Fernando was a veteran of the Mexican-American War of 1846 – 1848. At the start of the war Mexico was considerably larger than it is today. The present day U.S. states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas then came within Mexico’s borders. When Texas seceded in 1836 to become an independent republic the Mexican government refused to recognise the new state. Tensions increased still further in 1845 when Texas agreed to become the 28th state of the U.S. and a territorial dispute between the two countries boiled over the following year.
The disputed territory lay between two rivers: the Nueces River to the north east and the Rio Grande to the south west. According to Ulysses S. Grant’s personal memoirs, U.S. forces entered the region with the intention of provoking the Mexican army to attack, thus providing political justification for a declaration of war. The ploy worked. The Mexican army crossed the Rio Grande, a cavalry detachment attacked and routed a U.S. patrol, and the Mexican forces laid siege to a makeshift U.S. fort on the banks of the Rio Grande. The casualties from these two actions led to the U.S. Congress declaring war on 13th May 1846.
At the end of the war Mexico was obliged to sign a treaty ceding over 55% of its former territories to the U.S. It is little wonder then that Fernando, sitting on his porch in the evening sunshine, looks back on those times with a mixture of wounded pride and deep sadness – proud that he had resisted the indefensible aggression of a neighbouring country and inconsolably sad about the suffering that ensued from armed conflict and his nation’s ultimate defeat.
There was something in the air that night,
The stars were bright, Fernando.
They were shining there for you and me,
For liberty, Fernando.
Though we never thought that we could lose,
There’s no regret.
If I had to do the same again,
I would my friend, Fernando.
The old fighter’s story is told in ABBA‘s 1976 single, Fernando. It makes no apology for being a pop song, but it’s not just any old pop song. Fernando topped the charts in at least 13 countries, it has sold over 10 million physical copies (6 million of them in the year of its release) and it was one of only about a dozen singles to find its way into the Crotchety collection. (There can be no higher accolade than that, you know.)
Strangely, for such a popular record, there are very few covers. There are some MOR-style instrumental versions that sound a lot like the backing track for the ABBA original. All of them are straightforward renditions of the original arrangement, retaining the characteristic flute motif, but dispensing with the vocal harmonies that make the song so compelling. I can only describe them as what’s left when you take the ‘pop’ out of a pop song.
Covers by singers are almost non-existent. There is one by Wing but it’s a pale shadow of the Agnetha and Anni-Frid duet. Apart from that, the research elves have drawn a blank. Until now. A blip on this week’s Radar turned out to be a new release of Fernando with Cher on vocals. Now, that promised to be worth investigating. Cher is still a great singer; perhaps she is the one to rival, or even improve, the original. Let’s compare the two …
Here, is the ABBA version.
And here is the new release from the forthcoming Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again movie with Cher on vocals.
Is the update an improvement? I’d have to say, “close but no Mexican cigar”. Cher does have a lovely voice but where did the duet go? The male voice in the background presumably belongs to Andy Garcia but it hardly adds anything to the sound. I find the tempo changes awkward in this new version, too. And the overall production smacks of unexceptional mainstream musicals. On its own the movie cut is pretty good but it doesn’t knock the 1976 ABBA release off its perch at the very top of the pop music charts.
Perhaps Fernando’s world-weary face isn’t only lamenting the nineteenth century defeat that cut Mexico in half. Perhaps he is also mourning a missed opportunity to bring a 70’s classic into the late 2010’s.