‘SOS’ was the third single from ABBA’s 1975 self-titled third album. The song was crucial to the band’s success in the UK and Ireland, where they had failed to have much impact on the charts since 1974’s breakout single ‘Waterloo’, with ‘SOS’ starting a run of 18 consecutive top ten hits.
Several prominent musicians, including John Lennon, Ray Davies and Pete Townsend have all stated that ‘SOS’ is one of their favourite pop songs. For those readers who are adamant that ABBA will never have any real credibility it might be interesting to learn that this song was the inspiration for the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’.
The song begins with a sombre keyboard and synthesizer introduction, with a solo female vocal joining for the plaintive verses. The chorus stands in stark contrast, a decidedly ‘rock’ approach to songwriting with a simple singalong vocal and layers of guitars. The chord progression at the end of the chorus employs common non-diatonic bVI major and bVII major chords (Db major and Eb major in the key of F), a harmonic device that has appeared in a number of pop songs, including Bowie’s ‘Suffragette City’, Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and Duffy’s ‘Warwick Avenue’ to name but a few.
The song is one of several prominent ABBA hits that feature Mike Watson’s bass playing rather than that of the ‘Swedish Jamerson’, Rutger Gunnarsson. The bass part on ‘SOS’ reflects the contrasting nature of the song’s sections; long tones connected with slides during the verses and strong, more rhythmically active chorus lines. There’s nothing too taxing for the eyes or the fingers in this one – I’ve included the bass notes played by the synthesizer that lead into the chorus should you wish to include them in your performance of the song.