Sunday, June 04, 2017

Abba - Medley (Pick a Bale of Cotton, etc.)

I can't tell if this 'song'--an Abba single b-side that was basically a medley of three different standards--was considered thoroughly inappropriate for all manner of historically troubling reasons... BUT when it came out (September 1978), I found it strangely more alluring/disturbing than the a-side ("Summer Night City").

The three songs spliced together on the b-side are:

"Pick a Bale of Cotton" (an old spiritual originally recorded as early as 1933 by James "Iron Head" Baker and then later by the more famous Lead Belly in the 1940s and the song which makes this reproduction by Abba the most troubling)
"On Top of Old Smokey" (a traditional folk song originally recorded by The Weavers in 1951)
"Midnight Special" (a traditional folk song from the American South whose first recording dates back to 1926, and was also recorded by Lead Belly in 1934)

For an interesting history of "Pick a Bale of Cotton" and its dubious place in the history of racism in the U.S., see here.

The Abba version was originally recorded in 1975 (!) but released as the b-side of "Summer Night City" in September 1978.

How to even unpack how wrong this is? And yet, yet, amazing to think that Abba had a strangely outside-the-box aesthetic, way back, before The Album (their clear magnum opus), before Arrival...?

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