This month sees the 56th Eurovision song contest take place. In honour of the event, Jan Götz from the highly informative Eurocovers blog takes us back to the golden years of the contest, with six Eurovision-related picks from the 1960s.
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Eurovision and the girl singers from the 1960s: sounds like a marriage made in heaven. But Eurovision never really caught up with what was cool back then. Somehow it remained stuck in balladerie and if any Ready Steady Girls took part, their songs often tended to be on the infantile side, mostly written with a contest win in mind. Tom Pillibi, Puppet on a string, Boom bang-a-bang, Bonjour bonjour – they’re all a bit silly, and far away from the artists’ best work.
There was little place for naughty, sexy or liberated women in Eurovision. The dresses may have been short, but they were just a bit too frilly and pink to be provocative. The themes were mainly about saying hello, flowers and springtime rather than desire, boys or, God forbid, sex. The main exceptions are, of course, the entries written by Serge Gainsbourg for France Gall and Minouche Barelli.
Fast forward to 2011. The Düsseldorf show will have girls, though maybe not as many as in the old days. There are rock chicks and dance divas, while another doll sings about how she loves Belarus, plus there’s a token ‘boom boom’ girl and even a ‘ding dong’ (courtesy of Dana International). German title defender Lena works a similar mock innocence to that of girl singers such as France Gall and Françoise Hardy. But the one for 1960s fans to look out for is the Serbian entry by Nina. She presents herself in full retro gear and her song Čaroban/Magical is a throwback to Paris of the 1960s via the Style Council of the 1980s, and a lovely song to boot.
Absent pour raisons d’amour
Petula Clark would have been the dream Eurovision entrant for the UK (or Luxembourg for that matter). But it never happened. Eurovision singers and 1960s pop stars often recorded their songs in a multitude of languages. Petula Clark was one of them, recording numerous EPs in French – and there’s one in particular that has a Eurovision twist. On 1967’s La dernière valse is a track titled Absent pour raisons d’amour, written by Jean Renard and Frank Gerald. This song is more or less the original version of a later Eurovision entry, J'ai déjà vu ça dans tes yeux, by American actress Jeane Manson (Luxembourg’s entry in 1981). For the Eurovision song Jean Renard remained the composer, and he added extra melody line to the song. Naughty Jean wouldn’t have got away with a trick like this in the modern days of the internet and all that.
I need you my love
Here’s a singer I don’t know much about, but this is a lovely song all the same. Jette Ziegler was a Danish singer who also tried for success in Germany. Not uncommon for Nordic singers: Gitte, Siw Malmkvist and Wencke Myhre all made quite a good career for themselves with their German work. Jette Ziegler, who had been a child actress, was not so lucky, as she seems to have disappeared into oblivion. She recorded three versions of the 1964 Spanish Eurovision entry, Caracola: one Danish, one German and one English. The latter is here as I need you my love, which appeared on the B-side of her single Over the rainbow. The track has a distinctly American feel to it.
Non piangerò per un’ altra
Another singer who needs no introduction is Britain’s Kathy Kirby. [Sad news: Kathy died of a suspected heart attack on 19 May 2011. Ed.] She was one of the 1960s entrants who had a whole A song for Europe show to herself. Most of the six songs making up the 1965 British final were written by well-known pop writers. The British went for the safe and inoffensive I belong, which ended up a respectable second place behind France Gall. The contest was in Naples, Italy, and that may have inspired Kathy and other contestants to record Italian versions of their Eurovision songs. I belong became Tu sei con me and on the B-side of the single there’s Non piangerò per un’ altra, the Italian rendition of I’ll try not to cry, her A song for Europe runner up.
I can’t go on living without you
1969’s A song for Europe was an all-Lulu event. Somehow her six songs ended up in order of silliness rather than quality, leaving the best song of the lot finishing last. I can’t go on living without you was written by the then practically unknown Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The song was recorded by Lulu, Polly Brown and also by Sandie Shaw. Sandie’s version wasn’t issued at the time of recording, but it found its way to the four-CD box Nothing comes easy, released in 2004. You gotta love Sandie. Her early body of work may be overshadowed by Puppet on a string, but she had some cool (and also some corny) hits in the 1960s and she put out some great stuff in the 1980s too.
Ge dig till tals
The blonde one out of ABBA. Way before joining the supergroup, Agnetha was Sweden’s number one girl singer. After scoring a chart topper with the self-penned Jag var så kär (I was so in love) at 17, she became a household name in Sweden. She scored hit after hit with melancholy ballads about young heartbreak as well as uptempo songs about frolicking in the Swedish fields in summer. Although she was a remarkable songwriter herself, the track here is a cover of one of Lulu’s A song for Europe entries from 1969. Are you ready for love becomes Ge dig till tals and it was released on Agnetha’s second LP, the aptly titled Agnetha Fältskog vol 2.
A Eurovision song that is potentially a perfect 1960s girl pop tune for me is Playboy, the Finnish 1966 entry by Ann Christine (Nyström). It’s a tale about how a self-obsessed player with his fancy car is not what our Ann Christine is looking for. It would have been a hit for any known British or German singer, but Ann Christine is from Finland, and the Finns never really made an impact on the 1960s European pop charts. Ann Christine did record an English version of Playboy, but it didn’t help put Finland on the pop map.