Following our run through the near-present, we’re going all the way back to the sixth Eurovision. Still, that didn’t inhibit the French from hosting at Cannes for the second time (not that anyone minded). Luxembourg’s winner was their first and three countries débuted here, so let’s see if anyone else stuck out.
Venue: Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, Cannes, France
Date: 18 March 1961
Host: Jacqueline Joubert
In the quick research I did about this contest, the most interesting thing about it is that this was the first contest to take place on a Saturday evening, albeit in early March. Other than that, I know nothing about 1961 so let’s proceed!
Song 1: Spain
“Estando contigo” – Conchita Bautista
And we start things out on a bombastic note with this flamenco-inspired song. It’s a brass-heavy song with sporadic bursts of strings and drums but comes out very lighthearted and happy. Talking of happy, let’s look at the lyrics. Basically, she’s singing about how, despite having everything (stars, moon, clouds, etc.), she’d be totally happy by having someone’s love. It’s nothing new nor is it anything deep but this is a real evergreen song topic, so I can’t be too upset.
Onstage, Conchita had a huge, layered, silk Spanish dress and performed with a small wrap. It came off as a little rushed but her charisma sold it. Vocally, she was great, even if that vibrato she was doing isn’t my cup of tea. Despite that and the lyrics, this song is likeable, fun, and an excellent sign of things to come. Love it.
Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 7 | Preference: 15
Total: 8.55 pts.
Song 2: Monaco
“Allons, allons les enfants” – Colette Deréal
This is what I imagine a French-made “Sound of Music” would sound like; it’s very cheery, happy, and fresh, with xylophones and quick bursts of string that lead into grandiose choruses. The whole spectacle is very entertaining. Lyrically, it starts off as a call for children to live out the first day of spring to the fullest by exploring nature. As someone who’s been on the French Riviera at the beginning of spring, this is a tantalizing time-travel offer. However, the focus shifts from children to Colette, as she begins to sing about how “love is awaiting” her and her desires to “live freely under the blue sky.” This section is equally sweet, but the two stories don’t really combine well.
Simplicity was the key for this stage show, as the focus was on Colette the entire time. Just like her predecessor from Spain, she oozed positive energy and sang incredibly well, even better than Conchita. The whole package was very organic and interesting, and I enjoyed it very much.
Live: 9 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 7 | Preference: 15
Total: 9 pts.
Song 3: Austria
“Sehnsucht” – Jimmy Makulis
That certainly ratcheted things down a notch. This is a very sedate song that doesn’t have many interesting facets, aside from a repeated saxophone (?) chord that just becomes annoying after a while. The random instrumental breaks try to spice things up, but they’re not interesting enough to do that. It’s a very tired-sounding song. Lyrically, it’s more of the same, as the song is just filled with separated-lover clichés. Any story can be interesting if you tell it properly, especially this kind, which was done so much better by Esther Ofarim two years later. “Sehnsucht” was just too bland and too repetitive to make any sort of impact.
Thankfully, the stage show was more involved but not in the way one would expect. During those random music breaks, the camera would change to a shot of the orchestra playing away. However, the cues were far from perfect and as a result, we were left with a few seconds of Jimmy looking terribly awkward. It wasn’t the fault of the Austrian stagers (did they have those back then?) but it cheapened the look of the entry considerably. The saving grace of the whole thing would’ve been Jimmy’s deep, rich voice. Unfortunately for him, that’s the kind of voice that grates on me quickly, so no great points there. To sum it up, I need a nap.
Live: 7 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 5 | Preference: 8
Total: 5.55 pts.
Song 4: Finland
“Valoa ikkunassa” – Laila Kinnunen
Finland has given us another departure from the norm, but unlike Austria, it’s a change in mood; this is a very melancholy song, almost elegiac in its story. We’re treated to some striking imagery with the first line; “The gown of the night has covered the land.” Immediately, we can feel a heavy, oppressing force that’s enveloped everything around. While most “lights” would be off by now, there’s one still lit. This window, its light, and the singer who fills it all represent the hope of her connection with her departed love. Her song travels “through the silent night all the way behind the stars” to reach this man, which it does. When that happens, “a beautiful new star” lights up the sky and the living and eternal are connected. By daybreak, the singer has fallen asleep at her window, but Laila is just able to see her, or more likely her soul, fly to the star “on the wings of dreams,” which is probably the weakest line of the song, but still poetic and moving. While the woman in the window must continue without her love, part of her is always with him. I apologize for this dense paragraph, but these are some absolutely beautiful, stunning lyrics that required the attention.
Thankfully, there’s a composition to match. Right from the get go, it’s evident that this isn’t a very cheery song; it’s not dissonant, but very chaotic and saddening, in a way. A hint of longing continues throughout the three minutes and the orchestra solos accentuate it nicely so that it’s evident but not the focus of the melody. This is a very carefully crafted song and nowhere is this more apparent than here.
Even with such a breathtaking song, it still needed the performance that Laila gave it. Without going full Esther Ofarim (she’s really on my mind right now), she injects just the right amount and kind of emoting required for this song; she’s never openly depressed but rather charmingly wistful. It’s a wonderful effect. The only thing that could’ve been improved was if Laila had that something “extra” in her voice but that’s a minor quibble. Finally, her dress was pretty crazy but we only saw the top (mostly), which looked very elegant and thus saved the song in that regard. All in all, this was a surprisingly excellent find, courtesy of Finland.
Live: 9 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 9 | Preference: 19
Total: 10.95 pts.
Song 5: Yugoslavia
“Neke davne zvezda” – Ljiljana Petrović
One thing that immediately strikes you with this song is that it’s very ballroom-esque. By that, I mean that I could see this being background music to a scene from a 50s or 60s cartoon that takes place in “high society.” Unfortunately, with that wave of nostalgia excepted, I can’t really find too many things I like about this entry. Sure, the music is good, but it’s just so generic. In that same cartoon scene, this could be replaced by hundreds of other pieces. Things improve when the lyrics, Ljiljana’s story of being left with a departing love played off the metaphor of the seasons at autumn, when everything’s hibernating/dying, are taken into account. They’re somewhat stale and certainly repetitive, but charming in their own special way.
Ljiljana’s performance was restrained and very sedate. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing if the song didn’t require just a touch more energy to make it shine. Still, it was technically good and the Serbian language was candy for my ears. And even at this early point in the evening, I think that there won’t be too much variation in staging, so I’ll save myself a bit of time. Compared to the last song, this is a fully competent effort that just ended up a little too flat; when Finland presented a pancake, Yugoslavia gave us a crêpe.
Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 5 | Preference: 12
Total: 7.5 pts.
Song 6: The Netherlands
“Wat een dag” – Greetje Kauffeld
This song takes us from swanky parties to swinging pop with an incredibly twee story to boot; schoolgirl Greetje has shared a wonderful day with her crush and now her dream-like day is reality and no one, not even the grouchy neighbor, can bring her down. It’s repetitive as all can be but retains its carefree message that I’d embrace wholeheartedly. In perfect conjunction, the melody is wonderfully bouncy and surprisingly catchy. After a brief jazz interlude, the chorus kicks in and the cheery brass section drives the song while accompanied by some drums. It makes for a sweet, inviting entry.
While a song like this doesn’t necessarily require an extremely talented singer, Greetje takes on the reins formidably and carries the song into a different place. Also, the singsong timbre of the Dutch language (of which I simply can’t get enough) plays into this happy-go-lucky attitude gorgeously. Finally, the dress was perfect for this story. I love this entertaining little effort from the Netherlands.
Live: 7 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 8 | Preference: 15
Total: 8.85 pts.
Song 7: Sweden
“April, April” – Lill-Babs
Sweden seems to have dropped some of its sugar into the Dutch entry because this sounds like a poppier, slightly annoying version of that song. Instead of a carefree day, Lill-Babs sings about how everyone’s lives get injected with love in April and spring. The lyrics are an exercise in repetition, right down to the triple repetition of words at the end of a few lines. It doesn’t help that they’re trite as well, right down the mention of a “love bug.” Although, this does provide for a refreshing bit of irony, as dark-haired Lill sings about how we can “let our blonde hair down now.” It’s not really important but it might be a sign that this was a song that nobody wanted to sing. The music, complete with the token key change, is equally chipper with a bit more feeling. It’s one of the stronger points of the song.
As a vocalist, Lill is adequately qualified but not stunning like some of the other singers have been. Although with a song like this, a strong singer’s not the most important ingredient for success. Her whistling is catchy but off-putting in a way. It’s necessary for the song but unnecessary at the same time. Had it just been a stronger song, it wouldn’t be a problem at all. The same could be said for its place in my scoreboard.
Live: 6 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 5 | Preference: 11
Total: 6.45 pts.
Song 8: Germany
“Einmal sehen wir uns wieder” – Lale Andersen
This happy, smiley feeling that’s been present in the last two songs has started to wear thin here and when sung in a slower, less-jauntily manner, it just becomes a zester to my patience. While I like the contrast between the almost-spoken verses and sung chorus, the music is just too generic for me to get excited about. However, this flip-flop structure plays a part in the lyrics, which are the strongest feature of this entry by far. The story here is that Lale is sending off her lover and while their relationship seems to be over, she holds a sense of optimism that they’ll “see each other once again” and that when they do “everything will be as it used to be.” They’re simple, vivid, and unexpectedly deep, all hallmarks of high-scoring entries with me.
Onstage, Lale only sounded okay, as she over-emphasized her accent to the point of distraction. When that’s combined with the verse in French, the whole thing just becomes a recipe for disaster. Technically, she was fine but I failed to enjoy her performance. Sadly, the staging has just become so predictable, there’s nothing to surprise me anymore. All things considered, this song has a strong message disguised behind far too much syrup. Try again another time, Germany.
Live: 6 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 4 | Preference: 9
Total: 6.15 pts.
Song 9: France (hosts)
“Printemps, avril carillonne” – Jean-Paul Mauric
The contribution from the host nation brings big band into the mix of sounds we’ve heard tonight, in a song with lyrics that could’ve been written by Snow White. Let’s start with the former, because it’s easily the best thing about this entry. Right off the bat, the orchestration was much more interesting and flamboyant than other entries of the night. That subsided as Jean-Paul began to croon, but returned loudly with the chorus. Somewhat uniquely, this song didn’t have any instrumental breaks, which made it seem more concise. It’s just a nice thing to listen to.
Lyrically, it’s a lovey-dovey ode to nature in, quelle suprise, spring. While it’s pretty predictable, one line in the chorus, “springtime, springtime, the bees buzz” is a mark of failure in my book because, although bees are indicative of spring, I have apiphobia; fear of bees. Just writing this is actually making me cringe a little, so I’ll stop. Another annoying thing about this song is the “bing et bong” that pops up in the beginning of the song. If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all.
At least Jean-Paul was strong vocally because I just don’t care for his voice that much. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s something that’s grating on me. His suit looked fine and it was a decent performance overall. To sum this up, it’s a song with a nice sound polluted by more nature lyrics. I’ll pass.
Live: 7 | Staging: 6 | Lyrics: 4 | Music: 7 | Preference: 9
Total: 6.3 pts.
Song 10: Switzerland
“Nous aurons demain” – Franca di Rienzo
It’s so nice to be complete with the “nature’s beauty” section of the evening and firmly back in the “love story” camp. This song is actually somewhat interesting, as it talks about all that awaits Franca and her lover in their future together, despite being down on their luck and separated in the present. Even though the significant other is less than confident in being better together, represented with the line “We’ll never live in Spanish castles,” Franca counters with “But do we have to refuse to build one?” indicating that working together will build a richer life. While the choruses are trite, these verses are so much more interesting and telling. It’s a shame the balance is 60/40.
Musically, it’s a little scatterbrained for my taste, starting with some noise from an unidentified instrument that comes back throughout the song. During the rest of the song, it just feels like there’s something off about the whole thing. The construction is nice but I’m not crazy about it. Same goes for the performance. There’s nothing outwardly “wrong” about it, but it just doesn’t excite me. Well, aside from two verses, this is a bit of a disappointment.
Live: 7 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 7 | Music: 5 | Preference: 10
Total: 6.6 pts.
Song 11: Belgium
“September, gouden roos” – Bob Benny
What an odd song. On one hand, some verses make it seem like a bouncy pop song like so many other songs tonight while others sound like opera, almost. The whole thing is mad. Musically, it’s competent enough, as strings and woodwinds combine deftly to create something that is isn’t too crazy. The opening bars are especially nice. Lyrically, we’re back to the woods and seasons because Bob has chosen to pine over the end of a summer love now that September has rolled around. While we’ve certainly heard this wording enough, these lyrics do have some standout lines. In particular, “a blackbird whistles full of nostalgia” is poignant, regardless of season.
On the vocal front, Bob was a force to be reckoned with, as he absolutely belted out some of those lines. His performance really lifted the song and made the already wacky structure almost work. And while things like camera angles have sort of fallen by the wayside recently, I must point out the subtle changes here were very smart. All in all, this was a batty song with an excellent performance.
Live: 9 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 6 | Music: 6 | Preference: 13
Total: 8.1 pts.
Song 12: Norway
“Sommer i Palma” – Nora Brockstedt
This is more like it. Instead of a trite love story or an ode to nature, Norway has given us a dramatic, almost sensual, plea for love. Nora’s new love interest from Mallorca has won her heart and now she’s begging to understand him and to get him to admit his love, if it’s there. With lines like “can you see the palms trembling, seabirds hovering, all in sweet harmony,” we get an image of a perfect night marred only by the uncomfortable reality that infatuation has won Nora’s heart. Even if they’re not perfect lyrics, the story’s interesting and there’s more than meets the eye. Consider me a fan.
The music also wins some praise, as it’s wonderfully understated and dark, only turning happy at the very last chord. This adds a whole new dimension to the lyrics, as it might mean that her “prayer of night” was answered. During the song itself, a subtle guitar that flows in and out just elevates the song so much it’s shocking. That little instrument turned something slightly above ordinary into a memorable piece by using a sharp, quiet, emotive guitar. It worked perfectly.
The only flaw of this entry was the dress Nora had. For a song about love possibly lost on the beach, silken and hairsprayed doesn’t feel like the right staging choice. Notably, every other song had the wardrobe fit the message and this is the first to ruin that connection. Thankfully strong vocals save this very welcome and interesting package. I am very happy to have found it.
Live: 7 | Staging: 4 | Lyrics: 8 | Music: 8 | Preference: 17
Total: 9.15 pts.
Song 13: Denmark
“Angelique” – Dario Campeotto
Quality just took a pretty significant tumble with this song, as Denmark treated us to a plodding, monotonous, unappealing song. One source of failure comes from the melody, as it drives the song into the ground with a flat, repetitive tune after an interesting opening. From there on out, the composition was devoid of anything attention-grabbing and made time slow down. Lyrically, there’s not much good to be found, as the lyrics are almost as boring as the melody. The song is a wish list of things Dario would like to do for “Angelique,” such as paint her like Rembrandt would or write Shakespearian poetry for her, but “the Muses” won’t let him. Basically, it’s a cheese platter with some pretty indulgent squares, so I don’t dislike it but I don’t find it good.
Despite the flaws with the music and lyrics, the biggest misstep was the staging. I understand that Dario is a decent singer and he proved that, but that doesn’t mean he is television material. He never made eye contact with the camera. He moved and gestured, but never to the TV audience. In a contest where everyone did this well or had a gimmick to make it less obvious, this performance was just very off-putting because of this oversight (pun not intended). Also, his suit was too big and made the whole thing look more ridiculous. I am certainly no fan of this.
Live: 7 | Staging: 2 | Lyrics: 5 | Music: 4 | Preference: 5
Total: 4.2 pts.
Song 14: Luxembourg
“Nous les amoureux” – Jean-Claude Pascal
Finally, the first great entry since Finland! Immediately after that unnecessary orchestral flourish, some drums, the brass section, and a cymbal drove this song to excellence. Rather than a typical, swaying, string-based song, this is a jagged, edgy, almost-unpolished song that’s very attention grabbing. One of the best qualities of the music is the little burst of strings that kicks off each section of the song. It’s just something special that could’ve so easily been left out but adds so much.
That aforementioned edginess crosses over to the lyrics, because for an entry with so many references to Scripture, this sure sounds like a salacious song. And for the time, at least with my interpretation of the lyrics, it certainly was. I think this song is about a gay couple being persecuted by religion-addled townsfolk. If people wanted a couple separated and cursed to live a life of fear in 1961, they would target a same-sex couple. Here, Jean-Claude and his lover are “two to a thousand” and “awaiting hell,” in the eyes of the mob. However, the unhappy couple “sleeps on the knees of the good Lord” and have his approval to live peacefully and to “pay back those who have never been condemned.” I absolutely love this song’s message, in all its subtle glory.
Onstage, the performance was solid with my only bugaboo being the way Jean-Claude pronounced all the “r”s. Maybe it’s just a Luxembourg thing, but it was pretty distracting. Thankfully his voice was strong and its depth added to the risqué nature of the song. It worked very well. The camera angles were also expertly done, as they allowed eye contact without every feeling uncomfortable. All in all, this was a wonderful song.
Live: 8 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 10 | Music: 10 | Preference: 17
Total: 10.35 pts.
Song 15: United Kingdom
“Are You Sure?” – The Allisons
Oh no. With bland lyrics such as “it’s hard but I’ll pull through” and “dreaming of each other, we’ll cry,” and an immensely irritating “echo” effect provided by the brother on the left, I just wanted this to end. If the message isn’t clear enough, it’s a plea disguised as a question for a love interest not to end her relationship with one of the singers. The triteness alone would be bad enough, but the incredibly narcissistic line “you’ll be sorry, wait and see. Spend your life in misery, wishing you’d returned to me” made me want to blast these lyrics somewhere far, far away. In a complete turnaround, the music was okay, with a simple, easy to follow, drum-heavy melody that was accentuated nicely by the strings at points. In a nutshell, it was enjoyable, swingy pop music.
As we move to the performance, just picture a 50s/60s version of Jedward on sedatives and you’ll get an idea. And while I enjoy the Brothers Grimes at times, I do not enjoy this.
Live: 4 | Staging: 5 | Lyrics: 2 | Music: 7 | Preference: 4
Total: 3.9 pts.
Song 16: Italy
“Al di là” – Betty Curtis
With bombast, drama, and emotion, Italy presents the final song of the night. Everything about this was strong, but let’s start with the lyrics. Betty is telling her lover how their relationship has made the unthinkable reality and how he is better, more beautiful, and more important than anything else. The idea of a central theme was executed nicely and the ever-soaring vocals from Betty made the repetition almost invisible. The one line that sticks out to me is “beyond the endless circle, beyond the life, there is you,” as it signifies how strong Betty’s love is that, no matter what happens, this person will be there. The whole thing is gorgeous.
The music is a little loud for my taste but incredibly moving, especially in the instrumental sections. An ever so faint sad swing undertone is sort of indescribable but totally wonderful and integral in making this extraordinary. Otherwise, it’s a very good piece that backs up Betty well, even if she didn’t need the help. These were, by far, the best vocals of the night, best summarized by that one acapella note at the end that just brought the house down. Betty was crystal clear and delivered a performance for the ages. Otherwise, there wasn’t anything notable about the staging, aside from Betty’s theatrics. I’ve just run out of things to say, so I’ll just get this in; thank you Italy for ending the night on a stunning note.
Live: 10 | Staging: 7 | Lyrics: 9 | Music: 10 | Preference: 17
Total: 10.5 pts.
Average score: 7.631 pts.
Hall of Fame entrants: 2
My Favorite Song: Finland (1st)
Technically Best Song: Italy (2nd)
My Least Favorite Song: United Kingdom (Last)
Technically Worst Song: TIE Denmark (15th)/United Kingdom (Last)
This is the first year that’s slightly above average, sitting at a 7 between two contests with 6 and 8. The songs weren’t too memorable, aside from the standouts, but they were generally high-quality pieces of music. I’d like to add that hostess Jacqueline Joubert was totally charming and a ball of sunshine. She’s probably my favorite thing to come out of this year. Regardless of the few gems I’ve picked up here, I’m incredibly excited to move onto my “spiritiual” first contest, 2010! However, the next post will be a quick synopsis of my thoughts about these five contests, along with updates about country averages, point changes, and other miscellaneous bits of information. See you there!