Forty years ago last week, says Fraser Nelson in The Sunday Telegraph, a song was performed in Brighton that “changed the history of pop music”. The song was Abba’s Waterloo, which launched the career of the world’s most successful pop group, the Beatles excepted.
Though never fashionable, they are an extraordinary phenomenon. The album Abba Gold is now in one of ten British homes, while the 2008 film, Mamma Mia!, with A-list actors “murdering” two dozen Abba songs, became the highest-grossing musical in Hollywood history.
Abba’s Eurovision success came after the failure of their 1973 entry, Ring Ring, which nevertheless sold well enough to entice them back. Waterloo was written by the band’s two men, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, “jamming together on the piano”.
They wanted a three-syllable title that wouldn’t need translation. Stig Anderson, the group’s manager, came up with Waterloo thumbing through a book of quotations. It seemed perfect for Eurovision.
The girls sang it in “spangles and platform shoes”, choosing garish costumes for a practical reason: under Swedish law, tax relief was only available on costumes too outrageous to be worn on the street.
Waterloo was the greatest-ever Eurovision success, with one exception. The song “inspired by British glam rock, named after a British military victory”, and which proved so popular that it went straight to number one, won precisely nul points from the British panel.
Perhaps, like some of Sweden’s cultural commissars, they saw it as too crude and lowbrow: one Swedish composer spoke of its “totalitarian culture”, while the Marxist critic Johan Fornas said the band’s success was a sign of a sick capitalist society.
As Fraser Nelson puts it, “the workers of the world” did indeed seem to be uniting, “but under Chiquitita rather than the Internationale”.
The thrill of green fingers
“Gardening is like doing a jigsaw. A pointless way of passing the time until you die.” Unsurprisingly, Jeremy Clarkson’s verdict didn’t go down well with gardeners. Nor did Mary Beard’s pronouncement that there’s more to growing old than being “interested in geraniums”.
Alan Titchmarsh, in his Sunday Telegraph column, fumed that while for some gardening may be about growing geraniums, for others it is a “vital and energising” experience.
Taking a swipe at Clarkson and his fellow Top Gear presenters, he added: “Gardens and open spaces lift the spirits, broaden the mind, heighten the sense and even thrill, every bit as much as the transitory roar of a Ferrari that is burning up fossil fuel and giving three middle-aged men an expensive kick that lasts but a few minutes.”
I’m not quite sure where I stand on this important question. On the one hand I’m rarely to be seen with a trowel in my hand; on the other, when I do find myself lugging compost about or digging in plants it seems to me no less pointless, and a good deal more physically taxing, than roaring around in a fast car.
Tabloid money: booming Britain humiliates IMF
• “The RSPCA’s controversial former chief executive, Gavin Grant, who resigned his £150,000 a year post in February citing ‘medical concerns about his health’, appears to have made a recovery,” says Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail. “He is running for town councillor next month in the Wiltshire town of Malmesbury.
Grant, a former Liberal Democrat activist, was accused of turning the once-revered charity into a militant anti-hunt lobby. Last year, it emerged that he blew £362,000 of the charity’s funds prosecuting David Cameron’s local hunt.”
• The big story of the moment is that Britain is booming, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. “For the first time that I can remember, we are growing faster than Europe, three times as fast as Ed Miliband’s beloved France and at least as fast as the surging USA… British firms are creating jobs faster than anywhere except Germany – and we are about to overtake them soon.”
For the first time since the 2008 crash, “wages are outstripping inflation – killing off Labour’s cost-of-living crisis at a stroke. The government has not just slashed public spending, cut the state payroll and trimmed welfare waste, but turned this country into an industrial-scale work creation scheme and magnet for the world’s job-seekers.”
And in what amounts to “a giant humiliation”, the IMF has had to swallow its pride and admit that it was wrong “to paint debt-laden Britain as a low-growth failure”.
• “Look, I know you’ve probably had enough of the Maria Miller shenanigans,” says Fiona Phillips in the Daily Mirror.
“Just one thing to add: [she] is MP for Basingstoke, a well-known commuter-belt town just a 50-minute train journey from London. Why did she need two houses, when most of her constituents find one is sufficient? May I propose that MPs whose constituencies are less than 90 minutes from London are forbidden the privilege of tax-payer funded second homes.”