The Eurovision Song Contest has always been one of the year’s major events in my household, ever since I was young enough to believe that the voting was actually based on the quality of the songs rather than a desire to avoid being invaded. Every spring I would look forward to the thrill of the Song For Europe competition to choose our entry for the main event – and the inevitable crushing disappointment when the UK failed to get anywhere near the sharp end of the voting, or even worse, came second to the Irish entry again. Being familiar with most of our entries over the years (there’s a fair number of the late ’70s and early ’80s ones nestling in a box of 7″ singles in the cupboard somewhere), I’ve attempted to pick the best of them and put them in order, based not on their success in the contest or any kind of intangible “Eurovision factor”, but simply on how good the song was. Is it possible for a song to be too good to win the Eurovision Song Contest? Let’s see…
UPDATED! Thanks to some unusually astute public voting for Joe & Jake in 2016, Jade Ewen has been demoted to number 21. Sorry Jade. (Not sorry, Andrew Lloyd Webber.)
20. BELLE & THE DEVOTIONS – Love Games (1984)
Thrusting themselves upon an unsuspecting Luxembourg in 1984 with big, fluffy, suspiciously coloured hair, chunky jewellery and dayglo PVC clothes, Belle and her alleged Devotions screamed “futuristic” while performing a good old fashioned Motown shuffle. Poor old Belle has found out her bloke was just stringing her along and proceeds to call him out on it, while the Devotions supply the requisite number of “ooh baby baby”s in support. Awkwardly though, it was noted in rehearsal that the backing vocals were being supplied by a completely different set of singers off-stage – the Devotions’ mics weren’t even on. Such proto-Milli Vanilli trickery, combined with continued ill-feeling after English football hooligans had trashed Luxembourg the previous autumn, led to a less than rapturous reception on the night – there were even boos from some sections of the audience – and the song finished a disappointing 7th. The song briefly lumbered to number 11 in the chart but then Wham! released Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Love Games became surplus to requirements.
19. JOE & JAKE – You’re Not Alone (2016)
In 2011 it was decided that the British public could no longer be trusted to pick a winning song, and so they would have a song forced onto them by The Man instead. This, of course, led to a comedy of errors including the baffling assertion that Engelbert Humperdinck was an appropriate representative of the British music scene in 2012. After five years of such My Lovely Horse tomfoolery the BBC finally gave in and admitted that they had no idea how to win Eurovision either, so the blame was passed back to the viewers and the selection show was resurrected. For the first time the 2016 show was broadcast on the supposedly highbrow arts-related channel BBC Four – home of 35-year-old repeats of Top of the Pops and the only place it could really go since BBC Three had
closed “gone online only” earlier in the year – and the move upmarket produced this little beauty. After years of trading on tacky novelty songs or the last remnants of fondness for a once-successful act who hadn’t scored a hit in decades, You’re Not Alone actually sounded contemporary, with chiming Coldplay-style piano and acoustic guitar. The only thing that could hold it back was Joe’s appalling bum-fluff moustache.
18. LYNSEY DE PAUL & MIKE MORAN – Rock Bottom (1977)
Having swept the board the previous year with Brotherhood Of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me (a song recently released without charge after questioning by Operation Yewtree detectives) the UK was obliged to host the 1977 contest, which it did under duress while the country was crippled by double digit inflation and industrial unrest – the contest itself was delayed for a month due to a BBC strike. As punk began to rear its ugly, drooling head, the UK turned to singer-songwriters Lynsey De Paul and Mike Moran for a bit of social comment. “Where are we? Rock bottom/Tragedies, we got ’em,” lamented the duo, although clearly money wasn’t that tight as the BBC managed to procure two grand pianos from somewhere. On the night the song scored better than expected, the complete lack of anything resembling a chorus seemingly redeemed by the sight of Ronnie Hazlehurst dressed as a city gent, complete with bowler hat, conducting the orchestra with an umbrella. The BBC finance department must have held its breath and clenched its buttocks at the thought of having to do it all again next year as we received maximum points from six juries, but we eventually finished second behind France’s L’Oiseau Et L’Enfant, thanks largely to a big fat nul points from Ireland. Cheers, Ireland.
17. DAZ SAMPSON – Teenage Life (2006)
So apparently this was the end of civilisation as we knew it. The UK had entered a rap track into Eurovision. They were saying that old people were out of touch! Civilisations would fall, rival gangs would fight gun battles from opposite sides of the audience and the UK would be banished from Eurovision. Only not, because the rap verses were sweetened by a naggingly catchy chorus sung by a group of “schoolgirls” and the whole thing was actually rather loveable. Sampson was already a veteran of the dance music scene having been a member of late ’90s cover merchants Bus Stop while his musical partner and co-writer, the splendidly named Ricardo Autobahn, had been a member of the Cuban Boys who scored a novelty hit with Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia (aka the Hampster Dance song) in 1999. In the end the whole thing fell rather flat as this was the year that Lordi won the contest with Hard Rock Hallelujah and not even five grown women in schoolgirl uniforms could top that. Sampson later admitted that perhaps Eurovision wasn’t ready for a rap track. It could have been worse though, as the track was originally written for forty-seven piece rap collective Blazin’ Squad, whose appearance at the contest would have broken the “maximum number of people on stage” rule by some distance.
16. RYDER – Runner In The Night (1986)
Mullets, ponytails, synth drums and a singer in a royal blue suit with the sleeves rolled up date this entry almost to the week, never mind year. Runner In The Night looked and sounded like a concerted effort to drag the contest screaming into the ’80s; there was much consternation as the traditional orchestra was eschewed in favour of a band playing its own instruments. Sung by Maynard Williams, son of comic actor Bill Maynard, the song finished in seventh place and climbed to a mighty no. 98 position on the UK chart, setting a new record for the lowest chart position achieved by a UK Eurovision entry – a record it held until 2010 when Josh Dubovie’s disastrous That Sounds Good To Me charted at no. 179. This seems unfair as Runner In the Night turned out to be a driving power pop classic, with orchestral synth stabs in all the right places but – crucially – no key change, an oversight which surely condemned it to failure.
15. JAMES FOX – Hold On To Our Love (2004)
Still reeling from our first ever pointless finish the year before, 2004 seemed like a good point at which to take a step back. After three mid-table finishes over the turn of the century, 2002 saw the UK finish third with a ballad sung by a solo artist from a TV talent show. In 2003 we offered up Jemini with a complicated performance during which nothing seemed to be in key with anything else. Making the obvious move, for 2004 we returned to the previously successful formula and recruited Fame Academy contestant James Fox, strapped a guitar to him and let him go with this anthemic, lighters-in-the-air acoustic ballad. Unfortunately it was a particularly strong year, with three songs each receiving over 200 points, and James got a bit lost in the tide of tribal drumming, pan pipes and vaguely ethnic melodies that everyone else seemed to have entered. Fox managed to finish 16th, which seems disappointing but was a huge improvement over the previous year and wouldn’t be bettered for another five years.
14. LIVE REPORT – Why Do I Always Get It Wrong? (1989)
After a mid-’80s blip (1987’s Only The Light by Rikki had finished 13th, our lowest placing to date), the UK returned to our old favourite position – second place – in 1988 with Scott Fitzgerald’s overwrought ballad Go. Sensing a winning (or at least running-up) formula, 1989’s entry was another power ballad but with added extras – synths, synth drums, a bald man with a ponytail, a waxwork Paul McCartney on bass and a female keyboard player in a top hat. It could have done with a stronger ending than singer Ray Caruana repeating random lines from the earlier verses, but he offered up a powerful vocal and the song wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Michael Bolton album (in a good way). Frustratingly, despite receiving maximum points from five juries, we lost out to Yugoslavia by an agonising seven points. Caruana later switched allegiance and entered the Maltese heat for the 1994 contest, again finishing second, and is now apparently back on the scene after many years running a leather goods shop in Essex.
13. LOVE CITY GROOVE – Love City Groove (1995)
If Eurovision wasn’t ready for a rap track in 2006, it certainly wasn’t ready back in 1995. Nevertheless we dipped a toe in the water with this smooth swingbeat groove, using the same “rap the verses, sing the chorus” template that Daz Sampson would use a decade later. In fact this may have been our undoing, as on the night the chorus harmonies were somewhat less than perfect. Still, the energy of the performance carried Love City Groove through to tenth place and it became the first UK entry to reach the top ten singles chart since 1982, despite being our only entry ever to commit the ultimate sin of not having the title anywhere in the lyrics.
12. KATRINA & THE WAVES – Love Shine A Light (1997)
If you put everything you know about Eurovision winners into a blender and switched it on, Love Shine A Light is what would come out, although you would never believe it had been written by a former member of psychedelic post-punkers The Soft Boys. Kimberley Rew joined Katrina & The Waves after the Soft Boys split in 1981 and wrote their mammoth mid-’80s hit Walking On Sunshine, a hit the Waves had considerable trouble living up to. By the ’90s they were rock solid one hit wonders, never to be seen or heard from again until this chest-beating, arm-waving anthem scored points from every one of the 24 other countries involved (albeit Malta gave us a miserable single point) and thundered to a then-record 70 point victory over second-placed Ireland, who had won four of the previous five contests. Suddenly thrust back into the limelight twelve years after their only other top ten hit, the band promptly split up.
11. CLIFF RICHARD – Congratulations (1968)
The hot favourite to win the contest, written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter – writers of the UK’s first Eurovision winner Puppet On A String the previous year – and performed by no less a personage than Sir Clifford of Richard, this was already at number 3 in the chart on the day of the contest and couldn’t fail to win. Yet fail it did, beaten by a solitary point by Spain’s lyrically astonishing La La La. All sorts of conspiracy theories about how the vote had been rigged by Spanish state television so as not to embarrass General Franco are still put around to this day, but in all likelihood it was just down to bad luck and a primitive voting system. Most people still believe it won anyway, so does it really matter? Congratulations reached number 1 a week later and was used as the title of the contest’s 50th anniversary celebration event in 2005.
We’re halfway there. Time for a juggler or some idiots forming a human pyramid or other similar nonsense while the commercial broadcasters stick in an ad break. Come back later for the top ten!