The Story of... 'Waterloo' by ABBA

17 May 2021, 15:27

ABBA won Eurovision in 1974
ABBA won Eurovision in 1974. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

ABBA burst onto the music scene the annual Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974, becoming overnight sensations.

'Waterloo' remains one of the best ever songs performed at Eurovision, but what is the song about and how did ABBA get involved in the competition?

See more: ABBA's last ever TV performance in 1982 is so moving

Here are all the fascinating facts:

  1. Who wrote 'Waterloo'?

    Like many early ABBA songs, the song was written by members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, alongside their manager Stig Anderson.

  2. Why did ABBA enter Eurovision?

    'Waterloo' was written specifically to be entered into the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, after ABBA finished third with 'Ring Ring' the previous year, in the Swedish pre-selection contest, Melodifestivalen 1973.

    Before this, Stig Anderson asked Ulvaeus and Andersson to write a song for Melodifestivalen, and after two rejected songs in 1971, the duo submitted their song 'Säg det med en sång' ('Say It with a Song') for the 1972 contest, choosing newcomer Lena Anderson to sing. The song finished third.

    See more: When unknown ABBA sang ‘Waterloo’ in its original Swedish for their breakthrough TV appearance

    Ulvaeus, Andersson and Stig Anderson still believed that Eurovision could be their ticket for success.

    In late 1973, they were invited by Swedish TV to submit another song for the Melodifestivalen 1974, and this time 'Waterloo'.

    ABBA won their national heats in Sweden, and as this was their third attempt, they were already pretty prepared for the Eurovision Song Contest.

  3. How successful was 'Waterloo' at Eurovision?

    Held at The Dome in Brighton on April 6, 1974, ABBA won Eurovision with 24 points.

    That may not sound like much compared to modern competitions, but second place only had 18 points.

    Bonus fact: The Wombles were that year's interval entertainment.

    See more: ABBA reveals why the UK gave them 'nul points' for 'Waterloo' at Eurovision in 1974

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    An actor dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte poses with ABBA to promote 'Waterloo' in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1974.
    An actor dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte poses with ABBA to promote 'Waterloo' in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1974. Picture: Getty

    'Waterloo' was the first of ABBA's nine UK number one singles, topping the charts for two weeks.

    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.

    See more: ABBA's 20 greatest ever songs, ranked

    It also entered the charts outside Europe (a rarity for a Eurovision song), reaching the Top 10 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia and the United States.

    In total, it sold nearly six million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles in history.

  5. 'Waterloo' meaning: What inspired the song?

    The original title of the song was 'Honey Pie', and was heavily inspired by UK glam rock of the time, particularly Wizzard's 'See My Baby Jive'.

    The song itself is about a woman who "surrenders" to a man and promises to love him, while referencing Napoleon's surrender at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

    See more: ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus rules out film biopic in surprise move: 'Not while I'm alive'

    Mini history lesson: Waterloo is the place where Napoleon Bonaparte met his defeat after an epic battle in 1815. This song uses this same battle as a metaphor for the woman who gives in and falls in love with her man. Essentially, he's her own personal "Waterloo".

  6. Who has covered it?

    Cher - Waterloo [Official HD Audio]

    Cover versions include:

    - Bananarama (for the Eurovision parody A Song For Eurotrash on Channel 4)
    - Fellow Eurovision winners The Olsen Brothers
    - Doctor and the Medics with Roy Wood
    - Cher
    - The Mamma Mia 2 cast (Hugh Skinner and Lily James)