Here’s an article I wrote for the most recent edition of Vision Magazine (the magazine of OGAE UK, the UK Eurovision fan club, if you didn’t know). I thought I’d trot it out for you kind blogreaders to read as well, AND you get the benefit of the youtubes in glorious Technicolor© too.
Of course, this is just about as subjective as it gets. Here are (IMHO) ten songs that should always be within reach of your mp3 player or stylus depending on your vintage. Over the years the bloom may have faded a little from their petals, and their stalks may be wilting, but they’ve still got stamens of gold. And if that’s too much botany for you, I’d like you to consider my first suggestion, Beş Yıl Önce, On Yıl Sonra, that catchily-titled group from Turkey, with their 1984 offering “Halay”. Watch the video beneath, and check out their incredible dance moves, basically comprising of syncopated hand holding and then gentle release. It looks like one of those more careful exercises your chiropractor might teach you. It’s a fabulous little song about Turkish country dancing, but it’s the secondary elements that stay in the mind – those enviably turquoise jumpers, ties and dresses; the sassy swaying of the girls to the front of the stage – just the once, don’t want to get us too excited; and the chap on the right who looks like he’s sending a secret message to Ankara by morse-coding with his eyes.
Back to 1979’s curtain raiser and it’s Manuela Bravo (no relation to Juliet) with Sobe, Sobe, Balao Sobe (Rise, rise, little balloon, rise). Back in those halcyon days we could rejoice in the simple pleasures of little balloons, no Finnish monsters or hamster wheels of death then. Of course it’s not a real balloon. It’s a metaphor for a nation growing in confidence after the dark days of fascist repression when all you could look forward to was a Sing-a-long-a-Fado night. The golden balloon rises with love and optimism for a great future. Alternatively, it just might be a real balloon. Manuela’s and the girls’ dresses were all courtesy of the pastel end of the Dulux Colour Chart, and the orchestration under the baton of Thilo Krassman proved surprisingly raunchy. I always expect her to break into Andy Williams’ “It’s my happy heart you hear” but she holds back just in time. So if you’ve forgotten this one, have a listen and give your ears a treat. And there was no truth in the rumour that the following year she wanted to sing a song about rolling a hoop with a stick.
“Man gewöhnt sich so schnell an das Schöne” is one of those titles that make you think you haven’t enough time left to listen to the song. It was the German song for 1964, sung by Nora Nova, Bulgarian by birth and one of the founders of the National Movement for Stability and Progress, which tried to return the old Bulgarian Tsar to power about ten years ago. Jolly and entertaining though it may be, the juries’ memories weren’t as long as the title and it was certainly forgotten by the time the votes came in, getting a resounding nul points, although it wasn’t the only song that year to be so devastatingly ignored. Once the dullish introduction is behind you, it’s a rather showy big band sound that wouldn’t be out of place in Strictly Come Dancing. Nora is in her mid-seventies now but I’m sure she could still rock the joint if you asked nicely. Especially if you invite the Tsar.
And now 1970. No, not quite Tales of the Unexpected, but “Je suis tombé du ciel” from the elegantly ruffled dress shirt of Mr David Alexandre Winter. If that’s a French accent, I’m a Dutchman. Actually, he’s the Dutchman, and has clearly been no closer to Paris than the Amsterdam branch of Délifrance. Not even Frenchifying the spelling of his middle name is convincing, but then he was singing for Luxembourg. This classic nul pointer came last despite being an uplifting hymn to the joys of young love and I particularly enjoy the environmental dichotomy behind the line “tu es ma ville et tu es mon village”. David is largely forgotten now, and according to wikipedia (so it must be true) is a car dealer in the United States. So revel if you will in the bounciness of this spirited song. Believe me, it’s great in the shower when you can get at least five syllables out of the phrase “fou de joie”.
1990 is one of my favourite years at Eurovision, and if you look towards the neglected end of the middle-runners on the final board – kind of 7th batsman level – you find the dippy delight of the Cyprus entry, Milas Poli by Haris Anastazio. Terry Wogan told us he had a dance studio in Limassol. Anastazio a dancer? This is the laziest dancing you’ll witness this side of the Troodos Mountains. Dressed by the Nicosia branch of St Barnardo’s, fortunately he was backed up by two pert and cute girls who showed what denim was made for and to cap it all they nicked the Herreys’ boots and spray-painted them platinum. The conductor and co-writer was Jon Vickers, whose love-child has to be the Go-Compare man. There’s a moment at the beginning of the second verse where Haris does a cutesy facial finger waving routine, and for some reason I imagine him wearing Donald Duck’s sailor outfit at this point – best not go there. The song and orchestration are pure good mood music and it’s one of those three minutes that defines why Eurovision is so smashing.
Tucked away in those mid 1990s contests when songs from eastern Europe started to make their mark, you will find the debut entry for Slovakia in 1994, Martin Durinda and Tublatanka with Nekonečná Pieseň, satisfyingly translated as “Never ending Song”. Slovakia has yet to set the world alight, eurovision-wise; maybe if they stuck with their tuneful rock like this they might have done better. Hard on the outside but with a soft centre like a Dairy Milk caramel, this was always going to become a period piece. After the plaintive strings, Martin starts accidentally singing the Bee Gees “Words” (Smile, an everlasting smile…) but hurriedly manages to change it back to an almost original song, before the chorus kicks in and he just avoids going into Renaissance’s “Northern Lights”. Tublatanka have been around for Donkeys Years and show no sign of slowing down. It’s a nice little song, and perfect for those moments when one more schlager would have you reaching for the Rennies.
A funny thing happened on the day before Arnis Mednis’ marriage in 2001 and he chose to write about it in that year’s Latvian entry, Too Much. And looking at the lyrics he was probably wise not to give us Too Much Information. In this packed three minutes, he takes on infidelity, drink dependence, drug taking and frigidity. Ah yes, I’ve been to Riga too. It’s all set to a rousing beer-cheery tune, with a join-in chorus (“we’ll see”), a manic accordionist and backing singers who you’d guess were at the pub last night. Arnis starts off behind the dark glasses, probably out of embarrassment, but later discards them in an attempt to look cool. A mish-mash of ingredients but somehow when you put them together you get a feelgood song of Bierkeller proportions. Unfortunately Arnis has suffered very bad health this year, so let’s hope he gets well again soon and composes the sequel.
Very much a child of his time, do you remember Kojo from Finland and his Nuku Pommiin? Back in 1982 we were all concerned that the world would go up in a puff of nuclear smoke, and we all had “nein danke“ auf our Parkas genäht. His message was sleep and a bomb will come and get you. Well there wasn’t a great chance of sleeping while Kojo was on stage. Backed by Blues Brothers rejects, and wearing a subtle suit of Burnt Sienna, Kojo interpreted the song as if his life depended on it – and I suppose given the lyrics, it did. You can’t dance to this; you can’t really sing along to it, yet it’s a favourite nul-pointer in my book. I guess he just came over a little over raucous for the genteel inhabitants of Harrogate. If you haven’t heard it for a while, give it another listen – it’s actually more tuneful than you remember. Do you think the way he knocks his head with his hand in time with the drum beat signifies that nuclear war is a no-brainer? Or do I need a lie down?
Here’s one of those songs that sounds a lot better in a foreign language when you haven’t got a clue what they’re on about; and then you hear the English language version and you think “oh no, how lame”. “How well I merge with this world that dazes me, how I’m absorbed in time that doesn’t exist”. Oh Cole, really, do give over. It’s the 1993 debut entry from Slovenia, Tih Deževan Dan, a rather dreamy and relaxing number that works perfectly well with your eyes shut. Cole Moretti fronts the 1 X Band, wearing a jacket ruined by mixing his colours in the wash, with three backing girls symmetrically mimicking music box dolls doing a 20km road walk. The chorus features some backing girl chants that sound quite nice in Slovene (Kaj bi?) but sound daft in English (What is?) Largely forgotten by the juries on the night it scraped a draw 22nd place, though Cole’s guitar solo was obviously the inspiration for Jemini’s riff ten years later.
And finally the second oldest song in this selection, the cheekily Mary Quant-like Kirsti Sparboe and the first of her Eurovision gi-normous smash hits, Karusell. What an innocent age 1965 was. Kirsti and her two suitors play on a merry-go-round, her comparing the two chaps in terms of size (steady) and temperament, all of which Kirsti then goes and tells her mother about, and finally she concludes she loves one and can’t be bothered with the other one. And then we can all go home for teacakes and soda pop. In this way, generations are created. All set to a lovely little cha-cha-cha of the type you might hear in Craig Revel Horwood’s dressing room. Can’t see the likes of Lordi getting down to this. Kirsti would of course wow the Eurovision stage with future efforts but this little beauty of a song is a charmer and easily overlooked when you’re making up Eurotastic compilations for the car.
So what conclusion can we draw from this look at easily forgotten masterpieces? That the juries know nothing? That the old days were better? That the orchestra gave an added dimension? Probably or possibly none, or all, of the above. Still, no matter how much we may enjoy all the new offerings every year, there’s always a tasteful reason to stroll down memory lane.