"Waterloo" was 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 of all time.
"Waterloo" is the quintessential Eurovision song, according to Dr Harry Witchel, physiologist and music expert at the University of Bristol. At the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005, it was chosen as the best song in the competition's history.
"Waterloo" was originally written as a song for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, after the group finished third with "Ring Ring" the previous year in the Swedish pre-selection contest, Melodifestivalen 1973. Since it focused on lead vocalists Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson chose "Waterloo" in place of another of their songs, "Hasta Mañana".
"Waterloo" is about a girl who is obliged to surrender to the demands of her conqueror, as Napoleon had to surrender at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, as referenced in the song.
The song proved to be a wise choice. It won Melodifestivalen 1974 (in Swedish) in February and won the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 (ESC) final on 6 April by six points.
The original title of the song was "Honey Pie". "Waterloo" was originally written with simultaneous rock music and jazz beats (unusual for an ABBA song). The song broke the "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 never 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 singing the song in a language other than that of their home country; prior to "Waterloo" all Eurovision singers had been required to sing in their country's native tongue, a restriction that was lifted briefly in the 1970s (thus allowing "Waterloo" to be sung in English), then reinstated a few years later before ultimately being removed. Compared to later ABBA releases, the singers' Swedish accents are decidedly more pronounced in "Waterloo," as their understanding of the English language was limited.
Though it isn't well-known, Polar accidentally released a different version of "Waterloo" shortly after ABBA's Eurovision win before replacing it with the more famous version. The alternative version had a harder rock sound, omitting the saxophones (played by Christer Ecklund), plus an additional "oh yeah" in the verses. The alternative version was commercially released in 2005 as part of The Complete Studio Recordings box set. However, it was this version that ABBA performed during their 1979 tour of Europe and North America.
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 tune did not reach No. 1 in their home country, its Swedish (No. 2) and English (No. 3) versions were beat out for the top spot by the Waterloo album due to Sweden having a combined Album and Singles Chart at the time.) 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). 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 Wizzard song "See My Baby Jive" 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.
In 1994, "Waterloo" (along with several other ABBA hits) was included in the soundtrack of the film Muriel's Wedding. It 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.
On 22 October 2005, at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest, "Waterloo" was chosen as the best song in the competition's history.
a. "Waterloo" (Swedish version) – 2:45
b. "Honey Honey" (Swedish version) – 2:55
a. "Waterloo" (English version) – 2:46"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)
b. "Watch Out" – 3:46