It’s that time of year again, gentle reader, when it is my duty to let you hear a few gems that did not make it through their national qualifying heats and therefore will not be gracing the stage of the Crystal Hall in Baku, if they build it on time. It’s been a good year, although perhaps not a great one, for the National Finals. I’m going to start of with an absolute classic. Petter Øien and Bobby Bare got into the final four in Norway with their simple country song, Things Change. It stands out not only because of the different genre, but also because it’s a fine old tune. If Bobby Bare had made it to Baku, he would have been 77 years old; that young whippersnapper Engelbert Humperdinck would be in short trousers by comparison.
Next up is a wonderful dramatic piece from Iceland, not that this year’s Icelandic entry lacks a sense of saga. Hugarro, which my online translator says means “Peace of Mind”, is sung by Magni Asgeirsson. He has one of those voices that makes you think he’s experienced a lot of troubles in his life, and this was his 4th attempt to represent Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest. Last year he came 2nd with “Eg trui a betra lif”; and this year he slipped down to 3rd, so he’d better pull his socks up in the future. The opening keyboard sound has something of the Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence about it. See what you think.
Over to Hungary now, and a strong final as this year’s Hungarian entry by Compact Disco is definitely one of my favourites. But there was plenty of other prospects to tickle your tunebuds. Take for example this quality ballad, Vizio (Vertigo) performed by the amusingly named Caramel. If you were ever going to name a bloke Caramel, this is not how I would imagine him to look. Maybe he has a soft centre. He won Hungarian Pop Idol in 2005 and is now a judge on the show, so he probably knows his nougats from his pralines.
Double-dipping in Hungary, here’s the song that came draw 2nd with Vizio, Learning to let go by Gabor Heincz, or Heincz Gabor if you prefer. It couldn’t be more different from Mr Caramel’s offering, as it’s light of note and jaunty of step, one of those songs that require you to hop from one side to another in your brain as it progresses. He was a backing singer in the Eurovision a couple of years ago, and the song’s a jolly little thing with a certain je ne sais quoi; if I knew quoi, I would tell you.
I know what you’re thinking – where are the girls? Well here’s one. Ditte Marie from Denmark singing Overflow, another bright upbeat dancy little number that came nowhere in Aalborg. It probably doesn’t examine the human condition in any great depth, but you can have too much philosophy. Wearing an ice queen leotard rummaged out of the seconds bin – check out the rips on her arms – she does a nice line in stage-strutting without it ever being over-the-top. It’s certainly jollier than the song that will represent Denmark this year. Have a listen.
I feel like a touch of the Baltics after that, so let’s nip over to Estonia avoiding the “Kuula” – I’ll dissect that one day soon – and keeping it light let’s have a listen to You’re Not Alone by Birgit Õigemeel (try saying that after a few bottles of Saku) and Violina, which I think of as a prettier version of the James Last Orchestra. Birgit won the first season of Estonian Idol and has recorded loads of singles. This song came 7th in their national final and I think was under-rated. Admittedly it’s not as good as the wonderful Violina/Rolf Junior attempt from 2010, “Maagiline päev”, but I think it deserves an honourable mention here.
Look I don’t want to bore you for too long so I’ll just suggest a couple of others for you. Over in Austria, a chap named Norbert Schneider sang this very “different” number called Medicate my blues away. It couldn’t be further away from the Trackshittaz. Norbert’s into his blues in a big way, and although this wouldn’t normally be my Tasse Tee, I rather like its smooth chirpiness. It’s the title track of his new album too. It didn’t make the superfinal in Austria – probably to his credit.
Whilst we’re in Austria, have a listen to Englishman James Cottriall who also failed to make the superfinal with his song, Stand Up. He moved to Vienna as part of his German and Philosophy degree at Nottingham University, where his part-time busking and other gigs took off so well that he remained there to pursue his music career – very successfully as it turns out. Stand Up is a nice anthemic song and doesn’t feature rappers with dodgy lyrics or a bearded lady.
Time for one more – and it’s over to Latvia, where there were a few good contenders to represent the country. Whilst I think Anmary’s Beautiful Song, that will be in Baku, was probably the perfect choice, it would be remiss not to include this final song in this memorial to songs that you might never hear again. Music Thief is a silly, funny song about plagiarism, with lyrics stolen from other songs and with musical elements you’ll recognise from elsewhere too. The lead singer’s voice gives you hope that one day you too could have a recording career. I’d like the Mad Show Boys come back next year with something equally daft.
If you got this far – and listened to the songs too – well done you. Feel free to post a comment if you like or hate any of them or if you have other suggestions. I’ll be examining this year’s proper entries soon, so you have been warned.