Skip to content

Made my mind up: Eurovision’s top 10 tunes

May 10, 2011

Promise to love you forever more: thanks to their performance of the wonder that is Waterloo at 1974’s Eurovision, Sweden’s ABBA were soon to become an irresitible global phenomenon

Kitsch, camp, continental and, more often than not, dafter than a Russ Abbot sketch, The Eurovision Song Contest nowadays finds itself in the – if you ever bother to think about it – somewhat befuddling position of being both reviled and adored in equal measure. But back in the day, that most certainly wasn’t the case.

Granted, if you were to head back a few decades to its heyday in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, it probably didn’t boast the obsessive levels of devotion it now seems to have among its hardened, ardent band of fans who adore it for all its naffness and absurdity, but back then it was genuinely very popular as a family-oriented spectacle for the masses – rather in the manner that a pre-women’s-lib telly audience lapped up Miss World. And nowhere was that more true than right here in Blighty. Indeed, that’s probably no surprise actually, as once, twice and maybe a few more times, Eurovision came up trumps and delivered a decent tune for the ears of the European public – in addition to all the ghastly ones it inflicted on them too, of course.

So, what with the latest annual, televisual, Europe-wide assault on the senses coming up on Saturday, here’s my salute to the very best offerings Eurovision has managed to serve up for us over the course of its 55-year history – oh, and do click on the song titles to hear them, folks, really, they’re not that bad; well, all right, some of them aren’t…

10. Congratulations ~ Cliff Richard (UK, 1968)

Despite not ending up winner on the night (it came second), this has to be one of the all-time most well recalled Eurovision ditties. But why? Well, first, no doubt it’s down to the Cliff factor; love or loathe him, the Peter Pan of pop is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars to have ‘graced’ Eurovision. And, second, it’s got to be the tune’s recognition factor. No question, that chorus can bore into your brain like a tunnelling mole turning a hand-drill in your ear. So, if it’s over-familiar and, frankly, over-irritating, how come it deserves a place in this top ten? Well, just check out the garb worn by Cliff and his backing singers; if this performance wasn’t the inspiration for that Austin Powers blue suit and the Fembots’ dresses-cum-nighties, then I’m Cliff’s Dutch uncle.

9. Boom-Bang-A-Bang ~ Lulu (UK, 1969)

I’ll be honest, the Glaswegian-pop-kitten-turned-QVC-self-branded-schlock-shifter has never really been among my favourite chanteuses (even if she did perform one of John Barry’s Bond themes), but as far as Eurovision goes, her effort from 1969 is one of the classics. Not only does it possess a mildly and whimsically appealing innuendo for a title and a brilliant knockabout chorus that bounces all over the shop, but it can also lay claim to being one of the UK’s few Eurovision winners – well, along with the songs that in 1969 each represented Spain, France and The Netherlands, of course. Yes, that’s right, that year four songs all finished top of the pile. It could only have been the late ’60s, couldn’t it?

8. Hard Rock Hallelujah ~ Lordi (Finland, 2006)

The most unlikely Eurovision win ever? Well, back in the day the idea of a ‘hard rock’ act triumphing at the world’s biggest middle-of-the-road music contest would have been unthinkable; by the middle of the Noughties, though? Like I said in my introduction above there, and as many of us are aware of course, Eurovision nowadays wilfully wallows in its high kitsch hijinks and hugely camp capers, so as it turns out, maybe this victory wasn’t the craziest outcome imaginable. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves, Lordi are hardly a serious metal band; sure, they dress up like orks out of Lord Of The Rings and their guitar-driven sound is heavy, but frankly they’re more a Black Lace than a Rage Against The Machine. And that goes for this tune too; it’s actually quite a hummable, humorous, entertaining effort – rather like most Eurovision winners then. The Fins must’ve been so proud. Probably.

7. Making Your Mind Up ~ Bucks Fizz (UK, 1981)

Had Bucks Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up not featured the now iconic long-skirts-ripping-off-to-reveal-short-skirts-underneath move, would it have won the 1981 contest for the UK? Not likely. More importantly, had it not featured this unforgettable moment from Eurovision history, would it have made this top ten? Unquestionably not. In fact, had it not featured it, the whole effort would’ve be rubbish. Let’s not beat around the bush, this tune is, well, pretty dreadful – an up-tempo, irritating-as-hell rock ‘n’ roll throwback complete with off-key singing and clichéd-to-the-hilt dancing from the garishly costumed Fizzers (hand jives included). Yet, that second of sauciness still strangely satisfies, or even delights. There’s something pleasingly subversive about it, knowing it came from such a family friendly show in a more innocent time (even if it was the year in which both Body Heat and The Postman Always Rings Twice were released). Yup, Bucks Fizz did it; they brought the prize home for Britain and ripped those skirts off. Thank goodness for Cheryl Baker’s legs, eh?

6. Guildo Hat Euch Lieb! (Guildo Loves You All!) ~

Guildo Horn & Die Orthopädischen Strümpfe (Germany, 1998)

Eurovision enthusiasts will be quick to point out that 1998’s shindig is best remembered for Israel’s Dana International winning with the dance track-esque Diva. First, when was Israel ever in Europe? Second, rare trans-sexual media sensation she may be, but Dana International was not the highlight that evening. That honour, mein lieben, went to the wonderfully wacky Guildo Horn and his Die Orthopädischen Strümpfe (Orthopaedic Stocking). Honestly, words simply cannot describe my delight that night as on my TV I watched this pseudo-’70s-throwback-togs-disrobing, head-kissing, splits-performing and stage-set-climbing cartoon character deliver a routine of so-bad-it’s-good party pop, which even (and entirely nonsensically) halfway through included the ringing of a line of little Alpine bells. This was the first year TV viewers themselves could vote for their favourite entries – I voted for Guildo twice. Apparently, Dana International’s returning to Eurovision this year with a song called Ding Dong. Who cares? Bring back Guildo!

5. Save Your Kisses For Me ~ Brotherhood Of Man (UK, 1976)

Remember I said above Eurovision used to enjoy being middle-of-the-road? Well, this one confirms it. Not only did it win, it went on to become a huge hit – it was #1 in the UK for six weeks, ensuring to this day it’s the biggest ever selling Eurovision tune. Its performers, the inoffensive pop-driven quartet Brotherhood Of Man, were a staple of Britian’s pre-punk popular music scene too (even more so after their triumph here in The Hague) and, love to hate ’em as you may, you can understand why. With their boy-girl-boy-girl line-up, half of which was a pair of hotties, and their tight routine, both in terms of the melody and harmonies and that pleasingly silly/ unforgettably annoying (delete as appropriate) arms-bent and knee-lifting dance, they were professional to the hilt. The song’s appealing too somehow; incredibly catchy and unashamedly cheery (with its dotty lyrical twist at the end), it seems to fit perfectly with that whimsically recalled, hot British summer that would never end in ’76. Plus, the group’s moustachioed one… with his chest hair and bling, there’s something of the rather naff, lechy ladies’ man at the end of the bar at Butlins about him. And, right or wrong, that rather tickles me.

4. Vivo Cantando (I Live Singing) ~ Salomé (Spain, 1969)

This effort is truly awesome. Deservedly, it was one of the three songs to finish joint top along with Lulu’s Boom-Bang-A-Bang back in ’69 (see above); but it surely should have won outright. It’s the best example of show-tune inspired, brass-backed, old-school Euro pop you’ll hear all day. No, all week. Actually, make that all year. Honestly, I defy you not to get pulled in and pumped up – or at least find a smile crossing your chops – as this crazy melody speeds up towards it’s hurly-burly climax. It’s brilliant fun. And much of the credit must go to the game Salomé, who’s so full of vitality here she’s a virtual matadoress. Her get-up is something to behold too; in a shaggy, blue, figure-hugging outfit that makes the most of her ample assets, she looks like some sort of sexy Mediterranean yeti. Probably she is – this whole thing’s so gloriously nuts, I wouldn’t be surprised. All together now: Pa-para-para-papaaa, pa-para-para-papaaa…!

3. Puppet On A String ~ Sandie Shaw (UK, 1967)

Ah, Sandie Shaw… the barefoot bambino of Swinging ’60s pop. Made in Dagenham, quite literally, she oozed sexy, East End cool and had chart-hit-after-chart-hit, including Bacharach and David’s unforgettable (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me. So how the hell did she end up doing tacky old Eurovision? Good question. Well, by 1967, somewhat bizarrely, her star was beginning to fade and her manager felt a more cabaret-like direction was what Sandie needed. The artist herself was less than sure and far from sure about the song she ended up performing at Europe’s campy televisual spectacular (of the five tunes she sang on The Rolf Harris Show for the public to choose, the winner was bottom of her list – she’s said of it: “I hated it from the very first oompah to the final bang on the big bass drum. I was instinctively repelled by its sexist drivel and cuckoo-clock tune.”). Yet, fate’s a funny old thing. Shoeless Sandie gave her all and delivered a performance with real polish – despite her microphone cutting out at the start – and guess what, yes, silly little Puppet On A String  proved the runaway winner on the night and gave the UK its first ever Eurovision victory. And it was ready, steady go for Sandie once more too – the song became her third #1 in Britain and a worldwide hit, notching up in excess of a million sales and thus achieving gold disc status. And, despite her reservations, she even re-recorded it to mark her 60th birthday in 2007.

2. Waterloo ~ ABBA (Sweden, 1974)

You may well end up wondering on Saturday night, as you watch this year’s Eurovision (if you can face doing so yet again, of course) just what it is that really, genuinely does redeem this 55-year-old monolithic celebration of musical murk. Well, folks, this is it – by rewarding a very little known four-piece from Scandinavia with top honours back in 1974, Eurovision can rightly claim to have set ABBA on their way. Yup, it was the classy, quality performance by Agnetha (the blonde one), Anni-Frid (the redhead one), Björn (the beardy one) and Benny (the other one) of the irresistible Waterloo that April evening at the Brighton Pavilion that created the Swedish meatball (sorry, snowball) that would get bigger and bigger and, yes, better and better as it hurtled its way through the charts and arenas worldwide during the ’70s. When released as a single, Waterloo topped the charts in the UK, West Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Switzerland and South Africa. It was also a #3 hit in France, The Netherlands, Spain and Austria, as well as reaching a high of #6 on the US charts (the only Eurovision song to have made the Top 40 over the pond – clearly the Yanks have some taste when it comes to Eurovision). Honestly, is there anything negative to say about this tune? Well, my Dad has always said it’s the worst song ABBA ever released. He has a point, it’s not their best; but their worst? That’s a little harsh, methinks – I mean, by Eurovision standards it’s the Mona Lisa. Still, at least they didn’t go with its original name ‘Honey Pie’; had they done so, they may well have met their Waterloo in Brighton that night and – mamma mia! – pop music history could have turned out very differently indeed.

1. Love Shine A Light ~ Katrina And The Waves (UK, 1997)

They say you remember where you were when you heard that a momentous event in history had just taken place. For me, one such occasion was when I heard the UK had won The Eurovision Song Contest for the first – and, so far, only – time in my living memory (yes, all right, ‘momentous’ may not have been quite the right adjective to use in the first sentence there, but anyway). I was at a friend’s 18th birthday party watching her enormous dog eat a dishful of sausages off a table when her dad came into the room and told the gathered adolescent throng that ‘we were winning Eurovision and nobody was going to catch us’. So unlikely, nay incredible, a proposition was this that we hurried into the lounge to discover that, lo and behold, he wasn’t joking; he was absolutely right. If 1997’s competition had been that map of Europe which appears in the opening titles of Dad’s Army, then Katrina And The Waves (beforehand a relic of the previous decade thanks to 1985’s one-hit-wonder Walking On Sunshine) would have sent Union Jack-arrows speeding to every corner, nook and cranny of the Continent, so indubitable was their song the night’s winner. Not only did it receive a total of 10 maximum 12-point-votes (douze points), it also accumulated such a large point-total that it held the record of most points ever scored by a single song (227 out of 288) for 11 years.

Plus, lest we forget, over here the win felt like it was riding on a wave of the old British ‘feelgood factor’ – yep, Union Jacks were everywhere as Tony Blair’s New Labour had just swept to power on May 1. Winning singer Katrina Leskanich observed that it was the second landslide of the week (it was the second in 48 hours, in fact). Oh yes, Britpop was here, Blair was in and we’d won Eurovision – Blighty was fantastic again. Granted, it all turned to crap, as it always inevitably does, but youth music movements and politics aside, they can never take that glorious Eurovision victory away from us nor the glorious song behind it. For that’s what Love Shine A Light is – a bloody good song, plain and simple. It’s anthemic pop at its finest; I defy you not to be lifted up at least a smidgen whenever that chorus rises. After all, all those Eurovision chaps back in ’97 did and they clearly know their music, don’t they? Er, all right, don’t answer that.

Eurovision Song Contest 2011, Saturday, 8pm, BBC1 (HD) and BBC Radio 2

(UK and Northern Ireland only)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 5:15 pm

    No Dschingis Khan? To me, they sum up everything Eurovision is about perfectly. Fun list, though, I like quite a few of those.

    • May 11, 2011 10:18 pm

      Well, it’s a fun effort, no question – really something of the ‘Ra-Ra-Rasputins’ about it, but for me not quite up there with the ten I posted. Anyway, good to hear you liked the list, 1… 🙂


  1. Carry Ons, funky Bonds, disco steps and Vietnam vets: the 10 ultimate ’70s films « George's Journal
  2. Legends: Terry Wogan ~ the blarney marvel « George's Journal
  3. Olympic lore: Amigos para siempre? ~ the 1992 Barcelona Games « George's Journal

Leave a Reply to George Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: