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.

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