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A break-up laid bare in ABBA's small masterpiece

The top ten this week in 1980


Agnetha Fältskog in the video for ‘The Winner Takes It All’

Agnetha Fältskog in the video for ‘The Winner Takes It All’




Agnetha Fältskog in the video for ‘The Winner Takes It All’

Abba's Björn Ulvaeus has repeatedly denied that classic break-up ballad 'The Winner Takes It All' is autobiographical, but there can be little doubt that when composing the lyrics, his divorce from Agnetha Fältskog wasn't far from his mind.

'It is the experience of a divorce, but it's fiction,' he said. 'There wasn't a winner or a loser in our case. A lot of people think it's straight out of reality, but it's not.'

For her part, Agnetha is clear the song was written about their relationship. She said in one interview: 'Björn wrote it about us after the breakdown of our marriage. The fact that he wrote it exactly when we divorced is touching really. It was fantastic to do that song because I could put in such feeling. I didn't mind sharing it with the public. It didn't feel wrong. There is so much in that song. It was a mixture of what I felt and what Björn felt, but also what Benny and Frida [who divorced in 1981] went through.'

The song started life as a demo under the working title 'The Story Of My Life'. Björn originally considered singing it himself but soon realised 'it had to go to Agnetha'. He wrote the lyrics portraying the breakdown of a marriage while drinking whiskey. 'Usually it's not a good idea to write when you're drunk, but it all came out on that one,' he said. 'By the time I wrote "The gods may throw their dice" the bottle was empty.'

'The Winner Takes It All' was released on July 21, 1980, as the first single from ABBA's seventh studio album 'Super Trouper' and quickly became a major hit in many markets. It was their eighth chart-topper in the UK and also soared to number one in Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa. It was their final top ten hit in the US, reaching No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It has become one of ABBA's best loved songs, its lyrics and theme resonating with many. Voted Britain's favourite ABBA song in polls for Channel 5 (1999) and ITV (2010), it was also named 'Britain's Favourite Break-Up Song' after a 2006 poll for Channel 5.

In spite of the subject matter, Agnetha has said that it's her favourite ABBA song. 'The lyrics are deeply personal, and the music is unsurpassed. Singing it was like acting a part. I mustn't let my feelings take over. It was quite a while afterwards before I realised that we'd made a small masterpiece.'

1 The Winner Takes It All Abba

2 Upside Down Diana Ross

3 Use It Up And Wear It Out Odyssey

4 More Than I Can Say Leo Sayer

5 9 To 5 Sheena Easton

6 Babooshka Kate Bush

7 Oops Upside Your Head The Gap Band

8 Could You Be Loved Bob Marley & The Wailers

9 Oy Yeah (On The Radio) Roxy Music

10 Give Me The Night George Benson

Fingal Independent