Eurotrash. Ridiculous. Kitsch. Hotbed of sodomy. All words used to describe the Eurovision Song Contest, aka Eurovision, by its critics. All kinds of anything have been broadcast as part of the contest, edging Mullaghanish1 close to meltdown. It wouldn’t surprise me if the show has been denounced from pulpits. If Eurovision was a man I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.
But yet I love the annual song contest. Running since 1956, it’s been unifying Europe two years longer than the EEC/EU. The show’s entertainment value is priceless and taste is stretched to the limit all in the name of continental cohesion. It has trained Europeans to count to twelve in French, minus numbers nine and eleven. Costumes and staging have become integral to the show but, all things considered, quality songs have emerged from the contest. Using the show’s scoring scheme, below is my list of top ten favourites.
Congratulations – Cliff Richard (1968) – 2nd – UK
Northern Ireland’s Phil Coulter and Scot Bill Martin aimed for two wins in a row on home ground in London in Eurovision’s first colour broadcast but were pipped at the post by Spain who won by one point. In 2008 rumours surfaced that General Franco had the vote rigged by persuading certain countries to vote for Spain. Check out the documentary The year General Franco Stole the Eurovision
All was not lost for Phil, Bill and Cliff as this became one of the most popular songs to emanate from the contest. Regular play at events means continuous royalties pour in with Coulter saying that it “fed, clothed and educated a couple of my kids”. Congratulations indeed!
My Number One – Helena Paparizou (2005) – Greece
My number nine is Greece’s first and only winner so far. Paparizou’s powerful voice combined with an infectious dance beat and traditional Greek sounds lit up the stage in Kiev. There wasn’t a man or woman, gay or straight, who didn’t admire the “optics” of this performance.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids – Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan (1994) – Ireland
This reminiscence melody was the third of Ireland’s hat-trick of winners in 1990s and the first time Brendan Graham won the competition as a composer (He won again in 1996). According to Wikipedia, it was the first winning song ever to be performed without orchestral accompaniment. Held in Dublin this win was overshadowed by the interval act, Riverdance.
Diva – Dana International (1998) – Israel
Winning the contest in Birmingham, this dance song celebrating women became popular all over Europe for Dana International. She was a controversial choice to represent her native Israel, her transgender status offending ultra-orthodox Jews. But good music will always triumph over intolerance.
Ein bisshen frieden/ A little bit of peace – Nicole (1982) – West Germany
When my mother sang this song when comforting me during childhood asthma attacks I was unaware of the song’s Eurovision history. The young Nicole won in Harrogate, UK, gaining Germany’s first win, with the folk-style song becoming an international hit released in a number of languages. My mother sings a much better version, though.
Lautar – Pasha Parfeny (2012) – 11th – Moldova
This contest was held in Baku and was won by Sweden but I simply loved this fun performance. It was the epitome of modern Eurovision – hot bloke eye-candy lead singer, hot babe backing singers, dancers in unusual outfits. But it had a catchy melody with a lively jazz-style intro, later incorporating traditional ethnic piano and violin sounds. Check out the performance on YouTube or just type “Moldova Eurovision entry + Colin Farrell lookalike” into Google. Have fun!
Waterloo – ABBA (1974) – Sweden
Once again an entry in my top ten wins in the UK – Brighton this time. The most successful act in Eurovision history only gets fourth place on my list, a controversial decision as everyone likes ABBA. And Waterloo was voted the most popular Eurovision song of all time by the European public in 2005. Perhaps ABBA’s extensive and brilliant back catalogue means they don’t need to be my number one to prove themselves.
Nocturne – Secret Garden (1995) – Norway
The contest was held in Dublin as a result of Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan’s win and was the second time Rolf Løvland topped the poll – He co-wrote Norway’s winner in 1985. Here he collaborated with Irish violinist Fionnuala Sherry to bring us one of the most haunting and captivating Eurovision winners, a composition clearly influenced by Celtic sounds. To the best of my knowledge, this was one of the first songs performed on the night. “That’s the winner” my sister and I acknowledged as soon as we saw it. When we switched back to the live broadcast at 10.45pm we regretted not having popped down to Paddy Power!
Fairytale – Alexander Rybak (2009) – Norway
Alexander Rybak is a Belarusian-Norwegian jack of all trades: singer-composer, violinist, pianist, writer, actor and winner of Eurovision in Moscow with a record of 387 points at the time. He drew on his ethnic roots to produce a spirited violin-based sound and sang of deserted love. Like Nocturne the minute I saw his performance I knew I was looking at the winner. I’ll take note to put Paddy Power’s phone number on speed dial when watching future Eurovision shows.
All Kinds of Everything – Dana (1970) – Ireland
So I’ve considered Ireland’s first winner to be its best so far and the best in the history of Eurovision. Not even Alexander Rybak’s record-breaking points tally could beat this one on my list. There were no gimmicks on stage, no hot-bloke dancers (sadly) but just a simple melodic timeless song, a great voice, a solid performer, a microphone and a stool. It’s ironic that a song espousing pure love sung by a singer with strong religious convictions won the contest in the city of sin, Amsterdam. But that’s the beauty of Eurovision. Anything is possible.
The most successful Eurovision song of all time is Nel Blu, Dipinto di Blu (aka Volare), sung in the 1958 contest by Domenico Modugno for Italy and has 22 million sales of the various cover versions, Dean Martin’s version the most well known.
There’s no Sandie Shaw or Celine Dion on my list. And a most notable omission is three-time winner Johnny Logan for which I’ll be burnt at the stake here in Ireland. Whilst he doesn’t make my top ten I recognise and respect the influential ambassador he has been for Ireland.
But it’s the late Noel Kelehan I consider to be the real Mr. Eurovision conducting 29 Eurovision entries including 5 Irish winners and 5 entries for other countries. There is a fine tribute to him on Eurovision’s website.
So what’s the secret to getting on my list? Win in the UK, play violins or draw on ethnic musical background, be called Dana, and have some connection with Ireland perhaps? No. Just have a good song that entertains. Eurovision gives a carte blanche to participants to achieve this. So roll on Saturday night!
1Mountain in Co. Cork and location of the south west of Ireland broadcast mast for television and radio transmission, and a couple of miles from Millstreet, host “city” for the 1993 contest.