Few songs are as universally beloved as “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. Whether you’re at a party, at the grocery store, or singing into your hairbrush, it’s impossible not to sing along when you hear Dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen. With a catchy keyboard-driven melody and drawn-out, seductive lyrics, “Dancing Queen” perfectly captures the euphoria of falling in love on the dance floor.
Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for a place to go
Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
You come to look for a king
“Dancing Queen” was written by ABBA guitarist Bjorn Ulvaeus and keyboardist Benny Andersson in the summer of 1975. They had written a good hook for a dance song, but didn’t quite know where they wanted to take it. The song was heavily inspired by George McCrae’s disco hit, “Rock Your Baby” and the drum beats on Dr. John’s album Gumbo. With the working title “Boogaloo,” Ulvaeus and Andersson worked on the song together for months before showing it to the rest of the band.
“We knew immediately it was going to be massive,” said ABBA singer Agnetha Fältskog. In fact, the first time Ulvaeus and Andersson played “Dancing Queen” for the rest of the group, Anni-Frid Lyngstad burst into tears. “And that was before me and Agnetha had even sung on it!” she said. “I knew it was absolutely the best song ABBA had ever done.”
You are the dancing queen
Young and sweet, only seventeen
Feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah
ABBA recorded “Dancing Queen” in 1975, about a year before its initial release. They held the song so that it would come out right before their fourth album, Arrival, sensing that it would be a hit. The first single, “Fernando,” was released in March 1976. The band waited until August to release “Dancing Queen” to build excitement for the album in October.
“Dancing Queen” first debuted as a single in Sweden on August 15, 1976. When the song was released to the rest of the world a few days later, it was an immediate hit, just as the band predicted. The single topped the charts in 15 countries, including the United States. Of the 14 ABBA songs that have made the Top 40 in the U.S., “Dancing Queen” was the only one to hit No. 1.
Swedish Europop was not particularly popular in the U.S. but, “Dancing Queen” strongly resembled one of the biggest genres of the time: disco. Especially since the song is about dancing at a discotheque, the joyful meaning resonated with many American listeners.
You can dance, you can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh, see that girl, watch that scene
Digging the dancing queen
While the original version of “Dancing Queen” is still the most popular, several notable covers of the song have also hit U.S. charts. When Naya Rivera and Amber Riley covered the song on Glee in 2011, it charted at No. 74 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the 2008 ABBA jukebox musical, Mamma Mia!, the song was famously performed by Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, and Meryl Streep. The scene shows the three women singing “Dancing Queen” while dressing up in ridiculous outfits, sliding down railings, and dancing through the city. In the spirit of the song, the rest of the town joins the fun, culminating in a massive flash mob and Meryl Streep cannonballing into the ocean.
Most recently, “Dancing Queen” was featured in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again in 2018. The song was performed by the full star-studded cast, including Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, and Amanda Seyfried.
To pay tribute to the original version of the song, the 2018 movie cover was produced by none other than its initial creator, ABBA’s Andersson.
With over four million copies sold worldwide and over 691 million streams on Spotify, “Dancing Queen’s” iron grip on pop culture has not subsided. Whether you’re seventeen or 107, when you hear the song playing, you are always the dancing queen.
Listen to “Dancing Queen” below.
Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns