It is a truth universally acknowledged that a presidential candidate’s list of top ten favorite songs, published in a magazine aimed at self-identified young urban hipsters, will be an essentially disingenuous document, with the putative preferences having been selected by a campaign subcomittee assigned the task of generating an ideally — from a political, rather than aesthetic point of view — eclectic list, that does not actually appear on any known Ipod.
Any deviation from this practice deserves the closest scrutiny. Thus John McCain’s unexpected selection of The Gayest Song of All Time as his personal #1 favorite manifestation of the Terpsichorean muse almost literally cries out for careful analysis. What follows is a (admittedly preliminary) attempt to undertake that task.
“Dancing Queen” was released in the United States on Nov. 12 1976, and five months later became Abba’s only #1 American hit (the sugary pop confections of the Swedish quartet were always far more popular on the international scene, and they remain one of the top-selling musical acts of all time).
The narrative structure of the song is a model of classical economy: as one critic has noted, “[I]t’s about a seventeen-year-old girl having a good time on a Friday night. Not fazed by the social pressures in her daily life as a teenager, all she wants to do is go out and look for a ‘king’ to dance with.”
What, we might — and will — ask, was it about this story that a 40-year-old married father of three children found so compelling about this particular story in that long-ago spring of 1977, as he roamed the dance floors of discotheques in southern Florida? McCain himself has tried to answer that question, but his response merely confuses the issue, with its highly anachronistic reference to being shot down over North Vietnam a full decade earlier, thus (according to him) permanently disabling his musical taste, while at the same time granting him the gift of Patriotism.
The cynical interpretation of this hermeneutic gesture would be that McCain is merely grasping at every opportunity, no matter how implausible, to remind voters he was a prisoner of war. The present author, who will admit to a deep affection for Dancing Queen — he recently performed, with the able assistance of two of his sisters in law, a karaoke version of it for the benefit of a surprisingly unreceptive audience inside a rural west Michigan bar — prefers a more charitable account.
Do we not see, in McCain’s extraordinary revelation that he loves Dancing Queen (note his third-favorite song is the equally revelatory Abba opus Take A Chance On Me) a kind of confession? Some might claim it is irresponsible to speculate in this manner. To the contrary, it is irresponsible not to.
Is there the slightest doubt that, if Barack Obama were to name Dancing Queen as his favorite song, Maureen Dowd, to name but one particularly prominent arbiter of such things, would have found indisputable evidence of barely hidden homoerotic longings in the soul of a man she has characterized as an “anorexic starlet?” The question answers itself.
What exactly is John McCain trying to tell us? And why won’t we listen?