388. ‘Fernando’, by ABBA

From one Eurovision winner to another. I mentioned in my last post the similarities between ABBA and Brotherhood of Man (they both won the contest, they both have two boys and two girls… though I’m unsure if any of the Brotherhood were ever married to one another…) It’s as if ABBA had had enough of ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’s long stay at #1 sullying Eurovision’s good name, and decided to do something about it.

Fernando, by ABBA (their 3rd of nine #1s)

4 weeks, from 2nd – 30th May 1976

This is, I must admit off the bat, my least-favourite of ABBA’s chart-toppers. It crosses the fine line between good-cheese and cheesy-cheese. It is one of the songs that people who don’t like ABBA can use to justify their idiocy. It has pan-pipes, and a marching drumbeat…

Can you hear the drums, Fernando… I remember long ago another starry night like this… I’ve always wondered where and when this song is set. From a young age, I’ve pictured Mexican rebels, in sombreros and ponchos, sheltering around a campfire on a mountainside. They’re fighting for freedom. They’re crossing the Rio Grande, into Texas apparently, to fight the Yankees at the Alamo… (my knowledge of this conflict is patchy – can you tell?) I could hear the distant drums and sounds of bugle calls were coming from afar…

To be fair, not many #1 singles trod these lyrical grounds. Kudos to Benny and Bjorn for writing outside the box. And then, because this is ABBA, the chorus is still a killer. There was something in the air that night, The stars were bright, Fernando… It’s almost enough to make up for the rest, for the pan-pipes, but not quite… And that’s not even the best bit. Every ABBA song has that golden moment, that perfect hook, and ‘Fernando’s is the: Though we never thought that we could lose, There’s no regrets… which Agnetha and Anna-Frid’s gorgeous Swedish accents sell beautifully.

I had no idea that this had originally been written for, and released by Anna-Frid, the year before. That version had nothing to do with Mexican freedom fighters; in it Fernando has lost his lover and is being consoled (I’m trusting Wiki on that, as I don’t speak a word of Swedish.) I also had no idea that the English-language version was the longest-running Australian #1 single until very recently.

In many ways, ‘Fernando’ is a strange #1. And yet in many other ways it feels like it’s existed since the dawn of time, it’s so simple and so earnest. If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando… they sing as it fades. Maybe that’s the key. It’s not a song about love; it’s about friendship. It’s completely universal. And it is this chart-topper, the band’s 3rd in Britain, that announces them as the real deal. Not many bands could pull this song off. And their next #1, coming up soon, will cement their place as the biggest band in the world…


13 thoughts on “388. ‘Fernando’, by ABBA

  1. I’m with you on this one…not one of my favorite ABBA songs. I’m hoping some others hit like my favorite…Take A Chance on Me…

  2. The campfire song video sold it and it was a grower – Fernando patiently bided it’s time at 2 behind BOM for a few weeks and then pushed it out of the way for 4 weeks on top, and it was also the single to promote the first Greatest Hits album for Abba (yes, really, because they had singles and albums pre-dating Waterloo they could mine) which was a huge seller that summer and into 1977. I think they invented the concept of a new track to plug a Hits album which eventually became the norm.

    It’s probably the least-universal of Abba’s chart-toppers, but I still love it’s quirkiness, and that’s despite the Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again cheesy-laughable moment at the end where Cher sings to lost love Fernando, underlining that it’s an impossible song to convincingly slip into any musical that isn’t based on war veterans 🙂

    PS Yes, 2 of BOM are still married and the 1976 line-up have never split-up, so not entirely copying Abba 🙂

    • Well there you go… I guess it was inevitable that they’d pair up if they’ve been together for so long… (the band that is…)

      I saw Mamma Mia 2 a few months ago, and by the time it got to Cher stepping out of the helicopter and singing Fernando, I think my brain had started to melt. Absolutely ridiculous, and not in a fun way!

    • Interesting! I always guessed it was about a Mexico-US conflict, going by the lyrics, but wasn’t sure how rooted in fact it might have been. Seems it has a lot in common with ‘Two Little Boys’, with that song also being two soldiers reminiscing.

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