In the mid-1970s, some people stopped using the term ‘Waterloo’ to describe Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in the famous 1815 war. Rather, they used it for a song by Swedish pop group ABBA that won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.
The success of ‘Waterloo’ gave ABBA instant worldwide fame, and the quartet produced a series of hits for the rest of the decade. Songs like ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’, ‘Money Money Money’, ‘Thank You For The Music’, ‘Voulez Vous’ and ‘I Have A Dream’ were played all over on the radio, in discotheques and on home stereos. Never mind the Swedish accents.
Back in the news
Suddenly, ABBA is back in the news. Last week, ‘Waterloo’ was declared the best-ever song among all Eurovision contest winners. Since the regular annual event didn’t happen as scheduled in Rotterdam, Holland, owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, it was decided to stream this online contest, featuring 19 past winners. Video recordings by those scheduled to participate this year, along with their messages from home, were also streamed.
The event was sub-titled ‘Shine A Light’, after the song ‘Love Shine A Light’ by British-American band Katrina & The Waves, which won the Eurovision award in 1997. ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus, while saying how Eurovision has always bought joyful memories, joked, “Very good title, by the way – Shine A Light. Am glad they didn’t choose Waterloo.”
Over 38 years after ABBA released its last album The Visitors, it continues to make news at sporadic intervals. Like the Beatles and Michael Jackson, it has been able to sell nostalgia regularly, and people from an earlier generation keep returning to it. The Mamma Mia! Stage musical, featuring the group’s songs, became a huge theatrical success and the subsequent film version, starring Meryl Streep, led to a revival of their music.
Hall of fame
In 2005, ‘Waterloo’ was declared the best Eurovision song in an event held to mark 50 years of the contest, and in 2010, the Group was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. In 2015, ‘Dancing Queen’ made it to the Grammy Hall Of Fame. Besides these recognitions, there has been regular talk of the full-fledged reunion of the group members Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog. In a comeback of sorts, the group also recorded two songs in 2018.
ABBA tribute bands have regularly performed in India, and singer Cher recorded Dancing Queen, an album of ABBA covers.Back in the 1970s, a sizeable chunk of young listeners tuned into pop and country music, before turning to rock n’ roll. Bands like Boney M, Bee Gees and ABBA became the most popular, with their sheer consistency in churning out hits. The release of ABBA: The Movie added to the group’s fan following. Thanks to the band, and Volvo cars and tennis champion Bjorn Borg, Sweden was in the papers a lot.
However, when ABBA disbanded in 1982, it wasn’t able to retain the attention of the younger generations. This was unlike the Beatles, who kept enticing newer audiences years after their split. Moreover, the Michael Jackson fever soon kicked off, and youngsters tuned in to the newer acts on MTV. Even ABBA’s own fans deserted them for newer artistes. Yet, despite all that, ABBA keeps bouncing back, even if for short periods. But it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever meet Waterloo.