“Fernando” is a breakthrough for ABBA, but a sly one. It’s different from anything else they’d tried – much more ambitious, with its long flowing melody lines in the verses and its lyrics about fighting in a liberation war in Central America. Before writing this I didn’t know that the song had been written for Frida’s solo record, which presumably allowed Benny and Bjorn to try something a little more unusual.
Does “Fernando” actually work, though? Some people have an allergic reaction to the sound of panpipes but I think they set the mood well here – wistful, cod-exotic, gentle. The chorus is rousing, the verses are lovely, the switch between them a little awkward, but made up for by the sudden, mid-celebration poignancy on “we could lose….”. Like “Mamma Mia”, though, “Fernando” is more admirable than moving: again the lyrics are the reason, but here they’re trying to do too much, and the English isn’t quite up to it: stumbly lines like “for many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand” throw me out of the song a little.
“Fernando” is a good ABBA record, not a great one – but its enormous success gave them permission to stretch out further and faster in several directions. No “Fernando”, no “The Visitors” (no “I Have A Dream” either, mind you).