Oct 07

ABBA – “Waterloo”

FT + Popular108 comments • 8,269 views

#348, 4th May 1974

One of the odd things about ABBA is that they didn’t really change pop. They are still widely loved and more widely bought, but nobody now sounds much like them, or tries to. They are the giant pandas of pop, world-famous symbols viewed with immense affection, but incredibly bad at actually breeding.

ABBA’s lack of impact beyond themselves is no reflection on their quality, or even their craftsmanship – we don’t build pyramids much these days either, but Cheops is still a wonder. And anyway there’s one area where ABBA did change everything. For the European Song Contest “Waterloo” is a year zero event – it brought Eurovision crashing into current pop, so effectively that it cut it off from the future. I’d say it took the contest more than twenty years to recover from this song, and even now ABBA-likes still enter and hope to grub up points from the dwindling nostalgists who think big melodies and bigger costumes are what Eurovision “should be about”. (A crucial Old Europe/New Europe divider – the former East didn’t know or care much about ABBA). Actually if you look at the contest performance now, the costume clash is ugly – Agnetha in a blue air-hostess outfit and Frida as some kind of gypsy farm girl. They’re also incredibly diffident, unco-ordinated dancers at this stage. But it doesn’t matter.

“Waterloo” is six months behind the Wizzard records that inspired it, but a six month time lag was still shockingly modern for Eurovision. And also, with all respect to Roy Wood, “Waterloo” is better pop than those tracks – tighter, higher-impact, zeroing in on its best ideas and using them to awesome effect. Ideas like the revved-up intro and the double beat at the start of the verse – “My my” – d-dum, a crisp guitar sound – “at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender” – an intriguing opening line, grabbing the audience at once (and how very ABBA that diffident “quite” in “quite a similar way” is).

The real glory of “Waterloo”, though – one of the finest 30-second passages in all of pop – is the second verse. The backing “aaaaa-aaaahs” that lead into it; the thunderclap return of the double beat, now pumped and piano-ed up, the ice-clear enunciation on “I tried to hold you back but you were stronger” (this bit of the melody is the song’s best hook), and then, after “giving up the fight” those ecstatic descending surrendering chords. The second half of “Waterloo” is the straightest Wizzard-lift, a really good rock and roll knees-up, but those thirty seconds, so stuffed with life and confidence and flamboyance – thats why I listen to this stuff in the first place.

And then they disappeared, as soon as they’d come, and the Seventies shrugged, forgot Eurovision and got on with it.



  1. 1
    Lena on 20 Oct 2007 #

    The beginning of time. I wish I could say something more specific, I’m sure others will.

  2. 2
    Doctormod on 20 Oct 2007 #

    As much as I despise most mid-70s music, I’ve always had a soft spot for ABBA. They succeeded where none of their European contemporaries did in breaking through in a field dominated by American and British performers, and if they “didn’t really change pop,” perhaps their quintessential “foreigness” in a musical form so determinedly Anglophone goes far in explaining why this might be the case–even though I’m not absolutely convinced that they haven’t had some lasting influence in some obscure pockets of pop culture.

    ABBA’s appeal lay in their ability to produce that oft-maligned thing, well-crafted pop. So did the Beatles, but, at the risk of uttering blasphemy, I wonder if ABBA didn’t outdo the Beatles in that regard. And despite their pronounced accents and occasional non-idiomatic English phrasing, their music wasn’t just well-crafted but also often more sophisticated lyrically than much of the sentimental or have-a-nice-day-smiley-face garbage du jour that comprised so much of 70s pop. I mean, how many songs–then or now–could turn a historical allusion into an apt metaphor for a love affair or, for that matter, paraphrase Santayana without being heavy-handed about it.

    And, yes, “Waterloo” rocks–then and now. I still play it when I need something to cheer me up. It transcends the decade that gave birth to it.

    A well-deserved “9.”

  3. 3
    intothefireuk on 20 Oct 2007 #

    No, No, No and yes, even No. I couldn’t agree less with Tom on this one. Waterloo is NOT a pop classic – it is just another Eurovision song which sounds – exactly like almost every other Eurovision song. Probably faster paced than some of the other entries that year but it has that cheesy euro-ness that the contest specialises in and gay community now revel in. If it’s a Wizzard rip off it’s a very poor one. Give me Wizzard any day. It actually comes across more like euro-glam lite. Visually they wanted to be glam too but Benny & Bjorn are more MOR. Agnetha & Anna-frid are something else though – they are stunning (although their dress sense was appalling). The record is ok but not the dawn of pop – not by a long chalk. A year later though, they’d turned it around and become more than this.

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Oct 2007 #

    Well, Popular isn’t quite let off the seventies Eurovision hook yet…the Argos version of Abba comes up in a couple of years’ time and not just the once either…

    Reflecting on Richard Cook, it was he who came up with the theory that “Waterloo” displaced rock and re-placed pop in the centre of things. It was very, very far from being as simple as that but the record does give the impression of something new being born – from the best elements of the old – and “Waterloo” could in extremis be considered the first number one of the eighties.

    However, it is worth placing “Waterloo” in the context of 1974’s other Eurovision entries since interest in the event was probably at its peak, such that four of the entries were big hits in Britain. In second place was “Go (Before You Break My Heart)” by Gigliola Cinquetti, Italy’s 1964 winner – a very strong ballad which in any other year would have walked it but which, when faced with Abba, suddenly seemed to recoil to another and immediately remote era (I can’t quite remember how and why Italy dropped out of Eurovision – Mike?). But the song peaked at #8 in our charts, as did Holland’s third-placed “I See A Star” by the hairy, scary duo Mouth and MacNeal, much more in the old Eurovision bierkeller tradition.

    The only one of the four to miss the top ten (symbolically it stopped at #11) was, predictably, ours – what a bipolar pop career Olivia Newton-John had in ’74; a huge star in the States with credible pop-country hits like “Let Me Be There” and the awesome “I Honestly Love You,” but over here still forced to be Cliff’s gingham nun and made to sing oompah-oompah dirges about Salvation Army brass bands.

    There isn’t too much to add to Tom’s excellent summary – yes, they took from Wizzard but made more clearly delineated pop (don’t know if that counts as necessarily better), and their “my my”s started my life. Even watching the Brighton performance now I’m pleasingly reminded of the time when I started to put away childish things – Agnetha in blue satin, fair enough, but Frida was my fancy; always seeming to grin and wink at the camera, not just in a fourth wall sense but also in a “see you round the back with the lemon jelly afterwards” knowing way. And Robert Wyatt on keyboards!*

    *to evoke a parallel life-changing strand of 1974 music

    Abba did change pop but in a gradual, osmotic way rather than a huge concrete block of influence on other subsequent bands – but discussion of those changes properly belong in the context of another of their later, landmark number ones.

  5. 5

    nothing to add analytically — but clearly as a response to this epochal moment in the british pop charts, when the shockwave came from the east rather than the west, my singles shelves (always rather wobbly and gimcrack) started listing alarmingly last night

    before there was a nail that kept them from collapse — now it looks to me like the only thing keeping the whole set-up from disaster is a

    “for the want of a PROG the SINGLES WERE LOST” — this is not even symbolism is it? we have entered the end-times i think

    (also, hi doctor mod, nice to have you back!)

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 20 Oct 2007 #

    My my! How fantastic a record, but how strange a record. It’s odd how – for one of Abba’s two most famous singles – it really doesn’t sound much like anything else that they did, to the extent where it’s omitted from ‘Mama Mia’, the package musical. It’s the lyric in the verses that I keep on coming back to. Although I know the record back to front, I never remember it quite well enough to sing along, and in its stoical recognition of the inevitability of unhappiness, it presages so many great things to come.

    Re: Nobody now sounding much like Abba or trying to, I was listening to ‘Oops I Did it Again’ the last time that I was at my parents’ house and my 79-year old father asked me “Is this Abba?”.

  7. 7
    CarsmileSteve on 20 Oct 2007 #

    now, where’s that stork icon gone…

    anyway, according to my GIANT BOOK OV EUROVISION Italy last entered in 1997, although that was their first entry since 93.

    not a lot to add from what tom says, think he gets it pretty much spot on

  8. 8
    admin on 20 Oct 2007 #

    a present. to get a stork, type:

    [stork-boy] to give you:
    [stork-girl] of course for:

  9. 9
    Kat on 20 Oct 2007 #

    I always used to put on ABBA Gold as teenage bedroom-cleaning music – cheery, energetic, rhythmic – it is excellent stuff to push a hoover around to. I’d usually finish off a few tracks before the end and be sitting down having a cup of tea, then suddenly the last track would take me completely by surprise: “Bum-ber-dum-ber-dum-ber-dum! MY MY!” After an hour of dreamy-then-disco-then-divorce the utter joy and bounce of Waterloo really stood out, and became a firm favourite of mine. Also, never seemed to suffer from over-playing (though I’m sure this wasn’t the case in 1974) compared to eg Dancing Queen. I’d give it a ten.

  10. 10
    Rosie on 20 Oct 2007 #

    Ah, the Seventies begin in earnest!

    Hey, I like Abba, and I always did, and I’m not ashamed to say so. My daughter – now 27 and a big Muse fan – loved Abba from a very early age. They did what they did, and they did it supremely well. ‘It’ being something not terribly demanding and yet never grating or becoming threadbare with time. The very essence of the age!

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    Stevie on 20 Oct 2007 #

    I’m surprised you say that ABBA had no offspring – aren’t SAW and Max Martin, defining a kind of pure pop for the 80s and 90s, direct descendents?

  12. 12
    mike on 20 Oct 2007 #

    Well, I’m firmly in the Abba As Pop Geniuses camp, and would argue that their best work is a good deal more subtle and sophisticated than most people give them credit for; but then, part of their genius was to make it all look so easy, accessible, inviting. And there’ll be plenty of opportunity to make that case further down the line, of course. But even here, right at the start of their hit-making career, “Waterloo” stands as a classic example of a pop record that looks obvious – and, OK, cheesy and corny to some – but whose construction is anything but, as Tom correctly points out.

    However, as regards the “Modern Pop Music Started Here” argument, I require further convincing. Abba’s popular and critical rehabilitation didn’t commence until 1987 at the absolute earliest, and didn’t kick off in earnest until the early 1990s. I don’t hear much Abba in early 1980s New Pop, or if I do hear it (Bucks Fizz? Dollar? Propaganda?), then its influence remains fairly confined, and I’d argue that punk and disco were by far and away the primary sources for that particular explosion of creative energy. And I don’t hear much Abba in late 1980s Stock Aitken Waterman, either – those boys knew their limits, and again the primary sources surely lay elsewhere: Hi-NRG, Motown, house and disco.

    As for my reaction to “Waterloo” at the time, it was absolute, total, love: for the surging, all-enveloping joyfulness of its approach, for Anna and Frida’s (yes, and especially Frida’s) strut and sass, for the bold, brash daftness of the central conceit, for the scrunchy, chunky Wizzard-isms, for giving Eurovision a kick up the backside, for bringing a bit of glam back to the top of the charts… and so I played it and played it and played it, never tiring of it, then or now.

    In answer to the Italian Eurovision question, the reason given for their retiring from the contest was the overall poor quality of the other entrants – although I always suspected that the bloody nose which they incurred when hosting the contest in 1991 played a more significant part than they were prepared to admit. (It was a right old shambles, hosted by the woefully out-of-his-depth Toto Cotugno.) Besides, Italy already has the Sanremo Song Festival, which pre-dates Eurovision, and inspired it in the first place…

  13. 13

    marcello: “Reflecting on Richard Cook, it was he who came up with the theory that Waterloo displaced rock and re-placed pop in the centre of things”

    i think cook’s argument — at least as stated* in that 1982-ish review for abba greatest hits — was that waterloo at that moment showed that rock (as then was) increasingly lacked key things that pop delivered far better; but that it was a glimpse of another type of bliss, which was then struggled against for years

    but of course linking them into wizzard — a link i’d never made before tom did — and to glam proves that this shift in emphasis was indeed underway already… what abba i think HUGELY did was demonstrate that you didn’t have to be part of the extant social structure of rock and its discontents, to find a way “out” of it (which in a sense all the glamsters who were ex-brit-60s-kids were: isn;t this jonathan king’s complaint about the 70s?); you could — by virtue of being swedish — never have been IN it

    (ps possible enabling late-70s offspring: the buzzcocks?)

    *and it’s a deliberate provocation also, an argument about the way punk had already congealed into a machinery delivering yus (“us”) back into orthodoxy (interestingly, he was one of the writers least touched by the swerve away from orthodox group-rock in the months to follow)

  14. 14

    i know seem obsessed with him at the moment but costello is also abba-offspring — though he has many parents — and in fact pub rock always had a “pure pop” wing to it, disguised behind where they got to play (er pubs) and their geezer-esque demeanour

  15. 15
    mike on 20 Oct 2007 #

    Yes, I’d certainly agree with the Buzzcocks connection – indeed, I remember Pete Shelley praising Abba in an early post-Devoto interview, saying that he was toying with the idea of going out and buying their entire back catalogue. And then there’s the direct Abba reference in the piano line of “Oliver’s Army”, of course…

  16. 16

    actually the comments thread to me on oliver’s army covers the cook argt from another angle, maybe?

  17. 17
    Doctormod on 20 Oct 2007 #

    As to whether ABBA had offspring, I’d venture to say that the best place to look for their long-lost progeny would be in the place of origin: Europop. This realm is still ignored, to great extent, within the US/UK pop/rock vista, despite the existence of many interesting Euro performers from the late 1960s to the present.

    But another, perhaps more salient issue accounts for the seeming lack of “descendents.” ABBA were rather unique inasmuch as they were a band with women out front and men in the supporting role. (How many other acts with so much commercial success over that many years have had that sort of structure?) With all due credit to Bjorn and Benny–thank you for the music, boys–most of the appeal was down to Agnetha and Frida. The influence of 50s and 60s girl groups is more than apparent in their singing, except for one significant factor: A&F rarely divide their roles into high/low voice harmonies; they often sound like the same voice overdubbed, and it’s difficult to distinguish either voice individually, except in those instances in which Agnetha did solo lead passages (e.g., “SOS”). Girl groups rarely sang in virtual unison–a one-off example would be the Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy.”* In this regard, we could perhaps consider Bananarama the daughters of ABBA, as they, too, relied more on unison than harmony.

    But if one were replicate the ABBA sound, one would need two singers with similar vocal colours, not terribly distinct but nonetheless strong voices. This sort of pairing isn’t easy to come by–and it’s even more difficult to keep two singers’ egos from exerting some sort of individuality over the long haul. (Did anyone know how Frida’s voice really sounded on its own like until she made her solo album?) That ABBA kept it together for the better part of a decade before disintegrating amidst personal matters (rather like the signature group of the previous decade) is downright remarkable.

    *I’d been listening to ABBA on my iPod when I began writing this, but I had it set on “random” and–low and behold–“Soldier Boy” came on. (While I have dubious feelings about the lyrics, I confess to loving the curious vocal/instrumental arrangement, the result of a rushed one-take recording session. Thus it merits a place on the iPod.) Just listen to “Soldier Boy”–the echoes in ABBA are most interesting.

    (OMG–the iPod just switched to the Cardigans! Can one really deny the ABBA influences in “Love Fool”?)

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 21 Oct 2007 #

    No, there’s a lot of Abba there (and a lot of Orange Juice as well).

    Possibly only their Swedishness qualified them (Sinker multiple xpost obv) since of course the components of Abba were active in the sixties as, essentially, the Swedish Seekers and, er, the Nordic Middle of the Road (Hep Stars!).

    I don’t think the pop-had-what-rock-lost thing fully holds up – where does Wyatt’s “I’m A Believer” come in then (unless as a last stand before Virgin bury the follow-up on a label sampler for being “too depressing” and then, bar Carla B cameos, disappears for half a decade before coming back on Rough Trade), not to mention the continuing Oldfield/Floyd nexus of what essentially are extended 12-inch singles (T Bells/D Side) a generation ahead of the Orb/Aphex (and I think the live Wyatt set from Drury Lane, Sept ’74, encompasses every aspect of the argument, Abba and sixties included)?

    (or indeed Alex Harvey with his free jazz/lad rock/Marvel/pub rock/pre-punk WTFness?)

    (or all the future post-punkers buying The Faust Tapes in ’74 ‘cos it was only 49p and learning WTFness from there??)

    (or Cabaret Voltaire, already active in ’74 and completing/lengthening the loop which stretches in part from the Crimson of Red???)

    or Todd or Can or but anyway.

    (or Waterman and STEPS?????)

  19. 19
    intothefireuk on 21 Oct 2007 #

    I’m obviously ploughing a lone furrow but I really think that ABBA’s subsequent success is clouding judgement here. The fact that they did eventually release some very good pop records does not mean that they started with one. I would also reiterate that for the 70s & most of the 80s ABBA were not lauded for their song writing or held in particularly high esteem amongst the pop intelligentsia. So I find the revisionist thinking here somewhat hard to swallow. As for even beginning to think they were better at pop than the Beatles or representative of the 70s is frankly ridiculous. I don’t recall ever being confronted with an ABBA record during any of the parties or discos I attended during the 70s & 80s.

    They were, however, very good musicians / writers, who, like all other good musicians / writers drew on their own influences and were able to filter those through their own experiences to create their own unique songs. Some of which were very good. It is more the case that rather than them being influential they were themselves influenced by the main pop movements of the 70s, Glam, Disco & Punk (ok maybe not Punk) and would incorporate those into their own music (e.g. Summer Night City). In fact I would argue that they were more noted for washing their dirty linen in public (through their music) than musical importance at the time of their major success. There will be other opportunities to applaud their musical achievements, although sadly we will miss out on my personal fav SOS, but Waterloo IMHO is not one of them.*

    * Although at least it held off ‘Remember you’re a Womble’. Elsewhere in the chart, Genesis disgust the prog mafia by having the audacity to have a hit single, the wonderfully titled ‘I Know What I Like’, and, in my best James Saville Esq voice, ‘open brackets, in your wardrobe, close brackets, no points if you didn’t get that, you see’.

  20. 20
    Marcello Carlin on 21 Oct 2007 #

    Abba were laughed at critically for most of that period for well known reasons which were in equal part due to snobbery and misogyny (since the majority of the Abba record buying demographic were FEMALE) so I don’t think we need waste too much of what’s left of our lives on the weighted, vested opinions of that period’s “pop intelligentsia.”

    I believe Gary Glitter records were very popular in discos and with critics during that same period.

  21. 21
    intothefireuk on 21 Oct 2007 #

    …and of course the modern critic is far more enlightened…..

    Not convinced we can entirely lay the blame at snobbery & misogyny’s doorstep. They just weren’t cool or trendy until the 90’s. Were it not for the critical turnaround they would be perfect guilty pleasure material.

    Glitter would be a 70s phenomenon if his PC hadn’t bust. Or perhaps if he’d actually been normal.

  22. 22
    mike on 21 Oct 2007 #

    Well, generational issues come into play here. Plenty of people signficantly older than me liked Abba, and plenty of people younger than me liked Abba, but during their peak commercial period (say 1976-80) I was of that age where the cool factor becomes all-important. As Abba weren’t questioning anything (at least not outside their own personal lives, which they questioned with immense skill), and as they weren’t pushing at the sort of musical boundaries which most of us felt should be strenuously pushed against, and as they wore sensible chain-store clothes and quoted the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac (AHA!) as influences, they could be dismissed – by precisely the generation of musicians and critics whose views held the most sway at the time, hence that illusion of “by everyone” – as bland and timid, corny and reactionary.

    To accept Abba in the 2000s is arguably to accept the whole poptimist agenda (although these are not arguments in which I am ever minded to partake, it has to be said). Hence the Abba Changed Everything paradigm…?

  23. 23
    Tom on 21 Oct 2007 #

    I can’t ever remember not liking ABBA – but I certainly didn’t think about them much in the mid-late 80s, there was other stuff going on.

  24. 24
    Tom on 21 Oct 2007 #

    The thing about “Waterloo” as a couple of people have pointed out is that while it’s pretty typical of the sound the band were using at the time (cf the AWESOME “King Kong Song” as played often at Poptimism) it doesn’t sound much like the records that drove their fame in the second half of the decade. In fact it could easily be a one-hit-wonder so while I’m happy for ABBA to be the centre of my ideal of pop (and they are, more or less) I agree with intothefire that this isn’t exactly the startpoint for it. (I disagree with him that this is anything less than a stellar record, obviously.)

  25. 25
    Rosie on 21 Oct 2007 #

    Who says Abba weren’t cool or trendy until the 90s? What happened in the 90s? I’m not sure that the circles I moved in called themselves ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ but they were never afraid of playing Abba alongside a whole raft of other stuff. Including Floyd, Genesis, Soft Machine, Miles Davis, Verdi, Gershwin and all points on the Red line via Jacques Brel and Bizet to Erasmus.

  26. 26
    mike on 21 Oct 2007 #

    Ah “King Kong Song” – that was my clear favourite on the Waterloo album at the time, although my favourite moment (or moments) were the strange, almost sampled, Slade-style crowd-clapping noises that briefly featured in the bridge sections of “Honey Honey”.

  27. 27
    mike on 21 Oct 2007 #

    Oh, I think it’s quite simple what happened in the 1990s; the rolling cycle of acceptable revivalism (10 years ago = hideous; 20 years ago = cool; 30 years ago = classic) reached the 1970s, that’s all.

  28. 28
    o sobek! on 21 Oct 2007 #

    obv abba crit rep rised during the 90s – an entry in spin’s alt record guide, u2 covering ‘dancing queen’, w/ muriel’s wedding and GOLD helping breed a new generation of fans – but it existed (even stateside where rockism has a firmer grip) in some form beforehand at least enough for xgau to argue against the ‘abba are pure pop at it’s best’ line and lester bangs to wear the t-shirt w/ some contrarian (and yeah ironic, but probably as ‘ironic’ to skeptics as his count five fandom) pride. while there are more obv paths to abba than paths from them i’d say they’re definitely there – max martin, saw, europop the key ones but also (as he’d tell you again and again) stephin merritt who definitely holds abba as a model (THE model perhaps)(though his work rarely bears this fruit – the most abbaesque mag fields song that comes to mind is (ilx poll winning) ‘all my little words’ (and there only in the chorus)), and commonly drops them as what he means by ‘Pop’ (many many indie acts who say ‘Pop’ mean ‘abba’), a friend of mine interviewed him circa 69 love songs and he bleated on and on about how we need abba more than ever and how nothing like abba could chart now (er, then) due to radio being overrun w/ african american music (mind you a*teens were top ten at the time w/ an album of abba covers)(sasha frere-jones can cover the rest).

    anyhow a very solid ’10′ for me.

  29. 29
    o sobek! on 21 Oct 2007 #

    also re: new europe and abba there’s a milan kundera essay (in testaments betrayed maybe?) where he rails against rock music for being too ecstatic and only capable of ecstasy (and false ecstasy at that)(i recall ‘irony’ and ‘guilty pleasure’ entering the discussion here also). it’s been at least ten years since i’ve read it but i’m pretty sure he was definitely speaking of Rock acts (i remember him writing of rock concerts w/ a repulsion that mirrors jack chick’s), ie. (ironically?) the same sincere ‘real’ music rockists would hold as an alternative to guilty pleasure abba. mind you as ecstatic a record as ‘waterloo’ is (the trumpet’s blare of ‘she loves you”s chorus extended to a full song and turned into ‘you love me yeah yeah yeah’) i’m sure milan kundera would HATE it. his loss.

  30. 30
    Lena on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Kundera is a TOOL (as p^nk lord has said elsewhere).

  31. 31
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    To accept Abba in the 2000s is arguably to accept the whole poptimist agenda

    Possibly that’s only plausible if you adhere strictly to liking artists who take an explicit aesthetic lead from Abba (naturally I have great difficulty accepting any agenda, since it is easy for agendas to stiffen into a dull, constricting new set of rules which the next generation will have to trash, thus we get people tying themselves up in knots trying to explain why they think e.g. Abs > My Chemical Romance or vice versa) and by doing so I think one runs the risk of shutting several million other possible worlds out.

  32. 32
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    My, my… Abba won Eurovision with this in Brighton. Bearing in mind their subsequent undeniable deistic status in the world wide gay community, I can’t help thinking that God had been to Ladbrokes that day. You can bet on-line these days, Lord!

    I remember very clearly watching Eurovision ‘74 and seeing Abba and falling for the blonde (to this day I still get their names confused). Sweden indeed was the country of the moment, Abba’s triumph running alongside the beginning of Bjorn Borg’s astonishing career. I too was bitten by the bug and “running away to Sweden” was very much on the agenda in times of stropiness, although it actually took me another twenty-four years to fulfil this threat, having “run away” to just about everywhere else in the interim.

    “Waterloo” itself was a stonking hit and I knew it was going to win the moment I heard it, thereby surrendering a hitherto unswerving fidelity to Olivia Neutron Bomb, who sung the UK entry so sweetly. I think the dramatic Grieg-like use of the Piano during the hook gripped me most. As a sideline, I also recall hearing the Dutch entry (which actually charted here) before the contest and thought that it would be second behind Olivia. All this changed when Abba took the stage, the conductor dressed as Napoleon… By the way, let me now bury a myth. France famously didn’t enter Eurovision in 1974 and it has long been believed in some quarters that this was a petulant protest against the Swedish entry “Waterloo”, which was being sung in England and in English to boot (“boot” – geddit?). This is not correct. The Frogs actually pulled out because President Pompidou had just joined the choir invisible. Having cleared that up, if they had in fact entered, I don’t for one moment think they would have given the Swedes any points.

    Another footnote is that the broadcasting of the entry from Portugal provided a trigger signal for a military coup in that country. Remember, kids, this was well over thirty years ago and the Iberian peninsular was not as agreeable as it is today. Next door in Spain, one General Franco was still in residence. That lad was a wee rascal, was he not?

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    byebyepride on 22 Oct 2007 #

    When I was growing up there were few records in the house which had been purchased later than my father’s university days. Those I remember: a couple of Wings albums; some stuff by Kate Bush, Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre… and Abba. I think Abba records may be the first pop music I can ever remember consciously choosing to listen to (my brother and I liked ‘Money Money Money’ because it was quite jolly – but he also liked the intro music on a flexidisc titled ‘Teach yourself Heath’ which I think must have come with Private Eye, and I definitely preferred the Monty Python comedy albums to (what I thought of as rubbish old pop music). [For reference, only non-classical music played ‘out loud’ was early Pink Floyd and the Beatles.] The point at which I can remember ‘pop’ reaching me from the public, as opposed to the private, sphere, it was M’s ‘Pop Musiz’ and Bucks Fizz, so I guess Abba could still function as ur-pop template in my world. Of course growing my ears in the 80s, I didn’t hear any music that I really thought of as ‘AH! This is MY generation’s kind of pop music’ until electro and hip-hop tinged stuff was charting: tracks that stand out looking back include Love Bug Starski ‘Amityville’, Whistle ‘Just Buggin’, ‘Hey You the Rocksteady Crew’, and then Beastie Boys, P.E., Cameo, RunDMC and Aerosmith, but also the early UK housey stuff. (Obviously I caught the ‘cool’ virus a few years later and my taste died.) So Abba have not only always already been there, but have also always meant specifically trans-generational pop to me.

  34. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    To be fair, Abba were viewed in Britain at the time as a slightly more luminous Eurovision novelty, but a Eurovision novelty all the same – the follow-up (“Ring, Ring”) stopped at #32, the one after that (“So Long”) tanked altogether, and the one after that (“I Do, I Do, I Do” which frankly might as well have been the New Seekers featuring Hurricane Smith) struggled to #38. So it took quite a while before the Abba we know and love really got going; by ’75, Guys ‘N’ Dolls featuring HIDDEN EMBRYO OF NEW POP were giving them a fair run for their money.

  35. 35
    Erithian on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Indeed, a 1975 feature in Record Mirror lumped Abba alongside Mouth and Macneal as “Eurovision fly-by-nights”.

    Waldo – Eurovision, Abba and Brighton. Obviously three names with iconic status in the gay community *now*, but was it the case then? I’d have been too young to appreciate any link, but didn’t this predate the gay link with Eurovision, and when did Brighton gain its connection with the gay scene? I don’t know – any answers welcome. Certainly the BBC didn’t go in for sending up Eurovision with witty Wogan asides back then – the commentator was David Vine, also known for Ski Sunday and It’s a Knockout, who came out with phrases like “My goodness, he sold that song well!” – for the Portuguese entry. (Not surprising he did when you know of its links with the revolution. Odd Eurovision connection – the major who led the convoy of armoured cars into Lisbon was named Fernando).

  36. 36
    Erithian on 22 Oct 2007 #

    A few years ago Q magazine ran a feature about the pop scene of the time, during the heyday of Atomic Kitten, S Club and Westlife, saying there had never been a better time to be a 12-year-old pop fan. And I thought – nonsense! I turned 12 while “Waterloo” was number one, and at that time there was Sweet, Mud, Slade, Queen coming up on the rails, Rod and Elton…

    The older lad up the street was introducing me to his record collection – Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin and lesser lights (never quite got Uriah Heep!) and his sister was introducing me to new feelings, albeit from afar – Diane Richardson where are you now? (A few years later I saw her with her new boyfriend at the same time as I heard Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and that line about pretty women out walking with gorillas – how did he KNOW?!)

    But I digress – anyway, for my 12th birthday I got an Alvin Stardust single (hmm, OK then) and Sweet’s “Sweet Fanny Adams” album. I wouldn’t trade what was around in 1974 for the S Club era – maybe there’s no bad time to have been a 12-year-old pop fan.

  37. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Blimey, David Vine – was “Waterloo” “the one they’ll all have to beat” then (used on innumerable occasions by DV on subsequent snooker/skiing commentaries)?

    Of course, being 12 years old is always the best time to be a 12-year-old pop fan…

  38. 38
    mike on 22 Oct 2007 #

    (They were playing “I Do x5” in the pub last night, as it happens. “New Seekers feat. Hurricane Smith” is a perfect description!)

    1974 was also the first year that the Eurovision language rule was relaxed, which basically meant that countries other than the UK and Ireland could field English language entries – a rule which was then reversed a couple of years later (can’t recall when), only to be relaxed again in 1999 (IIRC).

    As for the overt gay sensibility within Eurovision, I’d say that it started gathering steam during the 1990s, with Sonia, Gina G and (most significantly of all) Dana International as key staging posts.

  39. 39
    Rosie on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Can I be really naff and suggest to ‘o sobek!’ that any point she is trying to make is completely lost on me because trying to read her posts gives me a headache.

    Tedious as it may seem, there’s a good reason for conventions like punctuation, spelling out words in full, and starting sentences with a capital letter. Not least because people like me who are old enough to remember Waterloo in its original incarnation are starting to need reading glasses to see the screen!

  40. 40
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    *other listings magazines are available*

    Additionally, your first sentence should have ended with a question mark rather than a full stop.

    Furthermore, as there is no qualifying clause in the second sentence of your second paragraph, it should have been linked to the first sentence by means of a comma or semi-colon.

  41. 41
    Tom on 22 Oct 2007 #

    I’m stopping this conversation right here.

    “Official” Popular policy is that people can be as correct as they like – if there’s a risk of not being understood, that’s a risk I’m sure they know they’re running!

  42. 42
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Erithian (#35) – Not for the first time in this blog, my tongue was firmly in my cheek with regards to the preamble to my comments at #32. I think the key word is “subsequent”, since I am unable to answer your question for certain and can only speculate. It is certainly the case that Brighton has always been linked with a bohemian way of life but I was a teenaged scally living in Stockwell in 1974 and have no knowledge of the town then. As for Eurovision, again without knowing for certain, its adoption as a “gay festival” seems to have been relatively recent but was almost certainly the consequence of Abba being similarly adopted. As a straight man, I am very much an unmarried marriage councillor here, if you get my drift.

  43. 43
    Erithian on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Tom – I know you’ve hinted before that you had a soft spot for the Jive Bunny trilogy of number ones, but I recall a quote from one of the guilty men behind Jive Bunny defending their right to use somebody else’s music on the basis that Abba were using somebody else’s language. Kind of set me thinking about the relative levels of skill and intelligence in (a) nicking bits from other people’s greatest hits to have one yourself and (b) writing 9 number one songs in a foreign language. I always thought Jive Bunny were loathsome.

  44. 44
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    “Guilty men” is right. Scab bastards.

    (in Dale Winton voice) But more about that when we get there!

  45. 45
    Tom on 22 Oct 2007 #

    I think “soft spot” is maybe overstating it, but we’ll get to those eventually. Top reasoning from the Jive Bunny dude though! Benny and Bjorn are among my favourite lyricists.

  46. 46
    mike on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Re. Waldo’s #42: I’m doubly blessed, being a) in The Gays and b) a committed Eurovision fan (I’ve attended the final in person on five occasions). To my perspective, the show didn’t develop an overtly gay sensibility until a) overtly gay-friendly artists started entering it and b) the mid-1990s Irish stranglehold (four wins in five years, lest we forge) was loosened. Post-Dana International, there was a spate of knowingly “camp” entries, many of which referenced Abba, with varying degrees of kitschy pastiche or respectful homage. Now that the Eastern European nations (for whom the Abba days are a barely known irrelevance) have started to dominate the contest, that period now seems to be in decline.

  47. 47
    Erithian on 22 Oct 2007 #

    But then it was won by Ugly Betty this year. (And Scooch were to Steps as Steps were to Abba.)

    The Irish stranglehold was commemorated by that cherishable episode of Father Ted which I watched again on More4 just last night. “My Lovely Horse” – the best thing the Divine Comedy ever did.

  48. 48
    Waldo on 22 Oct 2007 #

    Mike (#46) – I am grateful. Certainly the Eastern Europeans have got their claws into Eurovision now and bloody scary the android who won this year was, as Erithian says. Dear old Ken Bruce has actually suggested two contests, one for the west and one for the east. Doesn’t that just remind you of something? Yet, having said that…

  49. 49
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Oct 2007 #

    It does represent a culture shift, though – as discussed previously on ILM, however, my reckoning is that something like that will happen since the Big Shadowy Cabal of W/European countries who actually pay for the contest are already cheesed off about being routinely fenced out of the top ten.

  50. 50
    mike on 22 Oct 2007 #

    (And Scooch were to Steps as Steps were to Abba.)

    I do like to think that Scooch’s richly deserved belly-flop might have marked the final nail in the “Ooh, let’s make it a bit camp and a bit like Abba!” coffin…

  51. 51
    Billy Smart on 22 Oct 2007 #

    “as Steps were to Abba” – Whither Bucks Fizz or the little-remembered Deuce in this chronology?

  52. 52
    fivelongdays on 22 Oct 2007 #

    RE: Billy Smart – yep, this is an Abba song that doesn’t sound like an ‘archetypal’ Abba song.

    No coincidence, then, that it’s the only Abba song (OK, maybe, just maybe, Fernando…) that I actually like.

    And I remember Deuce. I used to chronically fancy Kelley O’Keefe (sp?) when I was 13.

  53. 53
    Steve Mannion on 23 Oct 2007 #

    ‘I do like to think that Scooch’s richly deserved belly-flop might have marked the final nail in the “Ooh, let’s make it a bit camp and a bit like Abba!” coffin…’

    Yes agreed although I’m not sure taking a leaf out of Serbia’s book is really a step forward either.

  54. 54
    Erithian on 24 Oct 2007 #

    We previewed this debate a little while back but haven’t got into it properly – Agnetha or Frida? I see Mike and Marcello both vote for the latter, but for me, while Frida was mighty fine, I thought Agnetha was possibly the most beautiful woman ever to walk the earth. Especially in that “Dancing Queen” clip, although she wasn’t exactly the greatest dancer herself. Sadly, her outrageous beauty seems to have attracted very much the wrong sort in post-Abba years, rather a tragic story in fact.

  55. 55
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2007 #

    Why she married her stalker rather than report him to the appropriate authorities is truly baffling.

    Whereas with Frida you always felt that you could go down the pub with her and have a decent chat and a laugh, and in addition no one has worn jeans better than she, even though she is an actual living NAZI EXPERIMENT IN COLOUR!

  56. 56
    mike on 24 Oct 2007 #

    I also like the way that on the back cover of the Waterloo album – same set-up as the front cover, but with the band missing and old Napoleon left staring out of the window – Frida hasn’t quite got out of the way in time. That struck me at the time as quintissentially Frida-esque!

  57. 57
    Waldo on 24 Oct 2007 #

    “Why she married her stalker rather than report him to the appropriate authorities is truly baffling.”

    I’m gonna find out where that Welsh bird from “Torchwood” lives and jolly well stalk her!

  58. 58
    crag on 24 Oct 2007 #

    Blimey!I never noticed the(bleedin’ obvious now its been pointed out to me)Wizzard similarities before! Makes sense I guess since Roy Wood recorded a version of this very tune with Dr and the Medics in the mid-80s at the height of ABBA’s supposed irrelevance.

    Surely the weirdest thing about “Waterloo”(and IMO there was nearly always SOMETHING odd abt ABBA’s best tracks that you could usually never quite put your finger on- perhaps one of the factors why they were, in time accepted by the rock snobs of this world) is the contrast between the melody and the lyrics. Any song in which the verses are if anything more catchy and hookladen than the chorus instantly qualifies as a classic pop tune while the lyrics seem to be an admission of defeat not to the the power of love but rather to the realisation that to only pine for the romantic ideal often can only result in loneliness and unfulfilment. They are hardly of the “Hey Ive just realised you really ARE fantastic after all lets hook up” school of much 50s teen pop.Instead they seem to be about somewhat begrudgingly leaving the Mills n Boone fantasies behind settling for a grown-up “relationship” with someone rather less than perfect with all the disapointments and compromises this can mean rather wishing yr life away alone. The relentlessly cheerful performance says “hey, could be worse!” while the lyrics are firmly in ‘glass is half full’ territory. Optimism Vs Pessimism. The score is a draw.

  59. 59
    crag on 24 Oct 2007 #

    Blast! I of course meant ‘glass is half empty’ not full!

  60. 60
    Snif on 25 Oct 2007 #

    “” while Frida was mighty fine, I thought Agnetha was possibly the most beautiful woman ever to walk the earth.”

    A lot of punters around this way were with you, but jumped horses when Frida straightened out her hair – go figure.

  61. 61
    Erithian on 25 Oct 2007 #

    Snif – compared to how Australia felt about Abba, we Brits just sort of didn’t mind them (as seen in Abba The Movie). Didn’t they spend over half of 1976 at number one in Oz?

  62. 62
    Snif on 25 Oct 2007 #

    That i can recall, “Waterloo” was a hit, then “Honey Honey” (re-released?) moderately so. It all hit the fan with “Mamma Mia”. The Oz equivalent of Tops Of The Pops, called Countdown thrashed it, and it was on for young and old from then on…at the end of each show there’d be a countdown of the national top ten, and the credits would roll over the music clip of the Number One act. It got to the point where they were playing Abba so much that they’d put something else on just to have a change.

    The movie was shot during their Australian tour which caused no small amount of uproar with the punters – standard concert ticket price back then was about ten dollars – Abba had the cheek to be charging fifteen (they were bringing a full orchestra with them, mind). Dark mutterings were heard about whether any act could be worth such an enormous sum.

  63. 63
    jeff w on 28 Oct 2007 #

    I’ve been away, and most of what I would have said about this (and The Rubettes and Ray Stevens) has already been said by others. So I’ll just add some personal reminiscences on ABBA.

    I have distinct memories of watching Eurovision ’74 with my family. It was probably the first year I was old enough to stay up and see the whole thing, including the voting/result. It may also have been the first year we had a colour telly.

    Some of my 70s Eurovision memories are conflated with recollections of watching “Jeux sans frontieres” around the same time (another EBU-sponsored inter-europe contest with a big scoreboard). But ABBA in Brighton were distinctive enough to stand from this blur of memories. Obviously in our family were ‘patriotically’ rooting for ONJ. But, as others have noted upthread, it was pretty obvious from the get go that “Waterloo” was a winner. And by the time of their encore performance that night, I’m sure the chorus had lodged so effortlessly in our minds that the next day my sister and I could sing it still.

    On the question of ABBA’s reputation before ABBA Gold and the surge in their popularity in the 90s, I can’t recall a time when they were ever not granted at least a grudging respect. I remember an occasion in 1979 (I’d have been 14 or thereabouts) where one of my schoolfriends received some ridicule when the conversation turned to pop music – which NB it had never done before then, that I can recall – and he cited ABBA as his favourite group. But he made an eloquent case in support, and I suspect our mockery was more to do with the fact that ABBA were so much part of the fabric of pop by then that it was more seemly in a teenager to support something a bit more dangerous. Secretly, we all agreed with him. The friend in question went on to become a huge heavy metal freak in his 18th year. (Hi Chris – you were a true poptimist before its time.)

  64. 64
    jeff w on 28 Oct 2007 #

    Oh and on the Richard Cook thing, which MC countered with a Robert Wyatt example – didn’t Wyatt himself argue the same thing as Cook circa 1982? I remember an interview with Wyatt on Radio 1’s Saturday afternoon magazine show – around the time “Shipbuilding” was released – where he bemoaned rockism and pointed out that most rock musicians can’t even write as well or play their instruments as well as pop musicians do.

  65. 65

    yes, to the best of my memory, wyatt has always been pretty rigorous about this — and he says it again the recent issue of wire

  66. 66
    mike atkinson on 10 Nov 2007 #

    (cf the AWESOME “King Kong Song” as played often at Poptimism)

    Mixes we’d like to hear:

  67. 67
    Geir H on 23 Dec 2007 #

    I don’t follow you when you say ABBA didn’t change pop.

    Surely, very few changes in pop will last forever – for instance, you don’t hear a lot of The Beatles in the music popular among today’s kids, but it isn’t like that means The Beatles didn’t change pop.

    And ABBA did. Human League cited them as a major influence. Same with several of the other early 80s synthpop or new romantic acts. Sure, synthpop and new romantics didn’t last, but they dominated the early 80s scene. And without ABBA (and Giorgio Moroder) it is hard to imagine synthpop ever happening.

  68. 68
    koganbot on 31 Dec 2007 #

    what abba i think HUGELY did was demonstrate that you didn’t have to be part of the extant social structure of rock and its discontents, to find a way “out” of it (which in a sense all the glamsters who were ex-brit-60s-kids were: isn’t this jonathan king’s complaint about the 70s?); you could — by virtue of being swedish — never have been IN it

    Mark, if you ever look at this thread again I’d like you to elaborate on what the “it” is that people are trying to find a way out of. (Your sentence structure would make “rock” this it, but surely that’s not right; at least, I can’t think that the glamsters/glitterers thought they were trying to get out of rock; in Creem the idea would be, “We (the glitter-glam-punks) are the real rock ‘n’ roll in comparison to the Eagles” (which isn’t fair to the Eagles, but who the fuck wants to be fair to the Eagles?).)

    My idea is that this “it” here is like a Superword but without a word. So there is a general feeling that leaps from person to person and generation to generation that we want to get out from under something, but what that something is keeps shifting and changing. “Out from under something” is the quasi-permanent structure, but there’s the continual search for a something that one needs to be out from under.

  69. 69

    will do!

  70. 70
    Travis G.L. on 29 Feb 2008 #

    LOL ABBA is the Alpha Flight of 70s rock: to 90% of the population the native country is the whole point.

  71. 71
    Travis G.L. on 29 Feb 2008 #

    I think I get what Mark was trying to say, somewhat…’74 was still seven years before I was born, plus I’m an American, so I don’t really have a clue, but by then glam was pretty widely disseminated across the British youth, wasn’t it? But it was still a youth-sub-counter-culture wasn’t it, still in a state of insubordinate subordination (=rebellion) to the dominant trad Brit culture (as well as blues-rock-metal establishment, but that’s slightly besides the point). To hear Waterloo’s Suffragette City/1812 Overture hybrid (which btw is not at all f***ing cheesy; those verses are not only a mighty fine hook, they’re pop music’s Demon Drop), there must have seemed to be a sort of link between ABBA’s outsider status and glam’s. Plus the basic fact of hearing glam rock from Scandinavia must have been a (welcome or unwelcome) confirmation of glam as a sort of force that transcended the locus of aforementioned trad/dominant culture (but then again I wasn’t there, and Mark S’s professed ignorance about Waterloo’s affinities with Glam implies that most glam cadets were not really in a state of receptive awareness when it came to ABBA being a Glam ally) (which is prolley appropriate considering I’m not even sure that glam was even looking for allies in 1974, considering that according to Mark S, the nature of glam rebellion was not revolutionary-aggressive like punk, but much more like star-struck self-involvement?)

    Whatever, it matters not…

    You ever hear Eddie Izzard’s routine about the American Revolutionary War paradigm in American movies, where all the villains have British accents (eg Star Wars) and the friends/allies/mentors are French (eg ?????). I propose that all glam/punk/disco counterculture-revolutionary movies from here on out have at least one friend/ally character with a Swedish accent.

    In honour of ABBA.

  72. 72
    tim davidge on 4 Mar 2008 #


    A generous appraisal of this record might run something like this: “It’s a brilliant record – for its genre. You just have to like the genre.” But this jingly, tinny, overdone piece of bubblegum uses a dubious metaphor to boot. Am I the only one to cringe at the notion of a seduction resembling Napoleon Bonaparte’s last stand?

    Didn’t like it then. Don’t like it now.

  73. 73
    flahr on 16 Nov 2010 #

    I heard this *properly* for the first time about two weeks ago* and jesus, what a racket**! I got the impression it was some weedy synthstravaganza but no there’s that mentalist saxaphone, demented barrelhouse piano that’s more like “I’m Waiting for the Man” than anything else and the lyrics belted at top volume over it. Brilliant stuff.

    *I came into a load of HMV vouchers and felt I probably ought to go and get ABBA Gold. Also: a Bananarama best-of and two Pavement CDs

    **this was also my reaction to *properly* hearing “A Hard Day’s Night” for the first time. it is worth remembering that racket is ALWAYS a good thing, and i look forward to discussing this in more depth when we reach “Only Shallow”‘s 34-week stay at Number One

  74. 74
    Billy Smart on 16 Nov 2010 #

    “It is worth remembering that racket is ALWAYS a good thing”

    Flahr,Have you heard ‘Cumberland Gap’ yet?

    ‘Baby Jump’ might test this theory beyond its breaking point, though.

  75. 75
    flahr on 16 Nov 2010 #

    Billy – I have now and, er, blimey. Will listen to it a couple of times and probably post on ver appropriate thread tomorrow – truly, the music’s pumping & it gives [comment threads] new life ;)

    Am slightly afraid to approach “Baby Jump” though – I am not old enough for “Baby Jump” to have been the “Baby Jump” of the seventies but I am still wary of its power!

    “Oh, I think it’s quite simple what happened in the 1990s; the rolling cycle of acceptable revivalism (10 years ago = hideous; 20 years ago = cool; 30 years ago = classic) reached the 1970s, that’s all.”

    haha can you say BRITPOP REVIVAL kiddies? :D (i am told that they study britpop in GCSE music these days. it boggles the mind)

  76. 76
    swanstep on 16 Nov 2010 #

    “Only Shallow”‘s 34-week stay at Number One
    Oh please, yes, yes………

  77. 77
    punctum on 17 Nov 2010 #

    If Mr Shields can ever get it together to assemble the deluxe reissue of Loveless, I wonder whether it would do an Exile On Main Street and finally get to number one?

  78. 78
    Mark G on 17 Nov 2010 #

    (i am told that they study britpop in GCSE music these days. it boggles the mind)

    You heard right: On a school visit in advance of Alice’s move up, I saw a sheet music plus dissertation of a piece based on “Britpop” standard structures…

  79. 79
    wichita lineman on 17 Nov 2010 #

    I’ve just put a link to the biggest racket on Popular on Lonnie Donegan’s Gamblin’ Man entry. It is truly astonishing.

    And there is contemporary youtube footage of ‘the Baby Jump of the 70s’ with grinning (German?) kids gamely trying to dance to it. The Mungos look rather earnest which I wasn’t expecting.

  80. 80
    Jimmy the Swede on 14 May 2011 #

    LOOK!!! It is Eurovision tonight and the Swedish entry is called “Popular”. Could win. Probably won’t. Enjoy it, everyone. If Eurovision isn’t a guilty pleasure, I’m a Dutchman (although a few generations back, I was!)

  81. 81

    I was excited by that, too! Sadly the Swede — the er other Swede — is declaring HIMSELF popular, at song-length.

  82. 82
    Jimmy the Swede on 15 May 2011 #

    There we are, “Popular” didn’t win and it’s all off to Baku next year.
    Yeah, fucking cobblers!

  83. 83

    Baku looks exciting!

  84. 84
    Jimmy the Swede on 15 May 2011 #

    Naw! I think it looks like the Mysteron complex on Mars which SPECTRUM destroyed, thus starting all that “we will be avenged” malarkey from the understandably outraged martians.

  85. 85
    flahr on 15 May 2011 #

    That’s no moon etc etc etc

  86. 86
    Lazarus on 9 May 2014 #

    If I may take the liberty of using this thread for tonight’s competition, I will say just two words: Conchita Wurst. The bearded lady singing for Austria has to be seen, and heard. It’s a song Shirley Bassey would have killed for. Kudos too to San Marino for making the final, and with a native Sammarinese too.

  87. 87
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 May 2014 #

    Conchita Wurst is a star without a doubt. And Lazarus is right, Dame Shirley would have nailed this song brilliantly. I watched Fraulein Sausage perform the song, which itself was more than a little suggestive, but then had to turn in, as I was up at stupid o’clock on Sunday for work. When I saw that Austria had won and the Russians were furious, I was more than a little pleased. Even ignoring all the bits and bobs, it was just a great song. The chorus is blinding.

    Before Conchita came the Polish entry which got top marks from the UK. I’m not going to bother to describe it. Suffice to say that it was most certainly to the Swede’s taste. I’ll never think of washerwomen in the same way again. Bloody magnificent!

  88. 88
    Andrew Farrell on 12 May 2014 #

    Tom’s written about this elsewhere (and I see the angle has also made the BBC news site) but it’s only the UK televote that gave top marks to the Polish – each of the jury sent it last or second last, so it ended up without any points.

  89. 89
    Tom on 12 May 2014 #

    There are an awful lot of Poles in the UK. (A rather snookering news story for the Farageiste, this one – EU immigrants hijacking our democratic Eurovision vote, but in favour of just-a-bit-of-hetero-fun, but getting overruled by The Sneering Metropolitan Elite etc etc.)

  90. 90
    Jimmy the Swede on 13 May 2014 #

    Yes, I should have mentioned that the top marks came from the phone vote but this award was countermanded by the “Jury” in the UK. Whilst I clearly do not accept the “EU immigrants hijacking our Democratic Eurovision vote” line, there is not a doubt in my mind that the “overruling by the Sneering Metropolitan Elite” holds some sway. I have no idea who the Jury members were, but it’s reasonable to suggest that had these all been rounded up by the BBC, they would have been either supporters of or mindful of the Corporation’s built-in liberal bias (which has been admitted by the recently arrived DG) and would never have supported busty, sexy milkmaids in a month of Sundays. There is something very worrying about this Jury thing. It’s rather like someone standing by a ballot box and then ripping up your paper if they objected to your choice of candidate.

  91. 91
    Tom on 13 May 2014 #

    The Jury members in every country are public knowledge now! They’re all music biz/entertainment pros – vocal coaches, choreographers, session musicians, DJs, etc. Nobody famous.

    I broadly agree about Juries. Across Europe, Conchita Wurst would still have won on a public vote (in fact, by a few more points), and the milkmaids would have meant we’d have had a far harder time getting all nationalistic about how “we” are more tolerant than those bigoted Eastern Europeans – Conchita placed in the Top 5 across Eastern Europe and did well in Russia too, it was the Juries in places like Russia, Azerbaijan etc that pushed her down the ranking, not the public. So some grist there to the argument that juries reflect (purposely or not) the implicit state position.

    (The other strong anti-jury argument is that, cross-continent, the track that would have benefited most from them was the godawful Malta Mumford & Sons imitation. Down with This Sort Of Thing.)

  92. 92
    Andrew Farrell on 13 May 2014 #

    Ripping up your ballot is a bit strong – every vote cast still sent its recipient higher.

  93. 93
    Andrew Farrell sent back from the future on 13 May 2014 #

    Arguably the Eurovision is in that way more democratic than democracy, where you vote for someone and hope they do what you want – though of course that’s because the desired effect is ‘elect someone’ in Eurovision and ‘do what I want’ in the real world – I think we’d all agree that the world would be more interesting if the Eurovision prize included a ‘for the next year, enact one policy of your choice across Europe’ voucher.

    Also I put it to you, Mr The Swede, that what you’re annoyed about is that industry professionals neglected to ignore the fact that the Polish entry was a fvcking terrible song in favour of the presence of busty washerwomen (and the jury’s vote was apparently based on the dress rehearsal the day before – who can say whether there may have been a chill in the studio then?)

    There’s another argument of course about whether Curvy Lasses 4 U has any place in 2014 but eh perhaps for another time.

  94. 94
    Tom on 13 May 2014 #

    As a song, I liked the Polish entry: chaotic shouting and boshing, tick VG. Mind you I voted for “Moustaches” by France, which was along similar lines and rejected by juries and public alike. Quelle dommage!

    There is a power imbalance between juries and public even beyond the 5 people vs millions thing, though. Public opinion, in Eurovision, only counts if it’s positive – people vote for the things they like. But the juries’ opinion on every song counts, so they can also punish as well as reward performances (like the Poles in the UK and Ireland). This imbalance could be corrected by allowing the public to downvote as well as upvote – but obviously this would most likely poleaxe Eurovision’s growing reputation as a forum for the celebration of difference. On balance, I still think getting rid of juries again would be a good idea.

  95. 95

    yes, they’re only an “elite” in the sense that they’re professionally involved in music (which in a music-related competition ought to function as a good kind of elite): not entirely different in kind to the role the panel plays in x-factor or the voice (except they’re not famous)

    it’s surely not beyond the wit of erm someone to gamify this division more effectively (at a national level i mean): given that popular and professional perspective diverge, turn choosing our entrant into a talent-show drama between these two perspectives?

    if you could peer past the presentation to the song shorn of visuals, the polish entry was the higher jedwardism and none the worse for that

  96. 96

    the french performance on the night was quite poor compared to the recording — scruffy chaos drowned out precision wackiness — and i think they were probably marked down for that: not living up to an anticipated enjoyment

    (though of course i don’t know what proportion of voters aside from kat have watched the videos with any rigour)

  97. 97
    Chelovek na lune on 13 May 2014 #

    I thought Italy were the best of a pretty poor batch this year – a relative of Suzi Quatro and Pat Benatar providing a soundtrack for a car chase across the Apennines in a movie… Had I been ranking the lot of em, France would definitely have been placed last, though, with Iceland not much above them and (yes) Austria somewhere way down the table too…

  98. 98
    Jimmy the Swede on 13 May 2014 #

    #92, #93 – Hello Andrew F. I’m inclined to agree with Tom. I thought the Polish song was good too, although it was certainly embellished for me in the most pleasant way with the milkmaid/washerwoman routine on the floor. I can’t deny that. You are of course perfectly entitled to opine that the song was “fvcking terrible”. Might I suggest that many who would agree with you think just that exactly because of the goings-on of those lovely girls? And as for the “argument about whether Curvy Lasses 4 U has any place in 2014 “, my answer is a resounding “yes” in the same way that there will always be a place for trannies with beards too.

    I’m delighted I have an ally in Tom regarding Juries.

  99. 99
    Andrew Farrell on 13 May 2014 #

    I agree with Tom – mandatory multi-preference transferable ballots as a prerequisite of citizenship for the next year.

  100. 100
    Ed on 13 May 2014 #

    Surely, to borrow from the US presidential election system, what we should be doing is electing our juries?

  101. 101
    Andrew Farrell on 13 May 2014 #

    #98 – oh fuck off: when I saw that a song is terrible what I mean is that I think it’s terrible, and (possibly mistakenly) assume that others may reasonably agree, not that I quite like it but that I (and others) will claim to dislike it because bosoms.

  102. 102
    Tom on 13 May 2014 #

    #98 – Glad we agree on Eurojuries, JTS! But can we avoid the word “tranny” in comment threads here? I know you didn’t mean it as offensive but it’s a slur on trans people and I’d rather not have it on my site. Thanks!

  103. 103
    Jimmy the Swede on 13 May 2014 #

    #101 – I’m not going to reciprocate your abuse. We’ll just have to disagree, won’t we, and leave it at that.

    #102 – Yes, Tom. Naturally I acknowedge my error. Cheers.

  104. 104
    hectorthebat on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 37
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1970s (2008)
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 86
    Helsingin Sanomat (Finland) – 50th Anniversary of Rock (2004)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 27
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)

  105. 105
    Lazarus on 13 Sep 2016 #

    Watching a doc on ABBA on Sky Arts this evening, and looking up this entry (which I haven’t done for a long time, and possibly never from page one) an obvious thought has just occurred to me, which surely must have been mentioned here before. The second place to ‘Waterloo’ was indeed taken by Gigliola Cinquetti with ‘Go (Before You Break My Heart)’ and Britain’s own Scott Fitzgerald sang exactly the same words to finish runner-up behind Celine Dion, Eurovision’s other major breakout act, fourteen years later! My my, indeed.

  106. 106
    aiksylle on 9 Mar 2018 #

    Tomorrow (march 10) is the final of the swedish qualifications för Eurovision Song Contest 2018. As a tribute to ‘Waterloo’ I give you ‘Fuldans’ by Rolandz (the title roughly translates as ‘Ugly dancing’).
    “The slightly older gentleman reviving glam rock”, as british Metro put it, is Robert Gustafsson, known as the funniest man in Sweden since the 1990s.
    I really hope all of Europe will get the chance to see this, but it probably will not happen.


  107. 107
    Robin Carmody on 24 May 2019 #

    Not sure if this was mentioned in the first lot of comments here (don’t want to go through the lot now) but re. your comment about ABBA being little-known in former Communist countries: they were sufficiently taken into the closed world of Polish pop that, one year, the Polish state record company – the official monopoly, but of course the black market was strong if you knew how to get into it – spent its entire annual budget on Western acts on their records.

    Or so I once read, anyway. Certainly this was why they’d have got Bjorn (or was it Benny? I could check but don’t really want to at present) for ‘Let Poland Be Poland’ – they wanted martial law to be denounced and Solidarity supported by someone who’d been accepted by the Polish state as other huge international pop acts most often hadn’t been, and who of course had just co-written the title track from ‘The Visitors’, the best ever piece of anti-Communist popular art (because it states, correctly, that Communism was wrong not because it denied free enterprise, but because it denied the most basic aspects of human dignity, i.e. it attacks it from a socialist or at the very least social democratic perspective in a way that American anti-Communist popular art generally did not). Although I think they didn’t use his comments in the end, because he mentioned that the US backed equally oppressive regimes, such as Pinochet’s Chile, in the reheated Cold War. His remarks were sufficient, though, that had ABBA not fallen apart anyway they would not have been allowed to perform in the Soviet Union should they have so desired.

  108. 108
    lonepilgrim on 21 Oct 2019 #

    I’ve rarely engaged with Eurovision on TV as I find the format tedious and so didn’t watch the year this hit even though the event was taking place only 25 miles down the road from where I lived.
    This song continues to be a joy due to its cheerful optimism and by undercutting its contrived Napoleonic metaphor with its lyrical esperanto. Whereas Wizzard’s songs often make me feel bludgeoned with a kitchen sink this spreads its 50s signifiers more sparsely and perhaps most significantly doesn’t include any obvious musical cues from Blues or Soul

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