#180: Does Your Mother Know by ABBA
ABBA is a pop band from Sweden. Agneta Fältskog was born in 1950 in the lakeside city of Jönköping in southern Sweden. Fältskog wrote her first song at the age of six, which she named “Två små troll” (“Two Small Trolls”). In 1958, she began taking piano lessons, and also sang in a local church choir. In early 1960, Fältskog formed a musical trio, the Cambers. At age 15 she left school to pursue a career in music. She considers Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin and Marianne Faithfull as her prime influences on her musical style. Fältskog worked on reception for a car firm while performing with the Bernt Enghardt band. In 1967 she wrote “Jag var så kär” (“I Was So in Love”), after a dating relationship ended. The single topped the Swedish pop charts in early 1968. That year she met Björn Ulvaeus, a member of the Hootenanny Singers. Ulvaeus was born in the western coast city of Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1945. In the early Sixties, Ulvaeus joined the Hootenanny Singers. They had a #5 hit in Sweden in 1964 with “Gabrielle”, based on the Russian folksong “May Here Always Be Sunshine”. The folk group had many Top Ten hits in Sweden into the early 70s, including a cover of “Green, Green Grass of Home” (“En sång en gång för längese’n”).
Björn Ulvaeus (2nd right) in Hootenanny Singers
In 1968 Björn Ulvaeus released an adaptation of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey”. In the Swedish lyrics for “Raring“, Björn sings “the ugly cactus you bought at Christmas, it blooms sometimes. I see a cracked vase and smile. I remember it falling on your toe. I comforted you, we went to the cinema after that and just held each other. I see a hole in our fence and laugh to myself. I know you did it with our new car. You were in bad mood for seven days.” He subsequently covered “Harper Valley P.T.A” and “Where Do You Go to My Lovely?”
In 1966, Björn met Hep Stars Benny Andersson, who was born in Stockholm in 1946. In 1957 Anderson got a piano and was prompted to explore new musical styles based on the piano found in the Elvis Presley song “Treat Me Nice“. A few years later he learned to play “Baby Elephant Walk” by Lawrence Welk. In October 1964, Andersson joined the Hep Stars on keyboards. That winter the band charted in Sweden with a Top 5 cover “A Tribute To Buddy Holly”. And in 1965 began to chart their first of eight singles to number-one in Sweden, “Farmer John” and “Cadillac”. By the end of 1969, the Hep Stars charted ten singles into the Top Ten on the pop charts in Sweden. In 1969, after a bandmate left, Björn Ulvaeus was invited to join the Hep Stars for a tour and what turned out to be their final year before disbanding in August ’69.
In 1969, Andersson wrote “Hej, Clown”. The song was wound up in second place at the Eurovision Song Festival finals. While at the event, Andersson met Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who was born in 1946 in northwestern Norway. Her father was an sergeant in the Wehrmacht during the German occupation of Norway. He returned to Germany after the war, leaving Anni-Frid’s mother and grandmother to raise her. But, her mother died at age 21 of kidney failure. (She would meet her half-brother, Peter Haas, in 1977, after a German teen magazine, Bravo, wrote a story about ABBA). Anni-Frid married Ragnar Fredriksson in 1964, and formed the Anni-Frid Four. She had launched her career as a jazz singer in Sweden in 1967. Anin-Frid got divorced in 1970, and became engaged to Benny Andersson in 1971 (whom she married in 1978).
In 1972 ABBA was formed with the four members divided into two romantic relationships: Fältskog and Ulvaeus, and Lyngstad and Andersson. The band’s name, ABBA, was an acronym of the four first names of the bandmates: Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid. In 1972, the band released the single, “People Need Love”. The single, from the album Ring Ring, was followed by the single release of the title track “Ring Ring”. The single peaked at #1 in Sweden and Denmark, and Top Five in eight more nations, and #7 in Australia.
In 1974 the band released Waterloo. The title track, “Waterloo” won Sweden and ABBA their first Eurovision Song Contest award. The single went Top Ten in twenty countries, including #1 in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and West Germany.
In 1975, their self-titled album ABBA, featured “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” (#1 in Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, South Africa, and Switzerland), “S.O.S.” (#1 in Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, South Africa and West Germany), and “Mamma Mia” (#1 in Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and West Germany).
In 1976, ABBA released a Greatest Hits album, which featured the single “Fernando”. It was also included on the Australian and New Zealand album Arrival. “Fernando” charted into the Top Ten in over twenty nations, including number-one in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and West Germany.
The international version of Arrival, outside “down under” however, didn’t include “Fernando”. But more hit singles appeared to populate the international pop charts in 1976-77. These include “Dancing Queen” (#1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Soviet Union, Sweden, the UK, USA and West Germany. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. The followup from the album, “Money, Money, Money”, peaked at #1 in Australia, Belgium, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and West Germany. A third smash single, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, shot to number-one in Belgium, Ireland, South Africa, the UK and West Germany. Though comparatively modest to the huge success of the other singles from the album, it still made the Top Ten in over a dozen nations.
In 1977, ABBA: The Album was the fifth studio album released by the band. While only climbing to #1 in the UK, “The Name of the Game” was a Top Ten hit in 14 countries. While “Take A Chance On Me” was equally successful, topping the charts in Austria, Belgium, Ireland and the UK.
In 1978, the non-album single “Summer Night City”, was a big hit across Europe, peaking at #1 in Finland, Ireland and Sweden, and over a dozen countries internationally. In 1979, ABBA released Voulez-Vous. The album continued to add to ABBA’s irresistible appeal. The debut single, “Chiquitita”, was a chart-topper in Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland. It was another monster hit across Europe. The next single from the album was “Does Your Mother Know”.
“Does Your Mother Know” was written by Björn and Benny. The song is about a a guy who rebuffs a much younger female at a club who he doubts is of age. Maybe she got fake ID. In any case, he observes “I can see what you want. But you seem pretty young to be searching for that kind of fun…. But, girl, you’re only a child.” He’s okay with dancing in the club, chatting, flashing smiles and even a bit of flirting. But, the bottom line: “Does your mother know that you’re out?”
While none of the members of ABBA have said that this song is autobiographical, it is worth noting that it is very common for young girls to throw themselves at bands and musicians, especially successful ones. And being one of the most successful pop groups of all time, the male members of ABBA, Andersson and Ulvaeus constantly had to deal with female groupies all the time.
Asking “does your mother know?” indicates that the young female is a minor and still needs permission – at least if playing by the norms within the culture – to go out to the club and dance. As the young female is at the club dancing and flirting, and it is a given alcohol is being served, chances are if the mother knew she wouldn’t approve of her underage daughter being in this setting. Listeners to the song can fill in the gaps or wonder: has the young female got a friend who is a bouncer in the club who lets her in despite her being a minor?
A mother’s permission is earned when a mother trusts her offspring to make responsible and accountable decisions. As the guy is asking “Does your mother know that you’re out?” he sees red flags getting involved beyond dancing and chatting. Sure, he finds her attractive, but he doesn’t want to get mixed up in this scenario. And likely her mother wouldn’t approve of her daughter getting involved with a man the age of majority.
The song has been covered by such recording acts as Smudge, The Restars, Rajaton, Ash, Liberator and Dizzee Rascal. In the misheard lyrics department, some radio listeners thought ABBA was singing “And I can chant with your baby,” for the original “And I can chat with you baby.”
Would the song carry a different message if it were titled “Does Your Father Know?” Mothers and fathers are both protectors of their children.
In an article titled “The Meaning of Being a Mother,” Susan Dirinian writes “A mother is a protector, disciplinarian and friend. Women who become mothers are typically selfless, loving, and sacrifice many of their wants and needs for the wants and needs of their children. A mother works hard to make sure their child is equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to make it as a competent human being. Being a mother is perhaps the hardest, most rewarding job a woman will ever experience.”
In 1968 Bobby Taylor and the Vancouver’s had a hit with “Does Your Mother Know About Me”. In this case, the song concerned anxiety on the part of a new boyfriend about his girlfriend’s mothers reaction to discovering an inter-racial dating relationship. But, in both the ABBA song and Bobby Taylor, the acceptance or disapproval of a mother regarding a budding romantic involvement is important. And if it isn’t likely that a mother will approve, a new girlfriend, or someone flirting with a guy at a bar needs to give themselves a reality check – with “Does Your Mother Know” being the litmus test.
“Does Your Mother Know” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Lethbridge (AB), and Prince George (BC), #4 in Allentown (PA), Kansas City (MO), Bangor (ME) and Phoenix, #5 in Ottawa (ON), La Crosse (WI), Louisville (KY) and Denver, #6 in Corpus Christi (TX), Seattle, and New York City, #7 in Buffalo and Fresno (CA) #9 in Akron (OH), and #10 in Harrisburg (PA) and Hartford (CT). Internationally, “Does Your Mother Know” peaked at #1 in Belgium, #2 in Canada and Finland, #2 in Ireland and the Netherlands, #4 in the UK, #6 in Switzerland, #7 in Australia, #9 in Rhodesia, and #10 in West Germany.
While “Does Your Mother Know” was on the Vancouver pop charts, ABBA performed in concert at the Pacific Coliseum on September 15, 1979.
The followup title track, “Voulez-Vous”, though a Top Ten hit in five European nations, was a modest success by ABBA standards. While an additional track from the album, “I Have A Dream”, went to number-one in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
ABBA released Greatest Hits Vol. 2 in 1979 which included another new hit single, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”. With this single, ABBA had another international hit, peaking at #1 in Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Japan and Switzerland. As well, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!…” made the Top Ten in another six countries in 1979-80.
With the increase of their popularity, their personal lives suffered, which eventually resulted in the collapse of both marriages. The relationship changes were reflected in the group’s music, with latter compositions featuring darker and more introspective lyrics. In 1980-81, with the album Super Trouper, ABBA released “The Winner Takes It All”. The single topped the charts in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa and the UK, and Top Ten in 13 other countries. The title track from the album, “Super Trouper”, followed. It too was a chart topper, peaking at #1 in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the UK and West Germany. As well, it became a Top Ten hit in five more nations.
With the news of both marriages ending in divorce, Björn and Benny penned “One Of Us”. The subject concerned one partners efforts to save a relationship that has died. The song climbed to number-one in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and West Germany. In seven other countries, the single made the Top Ten. But in the USA, “One Of Us” stalled at #107 below the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1982 Anni-Frid, credited as Frida, had an international Top Five hit in fifteen countries with “I Know There’s Something Going On”. The song peaked at #1 in Belgium and Switzerland.
In 2021, ABBA released a ninth studio album titled Voyage. A double-sided single, “I Still Have Faith In You”/”Don’t Shut Me Down” was a hit in a number of countries in Europe.
ABBA were the first group from a non-English-speaking country to achieve consistent success in the charts of English-speaking countries. They are the biggest selling pop recording act from Sweden, and best selling band from continental Europe. In 1999, the music of ABBA was set to the musical Mamma Mia! The original West End London production resulted in a run at the Royal Alexandria Theatre in Toronto from 2000 to 2005. While a run on Broadway from October 2001 to September 2015 had Mamma Mia! see 5,773 performances before closing. The year it opened, Mamma Mia! received five Tony Award nominations. A 2008 film adaptation with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan earned over $600 million box office sales. Both the film and Meryl Streep earned Golden Globe Award nominations. And a 2018 sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, earned over $400 million at box offices.
April 4, 2022
“Benny Andersson – bio,” Biography.com.
“Björn Ulvaeus – bio,” Biography.com.
“Agnetha Fältskog – bio,” Biography.com.
“Anni-Frid Lyngstad – bio,” Biography.com.
Frederick M. Winship, “Mamma Mia: ‘Cats’ yields to ABBA,” UPI, November 1, 2001.
Paul Mansfield, “Mamma Mia! – Unfazed by the fuss in Skopelos,” Telegraph, July 15, 2008.
Laura Harding, “Meryl Streep and Cher to be Dancing Queens of Mamma Mia 2 Premiere,” Irish Independent, July 16, 2018.
“ABBA – Canada Concert Dates,” setlist.fm.
Dick Clark, “ABBA – Interview,” American Bandstand, November 15, 1975.
Susan Diranian, “The Meaning of Being a Mother,” Hellomotherhood.com, June 13, 2017.
“CKLG Top 20,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 1, 1979.
For more song reviews, visit the Countdown.