Waterloo released 40 years ago today

Published March 04, 2014

Today, March 4, 2014, it is exactly 40 years ago since ABBA released Waterloo in Sweden: two singles, featuring the Swedish and English versions, respectively, and the album of the same name. The release date, somewhere inbetween the group's victory with Waterloo in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest) on February 9 and the European victory in Brighton on April 6, was the exact date when, according to the Eurovision Song Contest rules, each country's entry could be heard in public again after winning the selection.

There's an unfortunate misunderstanding about ABBA and Sweden that refuses to go away, namely the perception that ABBA weren't popular in their home-country. Certainly, their music was regarded with some disdain in certain quarters, not least within the so-called Music Movement where the political awareness lacking in ABBA's music, coupled with their extraordinary success, made them a symbol for everything that was supposedly wrong with the modern music industry. There was also, which is often forgotten, a contempt for ABBA by those who advocated more overtly complex music. So there was some contempt for the group in the media, and a feeling, in certain quarters, that you weren't supposed to like them. I wasn't even in my teens at the height of ABBA's popularity in Sweden, but still I can remember that feeling. But the so-called general public? They couldn't care less what any critics or music movements thought. In Sweden, ABBA had the same cross-generational appeal they enjoyed in most other countries, and all their studio albums shot to the top of the charts.

Which brings us back to Waterloo. Last year I blogged about the dates when Ring Ring occupied the top three positions on Sweden's combined singles-and-albums sales chart for two weeks in a row. Well, with Waterloo ABBA only went and did it again, albeit for one week only. On April 30, 1974, the album was number one, the Swedish single number two and the English-language single number three.

The album was the biggest triumph of them all, of course, spending a total of 12 weeks at the top. Not only that: by the end of the year it had sold 250,000 copies, which, in a country of eight million people was a lot. It was even reported that no other album had sold as much in Sweden before (there were singles and 78 rpm records that had exceeded those sales, but the early Seventies was the time when the album took over from the 7-inch record in terms of sales). By mid-1977, Polar Music reported that the Waterloo album had sold almost 340,000 copies in Sweden. Today, with additional sales throughout the remainder of the vinyl era, and a number of re-releases on CD, I guess the figure must be in the vicinity of 400,000 copies.

More proof of ABBA's extraordinary popularity in Sweden: As mentioned above, Waterloo was the biggest-selling album in Sweden up to that point in time. The following album, 1975's ABBA, then broke the record set by Waterloo. After which Arrival broke the record again in 1976, holding the record for best-selling album in Sweden until 1983. ABBA's remaining studio albums couldn't quite match Arrival's sales record, but they went to number one - all of them (if Sweden had had a separate albums chart in 1973, Ring Ring would have been number one as well; it stalled at number two because the Swedish Ring Ring single was at the top of the charts).

So much for sales statistics, though. What about the music? Is the Waterloo album actually any good, or did it only sell because the title track was such a hit? If you haven't heard the album for a while, you can find out for yourself in April, when Waterloo is released as a Deluxe Edition with bonus tracks and a DVD (read more about that release here). But my own opinion: well, to quote from my Waterloo Deluxe Edition liner notes, "there is so much fun in the album grooves, so much excitement, so many unexpected but delightful quirks, and, above all, plenty of strong tunes, that the album is never less than entertaining".