Liner notes, part 2

Published April 06, 2010

However, the recent songwriting sessions had yielded a couple of other songs as well, one of which carried the working title 'Who's Gonna Love You'. The backing track for this mid-tempo ballad was recorded the day after 'Waterloo'. Listening back to the tape after the session, the track triggered something in Björn and Benny. They realised that 'Who's Gonna Love You' would be just as suitable for the Eurovision Song Contest as the rocking rhythms of 'Waterloo', perhaps even more so. Stig Anderson, who was headed for a Christmas holiday trip to the Canary Islands, had a cassette tape with the backing track thrust in his hand just as he was about to leave. His task, as usual, was to come up with suitable lyrics. In the Canary Islands, Stig kept hearing the phrase "hasta mañana", meaning "see you tomorrow", on the radio. He quickly put together the lyrics for the new song, and dictated them down a crackly telephone line between Spain and Sweden. 'Who's Gonna Love You' had become 'Hasta Mañana'.

At the end of December, Agnetha and Frida were brought to the studio to record the vocals for the new song. At first, the session did not go well: however hard they tried, they just couldn't find the right way to interpret the tune. Agnetha provided the breakthrough, by drawing inspiration from the style and mood of the music that had captivated her as a teenager. "We realised that neither of us were able to sing it and we had actually started to give up on it," she recalled. "Then I ended up alone in the studio and fooled around a bit, thinking that I might do it like Connie Francis would. I sang it in that really emotional way and then we found that we were on the right way."

Agnetha's brilliantly plaintive lead vocal was very convincing, certainly, but it was a mixed blessing, for now Björn, Benny and Stig found themselves with a problem to solve. Should a "safe" tune like 'Hasta Mañana' be their submission to the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest heats? After all, it was in line with the previous four years' winning entries: a female solo performance of a slow to mid-tempo ballad. Or was it better to go with 'Waterloo', precisely because it broke with the Eurovision tradition? After agonising a bit, they decided to go out on a limb and place their bets on the rock tune, not least because the song focused on both Frida and Agnetha as lead vocalists, which meant that the actual performance of the song would work much better. So, 'Waterloo' it was.

It proved to be the correct choice. ABBA sailed through the Swedish heats on February 9, 1974, winning an overwhelming victory over the other contestants. And then, finally, came that fateful day on April 6 when the turn had come to win the European juries over - and, above all, the European television viewers. It was an irresistible package: a catchy song, unforgettably zany costumes - created by clothes designer Inger Svenneke - and a zestful performance that smashed right through the television screens. ABBA emerged as the rightful winners after a nerve-racking voting process - nerve-racking, that is, for everyone except Frida. "I was surprised at myself because I believe I was pretty ice-cold," she recalled. "The reaction didn't come until afterwards. It was hard to believe that we had won this major contest."

Stig Anderson had made sure that ABBA would not meet the fate of so many other Eurovision Song Contest winners, who were often completely unprepared for the eventuality of winning and therefore were unable to fully exploit the exposure afforded them by participating in the contest. He was actually thankful that the group had failed the previous year, for it had given him the chance to secure good relationships with record labels all over Europe well in time for the 'Waterloo' triumph. When ABBA won the Swedish selection, Stig went on a trip to ensure that those record companies were fully prepared to give 'Waterloo' their all when the single was released. It was "like pushing a button", as Björn phrased it, and the song charted highly everywhere - including the United States, Australia and a host of other countries where Eurovision was a largely unknown event - hitting number one in at least seven nations. ABBA had scored their first major global hit, finally proving that it was possible to break the boundaries imposed upon them by the international record business.

The group's native Sweden had seen the very first release of the 'Waterloo' single and album, along with a Swedish single version of the song, on March 4, 1974, just a month before the contest. The singles and the LP repeated the success of Ring Ring and again occupied the Top Three places on the chart. Four weeks after release the album had sold 125,000 copies domestically, said to be the highest number of albums ever sold in such a short time. Waterloo was number one on the chart for 12 weeks and by the end of the year it had sold 250,000 copies, more than any other album in Sweden up to that point. Although its international impact was minor compared with the 'Waterloo' single, the LP did in fact show up in the charts in several countries, achieving Top Ten placings in Europe and, at the height of Abbamania a few years later, reaching the Top 20 in Australia.

This success was not so surprising, for the album was chock-full of strong, well-arranged tunes: from romantic solo ballads - Agnetha's tour de force on 'Hasta Mañana' was certainly equalled by Frida's earnest reading of 'Gonna Sing You My Lovesong' - to the whimsical but highly hummable 'What About Livingstone' and 'King Kong Song'. Elsewhere, there were the propellent girl-pop of 'Honey, Honey', which was the follow-up single to 'Waterloo' in many countries, and the cool, lightly jazzy feel of 'My Mama Said'. Benny pitched in with his only solo lead vocal on an ABBA record, 'Suzy-Hang-Around'. The album even contained tracks like 'Watch Out', where ABBA tried their hands at raw, guitar-driven glam rock, a style not usually associated with the group. "If it hadn't been for Janne Schaffer's guitar riff, it would have been a completely worthless track," was Benny's unforgiving verdict many years later. However, it could also be argued that 'Watch Out', with its rasping vocals, squealing synthesizer, fuzzy guitar and menacing lyrics, throws a not unwelcome trashy spanner in ABBA's otherwise largely polished works.

And this uninhibited eclecticism was very much what the album was about: the sense of discovery and joy experienced by a group of people who dared believe that they had the right to create pop music that competed with their seemingly untouchable American and English role models. Furthermore, at the time rock and pop had a worrying tendency to be either overly preachy or much too pretentious - or both - and quite a few observers approved of ABBA's unashamed insistence on hanging on to the fun in pop music. "Abba's emergence is one of the most cheering musical events in recent months," wrote Rolling Stone Magazine's Ken Barnes in a review of the album. "With their concise, upbeat pop creations, Abba is much closer to the essential spirit of rock & roll than any number of self-indulgent hotshot guitarists or devotional ensembles handing down cosmo-dynamic enlightenment to the huddled masses." Three decades later it is just as easy to agree with Barnes' assessment, for although ABBA's major artistic triumphs still lay in the future, the ability to draw the listeners into their musical universe, demanding their attention through the sheer energy of the tunefulness and the dedication to the performances, was already there.

This 30th Anniversary Edition of the Waterloo album, then, celebrates not only ABBA's Eurovision victory in Brighton, England, but also the sense of discovery and excitement surrounding their breakthrough on the international pop arena. On disc one, the original album has been expanded to include every studio-recorded version of 'Waterloo'. There is the familiar English version, naturally, but also the Swedish version, which was featured on the original domestic release of the LP (listen to the album as ABBA themselves planned it by programming your CD player to play the tracks in this order: 13, 2-11, 1). Even rarer are the French and German versions of the song, released in an effort to facilitate breakthroughs in France and West Germany (ultimately, just like everybody else these countries preferred the English hit recording). The Swedish version of 'Honey, Honey', B-side of the Swedish 'Waterloo' single, is also a featured bonus selection. Finally, in the United States and Canada, a brand new remix of 'Ring Ring' with some added electric guitar and saxophone finished off the original issue of the LP, and this remix has been included here.

In addition, this 30th Anniversary Edition offers a second disc: a DVD, featuring ABBA's winning performances of 'Waterloo' in the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest and the finals in Brighton, England. There are also clips of the only other songs from the album that ABBA performed in front of a camera that year: 'Honey, Honey', taken from the West German television show Star Parade in May 1974, and 'Hasta Mañana', from the Spanish programme Señoras y Señores, taped later the same month. Note: the Spanish show was originally broadcast in black and white, and this accordingly is also how it appears on this disc. All four television performances are released on DVD in their entirety for the very first time, capturing ABBA at their glammiest and most enthusiastic - and most willing to accommodate themselves to the wishes of, shall we say, imaginative television producers.

Carl Magnus Palm, author of Bright Lights, Dark Shadows - The Real Story Of ABBA (Omnibus Press)

With thanks to Ian Cole, Matthew Crocker, Ian Jones and Trent Nickson