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The Winner Takes It All by ABBA

Album: Super TrouperReleased: 1980Charted:
8
1
  • ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote this after separating from wife and fellow band member, Agnetha Fältskog. It's about a divorce where one person doesn't want to separate and clings desperately to the marriage. It put Agnetha in the strange spot of being asked to sing a breakup song written by her ex-husband. Ulvaeus didn't intend it this way. He explained: "I sang a demo of it myself which a lot of people liked and said, you have to sing that. But I saw the sensible thing of course, it had to go to Agnetha. I remember coming to the studio with it and everyone said, Oh this is great, wonderful It was strange hearing her singing it. It was more like an actress doing something when she sang it, but deeply moving. Afterwards there were a few tears as well."
  • Bjorn has said that while he usually didn't use drugs or alcohol while writing, he had a bottle of brandy next to him while writing the lyrics for this song. It was very personal to him. He told The London Times March 26, 2010: "Usually it's not a good idea to write when you're drunk, but it all came out on that one. By the time I wrote 'The gods may throw their dice' the bottle was empty."
  • Ulvaeus claimed that 90% of this song is fiction, which is why he didn't feel too bad about having his ex-wife sing it. Said Ulvaeus: "I had this image of a man walking through an empty house with all the furniture removed for the last time as the symbol of divorce and just describing what I see."
  • The cover of their album Super Trouper was set in a circus. "Super Trouper" is the name given to a spotlight used to illuminate the stars while on stage. The original recordings of the album did not include the songs "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" and "Put On Your White Sombrero." These were added to the song list at a later album release on DVD format. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    David - Dublin, Ireland
  • Like Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," this evokes some very Behind The Music moments as the male band member wrote deeply personal lyrics about a female bandmate. At least Stevie Nicks didn't have to sing lead on Lindsey Buckingham's lyrics like Agnetha did with Bjorn's.
  • For many people this song with its heartbroken lyrics, swelling crescendos and sudden lulls is the definitive Abba single. Benny Andersson explained to The Sunday Times June 21, 2009 how the catch in the throat music came to be written: "It's the simplest song," he said. "It has two phrases - that's it. And they just go round and round. Now it also has, around those two phrases, this counterpoint thing going on" - Andersson then played the descending theme that opens the song, runs beneath the chorus and, modulated, responds to the verse's vocal melody - "and without a doubt, without that, it would not have been a song. Music is not only melody; music is everything you hear, everything you put together. But without the core of a strong and preferably original melody, it doesn't matter what you dress it with, it has nothing to lean on." Andersson went on to say that for a long time, there were only the two phrases, the latter (the chorus) with each line following immediately after the one before. "And then one day," he went on to say as he played the song again, "we were out in the country, and I suddenly played the chorus like this, pausing each time for the phrase to gather itself, and all of a sudden it was a song. Björn and I played around with it for hours, just feeling that there was something in it that was talking to us. Then we recorded it, but still without the counterpoint, and it still was no good. It was only when, finally, I played this other part that it really made sense."
  • Despite the song's portrayal of the breakdown of her marriage, Faltskog calls this "her biggest favorite" from ABBA's back catalogue. "It's a shame we never got to play it live," she told the BBC.
  • Faltskog told The Mail on Sunday in May 2013 this is her favorite ABBA song: "Björn wrote it about us after the breakdown of our marriage. The fact that he wrote it exactly when we divorced is touching really," she explained.
    "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 went through."
  • Meryl Streep recorded this song in just one take for the ABBA-themed jukebox musical movie, Mamma Mia! Ulvaeus told The Telegraph: "Meryl Streep is a goddess. And at first we couldn't believe that she wanted to do it. I was completely taken by surprise when I saw her performance in the movie. To hear her delivering the songs with all the emotion we put in the lyrics is more than we could have dreamed of."
  • The Winner Takes It All is also the title to a 1999 documentary about the band.
  • Australian pop singers Kylie Minogue and Dannii Minogue record this with the BBC orchestra in 2008 for the UK comedy series Beautiful People.
  • Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch performed this on the series finale of Glee in 2015.
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Comments: 21

My dad Stephen Garrett wrote this song and has the copyright to prove it...He sued Abba in the early 80's and ended up settling with a certain amount of money cause they kept fleeing back home out of the country.Andrew Garrett - Georgia
Well, gee, Luke, thank you so much for explaining the English language to stupid ol' me.Marty - Cleveland, Oh
Yes I got the chorus wrong I know... the rest's correct.Luke - Manchester, Uk
Stavros, Melbourne:
The background vocals are cut away lyrics eg:
"Roll the dice / cold as ice / way down here / someone dear"
Luke - Manchester, Uk
Marty, Cleveland - the problem isn't the lyrics but your level of understanding the English language, let me explain;
"building me a fence"
that's the last line, you forgot
"I was in your arms,thinking I'd be strong there..."
the whole thing means the writer was deluded in thinking they were safe in someone's arms.

"and some of the lines don't make any sense, such as "beside the victory, that's her destiny" (what does that even mean?)"
"The winner takes it all, the loser standing small
beside the destiny, that's her victory"

Once again you've forgotten the whole picture.
The above lyrics are alluding to the person in the song, not only breaking up from someone who doesn't love her but also coming away the better person.

"and "spectators of the show always staying low" (whatever)."
The people who watch from afar staying afar and not being there for the person in the break up.

"And the bit about the gods somewhere up above determining who breaks up? That's just dumb."
No, you just don't understand it.
Some people believe their life is ruled by fate ie: the god(s) rolling dice to determine what path they take.
They're Scandinavian, they have Norse gods. Norse Gods were known to roll dice to determine some mortal's fate.
Luke - Manchester, Uk
This is a good song, but it would have been much better if the lyrics were stronger. It might have even been one of the all-time classics.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the story he's telling is a scattershot mess. Some of the rhymes are forced, such as "building me a fence" (huh?), and some of the lines don't make any sense, such as "beside the victory, that's her destiny (what does that even mean?) and "spectators of the show always staying low" (whatever). And the bit about the gods somewhere up above determining who breaks up? That's just dumb.

After Ulvaeus sobered up, he should have spent some time polishing the lyrics in order to bring some coherence and cohesion to the narrative. Just because something comes straight from the heart or the gut doesn't mean that it's any good.

It's a great tune and it's sung superbly, but the words don't come close to matching the presentation.
Marty - Cleveland, Oh
When she says "The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall" from then on until the end of the song, you can hear some other vocals being sung in the background. is anyone able to decipher them?
Thanks
Stavros - Melbourne Australia
No doubt this is about a painful breakup. And there always is a winner and so a loser. Very sad. When I see the blonde one sing it…wow! Her eyes are dead! She is in pain in the video.Tc - Uk
On March 8th 1981, "The winner Takes It All" by Abba peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 16th, 1980 at position #82 and spent a half-year on the Top 100 (26 weeks)...
Was track two on side one on the quartet's seventh studio album, 'Super Trouper' and the album reached #17 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart...
Two other tracks from the album also made the Top 100; "Super Trouper" (#45) and "On and On and On" (#90).
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
At the same time one of the most entertaining but emotionally painful to listen to songs I know of and I can't even relate to it but I know the heartache breakups and divorce cause other people.Sioraf - Macroon, Ireland
Actually, Michael Scott, you're incorrect. Agnetha is singing lead on this song. Agnetha and Frida actually had very distinctive voices; Agnetha's voice is higher. I agree with everyone that this song is sad and beautiful and one of the best break-up songs ever written along with ABBA's other break-up song "When All Is Said and Done." For those who didn't know, "The Winner Takes It All" covers the break-up of Agnetha and Björn, while "When All Is Said and Done" covers the break-up of Benny and Anni-Frid ("Frida"). Some people may disagree on this, but I've observed that "The Winner Takes It All" is about missing one's loved one and asking one's self, "Why did it have to end?" while "When All Is Said and Done" is about realizing that the magic in the relationship is now gone and parting with dignity and saying, "Even though we can't be together anymore, I'll always cherish the wonderful memories of our lost love and wish you all the love and happiness in the world." Well, those are the impressions I have. Some people might interpret the two songs differently.Jerro - New Alexandria, Pa
just heard the song again (for about the 200th time in my life), and realised something:
has anybody ever noticed the melodic/structural similarity with 'without you' by badfinger/harry nilsson/mariah carey/et al?
Pete - Longford, Australia
One of their last songs,but one of their best.I really like the words.Great piano too.Good break up song.Dane - Green Cove Springs Fla., Fl
I think Frieda sings lead, but how do you know for sure there is no mention anywhere.Michael Scott - Punta Gorda, Fl
Best ballad with solo vocals, but dancing queen has the best harmony and best dance song!Michael Scott - Punta Gorda, Fl
I agree this is one of THE great ballads. It is by far the best song Abba ever did, and I like a lot of their music. Its beauty is its simple truth. So, so true in so many ways. It perfectly captures the "losers" side of a break-up.Shawn - Green Bay, Wi
Never used to be a fan of ABBA, but I started liking the a couple of years ago.Mark - Medicine Hat
Beautiful song, beautifully sung.Rebecca - Houston, Tx
awesome vocal performance from agnetha. also the video was good as it told the story of the song and this was before most music videos had a story they were just an artist performing the song {usually recorded on top of the pops}Jason - Dublin, Ireland
this song is terribly sad. but it's beautiful. very very beautiful.Ana - Lokev, Europe
The working-title was "the story of my life" - it's probably the best ballad ever been written!Barbara - Little Village, Germany
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