“SOS” was the third single from Swedish pop group ABBA’s self-titled 1975 album, their third for Polar Music and their second for Epic and Atlantic. It was released with “Man in the Middle” as the B-side. Agnetha Fältskog, who sang lead, recorded the song in Swedish on her 1975 solo album Elva kvinnor i ett hus. “SOS” was ABBA’s first major worldwide hit since “Waterloo”.
“SOS” (working title; “Turn Me On”) was written by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson and was recorded at Glen Studio on 22–23 August 1974. The title itself was coined by Stig, though the lyrics he provided were re-written by Ulvaeus. “SOS” was among the first of three songs recorded for the group’s 1975 album, ABBA.
The song is unique among pop songs of the period, opening with unaccompanied classical keyboard in a subdued D-minor key. Unlike most ABBA tracks that preceded it, the vocal begins with an emotional solo performance by Fältskog. The descending chords and ominous Minimoog synthesizer melody line of the introduction set the tone for Fältskog’s vocals, sounding almost as if she were breaking down in tears. The song then transitions to a rock chorus in a major key, dominated by a distorted electric guitar and full vocals.
Despite the song’s catchiness, it was passed over as the lead single from the album; the track “So Long” was chosen instead. “So Long” was chosen primarily because it had the same uptempo beat as their 1974 hit single, “Waterloo”.
Lyricist Ulvaeus has said that, after three years of trying to figure out what style would define them, ABBA found its identity as a pop group with the release of “SOS”.
The song was the subject of one of the first pioneering music videos produced by director Lasse Hallström for the band. Much of the video is filmed from an overhead camera, as if from a tower or lighthouse, with the bandmates’ faces sometimes distorted, as though shot through a prism.
During the band’s first visit to the United States, ABBA performed “SOS” on the long-running television program American Bandstand on November 15, 1975.
ABBA performs the song live in the concert film ABBA: The Movie, Hallström’s first English-language feature film, filmed during the band’s tour of Australia in 1977.
ABBA performed the song on its 1979 tour of Europe and North America. While the track does not appear on the filmed record of that tour—released on DVD as “ABBA in Concert”—it is featured on the 2014 audio release, Live at Wembley Arena. For the first time on that tour, vocalists Fältskog and Lyngstad traded the line “when you’re gone” responsively at the song’s climax. Actors Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan would mimic the approach in recording “SOS” for the soundtrack of the film version of Mamma Mia! in 2008.