When Madonna sought a return to the dancefloor after 2003’s American Life, she needed a memorable riff to take her into the stratosphere. The letter she wrote to Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus requesting a rare exception to their no-sampling rule is the stuff of music legend, and ‘Hung Up’, which was built around ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’, went on to become one of the biggest hits of her long career.
That it borrows so much from one of the most OTT tracks that ABBA ever recorded seems entirely appropriate. Created at Polar Music Studio during August 1979, between rehearsals for an upcoming tour, Agnetha took the lead vocal on this charged, dancefloor epic that had been inspired by something Björn had read about in a book.
Earlier versions of the song had incorporated more complex lyrical twists, but these were abandoned in favour of a more direct, urgent approach that better fits the driving, synth-drenched composition. ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ showed yet again that ABBA had a canny ability to shape complex melodies in a way that would work successfully in the clubs. Other songwriters would extend this tradition of distilling aggressive pop hooks and complex technical instrumentation into something that seemed basic but is actually incredibly hard to pull off well, while even Björn feels that the technical demands of the track somewhat got the better of them. His description of it as a “good song, but a lousy recording” isn’t a view that’s widely shared.
Release and reception
Picked as a promotional hook for the upcoming Greatest Hits Volume Two compilation, and released on 2 October (slotted in behind the final Voulez-Vous album single, ‘I Have A Dream’), ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ made No.3 in the UK and many other markets around the world (including Spain and Latin America, for whom it was recorded as ‘Dame! Dame! Dame!’, and became a highlight of Oro, the Spanish-language version of Gold). The US and Canada had traditionally been tough territories to crack, but the song’s success in the clubs established it as one of ABBA’s most popular songs over there, too. Oddly, however, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ wasn’t given a single release in Sweden, though it still managed to hit No.16 thanks to sales of import copies.
Legacy and cover versions
Almost 40 years after its original release, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’’s reputation made it an obvious choice for Cher to tackle on her ABBA covers album, Dancing Queen, for which it became a successful lead single. She hadn’t, however, been the first to cover the song. A★Teens, who had some success in the early 21st Century with their teen-pop interpretations of ABBA hits, also released it as a single.
Treading a careful line between majestic camp and all-out cheese isn’t for the faint-hearted, but ABBA pull it off here. Despite its provocative title, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ is anchored by a dramatic lyric and a cracking hook, keeping pop titans like Cher and Madonna coming back time and time again.
The 40th anniversary of Voulez-Vous is being celebrated with a 2LP half-speed mastered reissue, a 7” singles box set and a collection of standalone picture discs. The reissues are out on 14 June and can be pre-ordered here.