It’s Eurovision time again, so here are seven Standard Issue writers on their favourite cheesy and not-so-cheesy tunes. OK, it’s eight. (We just couldn’t stop them.)
Nicole – A Little Peace
(Picked by Angela Barnes)
I was five years old when Eurovision 1982 took place. The UK entry that year was One Step Further by Bardo. Being a patriot (only a year earlier I’d waved my union flag at anyone who came near in honour of the Royal Wedding), I’d purchased the single.
Then something happened which rocked my patriotism to the core. A blonde German lady called Nicole took to the stage. She sat behind a white guitar that looked way too big for her. She was beautiful. Then she sang. And it was beautiful. It was gobbledegook (or ‘German’), but it didn’t matter. I was moved. I immediately switched allegiance from England to West Germany (not a fashionable choice, I grant you). She was singing Ein bisschen Frieden (A Little Peace).
A couple of years later, Auntie Joan bought me my first guitar. I sat behind it, looking comically small, just as Nicole had done. My guitar teacher asked me, are there any songs you would like to learn? My teacher hunted it down, no internet in 1984 my friends, and transcribed the chords.
And soon, I was sitting behind my guitar (sadly boring brown, my mum wouldn’t let me paint it white, though I had a plan to try with Tippex) in assembly strumming those chords in front of the whole school. I didn’t sing. I tried to in rehearsal, but my teacher pointed out that perhaps my voice was better for talking than singing. I didn’t want to go Rex Harrison style, so we roped in someone from school choir. It played to blank and uninterested faces, but I was the nearest I’d ever get to being beautiful Nicole that day.
Skip forward five years, to secondary school. I had to choose between studying Spanish or German. No brainer. Jetzt, liebe ich Deutsch zu sprechen. Danke schoen Nicole, danke schoen.
Jemini – Cry Baby
(Picked by Sooz Kempner)
When Eurovision songs are good they’re….quite good. When they’re bad they are glorious. My favourite Eurovision moment is the UK’s 2003 entry, which has the distinction of being the only UK entry in history to score nil points and the only English language song to do the same. The song itself manages to be both bland and ear-splittingly irritating. The toe-curlingly repetitive chorus will get your goat in a way that Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit never could and the bizarre use of Spanish guitar will have you scratching your head until you’re bald.
As for the performance itself, I believe the singers should get a special award for the astonishing feat of managing to be a full semitone sharp from start to finish. Believe me, that’s tough. I’m not interested in good Eurovision. I’m only interested in bad, weird Eurovision and that’s why Jemini’s Cry Baby will always hold a special place in my heart.
Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom
(Picked by Sophie Scott)
The 1970s are a foreign country: they do light entertainment differently there.
The Eurovision song contest has gone through several different tonal varieties, from a current successful engine for pop music to a source of endless high-camp humour in the 1990s. Back in the 1970s, however, the whole event was drenched in an atmosphere of sophisticated seriousness.
The 1977 contest took place in London, as the UK won in 1976 with Save Your Kisses For Me (where the big reveal is that the kisses are from a CHILD). The audience have apparently stopped off on their way to a casino in Monaco – the women are in long frocks and the men wear bow ties and everything is resolutely un-Woganifed. They all look like they have stepped out an advert for Martini.
Light relief is provided by Ronnie Hazelhurst (!) appearing in a suit and bowler hat and conducting the orchestra with an umbrella, because British. Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran’s song came second, and while the verse is ridiculously catchy – where are we? Rock bottom. Tragedies? We gottem – the refrain is a more leaden ‘rock, rock, rock bottom, rock, rock, rock bottom’. They were also physically compromised by their back-to-back piano-playing positions, which severely limited the dynamism of the performance, de Paul’s charisma notwithstanding.
Most striking is the extent to which the song is specifically referencing the wider economic situation: Inflation stood at 70% over three years, there were votes of no confidence in Parliament, there was ongoing and severe problems in the industrial sectors and the Eurovision song contest itself was nearly cancelled due to budget restrictions. Sound familiar? Make mine a large Martini.
It’s messy, we understand. You adore them. Cheryl, Jay, Mike and Bobby – Britain’s very own budget ABBA. They arrived, just as you were done with Rod, Jane & Freddy and led you safely by the hand to the Top of the Pops studio. You are thankful, not least because their Eurovision-winning appearance has provided you with solid, achievable, wedding-disco dance routines since 1981.
But no need for a YouTube visit to find the sticking place… It’s the skirts, isn’t it? How can the grown-up, feminist you reconcile your joy at their victory with those skirts? Or rather the removal of them. Wasn’t that – in those nod-nod-wink-wink, grope-your-arse 1980s – the real key to their win?
But more than that, the idea for that particular move came not from a tenuous link with the lyric “wanna see some more”. It came from Cheryl and Jay arguing about what length of skirt to wear that night. The stripping was a compromise. And you can’t help but see that as one huge, primary-coloured metaphor for being a woman. As you drunkenly tug at your Karen Millen dress on the dancefloor at cousin Dave’s wedding and playfully pretend to whisk it away.
Michael Ball – One Step Out of Time
(Picked by Hazel Davis)
Ah, 1992. All in, one of the worst years of my entire life. GCSE Year, The Year Of No Friends. The year I lost my virginity in a Strood semi to someone who copied out the word Ibid. in a Valentine’s card quote.
It was also the year we came second (second!) in the Eurovision song contest with One Step Out of Time by Michael Ball. I’d been a secret (before it was ironically cool) Eurovision obsessive for years, taping every entry and learning the words (Oh yeah, I reckon hearing Fångad av en Stormvind blaring out from my windowsill ghettoblaster probably DEFINITELY helped my teenage popularity).
And through the trauma of being in my mid-teens, I’d carried a pretty intense passionate torch for Michael Ashley Ball. Lovely, dimply, curly Michael Ball. Though I have never actually seen them in the flesh (YET), his dimples offered hope, love, a way out of the Medway mudflats. And, while my greasy, dour, subculture demeanour should have signified an allegiance to Kurt Cobain, I could regularly be found in my bedroom (very slowly) rocking out to the post-Yuppie strains of Holland Park*, track three on his debut album Michael Ball (Polydor) and totally where I SHOULD have lost my virginity. To him. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d come second then, either. Fnar. The album also featured One Step Out of Time, in a miraculous symbiosis of the only two good things that had EVER happened to me; Eurovision and Ball.
Anyway, it turns out (ahem) 23 years later, the song was really fucking terrible and utterly beggars belief that it was allowed through Swedish customs at all, let alone to come second (second!).
Sonia – Better the Devil You Know
(Picked by Susan Hanks)
When thinking about Eurovision, I instantly recall how much I loved the cheesy pop sound of Sonia’s Better the Devil You Know. For me it has an innocence in its ‘50s-esque chord sequencing that I adore. It hits the ‘not supposed to be cool’ nail on the head and envelopes me in memories of mics substituted by hairbrushes and dance moves that consisted mainly of a side-to-side step with the occasional finger clicks. Wonderful. And I think I’m nine years old again.
Except I wasn’t. My research leads me to discover that I was, in fact, 13 years of age in 1993 when the flame-haired scouser represented the UK. Gosh.
I’m turning a shade of scarlet that would clash severely with Sonia’s barnet and coming to terms with this being a contributing factor to why I sometimes ate my sandwiches alone in the library at school. Golly gosh.
If Eurovision is about celebrating old-school style, I promise you faithfully that I’ll eat my tea in front of the telly without any friends and lacquer my hair until it’s stiffer than Terry Wogan’s gin and tonic was back in the day and mutter, “They don’t make records like they used to.” After all, it is better the devil you know, isn’t it?
Teach-In – Ding-a-Dong (Ding Dinge Dong)
(Picked by Jane Hill)
The 1974 Eurovision song contest, held in Brighton and won by Abba, might be remembered as the best contest of all time. But the best Eurovision song of all time came from the following year.
Ding-a-Dong by Teach-In (Ding Dinge Dong in the original Dutch) is so insanely catchy that it managed to win despite being the first performed on the night. It has the key Eurovision elements: a glockenspiel, a chorus whose tune goes down the scale, a nonsensical title in the tradition of La La La and Boom Bang A Bang.
In that first post-Abba year, when Eurovision was actually cool, the Dutch band are groovy and hip. But bear with me as I get pretentious and explain that there’s more to its success than that.
The French essayist Henry de Montherlant, who shot himself in the head after swallowing cyanide, said, “Happiness writes white.” It’s an aphorism often quoted to explain why a bit of misery improves a song no end. Happiness is intrinsically boring. That’s where songwriters Dick Bakker, Will Luikinga and Eddy Ouwens show their genius. Ding-a-Dong may sound like a uplifting slice of pure happiness. But is it?
Listen again. It’s in a minor key. And examine those lyrics – “Even when your lover is gone, gone, gone/Sing ding-ding-dong.” That hint of sadness is the grit in the oyster, the thorn on the rose, the smiling through the tears that makes Ding-a-Dong a thing of profound beauty.
Or maybe they were all just completely out of their skulls on dope.
Jedward – Lipstick
(Picked by Claire Goodwin)
There is actually no more apt a place for Jedward to be than Eurovision. Ridiculous? Check. Tone deaf? Check. More budget for costume than music? Check. Actual belief in themselves even though everyone else is very much feeling fairly uncomfortable and embarrassed by them? Check.
My dad believes that a Eurovision song will only win if it has the ‘bibbidy bobbedy’ factor. It’s quite scientific. Gets your feet tapping, gives you an earworm, glues you with incredulity as much as admiration, that sort of thing. And that is just what the two puppets of Universal gave us. There wasn’t a boom-bang-a-bang in earshot, but there were da-da-dums and lots of “hey hey hey!” And I hope the lyricist was being ironic by including the line “no appetite for delusion” in this masterpiece tailored for the delightful John and Edward (which I assume passed them by).
The full package – dreadful words, singing, choreography and outfits – gives us a fairly robust Eurovision entry. And the fact that there are two eejits fronting it means that it is uncomfortably addictive to watch and listen to (eejits whom I secretly long to be two very clever boys – men? Are they in their 40s now?), owing to the fact they have made lots of money out of being very, very stupid.
Da da dum hey hey hey!
Those songs on the list which are on Spotify can be listened to at our Eurovision playlist here:
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.