"Waterloo" is the first single from the Swedish pop group ABBA's second album, Waterloo and their first under the Epic and Atlantic labels. This was also the first single to be credited to the group performing under the name ABBA.
On 6 April 1974 the song was the winning entry for Sweden in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The victory began ABBA's path to worldwide fame. The Swedish version of the single was a double A-side with "Honey, Honey" (Swedish version), while the English version usually featured "Watch Out" on the B-side.
The single became a No. 1 hit in several countries. It reached the U.S. Top 10 and went on to sell nearly six million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.
At the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, it was chosen as the best song in the competition's history.
Writing, recording and meaning
"Waterloo" was written specifically to be entered into the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, after the group finished third with "Ring Ring" the previous year in the Swedish pre-selection contest, Melodifestivalen 1973.
The original title of the song was "Honey Pie". "Waterloo" was originally written with simultaneous rock music and jazz beats (unusual for an ABBA song).
Recording of the song commenced on 17 December 1973, with instrumental backing from Janne Schaffer (who came up with the main guitar and bass parts), Rutger Gunnarsson and Ola Brunkert. The song's production style was influenced by Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound": prior to recording "Ring Ring", engineer Michael B. Tretow had read Richard Williams' book Out of His Head: The Sound of Phil Spector, which inspired him to layer multiple instrumental overdubs on the band's recordings, becoming an integral part of ABBA's sound. Subsequently, German and French versions were recorded in March and April 1974 respectively: the French version was adapted by Claude-Michel Schönberg, who would later go on to co-write Les Misérables.
"Waterloo" is about a woman who "surrenders" to a man and promises to love him, referencing Napoleon's surrender at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The band considered submitting another song to Eurovision, "Hasta Mañana", but decided on "Waterloo" since it gave equal weight to both lead vocalists Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, while "Hasta Mañana" was sung only by Fältskog.
ABBA performed the song at Melodifestivalen 1974 in February, singing it in Swedish. The song won, and therefore advanced to Eurovision.
The song differed from the standard "dramatic ballad" tradition of the Eurovision Song Contest by its flavour and rhythm, as well as by its performance. ABBA gave the audience something that had never been seen before in Eurovision: flashy costumes (including silver platform boots), plus a catchy uptempo song and even simple choreography. The group also broke from convention by singing the song in a language other than that of their home country; prior to "Waterloo" all Eurovision singers had been required to sing in their country's native tongue, a restriction that was lifted briefly for the 1974 and 1975 contests (thus allowing "Waterloo" to be sung in English), then reinstated before ultimately being removed again in 1998. Compared to later ABBA releases, the singers' Swedish accents are decidedly more pronounced in "Waterloo".
The song won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 final on 6 April by six points.
The song shot to No. 1 in the UK and stayed there for two weeks, becoming the first of the band's nine UK No. 1's, and the 16th biggest selling single of the year in the UK.
It also topped the charts in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, West Germany, Ireland, Norway, South Africa and Switzerland, while reaching the Top 3 in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and ABBA's native Sweden. (The song was immensely popular in Sweden, but did not reach No. 1 there due to Sweden having a combined Album and Singles Chart at the time: at the peak of the song's popularity, its Swedish and English versions reached No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, while the No. 1 spot was held by the album Waterloo.) The song also spent 11 weeks on Svensktoppen (24 March – 2 June 1974), including 7 weeks at No. 1.
Unlike other Eurovision-winning tunes, the song's appeal transcended Europe: "Waterloo" also reached the Top 10 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia and the United States (peaking at No. 6, their third highest-charting U.S. hit after "Dancing Queen" and "Take a Chance on Me"). The Waterloo album performed similarly well in Europe, although in the US it failed to match the success of the single.
ABBA had originally cited the song "See My Baby Jive", by English glam rock band Wizzard, as a major influence; in the wake of their Eurovision victory, they were quoted as saying that it would not surprise them if artists such as Wizzard would consider entering the Eurovision in the future.
"Waterloo" was re-released in 2004 (with the same B-side), to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ABBA's Eurovision win, reaching No. 20 on the UK charts.
On 22 October 2005, at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest, "Waterloo" was chosen as the best song in the competition's history.
Dr. Harry Witchel, physiologist and music expert at the University of Bristol, named "Waterloo" the quintessential Eurovision song.
a. "Waterloo" (Swedish version) – 2:45
b. "Honey Honey" (Swedish version) – 2:55
a. "Waterloo" (English version) – 2:46
b. "Watch Out" – 3:46
- "Waterloo" (English version)
- "Waterloo" (English alternate version)
- "Waterloo" (French version) - recorded 18 April 1974 in Paris, France
- "Waterloo" (French/Swedish version) - overdubs of French and Swedish versions
- "Waterloo" (German version)
- "Waterloo" (Swedish version)
||4 March 1974
||"Waterloo" (Swedish) / "Honey, Honey" (Swedish)
||4 March 1974
||"Waterloo" (English) / "Watch Out"
||"Waterloo" / "Watch Out"
||"Waterloo" / "Watch Out"
||"Waterloo" (German) / "Watch Out"
||"Waterloo" (French) / "Gonna Sing You My Lovesong"
||45. X. 3104
Weekly singles charts
- In 1974, both Seija Simola and Ami Aspelund each recorded a Finnish-language cover version of "Waterloo" whose lyrics were written by Simola; that summer Simola's recording of "Waterloo" reached the Top 10 in Finland during the same period the ABBA original was at No. 1.
- In 1974 Sarolta Zalatnay recorded the Hungarian verson of this song as Waterloo
- In 1974, Danish duo Lecia & Lucienne covered the song with Danish lyrics written by Gustav Winckler. These lyrics were largely a direct translation of the original Swedish lyrics written by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson.
- In 1978, a Swedish country band called Nashville Train (which included some of ABBA's own backing band members) covered the song on their album ABBA Our Way.
- 1970s Hong Kong pop band The Wynners recorded a cover of the song. It was last included on their 2007 compilation Stars on 33.
- In 1986, a cover version of the song was recorded and released by Doctor and the Medics, with special guest Roy Wood on saxophone and backing vocals, reached No. 45 on the UK chart.
- In 1995, Swedish metal band Nation recorded a version for their album Without Remorse. It would later be released on the compilation ABBAMetal (also released as A Tribute to ABBA).
- In 1995, New Zealand alternative rock band Cloth recorded a version for the compilation Abbasalutely.
- Spanish rock band Los Enemigos recorded an English cover of the song for their 1995 album Por la Sombra Hermana Amnesia.
- In 1998, the original line-up of UK girl group Bananarama reunited to record "Waterloo" for the Eurovision parody A Song For Eurotrash on Channel 4. Their music video featured the girls waking up from a hang-over, dancing around in wedding dresses at an altar (with male back-up dancers in military uniform), and getting into a food fight at a wedding reception. The song was included on the 1999 compilation, ABBA - A Tribute: The 25th Anniversary Celebration.
- In 1998, Swedish heavy metal band Black Ingvars covered "Waterloo" in Swedish on their 1998 album Schlager Metal.
- In 1999, ABBA tribute pop group Arrival released a version on their album First Flight.
- Dance versions of the song have been recorded by Abbacadabra (released through Almighty Records), Tiny T on the Lay All Your Love On ABBA tribute album, German Eurodance group E-Rotic on their 1997 Thank You For The Music album and the 1998 compilation Dancemania Covers 2, Baby Dolls (in 1991), and the Golden Queens.
- Singer/songwriter Pamela McNeill covered the song on her album Tribute To ABBA.
- In 2004, the song was performed by Michelle Hardwick, Vickie Gates, and Will Mellor for the tribute album ABBAMania 2.
- German pop group Banaroo covered the song for the German ABBA Mania compilation, which coincided with a TV special.
- In 2005, The Dan Band recorded a cover of Waterloo as part of an ABBA medley for his album The Dan Band Live.
- In 2006, a cover of the song by Finnish a cappella choral ensemble Rajaton was released on their ABBA tribute album Rajaton Sings ABBA With Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
- California indie band Popdudes, featuring Kenny Howes, included a cover of the song on their album Maximum Rock Stupidity. It is also featured on the 2006 power pop compilation International Pop Overthrow - Volume 9.
- Tribute band Gabba recorded a cover of the song, in the style of The Ramones.
- Danish duo Olsen Brothers (winners of the Eurovision contest in 2000) covered the song on their 2010 album Wings of Eurovision.
- Lenna Kuurmaa and Tanel Padar recorded a cover of the song in Estonian.
- Philipp Kirkorov recorded a cover of the song in Russian for album "Ya".
Live cover performances
Appearances in other media
- ABBA perform parts of the song live in the 1977 film ABBA: The Movie.
- The Australian film Muriel's Wedding (1994), features "Waterloo" in a pivotal scene in which lead Toni Collette bonds with the character played by Rachel Griffiths. The film's soundtrack, featuring five ABBA tracks, is widely regarded as having helped to fuel the revival of popular interest in ABBA's music in the mid-1990s.
- "Waterloo" features prominently in the 2015 science-fiction film The Martian. The song plays as the film's lead, played by Matt Damon, works to ready his launch vehicle for a last-chance escape from Mars.
- "Here I Go Again", The 11th episode of the 3rd season of Legends of Tomorrow (February 19, 2018) begins in medias res, with the titual time-traveling team having apparently just restored a time-transplanted Napoleon from the 1970s, where he had come into possession of a copy of the record. The song is also stuck in the head of one member of the team, until he erases his own memory to get it out.
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