ABBA: Waterloo

Abba’s emergence is one of the most cheering musical events in recent months. Just when the Top 40 was plumbing hitherto-unfathomable, moribund depths, along came their single, ‘Waterloo’. A modern-day ‘girl group’ production with the brightest, most exuberant sound around, it’s made button-punching on the car radio a worthwhile pastime again.

The album is one of those infinitely playable records with a wealth of outstanding tracks, and I find that a new favorite is constantly coming to the fore. ‘Waterloo’ led the pack as a 45 and was joined immediately by ‘Suzy-Hang-Around’, with a galvanizing guitar figure straight out of the early Byrds. ‘Honey Honey’ moved into contention with its irresistibly bouncy tune and surf-era harmonies; it sounds like it was done by the Beach Boys’ female counterparts, the Honeys/American Spring. At the moment ‘Dance (While the Music Still Goes On)’ takes the honors. The verse derives directly from the Beach Boys’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ (quite conceivably the best pop record ever made), with enchanting original touches – a near-perfect number.

Naturally polished precision pop like this doesn’t spring from nowhere, and Abba is no exception. The male participants, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, were the nucleus of the Hep Stars, Sweden’s biggest mid-Sixties pop group, with a long string of English-language hits in Scandinavia. They recorded as Bjorn & Benny on Playboy here, almost hitting with ‘Ring Ring’ (a revamped version in this LP, with all the appeal of ‘Waterloo,’ will probably be the next Abba single) and last year’s superb ‘Rock & Roll Band’. Joining with their wives to form Abba, they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’ (the first real rock song ever to win), and immediate worldwide success followed.

This album will probably be hampered by the ultra-pop, non-‘progressive’ nature of the tracks. A lot of people will unfortunately pigeonhole it as trivial AM radio fodder and ignore it. A lot of people will also be dead wrong. With their concise, upbeat pop creations, Abba is much closer to the essential spirit of rock & roll than any number of self-indulgent hotshot guitarists or devotional ensembles handing down cosmo-dynamic enlightenment to the huddled masses. Anti-pop snobbery is an obsolete relic of the Sixties; the time has come to abandon it else you miss albums as perfectly delightful as Waterloo.

© Ken BarnesRolling Stone, 29 August 1974

Leave a Comment