A-side label of the Swedish vinyl release of the English-language recording
|Single by ABBA|
|from the album Waterloo|
|Released||4 March 1974|
|Recorded||17 December 1973|
|Studio||Metronome Studios, Stockholm|
|ABBA singles chronology|
Waterloo (English version)
|Eurovision Song Contest 1974 entry|
|◄ "You're Summer" (1973)|
|"Jennie, Jennie" (1975) ►|
"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 in 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.
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.
The title, "Waterloo", does not refer to Waterloo, London, nor its landmark station, but is about a woman who "surrenders" to a man and promises to love him, referencing Napoleon's defeat 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.
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 rarely 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 being the first winning entry in a language other than that of their home country; prior to 1973 all Eurovision singers had been required to sing in their country's native tongue, a restriction that was lifted briefly for the contests between 1973 and 1976 (thus allowing "Waterloo" to be sung in English), then reinstated before ultimately being removed again in 1999. Compared to later ABBA releases, the singers' Swedish accents are decidedly more pronounced in "Waterloo".
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 No. 1 "Dancing Queen" and No. 3 "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.
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)
|Sweden||4 March 1974||"Waterloo" (Swedish) / "Honey, Honey" (Swedish)||Polar||Single||POS 1186|
|Sweden||4 March 1974||"Waterloo" (English) / "Watch Out"||Polar||Single||POS 1187|
|UK||1974||"Waterloo" / "Watch Out"||Epic||Single||EPC 2240|
|US||1974||"Waterloo" / "Watch Out"||Atlantic||Single||45-3035|
|West Germany||1974||"Waterloo" (German) / "Watch Out"||Polydor||Single||2040 116|
|France||1974||"Waterloo" (French) / "Gonna Sing You My Lovesong"||Vogue||Single||45. X. 3104|
Charts and certifications
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again version
"Waterloo" was released on 1 June 2018 as the second single from the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again soundtrack, by Capitol and Polydor Records. The song is performed by Hugh Skinner (Young Harry) and Lily James (Young Donna) and was produced by Benny Andersson.
|Hungary (Single Top 40)||40|
Other cover versions
- In 1974, Seija Simola recorded a Finnish-language cover version of "Waterloo" whose lyrics were written by Simola; her version reached the Top 10 in Finland during the same period the ABBA original was at No. 1.
- In 2018, Cher covered the song on her ABBA covers album Dancing Queen. During her Here We Go Again Tour she performed "Waterloo" together with "SOS" and "Fernando". On 31 October 2018 "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" and "Take Me Home" were cut from her Classic Cher concert residency and "Waterloo", "SOS" and "Fernando" were added. On September 18, 2019 Cher also performed "Waterloo" at the season 14 finale of America's Got Talent, to promote the album and her Here We Go Again Tour.
Live cover performances
- 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 song is performed by the cast over the closing credits of the film Mamma Mia!, but is not featured on the official soundtrack.
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 third season of Legends of Tomorrow (19 February 2018), begins in medias res, with the titular 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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