Sunday, June 28, 2015

Eurovision Revision III: What's Another Year?

The year is 1957. Following the logical selection of Switzerland as inaugural host for this festival of peace, and with the original plan of having participants take turns hosting, there were two choices for the sequel without randomly going to a country that wasn't present in Lugano - either go to a country that was pretty recently invaded by the Nazis and deal with the uncomfortable subtext of having to invite West Germany, or stage the contest in West Germany itself and use it to show how the country had grown up in the previous decade or so. Naturally, the latter was deemed a better choice, and the contest headed to Frankfurt with the understanding that in future years winning countries would be given the honour of hosting to avoid the drama.

For the contest itself, the format was much closer to the format we know today. We're still in the "show in a TV studio" era of the contest and won't move to a concert hall until 1959 (with the move to stadium spectaculars full-time not happening until the new millennium), but this time each country only sent one song and we got to see the full voting in the interests of filling time transparency. The voting also won't change to the current format for a while, becoming the first of many changes to the contest brought about by the Swedes, but for this year the format is simple: Each country had ten jurors from outside the music industry, who each cast a single vote for their favourite song. Most votes wins. What could be simpler?

#15. Straatdeuntje (Bobbejaan Schoepen, Belgium 1957, 8th)

This one's a tough one. I think it's a perfectly fine song on its own, but... honestly, everything about it has been done significantly better elsewhere. A Dutch-language song about relaxing street music? The Dutch themselves will do it better in the 1970s. Obnoxiously catchy whistling? Thank you, Switzerland. A chorus that's basically just "la la la la la la la"? Many, many times, and it doesn't commit itself to the gimmick for long enough to make it worthwhile. The singer isn't even reality TV's best Bobby Jon. The one thing it does have, however, is that it sets into motion the tradition of Belgium alternating between French and Dutch entries at each contest they attend, one that will continue (with only one exception) until 1998. But still: adequate but not remarkable. Belgique, six points.

#16. Amours Mortes (Tant de Peine) (Danièle Dupré, Luxembourg 1957, 4th)

So I listened to this song about five minutes ago and it's already been completely forgotten, aside from the visual of the singer clearly being unsure what to do with her hands and ending up with her arms positioned awkwardly like she was some kind of a porcelain doll. Which is bad enough at the best of times, but from about thirty seconds into the video all we get is a tight shot on her head, so it's not like there's even anything to distract from how deathly dull the song is. Luxembourg, deux points.

#17. All (Patricia Bredin, United Kingdom 1957, 7th)

On the one hand, this is a surprisingly shrill entry from a country that usually at least sends decent voices, even if the stage presence and the songs themselves are now invariably awful. On the other hand, it's pretty much just a straight line from this to Electro Velvet, and at least the song is over quickly - the entire performance lasts less than two excruciating minutes. And while I'm definitely not a fan of the song, it's nice of people to realise the song is kind of terrible and to act accordingly. They won't always. Royaume-Uni, trois points.

#18. Corde della mia Chitarra (Nunzio Gallo, Italy 1957, 6th)

Clocking in at five minutes and nineteen seconds, this is the longest entry in Eurovision history... and, unfortunately, you can feel each and every tedious second. It's not even until a minute in that the acoustic guitar solo (which, despite the lyrics, is not magically playing itself) ends and the song proper begins, and by that point you're already hoping for the damn thing to be over already. It's not painfully bad, sure, but it just lasts far too fucking long. Italie, trois points.

#19. Wohin, Kleines Pony? (Bob Martin, Austria 1957, 10th)

I don't know about you, but I've always wanted to hear someone ask a pony for directions to the tune of the Married... With Children theme as performed in a spaghetti Western (a strudel Western?). I mean, I'm flummoxed that it finished last, but I'm not entirely surprised it didn't do well. There are definitely surreal moments throughout the history of Eurovision that work, but it's a technique that only seems to work for select countries. France can get away with it, because everyone expects them to think they're too good for this silly little fooferaw. Moldova can get away with it, because everybody understands they need to do whatever they can to help people find it on a map. But Austria is one of the countries where the technique never works, and it's always kind of embarrassing to see another attempt. Autriche, quatre points.

#20. Net Als Toen (Corry Brokken, Netherlands 1957, Winner)

So I know I'm genetically predisposed to love everything the Netherlands sends, but even then it's kind of astonishing just how much this song rises above the comparative chaff we've had so far in this year's contest. Brokken herself is one of the forgotten icons of Eurovision - as well as being a staple of these early contests, she's one of only two people in history to complete the "winner, host, spokesperson" triple play (and the two-decade waits between each is much more impressive than Marie N doing all three within the space of four contests) - and it's a real shame she's not remembered as well as many of the other important figures in the contest's canon. Especially with a song this good. Pays-Bas, dix points.

#21. Telefon, Telefon (Margot Hielscher, West Germany 1957, 4th)

For those of you wondering just what The Social Network Song would be like if transplanted into the early years of the contest, here you go. I kid, a little, but it's the same basic "love letter to glorious technology" concept (one which the West Germans would return to twenty years down the line) in the form of a 1950s chanson. This one has the added bonus of referencing the addition of the telephone voting to the contest, but it honestly doesn't need it. It's a good entry on its own, which is more than can be said for Poor Valentina Monetta's debut. Allemagne de l'Ouest, huit points.

#22. La Belle Amour (Paule Desjardins, France 1957, 2nd)

In the early years of Eurovision, France was basically an unstoppable force - at risk of spoiling events over half a century old, they're going to win three of the next five contests, and will only fall outside the top five once between now and 1970 - but unlike later times when countries would consistently do well (the mantle will get passed around from France to the UK, Israel, and West Germany before a brief open period that confuses everybody into endorsing Ireland's plan for world domination), there's not really anything about this ode to nature or ballrooms or whatever (it's not particularly clear) that makes it easy to see why France was about to be so successful. In this case, it isn't even that French was a literal lingua franca - with the specific countries here, the German songs were more likely to pick up the At Least I Understand It votes - so I don't know. Don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly solid entry, but it's not as good as it probably should be for a runner-up. France, sept points.

#23. Skibet Skal Sejle i Nat (Birthe Wilke & Gustav Winckler, Denmark 1957, 3rd)

Oh, hey. two singers. That presents problems here more than it does in other songs - Birthe has a Disney voice while Gustav's is almost comically deep and for the most part drowns her out when they sing lines in unison - but it's nice to get something to break up the monotony of yet another pretty young lady singing about loving where they live, and it makes sense to have two singers perform a song about one last afternoon of torrid outdoor sex before the man heads off to sea and explores life on the poop deck with his fellow sailors. Unfortunately, that's not why everyone mentions the couple. Because they share an overlong kiss at the end (spoiler?), the entry has kind of ended up with a disproportionate reputation, up to and including the Danish organisers of the 50th anniversary special having Birthe making a cameo to get kissed by Katrina minus the Waves. (I wish I was kidding.) And I just can't support that considering the song is actually kind of mediocre? Danmark, six points.

#24. L'Enfant que J'Etais (Lys Assia, Switzerland 1957, 8th)

Maybe it's just that the last four songs have been getting worse and worse, but I kind of adore this one? The annual "Look, Lys Assia is still alive! Let's interview her!" segment is pretty much my least favourite part of every year's contest, and the slow songs usually wind up in the like-but-not-love range for me, but somehow she manages to turn it out and make this work, which is especially tough since it's about growing old and she's not exactly elderly here. I'm pretty sure a decent amount of the poor result is jurors either penalising her for beating a song they liked more last year or not wanting her and Switzerland in general to win back-to-back in the first two contests, but frankly I wouldn't have wanted her to win back-to-back either. Suisse, huit points.


NEXT TIME: One of the most successful Eurovision entries ever. And two songs that beat it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Challenge Guide Update

Just a quick update - I was originally planning on releasing the first part of the updated challenge guide (which, as you'll no doubt remember from when I shoved the details in the blurb for the Amazing Race guide, is going to be a single-format with shows uploaded in stages rather than all at once) in the next week or so, but that's not going to happen.

Basically, the first batch of seasons I was planning on uploading were the civilian seasons of The Apprentice US, the first few years of Big Brother UK, and a section of The Challenge - three long-running shows I haven't really done anything with on this blog yet, and where better to start than with ABC? - but in keeping with the blog's updated subtitle (the reasons for which should go without saying), there's going to be a change of plans. I'll still be starting with some long-running shows, yes, but the line-up has changed somewhat. Instead:

  • The first third of Big Brother UK (five seasons, plus four spinoff seasons)
  • The first quarter of The Biggest Loser US (four seasons)
  • The first third of The Challenge (nine seasons)
  • The first third of Masterchef Australia (two seasons, plus two spinoff seasons)
  • All of The Mole US (five seasons)
  • The first third of Ninja Warrior Japan (eleven specials, plus two spinoff specials)
  • The first fifth of Project Runway (four seasons)
The good news is I'm about half a celebrity season away from finishing the Big Brother section, and a lot of what's left just needs to be reformatted from old drafts on my computer. The bad news is it's still a lot of work, and it's probably still going to be at least another month or so away. Apologies for the delay.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Eurovision Revision II: Love Enough for Two

Having last time discussed the entries from all seven countries competing in the first Eurovision Song Contest, today we discuss... the entries from all seven countries competing in the first Eurovision Song Contest. Confused? Let me explain.

Essentially, Eurovision is the world's longest-running reality show. And much like basically every one of the bigger modern competitive reality shows is vastly different in its first season than it is from its second season onwards, the first Eurovision was very different from the contest we know and grudgingly watch each year to see which country in Eastern Europe Scandinavia gets given the trophy by default. In addition to being the only one of the sixty contests to date without a female host or cohost, and in addition to being the only contest where voting results were not revealed, this is also the only contest where each participating country sent more than one song, mostly to help fill the broadcast at a time when broadcasting simultaneously in seven countries was prohibitively expensive and thus needed to be justified. (By the following year there were ten countries, and voting was used to fill out the remaining time instead because the thought of a Eurovision with twenty songs competing would just be nonsensical.)

And now the stage is set, on with the show.

#8. Voorgoed Voorbij (Corry Brokken, Netherlands 1956)

Going into this marathon, I was expecting a lot of these early songs to be difficult to get into, just by virtue of being the sort of music even Eurovision doesn't bother giving exposure to any more. But in spite of being a pretty standard break-up song, this doesn't feel all too different to the sort of thing France would send to a modern contest just to be faux-edgy? Of course, the fact that it's good is an easy way to tell it apart from most recent French entries, but let's not split hairs. In fact, it's good enough that Corry Brokken is one of only three artists from this contest to return in later years (along with St. Lys Assia and Poor Fud Leclerc), and the first in a long line of singers to also be found guilty of Attempted Hosting. Not for twenty more years, but still. Pays-Bas, huit points.

#9. Refrain (Lys Assia, Switzerland 1956)

So... I'm supposed to love this one, right? Because it was the first winner, and that's supposed to be important or something? I'll work on it, I swear. But right now, I kind of feel like the lyrics (an old couple remembering when they were young and carefree) don't fit with the music? It's a fine entry, sure, but the reputation it has is a little overdone considering the actual quality of the song, which is really just a piece of background music from a 1920s silent film scene showing a love interest's introduction, with some lyrics over the top that feel a little too strongly-voiced for what it is. Or to put all of this another way, it's a good winner (and we'll have some truly awful ones in later years), but it's not one of the greats. Suisse, sept points.

#10. Le Plus Beau Jour de Ma Vie (Mony Marc, Belgium 1956)

Oh, Belgium. You're not going to make this behemoth easy on me, are you? Everyone else, you know how sometimes with old music the way the notes are held in that weird way that makes the voice sound distorted like you're literally listening to them through a foam cup with a piece of string attached? That's this song in a nutshell, even before you get to the story basically being a woman explaining how seeing her husband on her wedding day was the proudest moment of her life. Which despite failing the Bechdel Test on its own somehow manages to not be the most outdated Eurovision entry about weddings containing the words "ding dong" as a key part of the lyrics, so that's a plus for it. But it's pretty much the only one. Belgique, trois points.

#11. So Geht das Jede Nacht (Freddy Quinn, West Germany 1956)

Whereas Germany's first entry in this contest was something that would make you wonder just how big Shatner was in the country, this one's a bit more of an actual song. It's still not the sort of thing that would work at Eurovision - we've seen numerous times that swing is just one of those genres that never really catches on that well within the confines of the contest (rap and Motown have both failed in the past, and it took until the final song of this year's contest for someone to actually do well after trying to bring opera to the masses), plus the lyrics are pretty damn slut-shamey - and it's not even the best swing entry the Germans have sent, but taken on its own it's not that bad. That said, I'm not judging these songs in a bubble, and all of those things combine to give it a mediocre result. I'm sure Germany will wise up in future and send us a string of truly great entries, right? Right? Allemagne de l'Ouest, quatre points.

#12. Il Est Là (Dany Dauberson, France 1956)

In recent years, it's become common for the lesser singers to be overwhelmed by their backing tracks. And certainly this started in the same way, almost as if it was a deliberate attempt to lull you into a false sense of security like Dany's psychosomatic stalker seems to be. But then it kind of turned it around and became an adequate if unremarkable entry to the Eurovision canon. Unfortunately, by the time it did it I'd already zoned out. Sorry, France! France, six points.

#13. Les Amants de Minuit (Michèle Arnaud, Luxembourg 1956)

What I Thought The Song Was Going To Be About Before I Heard It: Consoling a premature ejaculator. What The Song Is Actually About: The 1950s version of a one-night stand, involving a late-night snack that isn't that kind of eating. So... close enough, but I still like my version better. And that's really the problem here - the version of this song I had in my head was much more interesting and involving than the song actually is. Especially compared to Ne Crois Pas, it just doesn't hold up. Luxembourg, cinq points.

#14. Amami Se Vuoi (Tonina Torrielli, Italy 1956)

And so we finally wrap up the first contest with... more of the same, really. I've been splitting hairs a lot of the time trying to work out how to analyse these songs since so many of them are pretty similarly slow and meandering, but this little ditty about how love never dies (or, if you prefer, only love survives) is among the best of those entries this time around. However, being the best of a mediocre bunch only gets you so far, and as it turns out that's somewhere around the upper-middle of the best-to-worst ranking right now. Italie, sept points.


NEXT TIME: Austria. Also Denmark and the UK, but it's not like either of them ever produce notable Eurovision entries, so I don't know why I'm even mentioning them. (Also: video!)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Eurovision Revision I: Congratulations, I Have Arrived

This is an idea I've had floating around for a while and never really felt confident enough to do, but it's been far too long since I posted here with any regularity and this is a perfect way to fix that issue, so here we are. Basically, over the next however long, we'll be visiting each and every of the 1396 entries in the Eurovision Song Contest catalog and discussing them one at a time before making foregone conclusions and declaring ABBA the best and Jemini the spawn of Satan. (Except not, because I don't actually believe either of those is true, but more about them when we get there.) Along the way, we'll be giving each song the traditional score from zero to twelve points (but, as one Scandinavian host put it, "never the points nine or eleven"), and then at the end I'll reveal a comprehensive best to worst ranking of every entry ever.

But there are a few things to note before we get there: First, I'm not counting any songs that weren't performed in competition at Eurovision itself, which means among others that the songs which lost in the qualification rounds in two mid-1990s contests aren't included and we (thankfully) won't be discussing the Wombles or Riverdance. Second, while semi-final qualifiers will be reviewed in the order they were performed in the semi-final, I'm using final performances wherever possible. (I'm certainly not implying Youtube is your friend if you want to play along, but if you put "Eurovision" followed by the country and year, you should be able to find everything you'll need.) Third, the 1956 and 1964 contests no longer have viewable video footage, but it's not as if Lys Assia was doing cartwheels in a bikini while performing, so I think we'll manage. Finally, I have the lyrics and translations for every entry, but I'm still under no belief that I'm ever going to understand what's going on, and while I've heard a huge number of these songs before I'm not going to claim I've heard everything. Shall we begin?

#1. De Vogels van Holland (Jetty Paerl, Netherlands 1956)

Looking through the prism of modernity, it's easy to think that a 1950s-style Dutch ballad about birds would be monotonous and depressing. But Anouk isn't involved with this inaugural performance, so put down your noose and your razor blades for a little while, even if it's still not a toetapper. Instead, we have this peaceful and relaxing number, almost saturated with the upbeat wistfulness that infects the best Dutch entries to the point that it starts oozing from an open wound, about how birds love wet weather and are thus happier in the Netherlands than in other countries. And... like, it's great you want to use your song to make a point about how delightful your country is, but maybe don't point out the constant rain if you want people to drop by for some hash brownies? Just a thought. Pays-Bas, huit points.

#2. Das Alte Karusell (Lys Assia, Switzerland 1956)

Or, as I like to think of it, "Mary Poppins goes to Hell". The song is actually about the titular old carousel needing a bit of lube to get it working again (and don't we all), but: come on. It's Julie Andrews riding down the River Styx in a boat made from the kneecaps of her enemies. Who said Switzerland was neutral? And it's not that it's a bad song (because it's not), it's just that like said rusty carousel, it goes round and round in circles instead of taking us on a journey. And I just can't with that unless it's a peppy mid-90s dance track. Suisse, cinq points.

#3. Messieurs les Noyés de la Seine (Fud Leclerc, Belgium 1956)

With a name like Fud Leclerc I'd contemplate drowning myself in the Seine too. Wouldn't you? There's no explanation of why Belgium actually sent a song about a depressed French hobo, but at least they made it sound appropriately Parisian, and I kind of love it? It's definitely my favourite of these opening seven songs, but frankly central European music of the 1950s really isn't my thing (not least of all because we won't actually get to the songs I was alive for until entry #585, the infamous "Bandido" from 1990), so take it with a pile of salt the size of Moldova. Belgique, dix points.

#4. Im Wartesaal zum Grossen Glück (Walter Andreas Schwarz, West Germany 1956)

It's lovely to see the tradition of Germany trolling Eurovision started so early in the contest's history. That's pretty much the only reason I can see for sending a song where everything but the chorus is spoken-word and where it can't decide whether it wants to be Pink Panther or Frere Jacques. Unfortunately, the end result is that it ends up somewhere around I'm Coming Home, which I think we can all agree is one of the lesser songs in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and yet that musical is so good throughout that almost anything that can be compared to it is going to come across poorly. Plus - and this may be because this contest is audio-only, but I suspect not - Schwarz just doesn't have the gravitas of Tim Curry. Also, the lyrics make precisely zero sense even by Eurovision's lax standards for coherency, and kind of come across as though Schwarz (who also wrote it) misheard the English expression "if wishes were fishes" as "if wishes were fishers" and decided it would be good to base an entire song around. Which: no, dear. Allemagne de l'Ouest, deux points.

#5. Le Temps Perdu (Mathé Altéry, France 1956)

I listened to this song (subject: the futility of waiting for someone at night when there are no belltowers ringing to demonstrate the passage of time) an hour ago and my ears still hurt trying to figure out what to say about it. It's the sort of song where I can't tell if the performance is just offkey or if it was legitimately supposed to be so sharp you could cut diamonds with it, but either way it's an actively painful way to spend three minutes, and now that I've done it I probably never will again. France, nul points.

#6. Ne Crois Pas (Michèle Arnaud, Luxembourg 1956)

It's much more apparent in later seasons that Eurovision is a socially liberal event, but the signs are present even in this first contest. In an era where women were still treated as submissive and a decade before bra-burning was even a thing, here we have an entry entirely about how beauty fades over time. More specifically, we have an entry about how MEN'S beauty fades over time, performed with the kind of upbeat excitement you'd expect from someone finally fighting back. It's simply delightful, and if the results of this contest were ever released (they didn't start showing the voting until the following year), I wouldn't be surprised to find out this finished second. Luxembourg, dix points.

#7. Aprite la Finestre (Franca Raimondi, Italy 1956)

Sometimes, there are songs that really don't merit much analysis. This is one of them. It's a pretty unremarkable deal about using the arrival of spring to get your creative juices flowing and so forth, with the requisite spring in its step. (So to speak.) And... I got nothing else. It's fine, but it's nothing particularly inventive or exciting or even notable. Solidly middle of the road. Italie, six points.


NEXT TIME: It's all just a little bit of history repeating.