A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
There is always some matter to discuss or just a song I want to share
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tobson's Winners: 2001 - 2005

After relatively successful years, commercially speaking, and a big breakthrough in terms of production and ratings with the 2000 final, the ESC was still up for a few years of unplain sailing.

The winners of 2001 and 2002 were commercial flops, and the problem with corrupt voting figures (as countries had started to trade points in the mid-90's to avoid relegation) was still very present.

Also, the ratings suffered in the countries that got relegated. In Finland, where interest in the ESC had always been strong, the ratings were reduced to nothing after being out every second year since 1994.

So the EBU took action - all televotes started to go to a central switchboard in Cologne, so that the official scrutineers had full control over the numbers presented during the final.

And - in 2004, the ESC changed dramatically, as the semi final was introduced. Now every interested country could take part every year, and in retrospect, this move seems to have consolidated the popularity of eurovision. At least for the time being.

2001 - France

Natasha St Pier - Je n'ai que mon âme (France 2001)

Disaster comes quickly, when DR follows up the slick, elegant and modern production of 2000 with a monster contest where staging the biggest contest ever matters more than anything else.

Also, the songs lined up for the 2001 contest could, on average, be the weakest bunch since the mid-60's or so.

At least France decided to deliver again after some lean years, and sent in a great song - rather reminiscent of "Pour que tu m'aimes encore" and similar recent pop hits in French - with a Canadian star in the making.

Thanks to TF1 picking the song up (rather than any effort from participating broadcaster France3), the song became the biggest commercial success to come out of Eurovision in France since "White And Black Blues" eleven years before.

The live performance doesn't quite do the song justice, but the recorded version is top crop.

Real winner:
Dave Benton & Tanel Padar - Everybody (Estonia)

2002 - Finland

Laura - Addicted To You (Finland 2002)

After a span of unsuccessful entries, often more aiming at being liked rather than trying to communicate anything of lasting importance, Finland selected an entry that felt fresh, relevant and inspired.

2002 was a hard field to crack. The general level of songs being quite alright, but with many songs sounding very much the same, trapped in an updated disco landscape, sharing the available points between them.

Despite being hailed as one of the favourites, Laura Voutilainen crashed and burned on a pale 20th place, behind many lesser songs. This was nothing new for Finland, but the feeling that the voting had been anything but fair left a bitter taste.

Looking at the scoreboard, some countries are obviously trading points with each other, some others are obviously voting tactically to keep other favourites down. The EBU stepped in, did what had to be done and took control over the voting process.

If not, who knows what it would have taken to restore the audience's faith in the voting.

Real winner:
Marie N - I wanna

2003 - Turkey

Sertab Erener - Everyway That I Can (Turkey 2003)

After two musically lean years, Riga offered fresh winds and a more daring collection of songs again. More surprises, new musical directions. Exactly what the contest needed.

Even better then that Europe favoured a variety of different styles and the final top ten had ballads, humour, radio pop, latin pop, rock anthems, world music, punk pop... and a very Oriental winner.

For the first time ever, Eurovision decided to give thumbs up to an exotic praline and Turkish superstar Sertab Erener won the title after a nailbiting finish, where Belgium looked like the winner up until the last country cast its vote.

Of course Turkey was the right winner - a dancefloor stomper, a commercial hit and a clear departure in a new direction for the ESC.

Real winner:
Sertab - Everyway That I Can (Turkey)

2004 - Serbia & Montenegro

Željko Joksimović & Ad Hoc Orchestra - Lane moje (Serbia & Montenegro 2004)

The first Serbian eurosong for 2004 was well worth waiting for - anthemic, majestic, hypnotic. Very well sung, very well performed.

Željko has been back as composer as well as host of the entire show, but never has he left quite such an impression as he did this time.

Despite being another slightly weaker year, there are still quite a few really good classics in the running. But Lane moje blows them all away. Should have won by a mile.

Real winner:
Ruslana - Wild Dance (Ukraine)

2005 - Iceland

Selma - If I Had Your Love (Iceland 2005)

Oh, how the ESC can mess with your head. From the first time I heard Selma's comeback entry, I was sure Iceland had a good placing coming.

I thought it was modern, intriguing, haunting and very, very catchy. But what did that help? When the last envelope was opened in the semi final it read "Latvia". Not "Iceland".

Team Selma had a fall-out with the production team shortly before the semi, something that surely disturbed everyone more than a bit. The live performance isn't perfect and the choreography doesn't quite work.

But still. How a fantastic entry like this one can miss the final is beyond me.

It would take a few years before the semi final worked up enough ratings for the results to be representative rather than just a fancy lottery. Having two semis instead of just the one also helped a lot.

But I doubt that made Selma any happier.

Real winner:
Helena Paparizou - My Number One (Greece)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tobson's Winners: 1996 - 2000

And then, unexpectedly, the contest started gaining in popularity again. Entries started finding their way back into the charts, more people watched, and Eurovision suddenly seemed capable of launching careers again.

Behind the scenes, this should have not been a greater surprise to anyone as some EBU members, Germany above all, decided to have a final stab at the old event before abandoning it for good.

We will never know how close it was that the ESC was discontinued in the mid 90's. 1995 would have been a logical last year - celebrate the 40th anniversary and then let the old ship sink.

But the ESC was destined to go on. And now the only way was up.

1996 - Estonia

Maarja-Liis Ilus & Ivo Linna - Kaelakee hääl (Estonia 1996)

It was very exciting times, when a small ex-Soviet republic with no reputation in the world and rather a different language suddenly found itself one of the top favourites for victory.

It didn't win, but it beat the big hot favourite, Gina G from the UK, and it was recorded in a few cover versions around the continent. All in all a very pleasant little package, most sympathetic and very easy to like.

And I'm still hoping for Maarja's grand retun to the Eurovision stage, to better her fifth place.

Real winner:
Eimear Quinn - The Voice (Ireland)

1997 - Iceland

Paul Oscar - Minn hinsti dans (Iceland 1997)

1997 is not only a very strong year. It was like waking up from a long sleep - after so many years of slowly collapsing, the ESC came on like a flash out of the dark.

Suddenly there were pop song, modern rhythms, thought-through stage acts, songs with hit potential... And the epitome of this new world was the entry of Iceland. Modern, provocative and knocked out over a white leather sofa.

Pretty tame compared to many of the acts that were to follow, but back in the day Paul Oscar walked in like a one-man-version of the French revolution. Even if I love many of the entries of 1997 with a deep passion, nothing quite sums up the esprit of the year like this number.

Also, far too much for the juries, but embraced by the televoters. The next year, the juries would be gone. Not a minute too soon.

Real winner:
Katrina & The Waves - Love Shine A Light

1998 - Croatia

Danijela - Neka mi ne svane (Croatia 1998)

1998 saw the grand exit of the juries - and the grand introduction of televoting. That, plus the relative success of some more television-friendly performances the year before, lead to a line-up including quite a few really strong songs.

Some things proved too difficult for the televoters to grasp on a first listening: the beautiful Slovakia waltz, the Polish pop and the Leonard Cohen-esque debut entry of FYR Macedonia, for instance.

The winner was the only credible choice, though. The only way to go. A colourful performer with an evident chorus, set to hit the charts. Maybe the UK could have pulled the same thing off, possibly Dutch Edsilia could have achieved something.

But the one for me is Danijela and her mega-chorus, dramatic verse and huge key change. One of the few songs that can make me see the point of having the orchestra, which was about to vanish as well.

Real winner:
Dana International - Diva (Israel)

1999 - Estonia

Evelin Samuel & Camille - Diamond Of Night

At the time, I favoured the likes of Cyprus and Croatia, with Selma from Iceland as my sky-high favourite. Unfortunately, the Cypriot chick couldn't carry her tune, and Selma's song aged badly.

Croatia is still a real party song, but it is the Estonian ballad that really does it for me. Sweet, enchanting and spellbindning.

By far, my favourite violin through eurovision history.

Real winner:
Charlotte Nilsson - Take Me To Your Heaven (Sweden)

2000 - Turkey

Pinar Ayhan & The SOS - Yorgunum anla (Turkey 2000)

I must admit that Sweden's victory in 1999 didn't enthuse me - it was something old-fashioned at a time when eurovision needed modern and forward.

But Sweden gave us forward and modern in 2000, when playing host, offering the real start of the ESC the way we see it today. Modern, fast-moving, progressive. And, as a lucky break, most countries played ball and sent in great entries.

Russia, Estonia and Latvia all fulfilled the youthful pop vibe, Denmark the more mature pop vibe and most of the others provided entertainment value aplenty.

But the quirky tune from Turkey is my song. A song to belt out in the shower or dance along to on the tram as it plays in your headphones. A song to love.

In a world that was fair, Pinar Ayhan would be a super star. But Turkey still had some way to go before they would conquer the ESC.

Real winner:
Olsen Brother - Fly On The Wings Of Love

Tobson's Winners: 1991 - 1995

Seriously, there had been some downhill ever since the early 80's, as commercial success started to evade the contenders. The winners didn't necessarily have any serious impact on the charts around Europe, not to mention that fewer and fewer of the non-winners found success internationally (or domestically).

But in the early 90's, the downhill turned into free falling. The contest failed to attract modern sounds and new styles, and, added the juries' clear inability of finding commercial winners, Eurovision soon turned into a big has-been of an event.

Some countries still wanted to win it and host it, some countries made the sporadic effort to modernise and update their national selections, but the ratings were dropping to all time lows in most countries.

Ireland's win-athon, with four victories in five years, did nothing to improve things. When a country like Ireland failed to chart internationally with their winners, what could countries like Switzerland, Greece or Belgium hope for?

However, the thing that would eventually save the old contest came in through a back door, not being hugely popular at the time. But with the new countries, "the Eastern bloc", came a real breathe of fresh air and a will to keep the ESC alive.

1991 - Greece

Sophia Vossou - Anixi (Greece 1991)

More of a monument than a simple song, this elegant creation with its delicate verses and explosive verses is an evergreen in Greece. On home ground, they can not still quite grasp how it didn't fare better than 13th.

I can only agree. What were the juries thinking? (And did the Greek delegation give the saxophone player the beating he deserved after ruining his solo like that, or did they let him get away?)

Greece really made an effort in the early 90's before realising nothing was to come out of it, that the juries would never go their way, and threw in the towel.

Real winner:
Carola - Fångad av en stormvind (Sweden)

1992 - Greece

Kleopatra - Olou tou kosmou i elpida (Greece 1992)

1992 does in no way offer the strongest line-up ever, but it does offer more quality Greek drama than any other year. In fact, my personal runner-up this year is the very intense delivery Evridiki did for Cyprus.

But the Greek entry is again like a modernised tragedy with a drum beat, Kleopatra is like a Medea with a taste for Bond themes.

Elegant, convincing and, above all, catchy and very modern-sounding compared to most songs in competition. Not unimportant during these years.

Real winner:
Linda Martin - Why Me?

1993 - Norway

Silje Vige - Alle mine tankar (Norway 1993)

A soft little ballad with a bouzouki flavour was not what the contest needed at this time, really.

The best move would have been if one of the two really modern entries could have won. If the Spanish rap-sprinkled pop fest would have sounded as updated as it wanted to. If Dutch Ruth Jacott could have been a bit more easily accessible.

But Silje Vige's soft little plea for love (of the very platonic kind girls only want when their fathers wrote their lyrics) is so pretty that I shiver and go to pieces a bit.

Nothing short of wonderful.

Real winner:
Niamh Kavanagh - In Your Eyes

1994 - Poland

Edyta Górniak - To nie ja! (Poland 1994)

The year when Ireland completed its famous (infamous?) hat-trick and scored its third consecutive win, there were a couple of other winners that would steal the thunder from the Rock'n'roll Kids.

Riverdance, of course. The spectacular interval act that set out to conquer the world in its own right.

But also the countries from the East. Seven of them were let into competition, after a few years of EBU hesitation.

They were all to mark the future of the ESC in many ways, and on this first edition three of them impressed Europe and made top ten. Russia ninth, Hungary fourth and Poland second.

Of course, the Polish Mariah Carey should have won with her powerful chorus and flawless delivery. But Eurovision wasn't ready just yet.

Real winner:
Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan - Rock'n'roll Kids (Ireland)

1995 - Poland

Justyna - Sama (Poland 1995)

Poland really gave eurovision their best during the 90's. Few countries sent in entries as headstrong, as obstinate, as original.

Justyna was a real shocker of an entrant, opening the 1995 contest with her odd mixture of a beat, weird strings and high-pitched notes. A Swedish tabloid described it like "a Björk track played in reverse".

Complete with a dark set of lyrics full of doom, depression and Catholic imagery, this was the very opposite of what a eurosong should sound like in the mid-90's.

Poland sent it in anyway, convinced that quality would bring them success in the end. What they got was 15 points and an eighteenth place.

Well done, juries.

Real winner:
Secret Garden - Nocturne (Norway)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tobson's Winners: 1986 - 1990

For me, personally, these five years are the most important in Eurovision history. Possibly not the best. I can't tell. I know them by heart, the songs and the performances, I grew up with these songs.

Even the bad ones feel like old friends. I can understand them, explain their weaknesses. Like them a little bit anyway. Forgive them for not being masterpieces.

It also makes picking out favourites even harder. It is like selecting one favourite among your children. Almost.

What I am trying to say is that for every favourite picked in this chapter, there are several other candidates close behind in the running. One day I will dissect these years in detail here on the blog.

But now for my personal winners.

1986 - Germany

Ingrid Peters - Über die Brücke geh'n (Germany 1986)

1986 offers one of my favourite selection of entries ever. Here is a wide range of styles and moods, many really good choruses and a heap of really good performances.

Switzerland and Luxembourg offer very strong songs, Turkey is a real gem, Portugal has a great pop number, France and Norway are fun, Yugoslavia is tender and the list goes on.

But this German song is like a wonder of elegance and craftmanship. It has a large and breezy sound, it has a very strong handle of a chorus and it is brilliantly sung by Ingrid Peters.

In retrospect, the lyrics are also touching, as a love song between the "two Germanys" to build a bridge, to understand each other and to have a peek over the wall.

Less than four years later the wall would crack down, and you could see right through it.

Real winner:
Sandra Kim - J'aime la vie (Belgium)

1987 - Turkey

Seyyal Taner & Lokomotif - Sarkim sevgi üstüne (Turkey 1987)

Another year bursting full of personal favourites. Belgium, Italy, Yugoslavia, Finland, Cyprus, Spain, Norway... the list is neverending.

But the Turks knock the socks off everyone. Mainly because they were really doing what I have already pinpointed as my favourite asset: they do their thing without trying to be loved by everyone.

They were loved in Brussels throughout the week, seen as a possible surprise act, appearing on stage like a musical thunderstorm, breaking every rule concerning how you should sound, look and act on the eurovision stage.

That earned them a big fat zero in the end. Not one of the twenty-one juries considered this entry worthy of a single point. Even the famously neutral SVT commentator made a remark how strange he found that verdict.

If you were different during the late 80's, the juries would punish you. These days, standing out from the rest is an asset. I like the new world order better.

Real winner:
Johnny Logan - Hold Me Now (Ireland)

1988 - Luxembourg

Lara Fabian - Croire (Luxembourg 1988)

Out of these five years, I find 1988 to be a somewhat weaker edition compared to the others. Anyhow, there are a few songs that are absolute top class. Like Israel. Like Turkey.

And like Luxembourg, introducing Lara Fabian, in a few years time set to be a huge household name in the entire French-speaking world.

This is an attempt at the classical French ballad again, the kind that would just walk in and floor all competition. But despite being powerful and lyrical, it didn't quite make it all the way.

She was beaten by another icon to be of French song, Céline Dion. Her career needed the victory more, as it apparently opened doors for her American career. But Lara's song is stronger. My winner.

Real winner:
Céline Dion - Ne partez pas sans moi (Switzerland)

1989 - Italy

Anna Oxa & Fausto Leali - Avrei voluto (Italy 1989)

I almost had to call this a tie in the end. How can I judge which one is better, this one or Finland? And then we have Turkey a very close third. And Spain a very close fourth.

But there is a raw, untamed energy and wrath in this song that I find overwhelming. Also this one breaks out from the eurovision formula in a nice way that proved a bit too much for the juries.

But the juries have possibly never been less up to the task than in 1989. They hardly do a single thing right, the entire voting is a mess. The final result is a farce.

Yugoslavia won with a happy song, but hardly their most convincing effort ever. More commercial songs, like Sweden, Austria and Germany, were left behind. When the winning team is welcomed on stage, the audience gives them a glacial reception with no cheers and no applause.

Rather a revealing image of where the ESC was heading for the next couple of years.

Real winner:
Riva - Rock Me (Yugoslavia)

1990 - Israel

Rita - Shara barechovot (Israel 1990)

Late 1989 had shaken Europe and by 1990, the landscape looked different. New times with no possibilities, and maybe this made the juries a bit braver again.

They did favour more classical songs like Ireland and Iceland, sure, but also gave high points to daring choices like France and Spain.

However, the demanding and experimental pop lament from Israel prooved too much and Rita landed the second worst result of the Jewish state until then. It does take a few listenings, admittedly, and maybe the juries simply didn't have the time to break into it fully.

But this is a lovingly crafted little masterpiece of a song, belted out with gusto and conviction. Maybe not the song you whistle in the shower the next day, but a very fine piece of pop art.

Real winner:
Toto Cutugno - Insieme: 1992

Tobson's Winners: 1981 - 1985

Now we are quickly approching the times that formed my idea of what Eurovision was and what it was supposed to sound like.

The first ESC I know I saw at least fragments of is 1983. The night of ESC 1984 was spent at my uncle's and as he had no functioning tv set, I had to content myself with the radio broadcast. Then we came home in time for the voting, so I remember seeing my native Sweden win.

In 1985 and 1986, I was allowed to sit up until Sweden had performed, then it was time for bed. And 1987 was the first year I saw in full.

My ideas of these years and songs have been formed through cover versions on tape, the odd newspaper article I happened to come across and very fluid memories from here and there.

And then, when I finally saw the live versions, I had to change my mind. Again and again. My old ideas and likes and dislikes crashed into what I really saw and heard. And if I was the judge now, these are my winners.

1981 - Portugal

Carlos Paião - Playback (Portugal 1981)

I admit that this is a pretty odd choice. But 1981 is a pretty odd year. It contains a handful of real pearls mixed up with a whole bunch of mediocre songs that are not really bad (not a single song is outright bad in 1981) but that fail to make a difference.

This portuguese piece of plastic pop surely makes a difference. It is obnoxious, repetitive, pokes fun at showbiz in general and is performed in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion by Carlos and his strutting backing vocalists.

I love the entries that come to Eurovision not craving to be loved. A great portion of attitude and a distinct will to be different is more than enough for me.

Real winner:
Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up (United Kingdom)

1982 - Spain

Lucia - El (Spain 1982)

Provocation seems to go down well in my list. At the time, this had a pretty distinct taste of politics, aimed at the host country.

But provocation alone is boring. The urge to do something different in a contest that was turning more and more streamlined is a far more interesting trait.

And this song may be political, but it is also furious, tempestuous, sexy and funny. Again, completely lacking a will to kiss up and be gentle and loveable.

The european juries wanted a little peace but I'd rather like a bit of tango.

Real winner:
Nicole - Ein bisschen Frieden (Germany)

1983 - Luxembourg

Corinne Hermès - Si la vie est cadeau (Luxembourg 1983)

The last real outburst of The Classic French Ballad, up until this point crushingly superior to most genres in the ESC but now rapidly losing in strength.

Other winds were blowing, other tempos climbed the charts, other moods hit home better with the audience. But once Corinne Hermès stepped onto that stage in Munich, it was as if nothing had ever happened and that a big ballad in French would always beat everything else.

The French ballad wouldn't sink away over night, there would be more songs of this kind. In 1988 and 1993, Luxembourg and Switzerland would actually place rather high with this kind of song.

But the era was over. And what a worthy ending, with one of the strongest and most elegant winning songs ever.

Real winner:
Corinne Hermès - Si la vie est cadeau (Luxembourg)

1984 - Italy

Alice & Franco Battiato - I treni di Tozeur (Italy 1984)

One question will always haunt me. When there is a song like this one in the running, what kind of jury favours a ditty like "Diggi-loo diggi-ley" instead?

What do they look like? Do they have ears? What do they have for breakfast? And who decided that they, out of all people in the world, should be on the Eurovision jury?

This Italian entry was stylish, original and immensly beautiful, the kind of victory that could have injected some well-needed commercial interest at a point were just that started to ebb away from the ESC.

Shame on the juries.

Real winner:
Herreys - Diggi-loo diggi-ley (Sweden)

1985 - Finland

Sonja Lumme - Eläköön elämä (Finland 1985)

Gothenburg 1985 looked very exciting as two countries that had never fared well in the contest were tipped as likely winners: Norway and Finland.

We all know how the story goes as Norweigan Bobbysocks stormed to victory and Sonja Lumme from Finland somehow slid into oblivion and ended in a ninth place. If it had anything to do with being drawn at the dreaded second starting position or not, we will never know.

"Long Live Life" has anyhow turned into a eurovision evergreen, well loved by fans as well as the general audience in Finland. And rightly so. A powerful chorus and a powerful performer who squeezes every drop of schlager juice out of her song.

Eurovision in Bergen 1986 was a very attractive setting. But Helsinki would not have been out of place either.

Real winner:
Bobbysocks - La de swinge (Norway)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tobson's Winners 1976 - 1980

The new voting system, designed by Heikki Seppälä of Yle and introduced in Stockholm 1975, was deemed a success and is still in use - but an important improvement was implemented during these five years.

Until 1979, the points were read out in the order of appearance, which made it hard for the scrutineers to follow the action and on several occasions it lead to mistakes on the final result.

The first of song mentioned in this post was a victim of that.

1976 - Yugoslavia

Ambasadori - Ne mogu skriti svoju bol (Yugoslavia 1976)

When all points were counted in 1976, Ambasadori from Sarajevo were left in last place since the French jury forgot to read out their four points aimed at Yugoslavia. This was not corrected until later, and by that time Yugoslav television had already withdrawn - not to return until five years later in Dublin.

"I Cannot Hide My Pain" was a fitting title - minutes before going on stage, lead singer Ismeta had accidentally been hit on the face by a photographer's camera. All makeup was wiped off her face to make sure she wasn't badly hurt, explaining her pale look as there was no time to put it on again.

Ismeta would come back many times as a head of delegation for Bosnia, but never with a song as strong as this one. Melodic, melancholic and very well performed.

In my book, this is the best entry Former Yugoslavia ever sent in. And I am pretty fond of most of their entries.

Real winner:
Brotherhood of Man - Save Your Kisses For Me (United Kingdom)

1977 - France

Marie Myriam - L'oiseau et l'enfant (France 1977)

1977 is another of this crushingly fantastic years in Eurovision. Almost all songs are great little pearls in their own right, and quite a few of them are real masterpieces.

However, this is yet another winner you can't argue with. She is Marie Myriam. The song is L'oiseau et l'enfant. That is very hard to beat.

Pure class from beginning to end. Wonderful in every aspect of the word.

Real winner:
Marie Myriam - L'oiseau et l'enfant (France)

1978 - Germany

Ireen Sheer - Feuer (Germany 1978)

If 1977 is an extraordinarily strong year, then 1978 is the sharp opposite with far too many lean song that are perhaps not bad but unimpressive.

Anyhow, I have three songs that fight it out for my personal top title. The other two are Ricchi e Poveri from Italy and Baccara for Luxembourg, but Ireen Sheer is the one that runs away with the crown.

She is putting on a brave face as the French orchestra completely slaughters what in its studio version is a bang-up-to-date disco song, and she also gives us the first dress trick in eurovision history (if I haven't forgetten something vital).

How this song was beaten by completely insignificant songs from France, Monaco and Ireland is beyond me. But it probably says quite a lot about the juries in use this year.

Real winner:
Izhar Cohen & Alpha Beta - A Ba Ni Bi (Israel)

1979 - France

Anne-Marie David - Je suis l'enfant soleil (France 1979)

Yet another very strong edition song-wise. The last 70's was a good era and what went wrong in 1978, we will never know. Here are real gems from Portugal, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland... as well as many others.

(There are also some really horrid bottom-of-the-league stuff as well, but let's not even mention Monaco.)

And again that stage beast that is Anne-Marie David just walks in and wipes the floor with all competition. She nails the camera with those eyes and sings her heart out in a fantastically classy ballad.

A trained eye will note that she uses the same backing group as Ireen Sheer did in Paris. Another trained eye will recognise Yardena Arazi dancing in the postcard (it is Yardena, right?).

Real winner:
Milk & Honey - Hallelujah (Israel)

1980 - Turkey

Ajda Pekkan - Pet'r Oil (Turkey 1980)

If you are looking for the best exotic-flavoured eurosong of all time this is a very hot contender for the title. Catchy, fun and danceable and very well sung, there is no possibility this entry would have placed lower than, say, third these days.

Back in the day, the Turkish entries were still far too different for the juries to digest and despite scoring one top mark, Ajda didn't place better than fifteenth.

At least she did better than the other exotic pearl taking part - Samira from Morocco scored only seven points and ended second last.

Eurovision just wasn't your ideal vehicle if you wanted to be different. Some things do get better with time.

Real winner:
Johnny Logan - What's Another Year

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tobson's winners: 1971 - 1975

After the fiasco in Madrid, where four countries shared the top spot, the EBU spent the following five years trying to figure out a system that would make such a situation easier to avoid in the future.

The introduction of expert jurors, two from each participating country, was maybe not the smartest of ideas in retrospect, for a multitude of reasons, but at least they managed to select the right winner, at least in my opinion, every year they were in function.

And since these three winners were also to be found in my favourite winners ever blog post , you won't be in for many surprises in this section.

1971 - Monaco

Séverine - Un banc, un arbre, une rue (Monaco 1971)

Also 1971 sees a fair share of good songs, but none that can compete with this epic bittersweet classic. Séverine gives the performance of a lifetime and got a pretty successful career in Germany in return.

This was a commercially successful entry all over the continent that everyone could be happy with. Everyone but the people at monegasque television, who (probably after some serious panicking) turned down the offer to host next year's competition.

Real winner:
Séverine - Un banc, un arbre, une rue (Monaco)

1972 - Luxembourg

Vicky Leandros - Après toi (Luxembourg 1972)

Another almost mythical Eurovision winner, who managed to beat the "unbeatable" New Seekers by rather a margin in the end.

Also 1972 has a couple of real gems (Germany's Mary Roos, Portugal's Carlos Mendes and Austria's Milestones - all fantastic songs), but there is no way around an entry like "Après toi".

Rumour had it at the time that German television had rejected it from its national final and only then was it translated into French and selected by Luxembourg, a rumour strongly denied by Vicky herself.

Germany would have looked a bit silly rejecting a song like this and - let's face it - it would never have won in its German version. It somehow needs the darkness in the French version for the drama to blossom like it should.

And blossom it does.

Real winner:
Vicky Leandros - Après toi (Luxembourg)

1973 - Luxembourg

Anne-Marie David - Tu te reconnaîtras (Luxembourg 1973)

For the third year running, I agree with the expert juries. Does that mean I am a snob, liking the same thing experts like? Perhaps.

But also, these three years have winners that are easy to identify. Because they are fantastic songs.

Israel's Ilanit is almost as good as this one. Almost, almost. But for me, this is the one winning song that blows all the others off the tree.

Anne-Marie David for president!

Real winner:
Anne-Marie David - Tu te reconnaîtras (Luxembourg)

1974 - Italy

Gigliola Cinquetti - Si (Italy 1974)

In all fairness, Non ho l'età is quite a good little song, but this is Gigliola's real moment in the sun. This is where she gets to shine and show just how good a performer she is.

This was also quite a risky choice for Eurovision as it really is too sophisticated, too soft, too slow. For Brighton, they had to shorten the first verse and they also performed the song at a slightly higher pace than on record.

This is an almost hypnotic little song, very classy and very engaging. Lucky break it didn't win, as that could have put Abba's career at risk, but this is clearly the moral winner of the year.

Real winner:
Abba - Waterloo (Sweden)

1975 - Italy

Wess & Dori Ghezzi - Era (Italy 1975)

It is a surprising fact that Italian television, who doesn't give a toss about the ESC, have come up with so many brilliant entries through the years.

It could even be that it is because of this fact, not in spite of it. Since ESC was never a big deal in Italy, their stars could go there without fear of wrecking their careers, and they never felt the pressure to fit in with typical eurosongs.

This is also a surprisingly juicy number, soulful and passionate, and not at all as well-mannered as most eurovision entries were at the time. Wess & Dori complement each other very well.

And even if the pace is - again - slightly faster compared to the record version, making the live version lack a bit in dynamic, the orchestra is up to scratch and carries this song nicely.

Real winner:
Teach-In - Ding A Dong (Netherlands)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tobson's winners: 1966 - 1970

During this period, the ESC gets what could be described as its greatest innovation of all time as the contest was broadcast in colour from 1968 and on.

A politically turbulent period of time in Europe and elsewhere, especially the mythical year of 1968, and pop culture began to take over also at Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson.

By now, the contest was a commercial hitmaker and big labels wanted to send their most interesting names into competition, in hopes of breaking the international market.

On the continent, the German market was by far the most important one to crack in terms of record sales and it was about as common to record German versions of eurosongs as making the English versions.

1966 - Luxembourg

Michèle Torr - Ce soir je t'attendais (Luxembourg 1966)

France Gall sent shivers through old Europe and her fresh faced appearance inspired no less than six countries to send more modern and upbeat entries, performed by young women, to see if the success could be repeated.

It couldn't - the young ladies most probably stole points off each other and a convincing victory was given to a male solo singer instead.

The best one of these six was, in my opinion, the best song on the night, competing for host nation Luxembourg, performed by Michèle Torr who was about to recieve star status in her native France a few years later.

For me, this is an irresistible piece of French pop: inspired, lightweight but not silly and, above all, very well performed. Strangely enough, it was heavily ignored by most juries with the exception of Sweden, giving it top marks.

Real winner:
Udo Jürgens - Merci chérie (Austria)

1967 - France

Noëlle Cordier - Il doit faire beau là-bas (France 1967)

It would be absolutely impossible to rank all songs that ever took part in the ESC, but if I could, this one is very likely to be in the top ten.

A power ballad of a rare sort, complimented by a surprisingly raw lyric, not at all sticking to the usual voice of the modest heartbroken woman we often hear in song lyrics.

This woman is sweet at first, then scornful ("When you left it was to get happy / if it worked, then good for you") and then falls out into a bitter chorus about how much she hates all the people around her. "I hate them because they never talk to me about you."

A powerful, original and beautiful entry, but the juries wanted a happy pop tune instead. Not a bad choice, either.

Real winner:
Sandie Shaw - Puppet On A String (United Kingdom)

1968 - France

Isabelle Aubret - La source (France 1968)

For the second year in succession, the French entered a good song with somewhat controversial and, this time, slightly disturbing lyrics, inspired by "The Virgin Spring" by Ingmar Bergman.

Isabelle Aubret was good already when she won in 1962, but now she is sensational, telling the story of the innocent girl who gets raped and killed by three men in the forest. Yes, all of this is there in the lyrics. So much for family viewing.

One would think that a classical piece like this would be perfectly suited for the grand orchestra, but the musicians let this song down as well.

Maybe that is why it was beaten by two pop songs instead? Or maybe the mood of this song wasn't quite the party starter people needed in these troubled times?

Real winner:
Massiel - La la la (Spain)

1969 - Spain

Salomé - Vivo cantando (Spain 1969)

To be honest, I'm not sure about this one. Or, I'm sure I absolutely adore song, singer, performance and outfit. But I'm not sure it is my outright favourite.

1969 is a very strong and even year where several songs claim the title as my favourite: Italy, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, France...

But the massive madness in Salomé's way of attacking this entire number casts makes this a winner. At least it is the best out of the four songs sharing the trophy this year.

Real winners:
Salomé - Vivo cantando (Spain)
Lulu - Boom Bang A Bang (UK)
Lenny Kuhr - De troubadour (Netherlands)
Frida Boccara - Un jour, un enfant (France)

1970 - Germany

Katja Ebstein - Wunder gibt es immer wieder (Germany 1970)

Watch out, modern times are coming. In more ways than one.

Television-wise, Dutch television (selected to host after a draw between the four winners of 1969) invented the postcards, partially to make up for the low number of participants. Only 12 countries took part after Sweden, Norway, Finland and Portugal dropped out after the split winner fiasco in Madrid.

But the German entry also signalled that new musical influences would, again, find their way into the ESC. Hippie-esque, with a touch of flower power, this song had a groove never before heard in the ESC.

Or it should have had, since this is yet another song the orchestra is unable to do justice. Also Katja is yet to compose that stage magic she would develop later in her career.

But in its recorded form, this song is stunning and a brilliant example of the creativity in the German market at this time.

Real winner:
Dana - All Kinds Of Everything (Ireland)

Tobson's winners: 1961 - 1965

The early years of Eurovision are a bit blurry, in all fairness. There are good songs sprinkled here and there, but the show didn't quite find its format or tone until the mid-sixties.

Also, it took a few years to find the ESC formula for songs, the thing we usually try to break away from these days. Back then, it was necessary to find a common ground, a common idea what a eurosong should sound like, for them to be comparable at all.

The early 60's were times of social changes, pop music and a young generation breaking away from their parents, creating a serious shift in the occidental culture. This didn't break through to the Eurovision Song Contest, run by the parental generation, ensuring family friendly programming.

For the period 1961 - 1965, the occasional pop song would sneak into competition, but the real breakthrough would have to wait a few years still.

1961 - Italy

Betty Curtis - Al di là (Italy 1961)

Big athmospheric ballad of a kind the Italians do best. Or do they? There is something about this melody line that I'm not fully comfortable with.

It takes too long, I almost lose interest during the build up, but when Betty Curtis bursts into the enormous chours, I forgive the rest and hum along happily.

And this isn't a fantastic year, there is not so many strong contenders to beat. Quite a few entertaining little ditties (perhaps inspired by the 1959 winner?) but no real unmissable pearls in my history book.

Real winner:
Jean-Claude Pascal - Nous, les amoureux (Luxembourg)

1962 - Sweden

Inger Berggren - Sol och vår (Sweden 1962)

Sweden's first big moment in Eurovision and, in my mind, perhaps their greatest to date. (Sorry, Abba.)

Maybe it doesn't have the same appeal if you don't understand the cute lyrics about the young girl getting into trouble as the gentleman inviting her out for lunch steals her fur coat (intended as a present for his own girlfriend) and leaves her with the bill, but it is still a very happy and catchy little song.

Inger Berggren is an enigmatic and likeable singer, who unfortunately never reached the level of stardom she would have deserved, but thanks to this song she will never be forgotten.

And again, the recorded version is way better - tight, well produced and with a backing group in top gear. It would take a while until the backing tracks entered the stage.

Real winner:
Isabelle Aubret - Un premier amour (France)

1963 - Switzerland

Esther Ofarim - T'en va pas (Switzerland 1963)

Yes... Switzerland again. But they were good during the first years. Must give them that.

And you can't argue with a song like this. Difficult and accessible at the same time, possibly lacking a chorus but instead stubbornly hammering out the hook until it stays in place.

I wouldn't argue with Esther Ofarim either, who seems sweet and determined at the same time, and who spent the greater part of her career thinking she actually won the entire contest.

Maybe she thinks so still. Who would have dared telling her?

Real winner:
Grethe & Jørgen Ingmann - Dansevise (Denmark)

1964 - United Kingdom

Matt Monro - I Love The Little Things (UK 1964)

Despite acheiving one of the 15 second places the UK have secured to date, this is a more or less forgotten entry on home ground. Instead, Matt Monro had a smash hit with a cover version of the Austrian entry by Udo Jürgens.

In my mind, there is no doubt as to which is the better out of these two songs. The UK entry is a melodic, light footed little pop pearl, created by songwriting genius Tony Hatch, in a lovely arrangement that makes use of the orchestra but still feels more modern than most (at the time).

Also the Netherlands entered a good pop song, and France sent in a beautiful ballad, but the UK wins by being so appealing and so well crafted.

Real winner:
Gigliola Cinquetti - Non ho l'età (Italy)

1965 - Luxembourg

France Gall - Poupée de cire, poupée de son (Luxembourg 1965)

For the second time only, I agree with the juries about the winner. What would there be to disagree with here? The winning song is a masterpiece and one of the best winners still, forty-six years later.

It has a very modern feel, a raw youthful energy, rather philosophical lyrics, a naïve charm in France Gall, and more than a hint of... well, lust. And sex. For the first time in the history of the contest.

The whole song is a wake-up call to the old generation, the ominous knock on the door, that the old times are over and something new is about to take over and make its way even inside this clean-cut competition.

Real winner:
France Gall - Poupée de cire, poupée de son (Luxembourg)

Tobson's winners: 1956 - 1960

I can't help it - it is in my nature to make charts and review things. Maybe it is easier to be a real Eurovision nut if you have this quality, what do I know?

But now that my big 2011 review is over and done with, I still want a running series for the blog. So I will go through Eurovision, year for year, and select my own personal winner.

No consideration has been taken to what would have been a good winner, a commercial choice et cetera. These are my favourite songs, according to my very personal preferences.

1956 - Switzerland

Lys Assia - Refrain (Switzerland 1956)

I must admit that 1956 is the year I know the least out of all. The contest, organised for the first time, hadn't found its formula as yet - and why would it? It wasn't even supposed to be more than a one-off anyway. There is no video copy available and the songs are old-fashioned to say the least.

I do have a certain fondness for "Ne crois pas", one of Luxembourg's two entries, but the eventual winner is a classy ballad in old style. Nothing that I find bewildering in any way, but a stylish opener and a good choice for first winner.

Real winner:
Lys Assia - Refrain (Switzerland)

1957 - France

Paule Desjardins - La belle amour (France 1957)

Again, this song is not one that would qualify as a personal favourite on any level, but still it is a pleasant and elegant reminder of what popular music sounded like once upon a time in an era long ago.

Paule Desjardins also performs elegantly, sporting the gracefulness and chic that France would turn into their very own trademark for many years to come in Eurovision.

Real winner:
Corry Brokken - Net also toen (Netherlands)

1958 - Switzerland

Lys Assia - Giorgio (Switzerland 1958)

Lys, present for the third consecutive edition, almost pulls a double with this entry which is, how should I phrase it, original.

An almost violently weird, tempo-filled little oddity, performed in a mix of almost all Swiss national languages, about flirtation and romance (and - highly possibly - something far more advanced than flirtation, judging from the emphasis on "molto amore" in the lyrics) by Lago Maggiore.

Most atypical compared to the very well-mannered style Switzerland mainly would come to cultivate at Eurovision throughout the years, and the first of these songs I really feel for. A classic!

Real winner:
André Claveau - Dors, mon amour (France)

1959 - Denmark

Birthe Wilke - Uh, jeg ville ønske, jeg var dig (Denmark 1959)

1959 is the first contest where I begin to feel slightly more at home - the pace and the format begin to fall into place and the songs have more evergreen qualities and be more light hearted than the years before.

This year, the eventual winner was the first to combine a catchy chorus with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, but the Danish entrant did it even better. Birthe Wilke, who two years earlier had set the world record for longest kiss in a eurovision entry, is in top form and is taking the edge of the heavy air of seriousness that sometimes found its way into early editions of the ESC.

Real winner:
Teddy Schoelten - Een beetje (Netherlands)

1960 - Switzerland

Anita Traversi - Cielo e terra (Switzerland 1960)

Switzerland - again! There is something about the early Swiss entries that touch a string inside of me. This is just a bagatelle of a song, but a very charming one, convincingly performed by Anita Traversi.

But already here - still in an era where all light popular music was written with some sort of orchestra in mind - we get proof that the live orchestra got in the way of some songs at Eurovision.

The recorded version of this song has a faster pace and feels more slick and less heavy than this slightly pompous live version.

All the way until the orchestra was abolished after the 1998 ESC, there were conductors who could not resist including as much orchestration as possible, just to show off their skills.

Not a practise all songs would benefit from.

Real winner:
Jaqueline Boyer - Tom Pillibi (France)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A tribute to Nella

One of my favourite eurovision personalities are no longer with us as Nella Martinetti lost her battle after years of illness.

Bella Nella never got to represent Switzerland as a singer, but wrote the lyrics for four Swiss entries (three of which made top five).

Peter, Sue & Marc - Io senza te (Switzerland 1981)

Mariella Farré - Io così no ci sto (Switzerland 1983)

Daniela Simons - Pas pour moi (Switzerland 1986)

Céline Dion - Ne partez pas sans moi (Switzerland 1988)

A very nice set of songs on placings, ending in Switzerland's last victory to date. Now that must have been enough for any songwriter to gain lasting respect and appreciation, one would think.

But no, sadly not. Not when you are a rounded and robust little woman with a faiblesse for German schlager and volksmusik, which was what Nella performed herself.

She even won the Grand Prix der Volksmusik in 1986 with the bouncy little number Bella Musica and she mainly sung catchy little numbers like this one:

Nella Martinetti - Forte fortissimo

Universally, for some reason, female performers doing lightweight music seem bound to attract ridicule. Nella was no exception. Her outgoing personality paired with an unfortunate ability to tell the press a bit more than they needed to know about her private life turned her from award-winning singer and composer into a laughing stock.

In recent years she stated in interviews that she knew all of Switzerland was laughing at her, adding that she has cried more than laughed during her life.

The question I ask myself is why the world of showbiz has to be like this. Male singers can go on performing, doing their same act far longer than is appropriate without losing their fans. Female singers get laughed at.

I can't help feeling that the world could have been a whole lot nicer to Nella. As for her music, love it or loathe it, but as a performer it is obvious that she just wanted to amuse her audience.

I wish they would have had the wit to laugh with her, not at her.

Nella Martinetti - Bella Musica

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

So, who is YOUR favourite, then...?

That was it - the heavy task of ranking and reviewing the Eurovision entries of 2011, for your pleasure and amusement, is over.

I have bared my soul and told you what I like, what I like less, and why I feel this way about every single song.

But what do you think, dear readers?

If you ranked all the songs, who would be your number one? The topping on your cake? Your special pearl of the year?

Please take the time to write me a comment - who is your personal winner and why. I'd be very happy if you did.

Tobson Ranking: #1 Germany

She did it again, didn't she? For the second year running, I have Lena as my number one. But she's not quite the same, is she?

Lena - Taken By A Stranger (Germany 2011)

When Germany announced that Lena would have another go at the title, I thought it was a really bad idea. So many things could go wrong there. So easy to ruin the good impression she created when winning in Oslo.

But instead Team Lena did everything just right.

Selecting such a different and daring entry was complete genius. Such a minimalistic and suggestive piece of music had never been heard in Eurovision before. Who cares if the masses don't understand?

The elegant dance routine in the background, the acting skills of Lena (watch out for those crazy eyes!) and the play with mirrors in the background create an almost Hitchcook-esque feeling to this entry.

Just like Bosnia, this is more a piece of art than a eurovision entry.

Lena holds the whole thing together fabulously and it is easy to forget how young she is, and that she was discovered only a year ago.

Also, with more than a hint of something dark and disturbing, this song brings something fresh and modern into the competition. Congratulations Germany on being the best for the second year running.

The televoters and juries may not have understood, but that's just a detail.


My grade: 5 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Since they shaped up big time half a decade ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina is never bad at Eurovision. It is just a question of HOW good they are.

Dino Merlin - Love In Rewind (Bosnia-Herzegovina 2011)

Dino Merlin is very, very good. It is not some cosmic co-incidence that made him a superstar on home ground.

He brought along the happiest bunch of people seen on a Eurovision stage for many a good day and puts on an ethnic singalong anthem complete with some yodeling. With those ingredients, they decorate a real birthday cake of a song.

Just as the case with Laka three years ago, this is more like a conceptual installation of art rather than a eurosong, only more easily accessible.

The whole song is such a brilliant little piece, crowned by the elegant and unexpected hook: "Sito!"

There are so many rights in this song that I could make a list and go on for a long time. (And on a shallow note - in my book, the bass player is possibly the most attractive male gracing the ESC stage this year. But that's shallow, please disregard.)

A musical happy pill. If you don't like it, you're dull. End of story.


My grade: 5 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #3 Finland

So maybe I am a bit partial. Who isn't? But I don't know when was the last time I was this moved by Finland's entry.

Paradise Oskar - Da Da Dam (Finland 2011)

I first met Axel Ehnström a couple of weeks before he sang in the national final in Finland. He had just been selected to take part and was therefore invited to a tv show I was the editor of. He had never sung on tv before, but did a very good job on our show.

He made a big impression on everyone involved and I told him I hoped he'd win, just so I would get to see how he would be able to handle Düsseldorf.

And boy, did he handle Düsseldorf!

The way he handled the press, the fans, the cameras and the director. Like a true professional he steered clear of all those things that are normally the big problems for Finland: how to behave yourself on a stage when the entire world is looking.

I know the song is very divisive - some love it, some hate it - but I'm deeply fond of it. I find it touching and sincere, without becoming too sugary or ingratiating.

The final placing was a big disappointment, but what really matters is that we got ourselves a true talent onto the musical map of Finland.

Finland's best entry in ages and ages. And the same goes for the singer/songwriter.

My grade: 5 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #4 Hungary

What better way to attempt a comeback than to send in a bright and shiny piece of pop perfection?

Kati Wolf - What About My Dreams (Hungary 2011)

If we only discuss this entry from the perspective of sheer songwriting, this is a completely flawless creation. Catchy, loaded with lovely hooks, full of cute little references to other pop music (mainly Whitney Houston when she wanted to dance with somebody) performed by a blond Lara Fabian.

What is there not to love? A perfect radio hit and a perfect eurosong all rolled into one.

Unfortunately, the live performance doesn't quite live up to expectation. Kati's voice isn't always in place, there is something awkward about the stage show, something about that dress.

When the pieces don't fall into place like they should, it doesn't help how beautiful the picture on your jigsaw puzzle was intended to be.

That said, a 22nd place was a slap on the face. Wonderful Kati deserved so much more, and I'm left wanting more more more.

I want to see and hear more of her, preferrably backed by the same production team.

My grade: 4 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #5 Serbia

The Serbians go spanking mad and believe Belgrade is Motown. And I love it!

Nina - Čaroban (Serbia 2011)

Many entries in the past have gone all wrong when they try to produce a Motown vibe, but in my ears the Serbians get it quite right. There is so much bubble, sparkle and energy packed into this song that I can't stand still as it starts.

I want to dance along like the wild and beautiful backing group and pretend like I was part of the Swinging Sixties as well.

Unfortunately, nerves got the better of Nina who didn't sing quite as brilliantly live as during rehearsals. But she is still such a remarkable performer. Again - who would believe this girl is only 21?

From a technical point of view, I think the background projections get a bit too busy and exhausting, and in some shots you almost lose the performers thanks to this.

But the song is ace. And, if truth be told, even better in its English version.

My grade: 4 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #6 Ireland

That Irish song, that really is a bouncy number. Yet that is absolutely nothing compared to the performers.

Jedward - Lipstick (Ireland 2011)

First of all - who would have thought that Ireland would ever come up with something like this? All those endless years of bagpapes and violins and flutes and pretty harmonies and love ballads, when they had a couple of Jedwards stashed away somewhere.

From this moment on, no country will ever have an excuse again. If Ireland can produce something as wild and crazy and funny as this, then everyone can.

Jedward themselves are beyond description, really. Or let me put you like this: I love them on a stage, but would rather be eaten by eels than get stuck in a lift with them.

They leave most of the singing to the backing singers and hop around like two spring mad calves unleashed for the first time.

They also have a catchy little song which proves the perfect vehicle for them. If they can use their ESC stardom in the long run remains to be seen, but I wish them all the best. As long as they don't move in next door.

Their song is good, but five songs are better in my mind. So the twins narrowly miss out on a top five in my ranking, but I very much doubt that will get them down. I have no idea what in the world would.

My grade: 4 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #7 Italy

At first I thought this was a runaway cast member of the Aristocats, but this jazzy number kept growing and growing and growing...

Raphael Gualazzi - Madness Of Love (Italy 2011)

In many ways, this is typical Italian behaviour at Eurovision and the reason we wanted them back in the first place. Their complete ignorance of what we want and expect of them.

Most people were hoping for a very italian pop song, instead we got a most atypical jazz entry.

Raphaele Gualazzi is a rare pearl of a performer who doesn't give the camera a single straight look throughout his entire three minutes and yet it feels like he is watching you the whole time.

And he sings like a god. I love the part where he does the big, ugly note that falls into the trumpet solo. Fantastic.

I always thought this would be one of the songs you remember fondly, but never fall madly in love with. I had to think again. I love the song, the singer, the performance and the whole deal.

Welcome back, Italy. If you keep going like this, we would like you to stay forever.

My grade: 4 / 5

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tobson Ranking: #8 Moldova

How much madness can you stuff into a mere three minutes? Well, the Moldovans are about to find out...

Zdob si Zdub - So Lucky (Moldova 2011)

This song is perhaps the musical equivalent of being trapped in a fun house together with Moldova's own Red Hot Chili Peppers.

You just have no idea what they're about to do next and I love it. I love the crazy hats. I love the broken lyrics. (Does anyone have a clue what their song is really about?) I love the girl on the unicycle and the fact that she doesn't once play her silly flute.

Above all I love the background projections, where the Tim Burton-esque witches go wild all over the place, flying in all possible directions.

And I love the fact that this song is moonstruck delirium version of Petula Clark's Don't Sleep In The Subway considering the way it is constructed, turning the dynamics upside down.

In a year where a few entries too many just aim to please, something looney is bound to end up among my faourites.

My grade: 4 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #9 Azerbaijan

Sweet and sentimental in a tasteful setting but I never in a million years thought this would be the winner in the end.

Ell/Nikki - Running Scared (Azerbaijan 2011)

This is the kind of song that is tailormade for studio production. It contains some parts that are hard to sing but will sound excellent with several takes and quite a bit of overdubbing.

I was doubtful from the beginning how it would sound live, but I must admit that the couple manages to hit the notes far better than expected. Both of them, especially Ell, possess an undeniable charm that works well with the song.

The difficulty affects their vocal delivery anyhow, you can sense a hesitation in their voices and the singing is weaker than in the recorded version.

The stage performance, designed by a Swede, is elegant but also a bit anonymous, where the waterfall of fire leaves a more lasting impression than the singers themselves.

The song, also designed by Swedes, is also elegant but has precious little to do with what goes on in the world of Azeri music.

That is my big problem with this entry - anyone could theoretically hire Madonna to sing for them or have RedOne write their entry.

But when this contest is more about who has the biggest wallet rather than who can write the best song, then there isn't much point to a song contest anymore.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #10 United Kingdom

For a while it looked like the UK had everything lined up in order to put an end to the years of shame and score a sixth victory. But then the guys had to sing as well.

Blue - I Can (UK 2011)

It really seemed like a promising package when presented to the audience. There was a powerful, contemporary pop song with a bit of an edge. Blue had rather a large fan base around the continent and were a very impressive name for being a UK eurovision entrant.

There were some reports that they had been singing badly at various tv shows when promoting the song, but I was dead sure they would give their absolute best on the final in order to show who was wearing the pants.

So much for dead sure.

Ten years of career, collaborations with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Elton John, loads of concerts under their belt. All this counted for nothing when they stumble out on stage, giving a most insecure impression, skidding across some of the more important notes of the song.

They recover some of their former glory before the song is over, but then it is too late. Many of the young, rather inexperienced, singers from countries like Austria, Slovenia, Finland and Estonia have all given better performances.

Europe is left pretty unimpressed and, even though an eleventh place is not to be frowned upon by the UK these days, what could have been a triumph turned into something that is OK. Pretty good, but not smashing.

Too bad.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #11 San Marino

My first impression was that a talented girl like Senit would do so well had she had a more powerful song to sing. Never trust a first impression, in other words.

Senit - Stand By (San Marino 2011)

This soft little cotton ball of a ballad is so tender and gentle that you hardly notice it the first time you hear it. I think my first impression was shared by quite a few people in Düsseldorf, to be frank.

But it has eaten its way into my conscience and made itself a special little place close to my heart.

Senit is a wonderful performer - warm, radiant, elegant, present - and manages to squeeze every tiny drop of sentiment out of this song without hugging it to death with her vocal chords.

Far too laid back to hit home with the masses voting by phone, but a personal favourite that I will carry with me for many years to come. And - for me - the best out of all non-qualifyers of the 2011 ESC.

So please stand by, San Marino. I don't mind at all.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #12 Estonia

This is in many ways the same old song as Sweden. And yet I like it just that teeny tiny bit better.

Getter Jaani - Rockefeller Street (Estonia 2011)

If Sweden went for the youthful approach, then Estonia took the idea even further. Young Getter Jaani is born the same year that Estonia selected its first Eurovision entry (which would go on to get rejected at the Ljubljana pre-selection).

She is, despite her age, a confident young lass, but during the week in Düsseldorf, I started fearing that she would do rather badly. I felt something about the song was too calculated to really hit home with viewers and voters.

Maybe I was right. Rockefeller Street made it to the final, but ended second last there. And once the relative failure was complete, I changed my mind again.

There is something ever surprising and very quirky about this song. It bounces and goes in all directions before it somehow finds its way and everything comes together in the chorus.

Also, the performance is very sweet - the frame where the backing group looks out from behind the cardboard houses is ace.

It didn't work all the way this time, but Estonia is still a force to be counted with at Eurovision.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #13 Sweden

Now I will disagree with every school kid in all of Sweden but Eric Saade doesn't quite make it into my top ten.

Eric Saade - Popular (Sweden 2011)

I applaud Sweden's recent attempts to shake of the burden of the old schlager, to take a more youthful approach and send in something more contemporary and commercial.

I also hear that there is a contagious chorus here - perhaps more of an ever-repeating hook rather than a real chorus.

I also see the squirrel eyes of Eric Saade, how much he wants to impress everyone, how badly he wants to do well.

I also see why many people resign to the whole package and has this as their number one of the year. That's all fair and square, but I don't like it that much.

It leaves too much a taste of plastic in my mouth to be a real favourite for me. Also, it is aimed at a completely different target group where I don't belong, and it doesn't move me like that.

However, I am very pleased that it did well and that Eric Saade got a real merit to bring home and put on his shelf. I have a feeling Swedish media won't be easy on him once the Eurovision adventure is over, and even if he can be a bit over confident and arrogant in interviews, the lad would deserve better.

Hopefully it is enough to be popular with the people if not with the press.

My grade: 3 / 5

Tobson Ranking: #14 Ukraine

I can't explain it. Maybe it's something in the water. But nobody can work their entries quite like the Ukrainians.

Mika Newton - Angel (Ukraine 2011)

I wasn't keen on this one when it was elected to represent Ukraine, but then it has kept growing and growing and growing. Mika Newton is another one of these highly talented performers that Ukraine keeps sending to the ESC, and she makes it look easy to lift this ballad even further up the scale.

As for the gimmick of using the sand painting artist, it could have resulted in an embarrassing attempt of stuffing something visual into a performance where it doesn't belong (hello, Cyprus!) but the art and the song embrace each other and make the whole thing even better.

Still quite some way from the magic and wonder of Verka Serduchka, Ani Lorak or even Tina Karol, I still regard Ukraine as the best and most reliable country in Eurovision at the moment.

Whatever they send in, they also make sure it works before the final. Very well done.

My grade: 3 / 5