Huh, “time of your life,” eh? Where have we heard that before?
If the opening line of “Dancing Queen” sounds familiar, that’s because there have been a slew of songs since 1976 that make use of some form of the phrase, “having the time of your life.” First there was Dirty Dancing’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in 1987, then Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” in 1997, and most recently “The Time (Dirty Bit)” by The Black Eyed Peas, which samples the 1987 song in its chorus. ABBA was the first band to really have their time of their lives out on the dance floor, though.
Today ABBA is more than just pop royalty; one of them is ACTUAL royalty.
While “Dancing Queen” wasn’t officially released to the public until August 1976, ABBA performed the song for a variety show celebrating the Swedish royal wedding in June of that year as a tribute to the future Queen Silvia. Sixteen years later, ABBA singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad ended up marrying Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss of Plauen—childhood friend of Queen Silvia’s husband, King Carl XVI Gustaf—and becoming a princess in her own right.
If popular music history is any clue, then this dancing queen acts more like she's sixteen than seventeen.
Sixteen and seventeen are popular ages for songwriters to reference, but while sixteen is almost always coupled with the word "sweet" (see everything from Chuck Berry's 1958 hit "Sweet Little Sixteen" to MTV's "My Super Sweet Sixteen") seventeen is usually… not. Seventeen is usually associated more with a transition to adulthood. In 2008’s “All Summer Long,” Kid Rock played with the transitional nature of seventeen and suggested that kids aged quickly once they hit the magical birthday. “She was 17 and she was far from in-between,” he sings. Meatloaf used the age in much the same way in 1977’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” He sings about a young couple who are “doubly blessed, Cause we were barely seventeen, and we were barely dressed.”
The trope preceded these more recent songs, though. When Lennon and McCartney first sang “I Saw Her Standing There” in 1964, they began by explaining that, “Well, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean,” and listeners did. But in “Dancing Queen,” seventeen is used more innocently. There is recognition that the age is loaded with adult possibilities—“You’re a teaser, you turn ’em on”—, but ABBA and their dancing queen move quickly away from the salacious possibilities that (big surprise) Kid Rock and Meatloaf embrace. Their seventeen-year-old leaves “them burning and then you’re gone.”
Perhaps because the song was meant to be a simple celebration of dance, perhaps because seventeen has three syllables, perhaps because they were ABBA and they could do what they want, the seventeen year old dancing queen of “Dancing Queen” behaves more like a sweet sixteen.