Welcome back! In part 1 we saw that having a good song doesn’t necessarily equate to a Eurovision win. We also put forward the unorthodox viewpoint that Daz Sampson and Ricardo Autobahn are better songwriters than Diane Warren and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but can any of them trump Engelbert Humperdinck? Here’s the top ten…
10. SONIA – Better The Devil You Know (1993)
Sadly not the Kylie Minogue song, which would surely have trounced all-comers, but another former Stock/Aitken/Waterman protegée came close to triumphing with this fuel-injected rewrite of Love Games, cranking the Motown Shuffle generator up by several notches and taking the unusual approach of actually looking like she was having a good time. Writer Dean Collinson claimed the song was inspired by Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go but the energy of the performance pitched it closer to Wham!’s wilder farewell single The Edge Of Heaven. Held in what Nicholas Witchell described as “a cowshed in Ireland”, the 1993 contest took place at the peak of Ireland’s imperial phase, meaning that Sonia lost out to another of those Celtic ballads that everyone in Europe seemed to enjoy so much in the early ’90s. Funny it never occurred to us to try the same tactic.
9. GINA G – Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit (1996)
Having failed with hip hop lite the previous year, in 1996 we threw caution to the wind and entered a full-on techno anthem. Performed by flame haired Australian Gina G in an almost gynaecologically short mirrored dress, the song’s devastatingly simple “Ooh-aah” chorus needed no translation and sailed through the mysterious “pre-qualification” round, of which little is known. This prototype semi-final saw the 29 entrants whittled down to 22 who would compete against hosts Norway in the final, although the whittling was done in private by juries simply listening to the songs. Despite the cringeworthy title, Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit was our first entry to top the chart since Making Your Mind Up in 1981; the song’s appeal was so wide that it even reached number 12 in the US and was nominated for a Grammy. It was all in vain though as we finished a disappointing eighth in the contest, because it was the 1990s and we weren’t Ireland.
8. SWEET DREAMS – I’m Never Giving Up (1983)
Having trimphed with the two-girl, two-boy template in 1981 and failed with the one-girl, one-boy format in ’82, this year we compromised and sent two girls and one boy, with the added gimmick that they all had rhyming names: Carrie Gray, Helen Kray and Bobby McVay. In retrospect this may have been lost on the audience, but the song was another uptempo pop nugget with a memorable chorus and a stool-based dance routine Westlife would have killed for. The 1983 contest was hardly a classic, with Turkey and Spain tying for last place with no points, yet we still only managed to come sixth, a relative failure which spelled the end for our old school “pure pop” Eurovision entries; our next few attempts felt self-consciously modern and were equally unsuccessful. After the contest Sweet Dreams attempted to toughen up their image, releasing another single simply as “Dreams” without success, after which the group split. Bobby McVay went on to join Bucks Fizz while Carrie Gray married Linx singer David Grant, became a vocal coach and TV star and came full circle when she headed the UK jury for the 2014 contest.
7. THE ALLISONS – Are You Sure? (1961)
1961 was the year those awful tuneless rock & rollers finally managed to infiltrate the contest, with UK entrants The Allisons being marketed as a kind of British Everly Brothers (although they weren’t brothers, or even really called Allison). After the stiff grim-faced forced jollity of previous UK entrants such as Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, the Buddy Holly-esque Are You Sure? was a breath of fresh air. It was also the first UK entry to take on a life of its own outside the contest, reaching number 2 on the chart and becoming such a classic of the immediate pre-Beatles era that its Eurovision roots are now largely forgotten. Frustratingly though, the song couldn’t quite win the contest, leaving the UK runners-up for the third year in succession – we would finish second a total of five times before finally going all the way in 1967.
6. BUCKS FIZZ – Making Your Mind Up (1981)
Probably the UK’s best remembered Eurovision song, although its relentless chirpiness sits uneasily with some of Bucks Fizz’s more polished later hits, Making Your Mind Up always had “WINNER” written right through it like a stick of rock. The beat is relentless, the lyrics are positive without being particularly meaningful and the primary coloured presentation resembled a TV show for the under fives. On the night both the orchestral arrangement and the vocal mix sounded very peculiar, but once Mike and Bobby reached the line “If you wanna see some more” and deftly removed Jay and Cheryl’s skirts, the deal was sealed and the Fizz romped to victory. You wouldn’t be able to do it now, of course; not because of the inherent sexism of the routine but because the potential for wardrobe malfunction on live television is too great. Bucks Fizz went on to sell 15 million records and various permutations of the group still perform today, usually fully clothed.
5. FRANCES RUFFELLE – Lonely Symphony (1994)
Having almost cracked it with Michael Ball in 1992, we recruited his theatre contemporary (and Eliza Doolittle‘s mother) Frances Ruffelle for 1994’s entry. Another flag-waving, lighters-aloft anthem (with a subconscious nod towards Queen’s The Show Must Go On in the bridge), this should have romped home but was subjected to endless tinkering between selection and the contest itself. The arrangement, the backing vocals and even the title were changed; seemingly in an attempt to garner more votes from the newly independent countries in eastern Europe, by the night of the contest the song had become known simply as We Will Be Free (take that, Love City Groove with your not-in-the-lyrics song title!) and the new arrangement had stripped much of the power from the original version. Even the audacious key change at the start of the instrumental break seemed tame on the night. In the end we scored a handful of points from the former Soviet and Yugoslav nations but could only finish tenth; the misleadingly titled Irish entry Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids steamrollered everything else to give them an unprecedented third consecutive victory and the contest is really only remembered for introducing the world to Riverdance in the interval. Woo, Ireland.
4. JESSICA GARLICK – Come Back (2002)
In 2002 the UK finally decided to have a go with Ireland’s all-conquering heartfelt ballad approach. To this end we recruited Pop Idol contestant Jessica Garlick to sing this little beauty, all pregnant pauses and barely contained emotion, which she did admirably despite having had to rescue her outfit from an industrial shredding machine backstage. Come Back would almost certainly have beaten Ireland at their own game during their mid-’90s imperial phase, but in 2002 we had to be content with joint third while the spoils went to a dismal Latvian entry which adopted the old Bucks Fizz trick of removing items of clothing to reveal… other items of clothing. Even so, Come Back remains the UK’s most successful entry of the 21st century.
3. MICHAEL BALL – One Step Out Of Time (1992)
Adding a bit of dignity to proceedings after recent entries involving teenagers and future EastEnders stars, we decided that Michael Ball was going to sing our song before we even knew what the song was. At the time Ball was still a relative newcomer and the darling of the West End stage, having scored a number 2 hit three years before with Love Changes Everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects Of Love. Instead of a stuffy showtune, however, he was handed an energetic fist-pumper which he performed with great style, his powerful voice and cheeky grin winning over the judges – but Ireland had Johnny Logan in their corner writing their entry, so that was the end of that. Another agonising second place for the UK, not least for Michael who, when asked if he would consider competing again, replied “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.”
2. CO-CO – Bad Old Days (1978)
Remember I said Making Your Mind Up wasn’t the UK’s best Eurovision entry? Turns out it wasn’t even Cheryl Baker’s best Eurovision entry. Starting out as a mild mannered, syrupy love song seemingly performed by the Dooleys after a backstage explosion had destroyed their wardrobe, the gentle verse escalates as the orchestra sets us up for the massive, feelgood chorus which never arrives. Instead the song takes a sharp left turn into a minor key chorus which is only resolved in the last line, setting us up for another gentle verse in the manner of Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan in the backside and pretending nothing just happened. It’s a giant rollercoaster of a song, helped along by baffling lyrics like “Remember who walked into my life and put their foot inside my shoe” (so we’re looking for a one-legged footwear fetishist then) and a drummer bellowing the song’s title through a paper cone in lieu of hitting the drums. In retrospect it may have been a bit Pythonesque for the traditional Eurovision audience; it staggered home in 11th place, the first time the UK had ever finished outside the top ten. Despite this, Co-Co member Cheryl was headhunted for Bucks Fizz three years later and the rest is clothing removal history.
1. BARDO – One Step Further (1982)
To this day, grown men weep at the idea that Bardo could fail to win Eurovision. Not just our greatest Eurovision entry, One Step Further is one of the finest records of the 1980s; all social anxiety, strummed guitars and a huge grammatical faux-pas right at the death, even the great John Peel declared it his favourite Eurovision song. It’s a masterpiece of teenage angst, the two protagonists both hopelessly in love with each other but too shy to do anything about it (although they didn’t seem particularly shy in the dance routine). Despite being the bookies’ favourite to win the contest, it somehow managed to finish a hugely disappointing seventh – it may have been the unflattering orchestral arrangement (the synthy studio version is miles better), a protest at the UK’s involvement in the Falklands war, or just a big thumbs down to the clunking closing lyric (“I could’ve tooken one step further” – seriously, you were singing that for weeks and nobody thought to speak up?). Regardless, the single reached number 2 and the song remains the Eurovision connoisseur’s UK entry of choice, to the extent that Bardo even released a Best Of album in 2012.
So that’s the list, at least up until 2016 – victory in Stockholm may yet propel Joe & Jake further up the listings, but at least it’s not in the list of The UK’s Worst Eurovision Entries… I’ll let you know when that’s ready.