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