SOS (ABBA song)

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SOS - Man In The Middle.jpg
Single by ABBA
from the album ABBA
B-side "Man in the Middle"
Released June 1975 (Sweden)
8 September 1975 (US)
20 September 1975 (UK)
Format 7" single
Genre Pop
Length 3:22
Label Polar (Sweden)
Epic (UK)
Atlantic (US)
Mushroom/Warner Bros. (Oceania)
Songwriter(s) Björn Ulvaeus
Benny Andersson
Stig Anderson
Producer(s) Björn Ulvaeus
Benny Andersson
ABBA singles chronology
"Mamma Mia"

"Mamma Mia"
Music video
"SOS" on YouTube

"SOS" was the third single from Swedish pop group ABBA's self-titled 1975 album, their third for Polar Music and their second for Epic and Atlantic. It was released with "Man in the Middle" as the B-side. Agnetha Fältskog, who sang lead, recorded the song in Swedish on her 1975 solo album Elva kvinnor i ett hus. "SOS" was ABBA's first major worldwide hit since "Waterloo".


"SOS" (working title; "Turn Me On") was written by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson and was recorded at Glen Studio in Långängen, Sweden on 22–23 August 1974.[1] The title itself was coined by Stig, though the lyrics he provided were re-written by Ulvaeus. "SOS" was among the first of three songs recorded for the group's 1975 album, ABBA.

The song is unique among pop songs of the period, opening with an unaccompanied classical keyboard in a subdued D-minor key. Unlike most ABBA tracks that preceded it, the vocal begins with an emotional solo performance by Fältskog. The descending chords and ominous Minimoog synthesizer melody line of the introduction set the tone for Fältskog’s vocals, sounding almost as if she were breaking down in tears. The song then transitions to a rock chorus in a major key, dominated by a distorted electric guitar and full vocals.

Despite the song's catchiness, it was passed over as the lead single from the album; the track "So Long" was chosen instead. "So Long" was chosen primarily because it had the same uptempo beat as their 1974 hit single, "Waterloo".

Lyricist Ulvaeus has said that, after three years of trying to figure out what style would define them, ABBA found its identity as a pop group with the release of "SOS".[2]

The song was the subject of one of the first pioneering music videos produced by director Lasse Hallström for the band. Much of the video is filmed from an overhead camera, as if from a tower or lighthouse, with the bandmates' faces sometimes distorted, as though shot through a prism.[3]

During the band's first visit to the United States, ABBA performed "SOS" on the long-running television program American Bandstand on 15 November 1975.[4]

ABBA performs the song live in the concert film ABBA: The Movie, Hallström's first English-language feature film, filmed during the band's tour of Australia in 1977.

ABBA performed the song on its 1979 tour of Europe and North America. While the track does not appear on the filmed record of that tour—released on DVD as "ABBA in Concert"—it is featured on the 2014 audio release, Live at Wembley Arena. For the first time on that tour, vocalists Fältskog and Lyngstad traded the line "when you're gone" responsively at the song's climax.

Music video[edit]

The promotional video was directed by Lasse Hallström and released in the same year, along with the single.[5] The music video features the quartet miming to the song outside and utilizes distortion effects achieved by mirrors. It was later uploaded to YouTube on 8 October 2009 under the channel AbbaVEVO, and has more than 40 million views as of June 2017.[6]


"SOS" marked a huge turnaround in ABBA's fortunes, most notably in the UK and Ireland, where it returned the group to the Top 10 for the first time since "Waterloo". Reaching #6 and #4 respectively, "SOS" started a run of 18 consecutive Top 10 hits for ABBA in the UK and Ireland.[7][8] "SOS" reached #1 in Australia, Belgium, France, West Germany (where it spent 7 weeks at the top), New Zealand and South Africa, and was a Top 3 hit in Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy (where it became ABBA's most successful hit), Mexico, Rhodesia and Switzerland. The song also became ABBA's second Top 20 hit in the United States, peaking at #15 (due to the single charting in the U.S. before "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do", whereas elsewhere "SOS" charted afterwards).[9]

Chicago radio station WLS, which gave "SOS" much airplay, ranked the song as the 61st biggest hit of 1975.[10] It peaked at number six on their survey of 22 November 1975.[11]

"SOS" is one of the most-covered of ABBA's songs. It has been recorded and performed in concert by several prominent artists, including John Frusciante, Peter Cetera, Chris deBurgh, and Portishead.

The track has a number of music industry devotees. The Who guitarist Pete Townshend has said "SOS" is one of the best pop songs ever written,[1] adding that when he first heard the song he "was transported by it".[12]

Ray Davies of The Kinks said that he was taken with the song after seeing the group perform it on the BBC television show Seaside Special.[13]

American singer-songwriter and former Czars frontman John Grant has called "SOS" "one of the greatest pieces of music ever made", adding that Agnetha Fältskog's "perfect" lyrical interpretation and emotional delivery is "a beautiful thing".[2]

British conductor and producer Charles Hazlewood called the song's "supersonic" transition from an acoustic D-minor key to an electric rock motif "absolutely genius".[2]

ABBA's performance of "SOS" on American Bandstand in 1975 has been included on lists of the most significant performances in the show's 31 seasons by several reviewers and critics. Bill Lamb put the song at number five,[14] as did Alicia Diaz Dennis[15] and Andres Jauregui.[16]

To date the song is the only Hot 100 single (or #1 single in Australia[17]) in which both the title and the credited act (and also the musical genre) are palindromes.[18]

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly singles charts[edit]

Agnetha Fältskog's version[edit]

Agnetha Fältskog - S.O.S..jpg
Single by Agnetha Fältskog
from the album Elva kvinnor i ett hus
Released November 1975
Format 7" single
Recorded 1975
Genre Europop, Pop
Length 3:35
Label CBS Cupol
Songwriter(s) Björn Ulvaeus
Benny Andersson
Stig Anderson
Producer(s) Agnetha Fältskog
Agnetha Fältskog singles chronology
"Dom har glömt"
"Never Again"

"Dom har glömt"
"Never Again"

Agnetha Fältskog's version was the second single from her fifth Swedish solo-album Elva kvinnor i ett hus (Eleven Women In One House). It was the only song from this album not to have been composed by Fältskog herself.

Despite the fact that Fältskog never promoted the single in Sweden, it peaked at No. 4 on the singles chart on 1 January 1976 during a 20-week chart run, and it also became Fältskog's third No. 1 on radio chart Svensktoppen, entering the chart on 22 November 1975 and spending a total of eleven weeks on the listing.

The B-side of the single, "Visa I Åttonde Månaden" (Song In The Eighth Month) was a song written from a very personal perspective, as it was composed during Fältskog's pregnancy with daughter Linda Ulvaeus in 1973.

Other cover versions[edit]

  • Dance covers of the song have been recorded by Abbacadabra (through Almighty Records), German Eurodance group E-Rotic on their album Thank You For The Music,[35] The Element on the Lay All Your Love On ABBA compilation, Angeleyes on their album ABBAdance, Euphorica on their 2003 album ABBA Dance,[36] Les Blue Belles, Kyria, and DJ Ensamble on the 2006 album Trancing Queen.[37]
  • An electronica version by Radha Kali is included on the compilation The Electronic Tribute To ABBA.
  • Finnish rock group The Rasmus recorded a cover of the song for the 2006 compilation Come Together – A Tribute to BRAVO. An audio sample can be heard on the official German website for the compilation.[38]
  • American singer/songwriter Pamela McNeill covers it on her album Tribute To ABBA, which was produced by her husband Dugan McNeill.
  • Swedish studio musicians The Black Sweden included a version of the song on their ABBA tribute album Gold. This version includes a riff from the Kiss song "God of Thunder".
  • Alternative U.K. band Th' Faith Healers recorded a cover of the song.
  • Canadian rock band Harem Scarem recorded a cover of the song.
  • Indie artists Brad Sucks and The Hip Cola recorded an acoustic version that was available for download on the Internet.
  • In 1975, Swedish soprano Lena Andersson released a German-language version as a single, which used the original backing track.
  • In 1975, French musician Marie released a French-language version as a single.
  • In 1976, Czech singer Jana Giergielová released a Czech-language version as a single.
  • Released in the early 1980s, the "Stars on 45 Medley 2" started off with a bunch of 60's songs then ended the last third with several ABBA tracks. This section of the medley kicked off with "SOS", followed by "Money, Money, Money"/"Knowing Me, Knowing You"/"Fernando"/"The Winner Takes It All"/"Super Trouper".
  • In 1988, Kees Zaaijer released a fully synthesized version of "SOS", which he recorded using the up-and-coming Commodore 64 synth.
  • In 1989, Canadian new wave band Men Without Hats released a cover on their album The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century.
  • In 1990, Los Angeles indie band Celebrity Skin released a version on their album Melting Pot.
  • In 1991, Norwegian rock group Israelvis released a cover on their album We Only Live Twice.
  • In 1992, Swedish band Stonecake released a version on the compilation ABBA: The Tribute..
  • In 1992, the song was covered on Erasure's Abba-esque EP.
  • In 1995, Russian black metal band Trizna included a cover of the song on their album Out of Step. It was also later included on their 1996 album Need For Speed.
  • In 1995, Peter Cetera released a cover version of the song as a duet with singer Ronna Reeves on his album One Clear Voice. The song was also included on the 1999 compilation ABBA: A Tribute – The 25th Anniversary Celebration.
  • The 1995 New Zealand compilation Abbasalutely includes a cover by the Able Tasmans.
  • In 1996 British musician Hazell Dean released a version on her tribute album The Winner Takes It All.
  • In 1998, alternative band The Fire Apes covered the song for their album A Perfect Day For Bananafish.[39]
  • In 1999, the Swedish pop group A-Teens did a cover of "SOS" for their debut album, The ABBA Generation.
  • In 2000, the ska band Mad Caddies covered "SOS" on their The Holiday Has Been Cancelled EP.
  • In 2000, German neo-classical metal band At Vance recorded a version for their album Heart of Steel.
  • In 2001, 2 dance covers of the song by Donna Burke were included on the Japanese import ABBA Ibiza Caliente Mix compilation.
  • In 2001, the tribute album ABBAMetal (also released as A Tribute to ABBA) included a heavy metal version by German band Paradox.
  • In 2001, Serbian punk rock band KBO! recorded a version on their cover album (Ne) Menjajte Stanicu ((Do Not) Change The Station)
  • In 2002, the Meat Purveyors covered the song on their album, All Relationships Are Doomed to Fail.
  • In 2003, American artist Lionel's Dad (a.k.a. Mark Towner Williams) covered the song for his album Break The Normal.[40]
  • In 2004, the song was covered by TV actress Tricia Penrose on the British ABBAMania 2 album.
  • In 2004, Joie Starr released a version on Abbalicious, a 2004 compilation album performed by American drag queens.
  • In 2004, Swedish musician Nils Landgren covered the song on his album Funky ABBA.
  • On the 2005 German ABBA Mania compilation, the song was covered by Swiss actress/model/singer Michelle Hunziker.
  • In 2005, the song was covered by indie band Dodd Ferrelle and The Tin Foil Stars on their album The Murder of Love.[41]
  • In 2006, American indie band Masonic recorded a cover of the song for their album Without Warning. A sample can be heard on their official website.[42]
  • In 2007, the song was covered by Dutch rock singer/musician Robby Valentine on his album Falling Down In Misanthropolis.
  • In 2007, an acoustic cover of the song by indie band Nekked was included on their album A Barrier of Skin.[43]
  • In 2008, the song was covered in a jazz/lounge music style by American group BNB on their album Bossa Mia: Songs of ABBA.[44]
  • Tribute band Gabba (band) recorded a cover of the song, in the style of The Ramones. A sample can be heard on their official website.[45]
  • The song is performed in the Mamma Mia! musical. In the context of the musical, the song is sung by Sam and Donna when they are expressing desire for each other, unbeknownst to each other. In the 2008 Mamma Mia! film adaptation, the song is performed by Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.
  • American indie band Divorcee recorded a cover which was available for download on the Internet.
  • Indie band Mortimer Bustos recorded a cover of the song. An audio sample was available on their official MySpace page in the past.
  • The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded an instrumental cover of the song.[46]
  • In 2009, a DNA-repair themed scientific reprise of the song appeared in the journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education[47][48]
  • In 2009, the song was covered by Eurobeat label Eurogrooves on the album Super Eurobeat 198.
  • Versant released a cover of the song on 9 October 2009
  • In 2011, Chris De Burgh covered the song on his album Footsteps 2.
  • Marina Prior recorded the song for her 2012 album Both Sides Now
  • In 2013, The Headstones covered the song on their latest album Love + Fury.
  • On the 2013 compilation album Soldans på din grammofon Gyllene Tider (featuring Per Gessle of Roxette fame) released a rehearsal room recording of the song recorded in 1980.[49]
  • In 2014, Fozzy covered the song on their album Do You Wanna Start a War.
  • In 2015 Israeli electro pop duo The Young Professionals covered the song for their album remixes and cover[50]
  • In 2015, Portishead covered the song for the film High-Rise. In June 2016, on the eve of the Brexit referendum, an official video was released in honour of the recently murdered MP Jo Cox.[51]

Live cover performances[edit]

Appearances in other media[edit]

  • In 2000, "SOS" was the main theme song in Lukas Moodysson's film Tillsammans.
  • In 2001, ABBA's original version of "SOS" was used as the theme song of the Japanese TV drama Strawberry on the Shortcake. The song was re-released as a single, some twenty-five years after its original release, followed by a soundtrack album. Both the single and the album were successful on the Japanese charts, and the former became that year's best-selling single by an international music act in Japan, selling some 130,000 copies.[56] The following year "SOS" won a gold prize at the 17th Japan Gold Disc Awards in honor of its renewed commercial success.[57]
  • The song frequently used as bumper music for the radio program Coast to Coast AM.

Sampling/Influence on other songs[edit]

  • Punk rock band the Sex Pistols used the riff of "SOS" as the introduction to their track "Pretty Vacant".[58] The chorus of "Pretty Vacant" was also inspired by "SOS".
  • In 1989, Austrian group Edelweiss used the melody behind "SOS" as part of their biggest-selling single "Bring Me Edelweiss".


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External links[edit]