What evokes the spirit of Christmas more strongly than a children’s choir? Though ABBA’s “I Have A Dream” isn’t strictly a festive song, its December 7, 1979 issue as a single (and the end-of-the-millennium chart-topping glory it would gift Westlife, 20 years later) now finds it as familiar at that time of year as mulled wine and stollen.
The choir from Stockholm International School was invited to take part in the recording of the song, which took place in late March 1979 at Polar Music Studio. The excitement the request created has stayed with the 28 participants to this day. “We all screamed and almost cried with joy, and it took some time before [the teacher] managed to calm us down,” Gaia Girardelli told Carl Magnus Palm, the author of ABBA: The Complete Recording Sessions.
Björn led the studio work with Benny, with Agnetha and Frida joining for the obligatory photo session (they had already laid down their vocals). The choir also supported the group on the song at a clutch of concerts in Sweden.
The decision to release “I Have A Dream” as a fourth cut from the Voulez-Vous album was driven largely by the demands of the UK market, where ABBA had just concluded a run of concert dates that November at Wembley Arena. The single was pitched as a souvenir of the recent shows, illustrated by a concert photo used on the sleeve, a live version of “Take A Chance On Me” from one of the gigs as the B-side, and a unique gatefold format.
The strategy paid dividends when this melodic throwback to the Swedish folk and schlager blend that had got them started soared all the way to No. 2 that Christmas, stuck behind Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” (also, ironically, featuring a children’s choir). Though the song might not, on first listen, match the more experimental pop the group was creating around the same time, “I Have A Dream” actually signals a clear progression: its hefty emotional punch points towards the musical-theater focus that would largely dominate Benny and Björn’s output in the 80s.
Later releases and legacy
Alternative versions of ABBA’s “I Have A Dream” emerged in time, including a recording made on November 10, 1979, which was released on 2014’s Live At Wembley Arena album. When hugely successful Irish boy band Westlife recorded the track for Pete Waterman in 1999 as part of an ABBA tribute album, ABBAmania, it was an obvious choice for single release. Toppling Sir Cliff Richard in time to seize the coveted UK Christmas No. 1 spot, “I Have A Dream” subsequently took the charts into the next century; its status as a Christmas classic is now beyond dispute.
Now that’s the sort of legacy that dreams are, indeed, made of…