‘Waterloo’ was born on ABBA’s small island in the archipelago of Stockholm. Björn, Benny and Stig had retreated to this island to tinker on their hit. In the beginning, it was only a demo on which you could only hear piano, guitar and stamping feet. However, the melody was there. What was lacking, were a title and the lyrics. And that was Stig’s assignment. Stig: “I’ve thought about it for almost a week. A couple of ideas were running through my head. One of them was ‘Honey Pie’. I looked it up in my wife’s cookbook. But somehow it wasn’t right.”
Finally, the title was decided upon – ‘Waterloo’. Stig: “When you have the idea and the title, the lyrics come pretty quickly. On a Saturday afternoon, I wrote them within a couple of hours. Then I called Björn and Benny, I played the tape and I sang the lyrics to them.” And what did Björn and Benny say? Stig: “Excellent!”
At the same time, Björn and Benny had composed another melody. Stig took it with him on a cassette to his holiday on the Canaries. The Spanish broadcasting company provided its title. Every night, the newsreader said goodbye with a cheerful ‘Hasta Mañana’ (until tomorrow).
The next morning, the guests in the hotel lobby were shocked. Stig was on the telephone, singing the lyrics to Björn and Benny. In a rather loud voice. The telephone connection to Sweden wasn’t the best.
For ABBA, this meant a tough decision. All of a sudden they had two good songs. Which one should they pick?
Stig: “I rooted for ‘Waterloo’ and said to Björn and Benny that – in case it would turn into a fiasco – they could cut my throat afterwards.”
The two of them didn’t have to grab their knives. At the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Waterloo’ received exactly 302 points out of 495. ABBA had finally made it!
The Dome in Brighton, built by the Prince of Wales, was a lordly stable for 44 royal horses. Today it’s a modern concert hall for 2000 guests.
On April 6, 1974, the hall was packed to capacity. With artists from all over Europe, representatives from record companies, music publishers, TV producers, journalists and photographers. The Eurovision Song Contest had started. 500 million viewers all over the world watched it on television.
There wasn’t a clear favourite. And if there was any, it certainly wasn’t ABBA.
Björn: “No one knew us when we arrived in Brighton.” A state of affairs that would change rapidly. ABBA’s performance turned into a treat for the ears and the eyes. In glittery costumes, wearing platform boots, singing ‘Waterloo’, they brought a breath of fresh air in the contest, that had become slightly dull in recent years. When the nerve-racking drama of the results calculation had been completed, it was clear: ‘Waterloo’ had won.
Each of the four Swedes reacted true to character. Agnetha lost contact with reality. For her, it was all like a dream. Anni-Frid was shivering all over. She was unable to form any clear thoughts. Björn and Benny just couldn’t believe it. They thought that somebody would shout ‘mistake!’ at any minute. But no one shouted ‘mistake’. It wasn’t a dream. After fourteen years, Sweden had finally won the contest.
The joy about the victory was only overshadowed by a Swedish TV reporter’s question: “Why did you call your song ‘Waterloo’? 40.000 men died there.”
Stig: “I was so perplexed that I couldn’t answer him. Why do they have to turn everything into politics. Wouldn’t it have been better if he had just congratulated us?”