‘Two For The Price Of One’ is one of the most contentious songs in the ABBA catalogue. Ever since its release on The Visitors in 1981 it has split ABBA fans between those who hate it and those who don’t mind it – it seems one of the few ABBA songs that no one will list among their favourites.
A common complaint it that ‘Two For The Price Of One’ sounds like a throwback to the Ring Ring era, and it’s easy to see why: the song features a Björn lead vocal, with Agnetha and Frida relegated to an anonymous sounding backing choir. Its start-stop rhythms are reminiscent of the 1973 track ‘Love Isn’t Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough)’, itself another essentially unloved song in the ABBA catalogue.
But it can also be seen as an experiment in future forms for the song’s composers. The verses are in a recitative style, common in musicals during transitions, and used effectively by Benny and Björn a couple of years later in their Chess musical, such as in ‘The American And Florence’, which leads into ‘Nobody’s Side’.
Meanwhile the chorus makes use of counter-melodies, which in the case of ‘Two For The Price Of One’ features Agnetha and Frida expanding on Björn’s lyrics, but in the Chess musical had four characters singing complex conflicting themes in ‘Quartet (A Model Of Decorum And Tranquility)’.
The lyric is also one of the most successful of ABBA’s “story” songs, one of the few that is actually resolved in the end – most of the others, from ‘Me And Bobby And Bobby’s Brother’ to ‘On And On And On’ never reach a conclusion. The ambiguity of the punchline shows Björn’s growing skill in lyric writing – is the mother an intrusive chaperone, or is a sexual threesome on offer?
Ironically ‘I Let The Music Speak’, released on the same album, is seen as a nod to Benny and Björn’s future ambitions, when in reality it is a pastiche created to sound like a song from a stage musical.
So next time you’re listening to ‘Two For The Price Of One’ try listening with different ears, you might hear a different song.