Alright, let’s dive in. Into what, you may ask? The first post of my journey down Eurovision history, obviously. In all seriousness, this is a project I’ve been meaning to take on for almost a year and finally starting it is pretty big for me. Hopefully, this’ll be a great way to grow as a Eurovision fan after three years of living in the now. Anyway, after way too many rounds of randomization, I’ve drawn all the lots for this project of ranking all the Eurovision songs and contests. We’re going to (aptly) start off with the first contest where the Danes prevailed.
This is going to work like a play-by-play commentary, in the sense that what you’ll read is an (hopefully) edited version of my first thoughts of every song. In reality, it’ll take a more time than just three minutes so I can read and understand the lyric translations, but this is essentially real-time. So, here are the details of our first contest.
Venue: BBC Television Centre, London, UK
Date: 23 March 1963
Host: Katie Boyle
For most contests before the late 90s-early 00s, I have little to no idea about anything that lead up to the contest. However, I do know that the eighth contest went to the British Isles because France, who had won in 1962, didn’t want to host the event again, since they hosted in 1959 and 1961. This was the second contest to go the United Kingdom, as the Netherlands turned over their hosting duties in 1690. The tradition of the BBC taking over for unwilling/unable broadcasters continued all the way until 1980, when the Netherlands were the ones to save the day. Now, onto the songs!
Song 1: United Kingdom (hosts)
“Say Wonderful Things” – Ronnie Carroll
Thank the heavens I’m a native English speaker, because I really didn’t want to spend any more time with that shallow, syrupy song. As a pop piece, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill for the era, which would be fine if I was a fan of that sound, but I’m not, save for some upbeat stuff, à la Martha and the Vandellas. As a result, the formal, loud, almost overpowering orchestration comes off as unnecessary and tiring. Then we’re hit with the lyrics, which are terrifyingly cliché, leaving no room for interpretation or interest from anyone. And that needn’t be a bad thing, but when your song’s message goes no further than “I love you, will you love me back?,” it becomes a tad ridiculous.
On a technical level, everyone onstage was pitch perfect, so props to Ronnie and his girls there. However, I found the backing singers to be way too shrill and annoying. And while I’d love to see them and their wigs booted from the stage, the song would sadly sound worse without them. As for stage presence, it came off as very awkward, especially at the end, when Ronnie is standing in front of everyone and he smiles after one of the girls kisses him. Overall, a poor introduction to what’s been called the “heyday of Eurovision.” I foresee bad things for the UK in my Eurovision future.
Live: 8 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 4 | Preference: 7
Total: 4.95 pts.
Song 2: the Netherlands
“Een Speeldoos” – Annie Palmen
This has the massive advantage of not being the previous song. Aside from that, there’s really not much else to say that I haven’t already said, save for the fact that the staging here, albeit silly, is much better and more interesting. Same for the music, which was also played at a more tolerable volume. As a sucker for the sound of Dutch and Dutch accents (I know, weirdo alert), Annie’s vocals impressed me more than I expected, but what she was saying with that glorious voice of hers was more than a letdown.
To save you the five minutes it would take to go to the Diggiloo Thrush, she’s singing about two porcelain peasants who are brought together by a fairy summoned by the magical “speeldos” (music box) so they can be a happy couple forever. Charming? Somewhat, although Dutch really isn’t the language of lullabies. But a fantasy love song isn’t what I set out to find with this project. However, as the Netherlands showed in 2013, they’re more than capable of growing up, which will hopefully happen soon. I really hope I don’t sound like a joyless harpy, but this just isn’t too good.
Live: 9 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 5 | Preference: 8
Total: 6.15 pts.
Song 3: Germany
“Marcel” – Heidi Brühl
Right when the song started, I sensed something familiar about this song. Not in the orchestration or the lyrics, but just in the feeling of the song. And as Heidi Brühl whirled her way around the stage, it hit me: this is the Lena staging formula that got Germany a win in 2010. And I loved Lena and her simple black dress, so this already had a gold star from me in that department. Lyrically, the song is a plea for the singer’s lover to slow things down and “be a little nicer.” This is a perfect example of how the previous two songs got their lyrics so wrong: Simple lyrics that, while repetitive, tell a story in a breezy, attention-grabbing way. With that said, they aren’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a step up from storybooks and swooning.
As for the orchestration, this was a very nice, airy bit of semi-swing, which was a treat for me. And even if it was as repetitive as the lyrics, it was interesting and light, both big score-getter for me. This is the first song of the night that I’d consider downloading for future enjoyment. Hopefully it won’t be the last.
Live: 9 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 13
Total: 8.4 pts.
Song 4: Austria
“Vielleicht geschieht ein Wunder” – Carmela Corren
That was unexpected. I had so many different ideas/impressions of this song within the first minute. The opening “boom” said that this might be something daring and exotic, while the first verse settled into more of a chanson-type atmosphere. In the end, we were treated to some sort of hybrid of the two, which ended up being a very interesting entry from Austria. Talking of the orchestration, the drums and piano gave this piece so much more depth than a typical string-driven piece. It adds some intrigue and ties into a key benefit of the lyrics; mystique.
This is first song that lets you draw your own conclusion to the lyrics. While the base is there (a lonely woman wishes to see her beloved again), we don’t get a backstory, thus we’re free to invent our own. Since the BBC commentator talked about how Ed Sullivan discovered Carmela Corren while serving the Israeli military, I think that’s what the lyrics say. This man, this soldier, is obviously somewhere dangerous, so much so that it’ll take a “miracle” to get him home safely. And should he not make it home, Carmela’s love will be lost forever. It’s almost like a grown-up, sexier, gender-swapped version of Bobby Vinton’s “Mr. Lonely,” released the following year. The only downfall of the song and the staging was the unfortunate hairdo sported by Carmela. Aside from that, it was staged quite well and, all things considered, a second song in the black. Wunderbar, Austria.
Live: 8 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 8 | Preference: 15
Total: 9.3 pts.
Song 5: Norway
“Solhverv” – Anita Thallaug
And, back to the sugary stuff. Back to the simplistic, uninteresting lyrics, overwrought orchestration, and grating, shrill vocals. Also, this continues a four-woman trend of ridiculously hairsprayed hair. I understand it was a popular style back then, but sheesh. I don’t hate this song, but there’s just nothing to really catch onto. I just listened to it, and I can hardly remember what it sounded like. The one striking thing was how tissue paper-thin and uneventful the orchestration was. As for the lyrics, Anita Thallaug is comparing her lover to summer light, and how he warms her icy and frosty heart. I appreciate the Nordic twist, but there’s only so much my Scannie-love can do for “Solhverv'”s point total.
Live: 7 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 2 | Preference: 5
Total: 4.5 pts.
Song 6: Italy
“Uno per Tutte” – Emilio Pericoli
I’m so sorry, but this was just odd. If I was more awake when watching this, I might’ve laughed out loud at Emilio flipping the huge blocks to reveal faces of random women. The song is about how the singer is in love with (at least) four different women, and how he feels the same about all of them. While this brings some sense to the idea of the turning Styrofoam heads, there surely was a better way to stage that that wouldn’t have looked so weird.
As for the song itself, semi-cheeky lyrics along with a light composition do wonders for it, especially compared against the heavy Norwegian dirge it followed. It’s not anything special by any measure, but it’s enjoyable for its three minutes. Nothing more, nothing less.
Live: 8 (I hope by this point, it’s evident that everyone is a high-quality vocalist unless mentioned otherwise) | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 6 | Preference: 9
Total: 6.45 pts.
Song 7: Finland
“Muistojeni Laulu” – Laila Halme
“Two-faced” isn’t the right word to describe this song, but my mind’s drawing a blank for alternatives. Whatever you call it, this was an interesting song, almost wholly thanks to the xylophone that broke into the song intermittently for some much needed spice. Talking of that, the orchestration is quite summery and light. Aside from the aforementioned xylophone, pretty cookie-cutter. So the lyrics are the same, right? Wrong.
In a strange twist, the lyrics to “Muistojeni Laulu” (The Song of My Memories) are pretty somber. Laila Halme’s ex-lover gave her a song, some record that she loved, played, and wore out. While the man has left, she’s left with song and the hope that it will bring some other misguided soul “new happiness,” a very welcome thought in a song that could be unnecessarily sad. Onstage, Laila seemed to lack the charisma that her fellow participants had, but this might be a quirk of the terrible camera angles. All in all, a surprising above average song. Kiitos, Suomi.
Live: 7 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 12
Total: 7.35 pts.
Song 8: Denmark
“Dansevise” – Grethe & Jørgen Ingmann
I don’t even know how to start. This just blew everything else out of the water. I’ll (try to) start with the orchestration. Jørgen uses his guitar to open and close the cucumber-cool and sultry melody, which is such a perfect complement to Grethe’s voice. Unlike the other songs, this song fits together beautifully. In the verses, the guitar is front and center, accentuated just enough by the orchestra. But when the chorus kicks in, it’s something else entirely. A swooning ballad from the perspective of a deserted woman, left in the world without her dearest friend.
Moving on, the lyrics here are wonderful. The song starts out with seemingly unrelated factoids about the Danish morning; sun shining off a puddle and the sound of a cat grabbing something. Casually tossed into the first two stanzas are two lines about the rush from the wind being life’s beginning and a whisper from the hedge saying the night is over. While it seems like a typical, peaceful, morning, it’s anything but, as the woman has stopped dancing with her “beloved friend,” who has disappeared. This is when theatrics play a part in the construction of the song, as the mood shifts from playful and lusty to somber and wistful, just as she pleads for him to “come back.”
Finally, the couple’s stage presence was second to none. The background was kept dark, and as a result, the focus was squarely on the performers. And while there was no direct interaction between the two, they worked together seamlessly. The one, tiny, drawback was the unnecessary, shifting circle filters that took away from Grethe’s presence. Aside from that, it was flawless. A true masterpiece. I just want to listen to it again.
Live: 10 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 10 | Preference: 20
Total: 11.85 pts.
Song 9: Yugoslavia
“Brodovi” – Vice Vukov
After this song ended, I thought that it would be another throwaway piece, uninteresting and overbearing. However, the lyrics saved this one from the bin. I hope I’m not barking up the wrong tree with this, but this is my interpretation. “Brodovi” (Ships) refers to two different sets of people in the song; first, celebrities, then average people. This subtle metaphor makes for an interesting statement from Yugoslavia, since the stanza where the ships are celebrities has them cast away out to sea, without mention of what awaits them at home, signaling a final voyage. However, when the regular people become the focus, a feeling of hope is more evident, as Vice sings of what awaits them and how he “raises this song” for their return. The overall message is that a world without celebrities, and consequently without glitzy rivieras and ports, would be one filled with love, music, simplicity, and opportunity. Now, if we take “celebrities” to simply mean “well-known people,” this song presents a deep anarchist cut, as the complex politics of a country are cast out so that everyone can live a simple life. While I personally disagree with that sentiment, finding it in a Eurovision song is an unexpected joy.
As for the rest of the song, it’s pretty much 60s Eurovision-filler, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just boring. Vice’s performance was very good and the simple staging went a long way. The orchestration was fine but unmemorable. Nothing but some sparse drums to keep things awake. All in all, an ordinary song lifted greatly by the lyrics.
Live: 9 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 5 | Preference: 16
Total: 9.45 pts.
Song 10: Switzerland
“T’en vas pas” – Esther Ofarim
The theatrics are strong with this one. The staging is a step up from the rest, featuring Esther Ofarim leaning on an abstract doorway, pleading with her departing lover. Simple, but effectively sold by the artist. Another simple and effective part of this song is the lyrics, which present the conflict between Esther and her lover, who was bewitching enough to “steal her sleep.” This is a perfect example of quality storytelling with no fussing about. Just my kind of thing.
Another strong quality of this song is the orchestration. The staccato piano that breaks up the melody is something memorable and fitting for this song. As her heart is breaking, so is the smooth sound of the orchestra. In short, this is a very worthy entry for the Swiss. Enjoyable, memorable, and dramatic. Fantastic.
Live: 10 | Staging: 10 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 8 | Preference: 18
Total: 10.8 pts.
Song 11: France
“Elle était si jolie” – Alain Barrière
I’m sensing a theme that the past singers and songwriters of Europe had some very dramatic love lives. In this case, we get something a little more fanciful as the wind steals Alain’s love interest. While the French is as charming and wonderful as ever, the lyrics are a little too melodramatic for my taste. Same goes for the staging, which ventured into the realm of creepy. Whoever thought that having a wind-swept girl fading in and out was a good idea needs to stay away from the stage for a little.
Musically, there’s not much else to write home about either. The music is fine, but unlike Switzerland, there’s nothing engaging about it. That seems to be the theme of this whole song. An above-average technical achievement that I simply don’t care for. Ah well, c’est la vie.
Live: 8 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 10
Total: 7.05 pts.
Song 12: Spain
“Algo Prodigiso” – José Guardiola
Another ephemeral song, this time courtesy of Spain. Much like Yugoslavia before it, this song is redeemed (somewhat) by its lyrics. As José Guardiola croons about someone who looks after a sleeping child and guides swallows to faraway lands, it becomes evident that he is singing about his mother, which, as a “momma’s boy,” is a welcome sentiment on my part. Even if the lyrics are far too heavy for this kind of song, it’s a welcome departure from the “Don’t leave me, I need you!” theme of most songs of 1963.
While the lyrics are sweet, the orchestration tells a far different story. Instead of something cheery and loving, the music feeds a dark, almost depressing, feeling that is totally unrelated to the message of the lyrics. This disconnect is off-putting and my biggest qualm with this song. Aside from that, the staging was bare-bones but effective and the vocals were top-notch. Ii guess it’s the same story as France; technically great, personally average.
Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 4 | Preference: 11
Total: 7.35 pts.
Song 13: Sweden
“En gång i Stockholm” – Monica Zetterlund
Props to Sweden for sending this little nugget of oddity. First, the lyrics wax about the wonders of Stockholm in the winter. Now I’ve never been to Sweden, but it’s certainly on my bucket list, so I’m already pulling for this song. The simple lyrics create a charming image of a couple enjoying each other’s presence as they drift through the waters around Stockholm. Out of all the lyrics so far, these are the most artsy in the fact that it sounds like they were inspired by a painting.
As for the orchestration, it’s a little immature for what I’d expect, but it gets the job done well. Subtle drums and staccato beats add a lot to this song. The use of a staircase at the beginning seems so unnecessary, but since it only lasted about five seconds, it’s not a huge deal, in terms of staging. Bravo Sweden, I like this one.
Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 6 | Preference: 14
Total: 8.55 pts.
Song 14: Belgium
“Waarom” – Jacques Raymond
This is just the right amount of sweetness for a song like this. Musically, the piano helped to break things up and make it airier and catchier, while the strings really sounded classical unlike they had in other pieces. In terms of the lyrics, it feels like there’s some interesting thought hiding underneath the surface, but I can’t find it. Onstage, Jacques Raymond did a fine job of presenting this entry and in the end, it’s a solid effort from Belgium.
Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 6| Music: 6 | Preference: 14
Total: 8.25 pts.
Song 15: Monaco
“L’amour s’en va” – Françoise Hardy
Françoise Hardy came on staging looking “too cool for school” and proceeded to be absolutely fantastic. With that out of the way, we can talk about the song, starting with the melody. The repeated arpeggio carried by the piano and xylophone (?) is something distinct that was carried throughout the entire orchestra. As a result, this whole piece comes off as very fresh and interesting.
Lyrically, it’s almost a diss track about her relationship and how it will inevitably end. Sure, they’ll play the parts properly, but at one point, it’ll be over. However, the song ends on an optimistic note, as both protagonists will chase love once more. With all the fairytale, lonely nonsense, it’s nice to get a reality check that still manages to be positive. Magnifique!
Live: 9 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 10 | Preference: 19
Total: 11.25 pts.
Song 16: Luxembourg
“À force de prier” – Nana Mouskouri
At the end of the evening, Luxembourg and Nana Mouskouri close things off better than they were started. However, given my opinion of that song, that’s not a whole lot of improvement. Still, this was a pretty enjoyable listen, with the exception that the orchestration still has that problem of being about as memorable as the color of glass.
The lyrics rely on the power of the love gods rather than fairytales (which might not have a difference for you) to bring the singer and her lover together again. Cliché, boring, and terribly melodramatic do not good lyrics make, dear Luxembourg. At least Nana looked and sounded amazing on stage.
Live: 8 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 5 | Preference: 10
Total: 6.75 pts.
So, at the end of every post, I’ll have a graphic that ties everything together, giving the final placements of each song with its point total.
Without any frame of reference, 1963 is a year with strong technical efforts that leave me a little cold. Hopefully this isn’t the high point of Eurovision history, and it can go up from here.
P.S. What do you think of the new look? It should be obvious how I feel about it, so please tear me down as much as you’d like!