"Waterloo" was 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.
"Waterloo" is the quintessential Eurovision song, according to Dr Harry Witchel, physiologist and music expert at the University of Bristol. At the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, it was chosen as the best song in the competition's history.
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). The song broke the "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 in the 1970s (thus allowing "Waterloo" to be sung in English), then reinstated a few years later before ultimately being removed. Compared to later ABBA releases, the singers' Swedish accents are decidedly more pronounced in "Waterloo," as their understanding of the English language was limited.
Though it isn't well-known, Polar accidentally released a different version of "Waterloo" shortly after ABBA's Eurovision win before replacing it with the more famous version. The alternative version had a harder rock sound, omitting the saxophones (played by Christer Ecklund), plus an additional "oh yeah" in the verses. The alternative version was commercially released in 2005 as part of The Complete Studio Recordings box set. However, it was this version that ABBA performed during their 1979 tour of Europe and North America.
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 tune did not reach No. 1 in their home country, its Swedish (No. 2) and English (No. 3) versions were beat out for the top spot by the Waterloo album due to Sweden having a combined Album and Singles Chart at the time.) 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). 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 Wizzard song "See My Baby Jive" 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.
In 1994, "Waterloo" (along with several other ABBA hits) was included in the soundtrack of the film Muriel's Wedding. It 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.
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, 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 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 groupBananarama 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 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.
In 2006, a cover of the song by Finnisha cappella choral ensemble Rajaton was released on their ABBA tribute album Rajaton Sings ABBA With Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
In 2006, the song was covered by the Hong Kong children's T.I.V.C. (The Innocent Voices Choir) for their album Let's Dance You Jump Over the Day.
In 2006, German AC/DC tribute band Riff Raff recorded a cover in AC/DC style for their album Rock 'N' Roll Mutation Vol. 1: Riff Raff Performs ABBA.
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.
The song is featured in the encore of the musical Mamma Mia!. The song does not have a context or a meaning. It is just performed as a musical number in which members of the audience are encouraged to get up off their seats and sing, dance and clap along.
The Australian film Muriel's Wedding (1994), features "Waterloo" in a pivotal scene in which lead Toni Colette 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.