If you’re in a wedding band and have managed to successfully gig for any length of time without ever having to play this song, then I congratulate you. Joking aside, ‘Dancing Queen’ gets unfairly written off by many. While the song could easily be dismissed as a soundtrack for middle-aged women to dance around their handbags, it actually has a well-crafted, Motown-influenced bass line courtesy off the ‘Swedish Jamerson‘, Rutger Gunnarsson.
‘Dancing Queen’ was the first single from 1976’s Arrival album, becoming a worldwide hit and (for better or worse) remaining one of ABBA’s best- known songs 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.
There’s also a play-along done by yours truly available here (sight reading face edited out for public safety reasons):
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 directly 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.