ABBA's music has always been unapologetically commercial. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are known to have paid close attention to musical trends and adapted their compositions to appeal to popular tastes.
Their songs are tidy three-minute packages suited for radio play, and many, like "Dancing Queen," were thematically and stylistically suited for the dance hall. With densely-layered tracks, their songs filled up space. With pulsing beats and memorable melodic hooks, they were crafted to be sing-along crowd-pleasing favorites.
"Dancing Queen" typifies ABBA's successful formula. After an unforgettable keyboard glissando, the drums lay down a disco beat. The eight-bar stanzas serve only to set the table for the chorus that provides both the melodic hook and emotional high point of the song.
Some have tried to impose a salacious meaning to the lyrics. For example:
You come in to look for a king
Anybody could be that guy
You're a teaser, you turn 'em on
Leave them burning and then you're gone
But it's a long reach. In fact, the lyrics echo the fundamentally innocent character of the music. They set out to capture both the exuberance of dance and the paradoxical combination of being lost in the music while happily aware that you are the center of attention.
ABBA was always keenly aware of popular tastes and trends within the music industry. They quickly identified the market possibilities created by the emergence of disco.
"Dancing Queen," built around the thrills and self-satisfaction experienced by a young girl at the disco, and it was ABBA's most successful song aimed at this market.
Disco, short for discotheque, emerged during the 1970s as a more dance-friendly and accessible alternative to rock and roll. With predictable beats and simple melodies, disco was made for, well, discos. It didn't pretend to have high artistic ambitions, and it didn't aspire to great complexity or depth. It was music to dance to and have fun with.
New York City had the biggest disco scene, and its Studio 54 was the most famous disco in the world, but every city had discos. Boston had the 1270, Miami had Big Daddi's Disco, and even San Francisco, the center of the Beat and "hippie" movements, had Dance Your @$$ Off.
As you might well know, the disco movement was also as reviled as it was popular. Pink Floyd's best-known song, "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," received a lot of criticism, especially from big fans, for being a song with a disco beat. There were curiously intense and violent reactions to the commercial, often-trite music.
In July 1979, "Disco Demolition Night," a promotional event sponsored by the Chicago White Sox, got completely out of hand. Disco-hating baseball fans went into a frenzy destroying records. Plus, they ripped out seats and stormed the field, tearing out turf. The Chicago police eventually restored order, but the second game of the scheduled double-header that day had to be cancelled, and the White Sox were forced to forfeit the game to the Detroit Tigers.