"Waterloo" is 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. The title and lyrics reference the Battle of Waterloo, and use it as a metaphor for a romantic relationship.
The song's lyrics are metaphorical and are about a woman who "surrenders" to a man and promises to love him, likening it to Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The band considered submitting another song to Eurovision, "Hasta Mañana", but decided on "Waterloo" since it gave equal weight to both lead vocalists Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, while "Hasta Mañana" was sung only by Fältskog.
The song differed from the standard "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 rarely 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 being the first winning entry in a language other than that of their home country; prior to 1973, all Eurovision singers had been required to sing in their country's native tongue, a restriction that was lifted briefly for the contests between 1973 and 1976 (thus allowing "Waterloo" to be sung in English), then reinstated before ultimately being removed again in 1999. Compared to later ABBA releases, the singers' Swedish accents are decidedly more pronounced in "Waterloo".
The song scored 24 points to win the Eurovision Song Contest 1974 final on 6 April, beating runner-up Gigliola Cinquetti of Italy's entry "Sì" by six points.
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 song was immensely popular in Sweden, but did not reach No. 1 there due to Sweden having a combined Album and Singles Chart at the time: at the peak of the song's popularity, its Swedish and English versions reached No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, while the No. 1 spot was held by the album Waterloo.) The song also spent 11 weeks on Svensktoppen (24 March – 2 June 1974), including 7 weeks at No. 1.
As of September 2021, it is ABBA's eleventh-biggest song in the UK, including both pure sales and digital streams.
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, their third highest-charting U.S. hit after No. 1 "Dancing Queen" and No. 3 "Take a Chance on Me"). 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 song "See My Baby Jive", by English glam rock band Wizzard, 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.
"Waterloo" 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.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.
Other cover versions
In 1974, Seija Simola recorded a Finnish-language cover version of "Waterloo" whose lyrics were written by Simola; her version reached the Top 10 in Finland during the same period the ABBA original was at No. 1.
The song is featured in the encore of the musical Mamma Mia!. The song does not have a context or a meaning. It is just performed as a musical number in which members of the audience are encouraged to get up off their seats and sing, dance and clap along.
The Australian filmMuriel's Wedding (1994), features "Waterloo" in a pivotal scene in which lead Toni Collette bonds with the character played by Rachel Griffiths. The film's soundtrack, featuring five ABBA tracks, is widely regarded as having helped to fuel the revival of popular interest in ABBA's music in the mid-1990s.
"Waterloo" features prominently in the 2015 science-fiction film The Martian. The song plays as the film's lead, played by Matt Damon, works to ready his launch vehicle for a last-chance escape from Mars.
"Here I Go Again", the 11th episode of the third season of Legends of Tomorrow (19 February 2018), begins in medias res, with the titular time-traveling team having apparently just restored a time-transplanted Napoleon from the 1970s, where he had come into possession of a copy of the record. The song is also stuck in the head of one member of the team, until he erases his own memory to get it out.
In "Mother Simpson", the eighth episode of the seventh season of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns plays "Ride of the Valkyries" from a tank about to storm the Simpson home, but the song is cut-off and "Waterloo" is played, to which Smithers apologizes, advising he "must have accidentally taped over that".
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