Moving on from the 60s, the second contest in the line-up is the second on the Emerald Isle; 1981. We all know the winner, so it’s even more important to not forget about those acts that didn’t strip mid-song to finish well.
Venue: RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, Dublin, Ireland
Date: 4 April 1963
Host: Doireann Ní Bhriain
Unlike the last contest, I know absolutely nothing notable about this contest’s backstory. However, the logo is quite interesting (most of the Irish ones were) and the hostess seems to be a charming and interesting woman. I’m sure that when she began her opening in Irish, some people changed the channel in confusion. Anyway, no need to stall, onto the songs!
Song 1: Austria
“Wenn du da bist” – Marty Brem
One song in and I can already tell that any contest from the 80s is going to be a toughie. That’s why I drew lots to determine the order of review, so I wouldn’t get burnt out on one style of music, in this case, saccharine, throwaway, annoyingly-catchy pop. As such, Marty Brem’s song doesn’t bode well for anything to come, as it has the same message as every other song from 1963, only with updated orchestration.
Basically, Marty Brem’s lover takes his life force and plunges him into depression but when she is with him, everything blooms and his world is rejuvenated. Enough sugar to send a diabetic to the hospital. And as for the orchestration, at least the chansons had full string accompaniment and sounded pretty because this nonsense is backed with electric guitars and the odd trumpet. Messy and melodramatic. At least he was decent live, even if the stage show was completely ridiculous. Let’s move on quickly.
Live: 7 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 2 | Preference: 5
Total: 3.75 pts.
Song 2: Turkey
“Dönme dolap” – Modern Folk Trio & Ayşegül
Well, out of all genres to come from Turkey, funk was very near the bottom of my expected list. However, the result is a generic 80s pop song made bearable by this twist of funk sound. That interesting bit of orchestration saves this song from a terrible score, as do the lyrics. In this sense, the song is an anthem of friendship and rolling with life’s punches. While it’s not terribly original, it’s a welcome change from the love ballads and use of a carousel makes for some interesting imagery.
On stage, the group of four looked nice enough and sounded much of the same. Although, during the parts carried by the trio, their voices didn’t mesh well with Ayşegül’s, but she more than made up for this during her solos. In the end, you can color me satisfied.
Live: 6 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 5 | Preference: 12
Total: 6.9 pts.
Song 3: Germany
“Johnny Blue” – Lena Valaitis
Upon hearing that this was a product of the Haus of Siegel-Meinunger, I had very low expectations for Germany. However, this seems to be a quality product from the duo, so bullet averted there. Lyrically, this song deviates from the norm by acting as an ode to a star guitar player who was bullied in his youth. Again, like Turkey, it’s not the most original concept, but it’s more than welcome in the context of the contest.
Musically, this song is saved by the sad harmonica. Aside from setting the emotional aspect of this song out front, it makes the song more memorable. Also, the orchestra was used much more wisely here, as the strings smoothed everything out and created something enjoyable. Lena Valaitis and her posse’s stage presence was a little awkward, but nothing too major. Vocals were strong, but camera angles were weak. This is a strong song from Germany.
Live: 8 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 15
Total: 8.55 pts.
Song 4: Luxembourg
“C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique” – Jean-Claude Pascal
As an American, the use of “Amérique” in the title was immediately interesting, as the song could have an interesting view on my country. After some looking and thinking, I’m left a little confused. From what I can gather, this seems to be a rallying call for everyone, particularly the French, to embrace the music “in their hearts” and accept that American pop music “isn’t everything.” While it’s an interesting and unique message, it faces one key flaw; the orchestration!
Despite their best efforts to craft a memorable song, the orchestration here is flimsy at best. Dated and boring, what could’ve been an interesting song turned into a plodding snooze, only bolstered by some strong vocals by Jean-Claude Pascal and his backings. The cameras were on point, and it was a perfectly acceptable entry from Luxembourg.
Live: 7 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 3 | Preference: 11
Total: 7.05 pts.
Song 5: Israel
“Halayla” – Hakol Over Habibi
So far, this is the second entry to get everything almost right. The theatrics on stage, the first decent ones on the night, were much appreciated, as were the strong group and solo vocals. Musically, this was an Israeli tinged upbeat song, featuring some drums and staccato rhythms. When compared to lackluster Austria, this is far superior in terms of attention-grabbing and quality.
The weakest part of the package would have to be the lyrics, and while they’re not great, they aren’t too bad either. Instead of a jilted lover singer of their sorrow, a couple is going to profess their love to each other, even if they’ve exchanged pleasantries plenty of times before. They won’t win any originality awards, but at least they aren’t totally cliché. This is another song that I could foresee landing in my iTunes library soon.
Live: 8 | Staging: 8 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 7 | Preference: 16
Total: 9.15 pts.
Song 6: Denmark
” Krøller eller ej” – Tommy Seebach & Debbie Cameron
I was dreading this moment; the first 80s song from Scandinavia, my favorite part of Europe in general and my favorite Eurovision region (well, from 2010 onward). With horror stories of how terrible these countries were, I had prepared for the worst, but, thankfully, Denmark averted that slightly. Now, that’s not to say that this is a good song, it’s not, for many reasons. Most importantly, this is my first encounter of Eurovision word salad i.e. I have no idea what this song means. Seebach and Cameron croon about how they love all children equally and hope they get whatever they want, whether they have curly blond hair or brown eyes. What? I’m just lost.
As for the music, it seemed to be disco for the first minute or so before morphing into common pop. Nothing was too memorable except for the random beeps at the beginning. Performance wise, everyone on stage was a strong singer, although it sounded like Debbie Cameron had some trouble with pronunciation (as if I’m an expert in Danish phonetics). Finally, everyone looked to be having a wonderful time up there, which is always a positive. Props to Debbie, as she had to spin and dance in those heels. All in all, this was like expecting and preparing to have three cavities in your mouth but only finding two. It’s still bad news, but you’re happily surprised in the end.
Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 1 | Music: 3 | Preference: 6
Total: 4.35 pts.
Song 7: Yugoslavia
“Lejla” – Seid-Memić Vajta
Congratulations Yugoslavia, you’re the first country to officially frustrate me. Because, with the right song, Seid-Memić Vajta would’ve walked this contest. I love his voice so much. It’s got an anthemic quality somewhere underneath the gruff and it’s just amazing. However, this song totally let him down. Lyrically, it’s nothing but a melancholy love song, which would be fine if the lyrics weren’t such an also-ran. But they are, and I’m sad.
Then we get the problem of the orchestration. During about the first minute, it sounded like we were moving in a positive direction, as a simple orchestral ballad would’ve worked wonders on viewers and jurors. However, it sinks into some factory-made, mid-tempo mold that is devoid of all charm. In the future, I do hope that he comes back, just with a song that’s more like it’s cross-generational name twin (Bosnia & Herzegovina 2006) than anything from this decade.
Live: 10 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 2 | Preference: 10 (ALL of these are just for the singer)
Total: 6.15 pts.
Song 8: Finland
“Reggae OK” – Riki Sorsa
Even though it’s the second contest in my running order, Eurovision 1981 is proving to be a bastion of firsts: first crappy pop song, first Scannie-schlager-pop song, first frustration, and, courtesy of Finland, first entry to leave me completely slack jawed. Let me try and start by discussing the staging. Hideous. Riki Sorsa looks like a Power Ranger who got lost trying to play a round of golf while the rest of his crew look like curators at an Austin Powers museum. In the middle of the song, the keyboard player breaks out an accordion and all the backings gather round as if it’s the Holy Grail. It’s simply mad and can’t be adequately described here, so, for the first time (heh.), here’s a video of this performance. At least the vocals were strong.
As a song, things don’t get much better. The melody tries to integrate two styles, but it ends up not being free-wheeling enough for a reggae song while being too loosey-goosey for a pop song. As a result, it’s completely ridiculous, ineffective, and only memorable in its failure. Lyrically, it tries to be a testament to how reggae music is addictive and how everyone “considers this beat to be their own.” Umm, unless everyone comes from the Caribbean or is an enthusiastic user of marijuana, I don’t think that this beat is claimed by everyone. And the Finnish language, while great in ballads or folk songs, is far too awkward in other genres.
I’m not trying to make a statement that all songs that utterly flop like this are terrible. In fact, I actually love that Finland had the balls to send this piece. So while it’s a failure on the technical and scoring side, I’ll always keep it close as a reminder of how vast the Eurovision song repository can be.
Live: 6 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 2 | Music: 1 | Preference: 3
Total: 2.55 pts.
Song 9: France
“Humanahum” – Jean Gabilou
After the wackiness from Finland, France brings us back to a very nice place with a strong song and performance by Jean Gabilou. The simple stage setup had Gabilou front and center, with his navy suit nicely contrasted against the warm squash-colored background, while his five backing singers were tucked away on a podium to the right, looking equally good. As for the song, the orchestration is quite good for this period, right down to the two separate key changes. It does an absolutely magnificent job of setting up for the final chorus, where the story of the lyrics is revealed.
The message of “Humanahum” is a tragic one. After establishing himself as a story-teller in the year 3000, Gabilou recounts how beautiful the Earth once was before it was killed by war. With the environment and war taking up huge swaths of today’s news coverage, this song could still be relevant today, which is a great quality to have. Aside from that, the simplistic wonders of life on Earth presented in the song are touching and universal, making for a wonderful story. This is certainly proof that the 1980s were a varied time for Eurovision.
Live: 9 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 6 | Preference: 16
Total: 9.3 pts.
Song 10: Spain
“Y sólo tú” – Bacchelli
This is a perfect example of how a little slice of cheesy disco-pop is something that can be enjoyable once in a while. The introduction of the song with a xylophone is an interesting choice while still being effective, as it sets a poppy, warm feel that’s carried through the song. By the end, it feels a little more pop than disco, but that’s to be expected with two key changes.
We get our dose of cheese from the lyrics, where Bacchelli and his amor are sitting on a beach alone, enjoying each other, before he embraces and kisses her. These lyrics are the weakest point of the song, but they get the job done, even if there is a disconnect between that story and the one of the chorus (where Bacchelli laments his lover being away). On stage, the vocals were a little reedy but still passable. What was not passable were the terrible camera angles, which got so bad, at one point, the camera froze on an over-the-shoulder shot from the orchestra pit. Those angles were all kinds of bad. However, the song itself is perfectly average and I’m a little bit of a fan.
Live: 6 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 6 | Preference: 12
Total: 6.45 pts.
Song 11: The Netherlands
“Het is een wonder” – Linda Williams
I’m torn on this song. On the one hand, I want to like it because it’s a cute little ditty with Dutch touches, while on the other, it sounds totally immature with a random hodge-podge of sounds backing up the lyrics. I’ll get the negative out of the way first. The orchestration is very odd. From the random synth at the beginning to the bursts of accordion, it doesn’t seem like anyone revised it and that this isn’t the final version. It’s very amateur. Also notable is the claps that come in the chorus, which, at least to me, weren’t popular until recently.
Now for the more positive lyrics, they aren’t that great, but they have a sweet message. In the song, Linda Williams has emerged from depression and a hard life after meeting some who gave her life “new courage.” While you might disagree that she needed someone in her life for happiness, it’s a positive thought that I, for one, enjoy. The one downfall here might be the repetitive nature of chorus, but it’s no big deal. The stage show was fine but nothing memorable, save for Linda’s pastel yellow dress, which was risky, to say the least. In the end, it’s nothing more than a cheery pop song that’s just a bit too young for my ears.
Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 5 | Preference: 13
Total: 7.35 pts.
Song 12: Ireland (hosts)
“Horoscopes” – Sheeba
Oh dear. Who thought this was a good idea? First, the song is about how we, not the people who write horoscopes, shape our destinies. Why on Earth did anyone think that this was an acceptable topic for a three-minute song? Some lyrical highlights include “believe in the truth, not celestial lies” and a list of the 12 zodiac signs. This could be a case study in terrible ideas for a Eurovision entry. Somewhat thankfully, the music, apart from the opening violin solo, is masked by the lyrics that I can’t really tell it’s there.
Now writing all this, I feel a bit bad, because Sheeba looked so happy on stage. So I’ll take solace in the fact that their singing was stellar (*groans from you*). However, the outfits. Oh my God, the outfits. The fool who named the award for worst costumes was either oblivious to this or from Ireland, because no matter how terrible Barbara Dex might have looked (I have not seen), it probably wasn’t as bad as this. Even if the song was already stupid, this crystal woodnymph chandelier look just takes it into “legendarily bad” territory. This is one to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Live: 8 | Staging: 1 | Lyrics: 1 | Music: 4 | Preference: 7
Total: 3.3 pts.
Song 13: Norway
“Aldri I livet” – Finn Kalvik
Ew, sugary cheese. Finn Kalvik takes the role of a very needy boyfriend who feels overly compelled to remind his significant other of how he’ll never leave them. With more sap than a maple forest, Finn croons with that just-too-thin voice of his accompanied by some grating orchestration. I’m a fan of the xylophone to liven up performances, but when it’s used to repeat one chord throughout most of the song, I’d rather take the sticks and hit you in the head for making such a terrible decision.
As for stage presence, Finn looks like a kid playing guitar in his basement while his soccer moms sing backup. It’s sort of hilarious, especially when his voice clashes so obviously with theirs. I want to feel bad for Norway and Finn, because he looks like such a nice guy. But all I have to do is listen to this song that wouldn’t even pass in a made-for-TV movie, and all the sympathy is drained.
Live: 5 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 2 | Preference: 3
Total: 2.85 pts.
Song 14: United Kingdom
“Making Your Mind Up” – Bucks Fizz
I’d known about this song before, but now that I have the benefit of context, I can say that this won because of the orchestration. Why? Because it didn’t let the presence of a full orchestra drive its composition. While other pop songs tried to get every musician to play, John Danter did the smart thing and let the drums, electric guitars, and trumpets drive this song. As a result, it felt light, fresh, and fun and never felt weighted by heavy instruments like the cello.
Bucks Fizz also deserves some recognition for putting on a good show. While I was expecting the big skirt rip, I’m sure that it was a huge shock for those seeing it for the first time. That bit of showmanship took attention away from the two glaring problems that plagued this entry. First, the lyrics are some more word salad, with very little discernible meaning. Is it about love? Is it about ideas? Is it about clothes? All of these seem to be the subject of different stanzas, which doesn’t even come close to creating a coherent message.
The live performance by Bucks Fizz is iconic not only for the performance, but because it showed that if a song was catchy enough, the vocal capabilities of a group became unimportant. This was most noticeable when the camera was focused on Jay Aston (yellow dress) and she sang about four notes higher than the key of the song near the end. In that sense, I hate that Bucks Fizz won, because it made mediocre vocals okay. But at the same time, having a pure pop song win was oodles of fun and distanced the contest from boring ballads. It’s totally my guilty pleasure.
Live: 3 | Staging: 10 | Lyrics: 3 | Music: 6 | Preference: 15
Total: 7.8 pts.
Song 15: Portugal
“Playback” – Carlos Paião
This irony is delicious. Right after partially tone-deaf Bucks Fizz sings to Europe, here comes Carlos Paião with a song about how glorious everything sounds in playback and how you need to do other things, like smile (or rip off your band member’s skirt, you decide) to take the attention away from your unexplainably perfect vocals. Speaking of clothes, the backing singers’ multi-colored jump suits do exactly the same thing. I could launch into a rant about how this is proof that a random draw is better than the “hybrid horror” that ESC has now, but I won’t.
Back to “Play-Back.” With the imagery of a fake singer in mind, we can move onto the orchestration. On the surface, it seems like another heavy-handed attempt at a pop song gone wrong. But then, think about what you feel when high-pitched, almost screechy music plays at a swift tempo. It’s pretty stressful, which is exactly what phony singers feel every time they step on stage. Will the recording fail? Will they cough and be able to sing at the same time? Will they be exposed as a hack and have their career ruined? It’s so subtle and intelligent. Carlos Paião’s great vocals only help this. I absolutely love this song.
Live: 8 | Staging: 9 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 10 | Preference: 18
Total: 10.95 pts.
Song 16: Belgium
“Samson” – Emly Starr
Sometimes trying to seek out an answer to a confusing question can only result in less clarity. There’s a famous quote that says something along those lines, but I’m too lazy to find it. Anyway, that was certainly the case with Belgium. When greeted by Emly Starr doing her Cleopatra impersonation, I had no idea where it was going. Then when reading the translated lyrics, about the Biblical character Samson and how his Delilah was sick of him being a “playboy” and was pining over his hair, I was even more lost. Maybe one has to be religious to understand and I’m not, so maybe that’s the source of confusion. Anyway, the lyrics are interesting and present a (seemingly) different viewpoint of a famous story. Commendable.
Musically, it’s a catchy, disco-tinged number with lots of energy. Normally I wouldn’t go for anything like this, but I rate it as a pass. With the issue of the costumes sorted, I can say that everyone looked great and sounded good. Emly wasn’t a bad singer, but something about her voice in the verses was off-putting. In any case, this was a decent and entertaining song. What more can you ask for?
Live: 6 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 6 | Preference: 10
Total: 6.6 pts.
Song 17: Greece
“Fegari kalokerino” – Yiannis Dimitras
When you listen to this, it’s very apparent that the composer was trying for something dramatic and beautiful. And, without a doubt, he would’ve been much more on target if he hadn’t added those useless synth “wooshs” that made me fume. Didn’t he realize that they distracted from the orchestra and the wonderful score they had to work with? Well, the piano carried it, but the other instruments were still useful. Senseless.
Lyrically, it’s much more on the mark by presenting the story as a restrained poem. Although my translation seems a bit iffy, I think that the moon is being used to represent a departed lover, perhaps one lost at sea. Sadly, all Yiannis can do is “wander in her shade” and “build a church for the crazy children of love” (adore that line). It’s a tad melodramatic for my taste, but the rawness on stage helps to create a more intense atmosphere. Speaking of stage presence, bringing the piano onto center stage was a brilliant idea but the cheesy, soap opera-esque opening shot of a lonely rose was just the opposite. Yiannis sounded good, but his shirt was terrible. Thankfully, that and the synths were the only terrible things about this entry.
Live: 6 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 6 | Preference: 12
Total: 7.2 pts.
Song 18: Cyprus
“Monika” – Island
After a nice streak of good songs, Cyprus brings back the averagy stuff with this pop-ballad about Monica, who shares a perfect relationship with someone (a quartet sang this). Lyrically, it’s quite the cheese fest and very repetitive. Musically, it’s not much better. The strings feel forced and the piano is unmemorable when it should be the star of the show.
On stage, the group was dressed in awful blue outfits that are an offense to taste. Even if the song quality doesn’t get worse in the 80s, the fashion almost certainly will. Vocally, the group didn’t mesh like it should’ve and the women sounded a little sharp. Not as sharp as Jay Aston, but nearing that area. Overall, a disappointment.
Live: 5 | Staging: 3 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 5 | Preference: 7
Total: 4.65 pts.
Song 19: Switzerland
“Io senza te” – Peter, Sue & Marc
That was disappointing. From the description of the group given by the Irish commentator, I was expecting something either more upbeat or more dramatic. We were given neither, rather, what looked to be two hippies who had met a Broadway star to sing another anonymous ballad. That was the first problem about this act, Peter, Marc, and Sue didn’t look like members of one group. Secondly, the song was uninspired and cliché. Sure, it’s a breakup song but any other benefits stop there. Also, I love Italian, but Sue made it sound so forced. It was unbearable.
Musically, it’s more of the same. Nothing else. Vocally, everyone was just okay. Nothing too noteworthy, just not actively poor. A very yawn-worthy entry. Let’s move on.
Live: 6 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 5 | Preference: 4
Total: 4.05 pts.
Song 20: Sweden
“Fångad i en dröm” – Björn Skifs
Following the snooze-fest, Björn Skifs sends us out on an energetic note with an unexpected pop-rock tune. Again, the biggest complaint I have is the unnecessary use of the strings but this time, it’s particularly glaring, as the violins come in only a few times to play some screechy notes that add nothing to the composition as a whole. Hopefully the concept of less is more catches on soon.
Lyrically, it seems that Björn has a recurring dream that he’s stuck in a haunted house from which he can’t escape. It gets marks from be for being both interesting and different, even if it’s a tad repetitive. On stage, Björn moved like a pop star and had the camera working to his full advantage, something most artists didn’t have the luxury of getting. He was also on point vocally and delightfully in sync with his backings. All in all, this is a strong song to end on and is great for heralding my escape from the first of the dreaded 80s contests.
Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 5 | Preference: 13
Total: 7.5 pts.
Average score: 6.3225
(I should mention that 1963’s average was 8.006. Failed to mention that last time.)
Coming into this contest, I was somewhat uneasy as to what I’d find, especially coming off of one of the highest regarded years ever. Now that I’m through 1981, the whole scope of this experiment, 56 more years of songs, has come into view and it’s pretty daunting. However, I’m excited to discover new songs and pick up some gems along the way.