the harmonic content of the line reveals a nod to Motown and soul bass playing – the classic ‘5th-6th- root’ pattern played throughout the song on every A major chord is a feature of countless well-known bass lines*, while the varied use of semiquaver rhythms and ghost notes comes direct from the hands of James Jamerson.
*Including, but not limited to: Higher and Higher, Faith, Keep On Running, Respect, Love Really Hurts Without You, Faith, What’s Going On, I Want You Back and Rescue Me.