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ABBA Fans Celebrate 50 Years Since Eurovision Win with Special Tribute



Fifty years since Abba won with Waterloo, fans are paying tribute to a pop classic. Its status is a far cry from its origins in a celebration of weedy pop and dodgy lyrics – and, whisper it, ‘nul points’ from Britain.

Fifty years on, the footage of Abba performing Waterloo at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest is very familiar indeed: the conductor dressed as Napoleon, Agnetha’s blue satin knickerbockers, Björn’s star-shaped guitar.

But it’s rarely, if ever, shown in context. Perhaps Abba’s success is so sui generis – Sweden had never produced an internationally successful pop artist before, and it’s never produced one anything like as successful since – that context seems besides the point.

But this weekend, BBC Four is screening the entire 1974 grand final in full. Immediately, the setting plunges you back into what feels like a very distant past indeed. Here is Eurovision from a time before anyone watched it for camp value – you can’t imagine any gay bar in 1974 clearing its schedules to screen this; a Eurovision that takes itself rather seriously, a brief appearance by the Wombles notwithstanding.

It’s Eurovision that predates even Terry Wogan’s presence: in 1974, his famously sardonic remarks were still confined to radio coverage of the event.

Viewers had to make do with sports commentator David Vine, ever-ready with a useful pen-portrait of the competing nations – “Norway! The place where they drink aquavit and do marvellous ski-jumping!” – and blessed with the ability to talk up the various artists in a way that makes you lose the will to live before they’ve even taken the stage: “Made his debut in his parents’ circus … used to do impressions of Maurice Chevalier,” he offers of Monaco’s Romuald.

Presented by Katie Boyle wearing a floor-length peach evening gown and Margaret Thatcher’s hair, it took place at the tail-end of one of mainstream pop’s all-time great eras.

But you’ll strain your ears trying to find even its vaguest reflection inside the Brighton Dome that year: closest is Finland’s entry, a piano ballad by Carita called Keep Me Warm that bore the influence of Carole King, albeit a track from Tapestry that had been subjected to some kind of process that removed every last shred of its character.

But nor, it seems, does anyone else. Abba are the solitary entrants who have any real link to current pop music – Waterloo bears the distinct influence of glam, most specifically Roy Wood’s Wizzard – the solitary entrants who aren’t smothered by the orchestra and the solitary entrants who look like they belong on Top of the Pops rather than in Batley Variety Club, a riot of satin and silver platform boots.

As if to underline how out of touch it all was, four weeks later, Waterloo was the UK No 1, and we all know how things played out for Abba thereafter.

Britain’s entry is by Olivia Newton-John, who as Vine notes, looks a bit startled in the scene-setting pre-performance footage.

Rachel Adams

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