Waterloo remaster - liner notes

Published April 04, 2010

Waterloo was ABBA's second album - but the first to be released under their new group name. Previously known as the somewhat longwinded Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid (or Frida), their manager, Stig Anderson, was never especially enthusiastic about that moniker. In fact, nobody was. But when the group first started recording together in 1972, it was meant more as a "hobby" project, and since the two boys had recorded as Björn & Benny, it was natural to just add the girls' names to the line-up.

The hobby turned into a permanent group when the song 'Ring Ring' became a hit in 1973. Anderson got tired of having to refer to the four names everytime he spoke to the press about them. Toying around with the initials of the names, he came up with ABBA. The media got wind of his nickname, and was amused: Abba is also the name of a Swedish canned fish company. After some initial hesitation the group decided to go along with Stig's suggestion. The fish company gave their blessing, and starting from the group's next record release the group would be calling themselves ABBA.

That next release was in fact three different records, issued on the same day. On March 4, 1974, two singles, featuring the Swedish and English version of 'Waterloo' respectively, and an album with the same title, were released in Sweden. To be on the safe side, the billing "Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida" was retained within parentheses after ABBA.

Recording for the album had begun at the end of September 1973, just a few weeks after ABBA had returned from their summer tour of that year. The first track to be recorded was 'Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)'. The song was influenced by Phil Spector, whose early 1960s recordings were an important inspiration for ABBA during their first years together.

The title track was recorded towards the end of the sessions for the album, in December 1973. The previous month, Björn, Benny and Stig had been invited to submit an entry to the Swedish selections for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. After the previous year's failure with 'Ring Ring', the trio was more eager than ever to try their luck at the contest. Most record companies in places like Great Britain and the United States were fairly indifferent to pop music from Sweden, and ABBA knew that the Eurovision Song Contest was virtually their only chance for exposure to a big international audience.

Björn, Benny and Stig decided that the best bet for ABBA would be a "happy," uptempo song. With this thought in mind, Björn and Benny set out to the island of Viggsö in the Stockholm archipelago, where they owned summer houses. They had started the habit of retreating there for songwriting sessions: it was the best way to get away from all the noise and distractions of their daily work as producers at the record company Polar Music.

Björn and Benny's songwriting method was to sit together for hours on end, playing chords on guitar and piano, humming fragments of melodies, trying to come up with good ideas. During that November songwriting session, the pair put together a couple of compositions. Among them was an uptempo rocker which in many ways was also a nostalgic throwback to the Spector records of the previous decade. A cassette demo of the pair humming their way through the song, accompanied by piano and guitar, was submitted to Stig Anderson.

Stig, who was one of Sweden's most prolific lyricists during the 1960s and early 1970s, set to work on finding the right title for the song. He needed something that was catchy and easy to understand all over the world. At first, he tried 'Honey Pie', but that title didn't seem to lead anywhere. After a week of agonising he finally found the word 'Waterloo' in a book of familiar quotations, referring to Napoleon Bonaparte's legendary defeat by British and German forces at the battle in the Belgian town on June 18, 1815.

A few hours later, he had the complete Swedish lyrics for the song, constructing a story of 'Waterloo' as a metaphor for a girl surrendering to the love of a suitor. ABBA entered the recording studio to commit the song to tape in mid-December 1973. On the following day the group recorded yet another of their new songs. This time it was a mid-tempo ballad that they also felt could be a contender for the Eurovision Song Contest. Stig was just on his way to a holiday on the Canary Islands when a new demo tape was thrust in his hand. It was time to come up with another set of lyrics.

Repeatedly hearing the Spanish phrase "hasta mañana" - meaning "see you tomorrow" - on his holiday, gave Stig the idea for the title. He dictated the lyrics over the telephone so that ABBA could go into the studio and record it as soon as possible. Whereas Agnetha and Frida had shared the lead vocals on 'Waterloo', 'Hasta Mañana' became a solo number for Agnetha. She drew inspiration from her teenage idol, Connie Francis, to find the right mood for the interpretation.

When Stig returned home from his holiday it was only one day left before the entries to the Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest had to be submitted. But which song to choose? Both were strong, but 'Hasta Mañana' was a little closer to what the audience expected from a contest entry.

In the end, 'Waterloo' was chosen precisely because it broke with the "dramatic ballad" tradition of the competition. ABBA decided that they were going to put a rock'n'roll spin on the Eurovision Song Contest.

It turned out to be exactly the right choice. At the Swedish selections, held on February 9, 1974, ABBA came out the victors with a margin of almost 100 points over the runner-up. The previous year's panel of music experts had been replaced with a cross section of the Swedish public, which may have something to do with the outcome.

On April 6, ABBA performed the English version of 'Waterloo' in the Eurovision Song Contest finals in Brighton, England. The group were dressed in what is perhaps the most well-known of their many colourful costumes over the years (as depicted on the cover of this album), while conductor Sven-Olof Walldoff had dressed up as Napoleon (on the Waterloo album cover, it's actually bass player Mike Watson who acts the Napoleon part). ABBA won the juries over yet again - it was the first time ever that Sweden had won the contest.

'Waterloo' rapidly became a worldwide hit of some magnitude, reaching the Top 5 in several European countries as well as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Japan, and the Top 10 in the United States.

The Waterloo album topped the charts in Sweden and Norway, charting highly in many other countries as well. Highlights on the album included 'Honey, Honey', the follow-up single in most countries, and Frida's big ballad on the album, 'Gonna Sing You My Lovesong'. Waterloo is also notable for being the only ABBA album to contain a lead vocal performance by Benny: 'Suzy-Hang-Around'.

In the United States and Canada, a brand new remix of 'Ring Ring' with some added electric guitar and saxophone was included on the album. The remix makes its CD debut as a bonus selection on this version of Waterloo.

The other two bonus tracks are the Swedish versions of 'Waterloo' and 'Honey, Honey', which made up the A- and B-side of a domestic single release. 'Waterloo' was also featured in the track listing for the original Swedish version of the album. Those who want to hear the album as ABBA themselves planned it may programme their CD players thus: tracks 13, 2-11, 1.

With the Waterloo album it was clear that ABBA had taken a step away from the tryouts of its predecessor, Ring Ring, although they had yet to find their true voice. But where the album may be a bit rough around the edges, it does make up for it tenfold in charm and hummable melodies - ABBA never failed in that department.