Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Their Countries Needed Them

This time last week we had just discovered who was going to represent the UK in this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. We'd also just heard all three finalists in Your Country Needs You singing the song which Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dianne Warren have written to be our entry. At the start of the series ALW was seen talking to various people connected with the competition from around Europe, and one thing that struck me was the number who said that Britain would have more chance of winning if we seemed to be taking the contest seriously rather than just messing about. Well, getting the Warren/Lloyd Webber team to write our entry sugests we're trying to win this time, and I have to say the song is pretty good. Not outstanding in an oh-my-god-if-this-doesn't-win-we'll-know-it's-been-rigged way, but better than most of our recent efforts. At least we won't be relying on a gimmick. All the finalists were good (I'd hated The Twins at first but they'd learned to sing in tune by the final, even if their dancing skills were best glossed over). After the car crash that was I'd Do Anything, (with winner Jodie apparently being voted in by the Great British Public not in spite of her lack of talent but because of it, as some kind of protest against the "elitism" of the studio judges, most of whom had consistently pointed out that she sang and moved like a foghorn loosely strapped to a WW1 tank) I'd pretty much assumed that anyone good would be weeded out early, but both Mark and Jade made it to the final, and they (and the Emperors Of Soul) had been stand-outs from the beginning. Funnily enough when it came to singing the ALW song in the final, the Twins did the best job. Still, going for a safe pair of lungs suggested one of the others, probably Jade, and despite having almost eliminated her the previous week the public backed her. Now of course the hard work of polishing begins.

My son was saying that at Lyceum Youth Theatre they'd been drawing up lists of totally pointless things, and one that most of the kids agreed on was Eurovision. Hmm. I realise it's long outgrown the original excitement of the one time each year when you got to see broadcasters from other countries ("Hello Madrid!") and hear their pop music. Certainly its quality is patchy, but I wouldn't diss it too much. Let's consider a few blasts from the past.

Let's start with Britain's last winner, Love Shine A Light by Katrina and the Waves in 1997. I first heard that the day before the contest: I was sitting in my car waiting to turn right from Lothian Road into Castle Terrace in Edinburgh. Yes, it made that much of an impression: I remember thinking "This has got to win". Which it did, by one of the biggest margins ever. It remains one of my all-time favourite Eurovision songs, along with... but we'll get to those. Incidentally, one of the few Eurovision winners (or indeed entries) not to feature a key change.

Since then the British entries have been a pretty lacklustre collection, though I feel I should put in a word for Daz Sampson whose Teenage Life failed to win in 2006. Yes, it had a gimmick, but it also had a decent tune and intelligent lyrics. The problem (leaving aside block-voting conspiracy theories) may have been that the intelligent lyrics go mostly over the heads of a non-Anglophone audience, so unless your tune is outstanding they go to waste.

An earlier winner with quite clever lyrics and a great tune was of course Waterloo with which Abba won in Brighton in 1974. Another of my favourites. Whenever I see this I remember reading an interview with Katie Boyle, who hosted the 1974 show. The BBC people had discovered about two minutes from the start that her panties were visible on camera through her dress, so the only option in the time remaining was for her to be cut out of them and do the show knickerless. Given the reason for the alteration, it's no surprise that in most shots you see Katie standing with a strategically placed clipboard......

The other great landslide win in Eurovision history, and another song which you knew was going to win the moment you heard it, was Ein Bißchen Frieden (Nicole, 1982). A few interesting facts about the song here.

In 1969, of course, Lulu won with Boom Bang-a-Bang. That year is memorable for the only tied winners in Eurovision history (they have effective tie-breaking now), when not just two but four entries shared the win. Along with Britain there were songs from The Nethrlands and Germany, as well as the Spanish entry which I must confess I liked best on the night. It was Vivo Cantando by Salome.

In 1981 the UK had its last win before Katrina and the Waves, when Bucks Fizz narrowly beat Switzerland and Germany to win with Making Your Mind Up. The trouble with gimmicks is that even when your song is good (and this one stands up very well after 28 years) it's the gimmick that people remember. (Non-British readers will have to watch the clip until 1:38 to know what I'm talking about.) While the song (and the legs) retain their appeal, the dance routine looks pretty dated (and wow, microphone stands.....). And I'd forgotten that all the music was played by the house band in those days, which is why the actual Eurovision backing isn't quite as punchy as the more familiar single version. Still good enough to beat Johnny Foreigner though. Oh, and that was one of the years Norway got zero points, in the years when we could still laugh about that.

Another of my all-time favourites, and the song often considered to have brought Eurovision out of the age of light entertainment and into the age of pop, was Poupée de cire, Poupée de son by France Gall which won for Luxembourg in 1965. Written by Serge Gainsbourg (best known for Je t'aime (moi non plus)) it was the first non-ballad ever to win. and it still crackles with energy. More info here. If you have clever (and untranslatable) lyrics you can get away with it when your tune is that good. Another winner without a key-change, by the way.

No self-respecting Eurovision nerd (not a contradiction on terms, let me assure you) would restrict a list like this to winners only when there are so many great songs that just missed out(or sometimes sank unfaiirly without trace). In 2002 when Latvia won with I Wanna, the close second place was Malta's Ira Losco with the cracking 7th Wonder. And somewhere down in the also-rans was Maja Tatic of Bosnia-Herzegovina with Na jastuku za dvoje. I thought it fairly rocked, myself.

And let's not forget the sometimes outstanding interval pieces with which countries promote their domestic culture. The most famous (and rightly so) is the one put on by Dublin in 1994, a little seven-minute extravaganza featuring their folk music and especially their step dancing tradition. I remember coming into the room just after it had started and being absolutely mesmerised by it. That, of course, was Riverdance, and I remain unconvinced that working it up into a full-length show was any kind of an improvement, because it was damned near perfect to start with.

Good luck to Jade for Moscow 2009!

1 Comments:

At 08 February, 2009 12:26, Anonymous Brian Barker said...

The only thing I am unhappy about the Eurovision Song Contest is that the use of English, in the Contest increases year by year.

As a native English speaker I think this is unfair!

It's certainly time to break the habit of "language imperialism", in the Eurovision Song Contest, and use a song, sung in Esperanto instead!

This is a serious suggestion, as you can see from the Esperanto music which is already available at http://www.vinilkosmo.com/?prs=listen or at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670

There's even cheesy Esperanto music available! See http://www.ipernity.com/home/56084

 

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