Listen to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” Played on a 1914 Fairground Organ

To tru­ly appre­ci­ate the spec­ta­cle of ABBA’s “Danc­ing Queen” played on a 1914 Hooghuys fair­ground organ, we rec­om­mend you read Angus Harrison’s 2016 VICE essay, “Why Abba’s ‘Danc­ing Queen’ Is the Sad­dest Record Ever Made”:

Make no mis­take. This song is about the danc­ing queen, but it is most def­i­nite­ly not sung by her. Here­in lies the tragedy. Our nar­ra­tor has real­ized that she is no longer the Danc­ing Queen. She is no longer young, no longer sweet, no longer 17. Now, instead, she watch­es from the bar; the dance­floor a mael­strom of lost faith, mem­o­ries, and missed oppor­tu­ni­ties. She was once 17, and as such was total­ly obliv­i­ous that the moment would ever end.

Could such sen­ti­ments apply to the above instru­ment, whose carved fig­urines, ornate scroll­work, and dis­tinc­tive sound def­i­nite­ly sug­gest that how­ev­er lov­ing­ly it’s been main­tained, its prime is long past.

This 105-year-old organ was already 62 when “Danc­ing Queen” was released at the height of the dis­co craze in 1976.

The tune quick­ly soared to the top of the charts world­wide, as fans raced to the record store to pick up a 45, or the full album, Arrival, on vinyl, cas­sette, or 8‑track.

But pro­duc­tion of punched, card­board scrolls such as the ones these metic­u­lous­ly hand built instru­ments — no two alike! — use had long since ceased.

site ded­i­cat­ed to Hooghuys organs ties their decline to the end of WWI, cit­ing the neces­si­ty of cheap­er post-war pro­duc­tion. When the founder of the fam­i­ly busi­ness died, short­ly there­after, the firm ceased to exist.

Flash for­ward to this mil­len­ni­um, when a mechan­i­cal music afi­ciona­do named Alex­ey Rom used MIDI — Musi­cal Instru­ment Dig­i­tal Inter­face — to give the aged organ new life, pro­gram­ming his own arrange­ment, then using an auto­mat­ic punch to cre­ate card­board cards the instru­ment was capa­ble of read­ing.

His first such tri­umph came when he equipped a sim­i­lar organ to cov­er Queen’s “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody.” “Danc­ing Queen,” and many oth­er pop­u­lar favorites that didn’t exist in the organs’ hey­day fol­lowed. (We’re pret­ty par­tial to “Mack the Knife” played on an 81-key Marenghi organ from 1905…)

Below Rom shares a tiny peek into his process.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1910 Fair­ground Organ Plays Queen’s “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody,” and It Works Like a Charm

When ABBA Wrote Music for the Cold War-Themed Musi­cal, Chess: “One of the Best Rock Scores Ever Pro­duced for the The­atre” (1984)

Bach’s Most Famous Organ Piece Played on Wine Glass­es

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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