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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Monday, November 30, 2015

ESC 2016: A 7th victory for Sweden?

When Loreen won in Baku in 2012 I wrote somewhere (not here) that the best thing that could happen to the ESC was to have a hungry and passionate Sweden that could hunt for victory every year and raise the bar for everyone in the competition.

I also wrote that I dare Sweden to snatch the title of having most ESC victories from Ireland within ten years of Loreen's victory. Maybe they could equal the record already next year?

After the 28 acts taking part in next year's Melodifestivalen had been presented, Christer Björkman was quoted as saying Sweden has a good chance of winning again on home ground. According to him the songs are really good and several of them could be potential ESC winners.

I'm glad he feels that way about the songs since the list of performers is a bit... Not disappointing. There are many good names, reliable people, likeable people. People who will entertain the masses. But the big surprises were few and far between.

For my liking, maybe there was one Anna Book / Samir & Viktor / Dolly Style entry too many but then again, I haven't heard the songs. Maybe I'll be surprised.

The biggest positive surprise was definitely Krista Siegfrids being among the 28 chosen ones. It really is a big deal for a Finnish pop act to get into Melodifestivalen.

I'm also glad to see songwriting trio Sven-Inge Sjöberg, Lennart Wastesson and Larry Forsberg back. They wrote many really catchy entries a few years back but had seemingly disappeared until now.

As for winning, then? Who do I think? Without having heard a second of the songs on offer, my bet is that Molly Sandén is the one to watch. The title of her entry is perhaps a bit on the cheesy side but still. I have a feeling this could be her year.

The complete lineup for Melodifestivalen 2016 can be found here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1992

This was it. The grand culmination of my childhood love for Swedish finals. The big peak. The first national final I attended live.

I had gone through the roof seeing my native Sweden win the ESC and had originally planned to attend the international final in Malmö, being blissfully unaware of how much those tickets would cost as well as how fast they would sell out. Anyway, the national pre-selection in Stockholm was a good consolation prize.

This was my first time ever at a televised event. I was so excited by everything that was going on. The cameras. The action. The celebrities. The whole ambience felt completely electrified. My entire outlook on the songs in competition is hopelessly coloured by all of this and I will probably overrate every single song (except one).

For many years on, nothing could live up to this experience. It would take years for me to feel as excited about a Swedish final again.

Image borrowed from svt.se

10. Shanes / Upp flyger vi upp
Shanes felt like a bunch of oldboys already in 1982 and the additional ten years did them no favours. The obvious filler song in an otherwise solid lineup.
Grade: 1/5

9. Angel / Venus butterfly
What starts out as a pretty dramatic and exciting schlager ends face down in a disappointing chorus with no particular bite or personality. Angel had had a bit hit the previous year but were not a lasting thing in Swedish showbiz.
Grade: 2/5

8. Maria Rådsten / Vad som än händer
One More Time - the band that would score an international hit later in the year with "Highland" and go on to represent Sweden in 1996 - had two songs in the running and two of its soloists were doing one song each while Peter and Nanne watched from the sidelines. This one has good energy but never made a lasting impression on me. Sharp-eyed viewers can recognise Karin Risberg ("Stopp stopp stanna" in 1986) among the backing vocalists.
Grade: 2/5

7. Kikki Danielsson / En enda gång
An interesting attempt to cross-pollinate Kikki with a power ballad à la Scorpions. Kikki does the best she can but in the end, the song would have needed to show more muscles. The end result is well-intended but far too tame.
Grade: 2/5

6. Thérèse Löf / Ingenting går som man vill
The second OMT entry is a quirky and humorous tale of an Interrail gone wrong. Jaunty performance by Thérèse who would leave the group before ESC 1996 but make it to the ESC stage as a backing singer.
Grade: 3/5

5. Anna Nederdal / Ingen annan än du
Time can change so much and this song that I first found mind-numbingly boring is now a bit of a personal favourite. Classy and intimate, almost whispered at first before culminating in a lovely chorus.
Grade: 3/5

4. Lena Pålsson / Jag kan se en ängel
I was surrounded by dansband music as I grew up and Wizex were always among my favourites. Fresh and original and with a thing completely of their own. This juicy little piece marinated in saxophone should have been bang-in-the-final. Extra points for one of the most daring lyrics about sex up until then, something nobody realised thanks to the dansband connection.
Grade: 3/5

3. Christer Björkman / Imorgon är en annan dag
Maybe Christer isn't the strongest vocalist ever but in the right environment he shows how good he is at working whatever he has. In front of the audience at Cirkus he was most convincing and really made this little song come to life.
Grade: 3/5

2. Py Bäckman / Långt härifrån
Like a one-woman hippie colony, Py swept in with an infectious rhythm and an original chorus that sounded very different from everything on offer. The juries understood precious little and today this one is another one of those forgotten classics that would deserve more love from the people.
Grade: 3/5

1. Lizette & Bizazz / Som om himlen brann
Colourful and action packed, Lizette Pålsson teamed up with Bizazz - THE dance company at the time, omnipresent in every entertainment show here was - and should of course have been the winner.  Deemed the winner in a reader's poll conducted by one of the evening newspapers but sadly overlooked by the large record-buying audience.
Grade: 4/5

Not a bad year but lacking in obvious peaks. Most songs are on the same level but there is very little here that would qualify as being unforgettable in any way.

In a parallel universe:
Nobody in this bunch would have altered ESC history, Linda Martin would have won regardless. But I think Lizette could have managed to stir things up a bit, given the lack of convincing uptempo songs on offer in Malmö. She could surely have landed around a 10th place or so, don't you think?

Lizette & Bizazz / Som om himlen brann (Sweden 1992 NF)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

ESC 2016: No Naidoo after all

Image borrowed from eurovision.de

Oh, Germany. So many people were longing for proper news about next year's ESC and now there seems to be something coming up every day.

When Xavier Naidoo was announced as the German representative the other day, reactions were mixed to say the least. Some were euphoric, some outright hostile. I figured that NDR wanted the added publicity that controversy brings and that they knew what they were doing.

Apparently not. Today we had another big announcement: there had been a change of heart and Xavier Naidoo would not represent anyone in Stockholm. The performer himself stated that NDR approached him to represent Germany and that also this new decision came from them and not from him.

If I was puzzled when Naidoo was selected, then it is nothing compared to what I feel now. It seems the strong reactions came as a big surprise for the broadcaster and that someone got cold feet.

How this reaction could come as a surprise to anyone is beyond me. The people selecting him in the first place must have known how divisive he is. It took me less than 45 seconds to understand the full scale of how divisive he is when reading his article on Wikipedia. What had they expected?

If this is what really happened, that a broadcaster talks a big name into doing the ESC only to change their minds and reject him in public as soon as there is criticism, it shows an incredible lack of backbone and I suppose NDR will have a bit of a hard time convincing anyone else to take the bait. Who would run the risk of getting dropped this way? Not everyone could walk away from it as unharmed as Xavier Naidoo.

So. What next? Will NDR try to convince another star to do the job for them? Or will they throw together a national final at short notice? To be continued...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tobson's Wish List: more ideas for Germany

The news that Xavier Naidoo will represent Germany at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest sent shockwaves through the fan community and I can't remember when a particular contestant was as highly debated as early on in the season as this.

I expressed surprise myself but clearly the strategy has paid off so far. A competitor that can unleash as much emotion as this one must be a clever choice.

My guess is that the responsible people are already all smiles and look forward to the great ratings come May and generally care pretty little about the final result. This publicity is a success for sure.

Maybe then they will want to continue selecting established acts internally also for a few years to come? I wouldn't mind seeing any of these getting a shot at the ESC in the future. My knowledge of German pop is far from as extensive as I would have wanted but I believe these acts are pretty well known.

I've had my eyes on Glasperlenspiel for a few years already and enjoy their bubbly brand of electropop. Some of their strongest singles could surely have done well at the ESC, I'm sure.

Glasperlenspiel / Ich bin ich

Another band someone pointed out to me is more indie rock based Madsen, an act that could most probably stand out quite a lot from most things in competition while still being really catchy. This kind of fusion between pop and rock really makes me weak in a good way.

Madsen / Lass die Musik an

This example is perhaps less about Michelle herself who already had a shot at representing Germany at the ESC but more about highlighting what can happen when you let people from a pop environment write modern schlager. Peter Plate made up half of the hit duo Rosenstolz - one of my absolute top favourites to sing for Germany if it wasn't for the sad fact that they disbanded.

Michelle / Paris

If you want a sweet young pop male - and sometimes you do - I'd recommend Tim Bendzko. His appearance is possibly a tiny bit too ethereal for a contest like this but on the other hand, the surprisingly low key entries can sometimes break through the international wall of sound.

Tim Bendzko feat Cassandra Steen / Unter die Haut

After years in the popular band Ich + Ich, Adel Tawil made a most successful solo album that took off well on the German market. He had a connection to the 2014 Club concert that gave Elaiza a spot in the German final and I'm frankly surprised NDR didn't approach him instead of Xavier Naidoo. Maybe they did?

Adel Tawil / Weinen

And then the obvious one, then. Of course Queen Helene Fischer would fit Eurovision like an immaculately manicured hand in an expensive glove. All she would need was the perfect song. And the guts. She would have quite a lot to lose. And also an awful lot to win if she managed to expand her career outside the German-languaged territories once and for all.

Helene Fischer / Atemlos durch die Nacht

ESC 2016: Xavier Naidoo for Germany

After a few years of large national finals - as well as a big fat nul pointer in Vienna - German television has announced that they are going for an internal choice for 2016.

The singer they appointed is Xavier Naidoo, arguably one of the biggest names on the German market and a highly successful performer with a string of big hits - solo as well as in group projects.

His song for Stockholm will be selected in a special show where the tv audience will get to choose their favourite out of six potential entries.

I'm not surprised that ARD went for a change in their selection modus. Their national finals in 2014 and 2015 didn't quite work and the entries selected failed to enthuse an international audience.

If I was in charge of shaking up a national final, I would do the same. I would convince one strong candidate with experience and a large following and let this singer perform all songs in a national final. That plan is a good one.

But as I read up on Xavier Naidoo himself, my enthusiasm fades. His political activities has lead to him being labeled as a "Christian fundamentalist" one day, as an antisemite the next. He believes today's Federal Republic to be illegitimate, he advocated conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks and was widely accused of spreading homophobia with a hidden track on one of his albums.

Why would you want to provide an international platform for anyone with this track record? If ARD wanted a performer with personality, integrity and a large following there are plenty to choose from. Why him?

If they want controversy as a part of their publicity plan, I think they are about to have a lot of it.

Xavier Naidoo (Germany 2016)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1991

Back to Malmö for another stab at a successful national final. Previously, SVT Malmö had made two weak national finals resulting in good international showings as well as one really good final whose winner went on to achieve a modest placing at the ESC. Would it be possible for them to combine these elements and both make a good show and find an ESC smash?

Malmö had engaged their biggest star to host the event: Harald Treutiger had had an enormous breakthrough hosting the game show "24 karat" and was a popular choice with his relaxed style and dry wit.

His presence was needed in order to sell the show. The standard of songs was fair, not to say quite good, but it was becoming clear that it was increasingly difficult to convince established stars to take part.

On a personal note, I will never forget how smitten I was with the cute backing singer Jens Friis-Hansen and how upset I was when he wasn't allowed to travel to Rome with Carola. Oh, well...

Image borrowed from svt.se

10. Diana Nuñez / Kärlekens dans
In accordance with tradition, there would be at least one song that seemed to be selected mainly because it had a connection to the region of Scania. This one had the added bonus of being written by the same man who had written the original music for 24 karat as well. Well sung and sort of nice but not very interesting.
Grade: 1/5

9. Tove Naess / Låt mig se ett under
Originally written for Carola, this was another pleasant ballad that sort of floated past the listener without leaving any lasting impression. Another good singer that had a little bit too little to work with.
Grade: 2/5

8. John Ekedahl / Stanna du i dina drömmar
A welcome attempt at quirky and original that falls a bit short partially due to a weak performance, partially because the direct influence - Orup & Anders Glenmark - is so obvious and so directly copied from the original.
Grade: 2/5

7. Jim Jidhed / Kommer du ihåg mig?
Former heavy metal vocalist Jidhed was one of the hotter names in the lineup and his song became a major hit afterwards. Not bad, just a bit bland. And it didn't grow old all that gracefully.
Grade: 2/5

6. Sharon Dyall / Ge mig ett svar
Another one to be filed under "Interesting failures". This one sports a surprisingly groovy beat and an elegant verse but the chorus never takes off. Sharon Dyall wore a skin-tight and very short golden dress that created a public outcry and was remembered far longer than the song.
Grade: 2/5

5. Laila Dahl / Annie
A light-weight but cheerful little pop song, delivered with a wide smile and a good voice. Maybe the input from some choreographer could have proved helpful but it is hard not to like this one at least a bit.
Grade: 3/5

4. Jessica / Änglar
I always had a soft spot for this one. If the voice is big, then the hair is enormous and this one possibly still goes down as the best attempt at gospel influences in a Swedish final, managing to whip up a real feeling of church and hallelujah in the end. Also proof that it is actually possible to repeat your chorus many times without getting tedious.
Grade: 3/5

3. Pernilla Wahlgren / Tvillingsjäl
According to the press, the final would be a two horse race between Carola and Pernilla Wahlgren, performing a song written by Lena Philipsson. One aggressive flu came in the way and Pernilla failed to even qualify for the super final. Which is of course a scandal. Would have deserved a high placing as well as becoming the hit single it never was.
Grade: 4/5

2. Towe Jaarnek / Ett liv med dig
An almost ridiculously well-crafted ballad that starts elegantly before building and building into one final burst of a chorus. Despite the Big Bag label's efforts to launch her, Towe's career failed to ever take off properly and this song remains her main moment of glory.
Grade: 4/5

1. Carola / Fångad av en stormvind
Game over. Carola storms the stage and blows everyone away. Literally. Perhaps not the perfect song, but a perfect vehicle for Carola's new image and her recently earned dancing skills.
Grade: 5/5

Malmö managed to get their equation together and crafted a good show as well as finding an ESC winner. Their reward was to host the Big Thing the following year, something they did as well as they could, possibly proving that an ESC final takes a bit more than a national final.

In a parallel universe:
Nobody else in this final would have been anywhere near victory in Rome, that much is clear. Towe Jaarnek would have drowned in a sea of ballads and no one else had that thing the international juries seemed to be looking for. Possibly the most important factor is Carola's attack and determination: even though her song lost most of its sophistication thanks to the mess that was the Italian orchestra, she performs like it didn't matter. And that's why she won in the end.

Carola / Fångad av en stormvind (Sweden 1991 NF performance)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Look who is back! (It's Australia.)

So it has been announced that Australia will take part also in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. The country whose participation was a "one-off", a "special occasion to celebrate the 60th edition", didn't have to wait long to be upgraded to a regular participant.

First of all: splendid news. Welcome, Australia! They did really well on their first participation and I hope they will keep the quality up. Australia's huge interest in being part of this european manifestation is fascinating and flattering and I am more than pleased to have them among us.

Then there are a few things about this whole thing that I am less impressed with. None of them concern Australia as such but here goes.

Upgrading Australia to a regular participant means a few rules go out the window. In order to participate, a broadcaster needs to be an active member of the EBU. In order to be an active member, you needed to be within the European Broadcasting Area or a member of the Council of Europe.

This little paragraph could be pretty handy to have if or when some countries knock on the door and want to participate. Countries that have financial muscles but could be seen as morally questionable. Let's not throw around names here, but the ones that have been frequently named have all fallen short when it comes to this precious paragraph. How can you deny any country the right to participate now?

There was talk a few years back to implement some sort of moral codex that participating countries would have to live up to, but as far as I know that never came to anything.

The EBU had better come up with a really convincing and waterproof explanation why Australia would be worthy of an exception and stress that the rule otherwise is very much in place.

Another thing the EBU might want to think through properly is what it means to them to be trustworthy. Is it important for them to come across as transparent and sincere? To stick to your words? Or is it fully acceptable to state something as fact while you know it isn't true?

"The only possibility for Australia to take part in 2016 is in case they win in Vienna". I don't know how many times I saw that stated, emphasised and underlined during the run-up to the 2015 final. I don't recall Australia winning and yet - here they are.

It would be nice knowing that the things communicated as facts are actually true. It doesn't look good when you can't be sure if their press releases are true or smoke screens. Fair play, please.

And welcome back, Australia.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1990

I said I would go through the Swedish finals of the 1980's and with the 1989 edition the eighties effectively ended. But my childhood/adolescent love and admiration and appreciation of the contest would linger for a few years more, so I decided to extend the series to contain the Melodifestivalen finals of my mental 80's instead.

And that leads me back to Gothenburg, where the 1990 final was held. Their approach to the whole thing had shifted a bit and tried to connect with the younger audience that their recent rock shows had attracted by having the youthful Carin Hjulström take over the presenting.

There were even some attempts to bring the sounds of newer generations into the lineup, with mixed results. And then there was the big comeback: Carola would sing in public again after several years of low profile and Bible studies.

Picture borrowed from aftonbladet.se

10. N'Gang / Vi vill ha värme
This was the most obvious attempt at appealing to a younger audience. This rock band tried to be hard and street and cred but lands in a deserted wasteland somewhere between rock and schlager without really being either one. Three minutes of empty posing.
Grade: 1/5

9. Loa Falkman / Symfonin
It isn't really good but it is fascinating: a rather pompous opera star performing an equally pompous dansband aria in a mix curious enough to make several jaws drop. Became a major commercial success after the contest and is today fondly remembered for its entertainment qualities. But not good, no. Not as such.
Grade: 1/5

8. Edin-Ådahl / Som en vind
Two sets of brothers sang heavenly and that was what the juries wanted. Apparently. This song always passed me by, it did at the time and it still does. It has its moments, it is well sung. But it is also pretty bland and pointless.
Grade: 2/5

7. Lotta Engberg / En gång till
Lotta Engberg was still a real household name and possibly the Queen of the Svensktoppen chart. This song fall well into her standard repertoire but was too lean and too meek to make any bigger impact in a contest like this. Well performed but lacking in profile.
Grade: 2/5

6. Peter Jöback / En sensation
A seemingly most self-assured young man entered the stage; dancing and flirting with the camera but as he fell through in the voting, Peter Jöback would prove way more sensitive than most reviewers thought at the time. He would slowly but steadily build himself a name as one of Sweden's top singers but this MF fiasco was to remain a sensitive issue for many years afterwards. Not that it really was a fiasco - a likeable little song that is a tiny bit too superficial for its own good.
Grade: 2/5

5. Lizette Pålsson / Sången över havet
Lizette was named the only serious threat to Carola by one of the evening newspapers and was reportedly very disappointed as she failed to live up to expectations. This is a pleasant, traditional schlager anthem of a sort that perhaps felt a little bit too old for the juries.
Grade: 3/5

4. Elisabeth Andreasson / Jag ser en stjärna falla
People keep mentioning "Kärleksmagi" from 1984 as the song where Bettan sang badly but nobody seems to remember this time when she used up her voice during rehearsals and had nothing left to give during the live show. The song is good but unfortunately turned into some sort of rock entry as the orchestra was unable to reproduce the hard, electronic sound of the studio version.
Grade: 3/5

3. Sofia Källgren / Handen på hjärtat
According to Lasse Holm, someone had thought up a cool and extraordinary stage show - nicked from Broadway - that would suit this song perfectly. During the first rehearsals it turned out Sofia hated it and was reduced to tears. It all had to be redone in no time which shows. You can tell the show isn't focused and Sofia doesn't sing as well as she could have. That live performance might well have hindered the song from becoming a bigger hit and much like Peter Jöback it would take some years for to Sofia to really establish herself.
Grade: 4/5

2. Lisbet Jagedal / Varje natt
Instead of pretending to be modern (like N'Gang) it is better to go full stop old-fashioned schlager and that's what this hairdresser did. A song tailor-made to be belted out in the shower or any place at all, really. Lisbet would never become a star but made a good career for herself on the dansband circuit.
Grade: 4/5

1. Carola / Mitt i ett äventyr
There it was - the big comeback - and Carola was sparkling. She was impeccably styled, she had a new trendy haircut and a song that really seemed to fit her like a glove. When the juries rejected this, maybe they gave her a blessing in disguise - like what happened to Abba when "Ring Ring" didn't win. One thing was perfectly clear: the Swedes had missed their Carola a lot and in the long run she would be the winner.
Grade: 4/5

After the previous year where some major pop stars battled it out, it was visible that the contest suddenly had much less of a finger on the pulse. Or it would have been visible hadn't Carola's big comeback been standing in the way. What could have been a temporary slip was rather the first sign of the recording industry beginning to shy away from melodifestivalen.

In a parallel universe:
Since the winner only made it to 16th place in Zagreb it is a pretty safe assumption that most of the closer contenders would have topped that. It doesn't feel like Carola would have been a winner there, so it was maybe for the better than she got to wait another year. Maybe a completely reshaped Sofia Källgren in better vocal form could have made an international impression?

Carola / Mitt i ett äventyr (Sweden 1990 NF)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1989

The last three editions of Melodifestivalen hosted by Stockholm had all been more low-key productions, held in a studio or as part of another show, but in 1989 it all turned big. Very big. Possibly too big.

The Stockholm Globe Arena had recently been inaugurated and was about to host the World Championships of ice hockey a few weeks later. In order to make good use of the spectacular - and controversial - new venue, it was decided to host Melodifestivalen there.

Ten thousand tickets went on sale and clearly that was a few thousand more than there was a market for. You don't have to look very close to see loads and loads of empty seats on the night. But the final itself looks spectacular and the songs on offer were generally good and surprisingly contemporary.

10. True Blue / Jorden är din
Lasse and Maggan Andersson - married at the time - were both able and professional studio musicians and backing singers but tried a little too hard to install something into their little song that was never there to start with. Dull and shouty.
Grade: 1/5

9. Catrin Olsson / När stormen går
A clear mismatch between a song that is decent and a singer who would have had a lot more to give in another type of entry. When the final chorus is repeated for the third time all hope is lost and no pretty string arrangement in the world would be enough to save this.
Grade: 2/5

8. Fingerprints / Mitt ibland änglar
A pretty anonymous band wasn't helped by the fact that this is more a bouncy rhythm than a functioning composition. For some reason, the juries saw something in this and placed it third on the night.
Grade: 2/5

7. Cajsa Bergström / Genom eld
Actually a pretty wonderful little song - modest and melodic - that would have needed a much stronger performer to pull it off. Cajsa looked tiny and scared on Globen's huge stage and walked off never to be heard from again.
Grade: 2/5

6. Visitors & Sofia Källgren / Världen är vår
Visitors were quite a popular little synthband that had had some nifty and progressive hits and it was a bit of a letdown to find what a traditional entry they had written for MF. There is no real sparkle between them and young Sofia Källgren, no drama or attraction or friction needed to kick real life into this package. Good but too nice.
Grade: 3/5

5. Lisa Nilsson / Du
Lisa almost got herself disqualified - and replaced by Arja Saijonmaa doing another Lasse Holm entry - because the rules were unclear about when people were allowed to reveal that they had entered songs for MF consideration. She would subsequently turn into one of Sweden's finest vocalists but wasn't quite there just yet and the song - signed Ljunggren-Almqvist-Forsman - is good but not their best. Enjoyable but not outstanding.
Grade: 3/5

4. Haakon Pedersen & Elisabeth Berg / Nattens drottning
Since MF 1988, Haakon had recorded a successful duet with Lotta Engberg and was on the verge of a breakthrough. He was given this Lasse Holm creation that paired a modern-sounding schlager with a few notes borrowed The Enchanted Flute by Mozart. Since then, many people have tried the same trick but it felt very fresh at the time. It didn't age awfully well but was my favourite to win back then.
Grade: 4/5

3. Lili & Susie / Okej Okej
L&S were originally scheduled to perform "Dansa i neon" in 1987 but were deemed too inexperienced. Since then, their popularity had exploded and they had made themselves a solid fanbase. Possibly the jury was a little bit too old to get the hype and held the sisters down in the voting. Despite not being one of their bigger hits at the time, this song had lived on and has in retrospect been upgraded to a classic.
Grade: 4/5

2. Eriksson-Glenmark / Upp över mina öron
Thomas "Orup" Eriksson had had a fantastic breakthrough in 1987 and was perhaps the hottest Swedish pop act at the time. He turned up as a duet together with long-time collaborator Anders Glenmark and together they sold their easy-going but effective pop song like there was no tomorrow.
Grade: 4/5

1. Tommy Nilsson / En dag
If there was anyone who could rival Orup's status as the top pop act, it was Tommy Nilsson. To have both of them take part in MF the same year was like a mad dream, a situation you'd dream of seeing again. Tommy had the advantage of getting a close to perfect song - suited for a pop audience as well as an international jury - that built and built without feeling repetitive. And his backing group, full of local stars, didn't hurt his chances either.
Grade: 5/5

A dream year for SVT with a good lineup, a slick final and several hit singles after the contest. MF would soon be going brutally downhill in popularity but there were still no real traces of that here.

In a parallel universe:
I dare say nobody else in the lineup would have bettered Tommy's fourth place for the simple reason that his song sounds modern but yet suitable for a pretty square orchestra like the one on offer in Lausanne. Those musicians would have slaughtered "Okej okej" and made "Upp över mina öron" lose all its cool.

Tommy Nilsson / En dag (Sweden 1989 NF performance)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1988

Malmö didn't exactly shine on its first two attempts at organising Melodifestivalen. Underproduced and lacklustre finals that did manage to select good ESC entries but failed in providing solid entertainment. This would prove third time lucky.

Producer Kåge Gimtell decided to make it big and placed the whole thing at the local city theatre, making full use of its revolving stage, sporting one of my favourite stage designs ever in a Swedish final. The live orchestra was placed under the baton of Anders Berglund and sounded magnificent compared to 1983.

The standard of songs was high - maybe not as elevated as the year before but also lacking obvious disaster entries like "Flyktingen" - and finally Malmö had settled for an experienced host: Bengt Grafström was warm, friendly and a little bit dry and very competent in handling most situations.

This year the regional juries were back and were - for the first time - shown live on screen. (Apparently a difficult process since it would take many years for it to happen again.)

The contest logo was shown live on stage too

12. Paul Rein / Bara du och jag
A bit of a scoop as young Paul Rein had had a number of hits and was well liked by a young audience. His song had been entered four years in a row and unfortunately it sounded like a reject as well. The chorus was catchy but kept repeating and repeating and repeating until three minutes start feeling like a very long time indeed.
Grade: 2/5

11. Karin Ljung & Michael Nannini / Säg är det sant
Two pretty unknown musicians wrote a song together and had it selected for the MF final. It's a nice story and a very nice song. Very pleasant. Not particularly memorable but very nice.
Grade: 2/5

10. Billy Gezon / Måndag i mitt liv
I used to hate this song back then but growing up I realised it only suffered from a poor choice of vocalist. Jazz singer Meta Roos was supposed to have sung it and she would probably have managed to make more of this most melancholic melody.
Grade: 2/5

9. Haakon Pedersen / Bang en explosion
Another pleasant but light-weight song, clearly aimed at a Svensktoppen audience, performed by a young Norwegian who would get a second chance the following year with a much better song.
Grade: 2/5

8. Sten Nilsson & Nilsonettes / Kärlek är...
Sten Nilsson was - and is - an institution on the Swedish dansband circuit. Much more than just a singer in a band, he has the qualities of an entertainer and is well known and loved also by people who wouldn't usually pay attention to his genre. This is another very pleasant song, but this is the year where the pleasant songs were too many for their own good and stole all the points off each other.
Grade: 2/5

7. Uffe Persson / Nästa weekend
One of Lasse Holm's few forgotten fiascos - and undeservedly so. This is a catchy and quirky little song with interesting drum breaks and a charming performer. Uffe Persson would make many attempts at breaking through but sadly never managed to impose himself as the star he seemed cut out to be.
Grade: 3/5

6. All of a Sudden / Dansa med vindarna
Malmö strikes again and makes sure at least one entry has a clear local touch by selecting a very young, inexperienced trio for the final. The song they wrote isn't bad and the youngsters don't just managed to pull off a charming performance, they also represented the dream of many a young fan: maybe it would be possible to one day stand on that stage yourself?
Grade: 3/5

5. Annica Burman / I en ding ding värld
The youngest performer of the night was of course compared to Carola by the press, but a comparison to Pernilla Wahlgren would have been more appropriate. This song is more of an improved version of "Piccadilly Circus" than anything else. Annica recorded a few more good singles before moving to the US some time later.
Grade: 3/5

4. Siw Malmkvist / Det är kärlek
Nineteen years after her last participation (for Germany), the incomparable Siw Malmkvist was back in the game with a song most people anticipated to go far. For reasons best known to the jurors themselves it didn't even reach the superfinal which, of course, it should have. Not that it affected the remarkable career of Siw, still going strong today.
Grade: 3/5

3. Lotta Engberg with Triple & Touch / 100 %
Torgny Söderberg is a man full of surprises. He managed to write a seemingly clumsy and old-fashioned ditty - the intro dances around like a drunk flock of elephants - where everything suddenly falls into place and becomes a first class schlager, accompanied by close to perfect lyrics by the genius that is Monica Forsberg. Fun and fresh and three lovely minutes.
Grade: 4/5

2. Tommy Körberg / Stad i ljus
Most reminiscent of "Anthem" - Körberg's big number from the musical "Chess" - this ballad could hardly lose. Tommy Körberg doesn't think much of it today but it's deliberately vague lyrics hit home and the song still means a lot to many people, often sung at weddings and funerals in Sweden.
Grade: 4/5

1. Lena Philipsson / Om igen
Three immortal classics in a row from Lena and yet she didn't win, not even with this - arguably the best ballad written by the trio Ljunggren-Almqvist-Forsman. Performed with an attack and a conviction most Swedish performers can only dream of. Perfection.
Grade: 5/5

It couldn't really end in another way: Tommy Körberg was a huge name and had just returned after playing "Chess" in London, a role many Swedes thought had propelled him into international stardom. Tough luck for Lena Philipsson in particular, but several of the songs of Class '88 lived long lives in various charts afterwards.

In a parallel universe:
What if Tommy Körberg's voice hadn't collapsed in Dublin? On the jury rehearsal apparently he sounded dreadful. How many placings would he have gained? Or was it just the bad luck of entering a ballad in a year with lots of other ballads? Sweden also had the misfortune to be drawn as #2 in the running order. I doubt Lena Philipsson would have done an awful lot better given the circumstance. Could this have been the better time for Lotta Engberg to shine?

Lena Philipsson / Om igen (Sweden 1988 NF)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1987

Gothenburg was still getting better at hosting Melodifestivalen and this time they really made a mark on the competition as they decided to enlarge the final and present twelve songs instead of ten. A real success story. I'll state it at once: this is the strongest lineup ever in a final fully produced by SVT Göteborg (discounting 1975 with was a stellar year but masterminded by Stockholm).

Unfortunately the show in itself wasn't as glorious as the songs in competition. Gothenburg television had for many years relied heavily on their star Fredrik Belfrage - who was now hosting for the third time - and he felt tired and not really engaged. No wonder as he had already hosted several hours of morning television that very same day.

Luckily the show turned into a real nail biting finish as Lotta Engberg and Arja Saijonmaa fought it out to the bitter end. To the very bitter end, apparently. Years later, Arja still talked about the disappointment at losing.

Picture borrowed from oppetarkiv.se

12. Jan-Eric Karlzon / Flyktingen
Most of the 1980's national finals have this surprising moment when you really must ask yourself what the selection jury was thinking when they decided to include a certain song. In 1987, this is the one. Pathetic lyrics about a refugee fleeing violence and death before ultimately feeling joyful about being sent back to "his people". Drivel.
Grade: 0/5

11. Baden Baden / Leva livet
The boys are back following their commercial success of last year. This song is a lot less anthem-esque and far more straightforward pop but also pretty flat and repetitive and went nowhere. Pretty much like the career of Baden Baden after this participation.
Grade: 1/5

10. Robert Wells / Sommarnatt
Despite successful entries in both 1984 and 1985, Göran Folkestad's singing career never really took off and now he contented himself with being just the composer. His chosen performer was a scoop - a young piano player who was the New Hot Thing and who had recently been elected Sweden's sexiest man. Somehow he and the song never really gel - would Göran Folkestad have sung it better himself? - and this relative failure kept haunting Robert Wells for years until he reinvented himself with the Rhapsody in Rock concept.
Grade: 1/5

9. Style / Hand i hand
Style was performing a difficult balancing act between making chart-friendly pop while being a well-groomed Svensktoppen act. This effort falls somewhere in between the two fields and is arguably better than their 1986 effort without feeling particularly important. Made the super final on old merits alone.
Grade: 2/5

8. Anna Book / Det finns en morgondag
Just like the Robert Wells-case, it seems Anna and her song are oddly mismatched. The song isn't bad and the lyrics are pretty good but don't seem credible coming from a performer this young (and - in all fairness - this limited). Soon after the final, CBS terminated Anna's record deal.
Grade: 2/5

7. Paul Sahlin & Anne Kihlström / Ung och evig
An aggressively cheerful and jaunty dansbandschlager that probably was less aimed at winning and more had the objective of reviving Paul's career which had been non-existing since his 1980 entry Tusen sekunder. If so, the trick worked and gave him a few more songs on Svensktoppen. Why the technicians decided to more or less eliminate his duet partner from the sound mix remains a bit of a mystery but the whole thing is effective enough.
Grade: 2/5

6. Lotta Engberg / Fyra bugg och en Coca-Cola
Another song that felt perfect back then but failed to stand the test of time. Skara goes Tropical and all the fruits are made of plastic. Two lasting things came out of this song, though. Lotta Engberg was launched into a stardom that lasts to this day and the problem with song title including two registered trademarks led to SVT slowly beginning to revise its outdated rule book.
Grade: 3/5

5. Annica Jonsson / Nya illusioner
Annica was another one of those talented singers floating around at the Mariann label without ever getting a real breakthrough. This is a quality schlager with elegant verses, a slick chorus and an almost parodically perfect key change.
Grade: 3/5

4. Cyndee Peters / När morgonstjärnan brinner
A powerful ballad of a kind seldom heard before in a melodifestival. The meeting between a well-crafted song (penned by Bobby Ljunggren, Håkan Almqvist and Ingela "Pling" Forsman who would continue working successfully together for many years to come) and gospel singer Peters added gravity and depth to the final. Beautiful.
Grade: 4/5

3. Sound of Music / Alexandra
Sound of Music was about to fall apart later that very year but their final participation was excellent proof that you can be jaunty, cheerful AND contemporary at the same time. The lyrics, celebrating friendship between girls, also makes a welcome exception from all the songs about love and falls perfectly into the line of Nanne's later output.
Grade: 4/5

2. Arja Saijonmaa / Högt över havet
We all thought we knew where we had Arja - Finland's most famous export to Sweden - when she suddenly made a record for the Mariann label together with Lasse Holm and made a surprise appearance in Melodifestivalen. This ridiculously effective stomper - making full use of Arja's dramatic Finnish accent - left Sweden craving for more and made sure Arja would never be forgotten.
Grade: 5/5

1. Lena Philipsson / Dansa i neon
For the second year running, Lena was criminally overlooked by the juries. Wasn't she modest enough? She wrote her own songs, made her own clothes, demanded the right to do things her own way. Was that annoying for a segment of the audience? Just like her 1986 entry, "Dansa i neon" found eternal life as a pop evergreen that will remain for many years still.
Grade: 5/5

For the second year running the juries failed to channel the public opinion in general and left Sweden with a winner that was good but no complete favourite. This was the last time that the jury was organised into age groups instead of having regional juries around the countries, maybe that's where the syntax error was to be found?

In a parallel universe:
Lotta only made it to 12th place in Brussels. My bet is that Lena, Arja or Sound of Music all would have had a reasonable shot at making the top five. Given that a ballad won the international final, maybe also Cyndee could have touched a few buttons around the continent.

Lena Philipsson / Dansa i neon (Sweden 1987 national final)

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1986

For the first time in five years Stockholm got to handle the national final and they managed to pull off a truly legendary edition that most people who were around at the time will remember vividly and fondly. How ironic that most things that added to making this edition stand out came out of budget restraints and being simply pennywise and nothing else.

It was decided - again - to host Melodifestivalen within the frame of another popular show and "Razzel" was the perfect fit. It was an all-evening-event of a tv show and lived highly on segments coming back week after week. During spring 1986 one of the recurring segments was meant to be Melodifestivalen semi finals, but when the news leaked out it sparked an outrage. People wanted one final where all the songs were new. The whole idea was scrapped.

Two major things were kept from the original concept: an unusually late date for the final (to allow many weeks of semis) and an unusual way of presenting the songs. The first circumstance turned out to be vital: on the very weekend when the national final was usually held - the last Saturday of February - Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme was murdered. Had the final been scheduled for that date it would have been cancelled. Possibly Sweden would have withdrawn from the Bergen final.

In order to make the low budget show more interesting - possibly originally to make the semi finals more interesting - it was decided to present all ten songs as video clips and only the five acts that made it into the super final got to perform live for the audience. Several of these clips made it into the shared collective memory and are considered classics today. The general standard was also sky high compared to previous years and most of the songs met with some sort of success afterwards.

Picture borrowed from oppetarkiv.se

10. Baden Baden / Jag har en dröm
They wanted to be a pop group but looked and sounded like a dansband. Their entry - a typically 80's plea for world peace - sounds extremely cheesy and dated today but stayed in the Svensktoppen chart way longer than any of its competitors.
Grade: 1/5

9. Karin Risberg / Stopp stopp stanna
A decent little pop number that suffers heavily from the fact that it is too short for its own good and keeps repeating its fairly simple chorus a few times more than anyone could stand. Its video clip also reveals how quickly these presentation films were made - in particular, the "photo session" during the musical break should be enough for poor Karin to take the director to court.
Grade: 2/5

8. Style / Dover-Calais
The biggest commercial hit of the lot appealed to a young audience that also found its male members really attractive. A simple singalong, in the words of my father a song "begging on its bare knees to be ridiculed". Very dated by nice at the time.
Grade: 2/5

7. Dan Tillberg / ABCD
Dan Tillberg was back again, still singing in his Scania dialect, but sporting an even softer image than the year before. Now he had a cute little song about the need to listen to our children and subsequently packed his clip with cute kids that were singing and dancing along. Catchy but a tiny bit too sweet to fully work.
Grade: 3/5

6. Git Persson / Du förför mig
A real curiosity. A Swedish tv show had had a feature on how to make a schlager star and suddenly she makes it to the Melodifestivalen final - as if by chance - with a good but odd song written by Anders Berglund, who was contracted to conduct the winning entry in the final. It does sound a bit fishy but all of that was forgotten as soon as the clip went on air, featuring top journalist Jan Guillou as Dracula, wearing the worst vampire teeth ever seen on television.
Grade: 3/5

5. Anna Book / ABC
Teenage starlet Anna Book had made memorable appearances in two popular tv shows for kids and had an entry aimed squarely at the younger audience. Clearly a non-winner but also this video clip lingers in the collective memory of the Swedes and thanks to these three minutes, Anna Book is still retaining some sort of star status to this day.
Grade: 3/5

4. Lasse Holm & Monica Törnell / É dé det här du kallar kärlek
The eventual winner clearly had the most amusing clip that managed to stir up quite a lot of emotion at the time. A most unexpected duet consisting of top songwriter Lasse Holm - scoring his fourth victory in five years - and rock singer Monica Törnell whose career was unfortunately in the process of pretty much derailing. This would be a well deserved moment in the sun for her.
Grade: 3/5

3. Fredrik / Fem i tolv
Teenage heartthrob Fredrik was - surprisingly - not among the five super finalists despite being cute as a button and having a real quality schlager to sing. This was another amusing clip but the juries were not allowed to see them at all before giving their marks and maybe this became just one little schlager among the others. One of my personal favourites, however.
Grade: 4/5

2. Sound of Music / Eldorado
Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen: Nanne Grönvall is in the house for the first time (even if she was still Nordqvist at the time) equipped with a contemporary entry with quirky and unusual lyrics. At the time most people expected Angelique - the other girl in the band - to be the star of the trio, but Nanne would prove them all wrong. Eventually.
Grade: 4/5

1. Lena Philipsson / Kärleken är evig
There she was - Torgny Söderberg's new talent - and how she shone. From the word go, it must have been obvious for everyone what star material Lena Philipsson was. Almost thirty years later, "Kärleken är evig" has a life of its own, remaining a true pop evergreen. Lyricist Per Gessle would soon go on to even greater things as his duo Roxette was about to make it to #1 in the US charts a few years later.
Grade: 5/5

A great year full of classic entries. It's just too bad that the juries went for the oldies in the super final as there were so much young talent bubbling right beneath the surface. In retrospect a highly successful final which is not necessarily how it was perceived at the time.

In a parallel universe:
Could anyone have bettered Lasse and Monica's fifth place in Bergen? Maybe Lena could. Maybe Sound of Music could. And if Sweden had sent young Anna Book - would Sandra Kim then have had as easy a victory in the end?

Lena Philipsson / Kärleken är evig (Sweden 1986 NF, video clip)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1985

While Gothenburg had learned fast on how to make a better tv show, Malmö would prove to have greater difficulties understanding what had gone wrong the first time. In an attempt to keep the budget to a strict minimum, the whole show was pushed inside one of their rather small studios, allowing only a limited audience and no room for any orchestra.

Using pre-recorded backing tracks was a good idea since everything sounded an awful lot better compared to two years earlier but some other production ideas didn't go down equally well. Turning the studio into a disco could have been a good idea but only looks cheap and tacky. Who'd like to be seen dancing in this scenery?

If Bibi Johns hadn't been inexperienced enough in 1983, this time Malmö opted for someone with even less television experience: a former miss Sweden who had no idea how to improvise or handle a situation like the scoreboard running amok. Which it did.

The general standard of entries was less impressive again. There exists an LP with 16 songs entered but rejected for this final and it is a mystery how some of the finalists were selected. What was the jury thinking?

Picture borrowed from oppetarkiv.se

10. Suzanne Frölén / Vänner
Suzanne was still a teenager but had released a number of singles and had been sent to Germany to record with an international team. A good voice and an obvious talent are totally wasted on a mind-numbingly dull song with amateurish lyrics. Whoever on Suzanne's team thought this would be a good idea?
Grade: 1/5

9. Per-Erik Hallin / Morgonluft
Per-Erik didn't give up and decided to try his hand at making gospel a popular genre in this contest and brought along a backing group of his own to add some temper to the performance. He should have worried more about the actual song that doesn't feel finished and contains a few abrupt changes too many to work. Feels like it is over before it even begins.
Grade: 1/5

8. Li Berg / Jag vet hur det känns
Just like Suzanne Frölén, Li had a few records to her name and seemed to operate in a very different musical landscape as she was suddenly pushed into melodifestivalen with a fairly basic entry. They both shared the same label and were possibly victims of the same poor decision-making. The best part of this is Li's helmet-like hair (as she makes a pirouette, not a single hair is moving) as well as the Prince Charming who is coming on to her as part of the performers. The stuff that nightmares are made of.
Grade: 2/5

7. Stefan Borsch / Sjung din sång
The Mariann label didn't always pay much attention to styling or staging and this is one case where it back-fired. This is quite a good and fairly bombastic schlager ballad that could easily have been improved and made more marketable. Stefan Borsch was a huge name on the dansband circuit and recorded several ESC entries in Swedish versions, often with pretty good results.
Grade: 2/5

6. Ritz / Nu har det hänt igen
A mature pop schlager that only made the final cut after one of the originally selected songs had been disqualified (and the first reserve met the same fate). More likeable that exciting and more of an album track than an entry that would stand a real chance in a song contest.
Grade: 2/5

5. Göran Folkestad / Eld och lågor
Second consecutive attempt from Göran who would never really impose himself as a solo singer. This chorus has a kind of call-and-response between him and the backing group that you hardly ever find anywhere else but in 1980's schlager. Nice and upbeat but that's pretty much it.
Grade: 2/5

4. Pernilla Wahlgren / Piccadilly Circus
A mega hit and a huge breakthrough, which probably goes out to explain why most people tend to remember this pretty standard schlager as better than it really is. Most Swedish people my age visiting London will start humming this to themselves when passing the place in question.
Grade: 3/5

3. Bel Air / 1 + 1 = 2
Proof that enough wrongs piled upon each other will turn into something rather fantastic in the end. The lyrics are forced, to say the least, and these three sisters weren't quite ready for the big time. If you listen carefully, you can probably hear the sound of a choreographer crying backstage. This is what Belle & The Devotions would have looked like had they grown up in the Swedish countryside and I love it.
Grade: 3/5

2. Dan Tillberg / Ta min hand
If this is Malmö, then you can be sure there will be some local talent involved. Just like Nils-Åke Runeson in 1983, Dan Tillberg sings in the local dialect of Scania but has a much better song. A fine example of clean-cut Swedish soft pop of the 1980's.
Grade: 3/5

1. Kikki Danielsson / Bra vibrationer
Apparently nobody saw this one coming. Kikki thought the song was too modern to suit her and was reluctant to sing it. The label never saw it as a winner. The press award went to Dan Tillberg. Everyone expected Pernilla Wahlgren to win. How come nobody heard what a terrifically strong entry this was? Obviously the best one of 1985. By miles and miles.
Grade: 5/5

Again Malmö had extreme luck and managed to find the golden ticket in a pretty weak final. Maybe this final left the heads of SVT in doubt of Malmö's abilities after all? It would take three years until they would have another shot at hosting and then they would show a very different approach to the event.

In a parallel universe:
Nobody else from this bunch could have impressed like Kikki did in Scandinavium. She was at the height of her popularity and was both professional and radiant. Dan Tillberg would have looked weak and lost on that big stage and Pernilla Wahlgren's song wouldn't have carried far at all. I doubt either one would have made into the top ten.

Kikki Danielsson / Bra vibrationer (Sweden 1985, NF performance)

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1984

In most people's minds, 1983 stood out as a success due to the tremendous breakthrough of Carola and her sensational third place in Munich. Perhaps thanks to this, the Swedish final stayed out in the districts (as opposed to returning to Stockholm) and this time Gothenburg took on the task.

SVT Göteborg proved to be fast learners and presented a final that was much more solid than the one in 1982. It was colourful and most entertaining, given the standard of your regular entertainment shows back in the mid-1980's. The level of competing entries was much higher and everyone was eager to see if there was a new Carola-phenomenon in making.

What transpired later was that the selection process was a bit suspicious as Bert Karlsson - the head of the Mariann label - had debated with members of the jury before the final cut had been made and made sure they changed their minds to include his new act Herreys in the lineup.

Picture borrowed from oppetarkiv.se

10. Per-Erik Hallin / Labyrint
At the time he was almost more famous for providing the Swedish voice for Donald Duck than for his own singing, and Per-Erik wanted to use Melodifestivalen as a platform for himself. The song, with its religious theme, means well but makes no greater difference. Most probably chosen for the sake of diversity.
Grade: 1/5

9. John Ballard / Rendez-vous
Written as a schlager parody, stapling every conceivable musical and lyrical cliché in existence, before getting taken very seriously by performer John Ballard himself. Very popular at the time but I have no warmer feelings for this.
Grade: 1/5

8. Rosa Körberg / Schack och matt
Tommy's baby sister had been the front woman of a rock band before ending up with this surprisingly standard schlager. Not a bad song as such but the vocal performance leaves quite a lot to be desired.
Grade: 2/5

7. Janne Önnerud / Nu är jag tillbaks igen
Another case of when a pretty good little schlager is wasted on a complete mismatch of a performer. This guy was experienced and well-known at the time but takes his entry nowhere and especially misses the opportunity of doing anything with the pretty good lyrics of the verses.
Grade: 2/5

6. Thomas Lewing / Tjuvarnas natt
Another mismatch but the other way around. Young Lewing has the voice as well as the looks and squeezes as much as anyone ever could out of this song. An amusing bagatelle but nothing more than that.
Grade: 3/5

5. Göran Folkestad & Lotta Pedersen / Sankta Cecilia
It is endearing to think back, knowing he was supposed to be the big star and she was hired to be his cheerful but anonymous sidekick. Today Lotta Engberg is one of Sweden's major household names while nobody knows what happened to Göran Folkestad. Bouncy but nowhere near as outstanding as the juries thought is was.
Grade: 3/5

4. Herreys / Diggi-loo diggi-ley
Most professional. Sweden had never seen anyone perform like this on a melodifestivalen stage before. Effective in every way, but I never fully recovered from my 1984 Diggi-loo diggi-ley overdose and just can't place it higher than this in my list.
Grade: 3/5

3. Elisabeth Andreasson / Kärleksmagi
Chips broke up pretty quickly after the 1982 melodifestival and while Kikki's solo career took off like a rocket it never looked good for Bettan. Bert Karlsson had advised her not to take on this one, and during rehearsals she famously lost her nerves and started singing badly. Luckily some singing lessons and a certain career offer from Norway would come in handy later in the year, but this pretty suggestive little piece would deserve more appreciation too instead of just being remembered as the song that almost wrecked Bettan.
Grade: 3/5

2. Vicki Benckert / Livet är som ett träd
Borderline aggressive/cheerful, this little gem really stands out as the closing number of this lineup. Vicki had written the lyrics to three of the ten songs in the running and kept the best one for herself. She'd seen enough focus more on being a studio musician and would famously show up in Tommy Nilsson's backing group in Lausanne in 1989.
Grade: 3/5

1. Karin & Anders Glenmark / Kall som is
Clearly the best pop song on offer. Bert Karlsson (or possibly Bruno Glenmark, depending on who's telling the story) objected to this one not being cheerful enough and maybe that's why the juries kept their points down. After one solo attempt each, this brother/sister-act decided it was better to sing together and had notable success under the name Gemini, co-produced by Björn & Benny.
Grade: 4/5

A strong and consistent lineup that was surprisingly hard to rank. Is "Kärleksmagi" really that good? Should "Schack och matt" come in so low? At the time, Herreys was the clear and deserved winner and the boys would have deserved a bit of a warmer reception from Swedish showbiz in general.

In a parallel universe:
Never argue with a winner. If the selected song goes on to win the ESC, it was the right choice. I would still have wanted to know what would have become of "Kall som is" on a Eurovision stage. The 1984 jury manifested a clear disinterest in anything bold or experimental, so probably the Glenmarks could have scraped in at a 7th place or so. Possibly.

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1983

If Gothenburg got to have a stab at Melodifestivalen, why shouldn't Malmö get the same kind of break? Said and done and the third biggest of Sweden's eleven television districts got themselves busy showing they knew how to make things work.

Only they didn't. In retrospect, Melodifestivalen 1983 stands out like a broadcast from another planet. Or another country, at least. The songs are weak, the orchestra is sub-standard and makes everything sound dated, and the host - without any particular experience of hosting tv-shows - is let alone without a decent script.

It looks cheap and it sounds cheap and if it hadn't been for the complete bullseye that was the winner, you can wonder if Malmö would ever had had a second chance to host.

Pictured borrowed from Expressen

10. Peter Lundblad & Agneta Olsson / Vill du ha mig efter gryningen
These two had plenty of experience both as solo singers and backing vocalists, but this love duet sound more like a beginning quarrel than two potential love birds. Strained singing and no memorable melody line in sight.
Grade: 1/5

9. Kerstin Dahlberg / Här är min sång till dig
Kerstin Dahlberg - described by the host as a most ambitious singer - had recorded a full album for the Mariann label two years before but was dumped by them after that. Here she was with a new record deal and a most approximate idea of how to hit the notes in her pretty forgettable entry.
Grade: 1/5

8. Karina Rydberg / Nu börjar jag mitt liv
SVT:s own tv magazine made a big feature on young Karina who hoped to leave her life as a shop attendant for a career in showbiz and painted the picture of her as The Next Big Thing. Too bad someone else would nick that very title before the night was over and too bad that poor Karina - who actually possesses both a good voice and a commanding presence - was given such a dull and nondescript song to perform. This is the last MF entry ever written by legendary Peter Himmelstrand who really didn't have one of his best days penning this.
Grade: 1/5

7. Nils-Åke Runeson / Värmen som du gav
If SVT Malmö would prove to have a mission when hosting MF, then it would be to push local talent into a bigger spotlight. This is the first MF entry ever sung in the dialect of Scania and would probably not have been among the ten selected, had the final been held by another district. Still it is a sweet, if slightly anonymous, song.
Grade: 2/5

6. Maria Wickman / Okej, jag ger mig
Since her 1982 entry, Maria Wickman had landed herself a deal with Epic records and was about to release a typical female rock/pop-album. In its recorded version, this is quite a well produced and catchy little number (even if the songwriting is weak in the verses). The orchestra in Malmö makes the whole thing fall to pieces and come to nothing, and Maria's album never really took off either.
Grade: 2/5

5. Karin Glenmark / Se
Swedish legendary singer/songwriter Östen Warnerbring had been so impressed with Karin Glenmark that he wanted to write her the perfect entry. Ambition is a good thing to have, but this one clearly suffers from the three-minute-rule. There are so many things Östen wanted to fit in and in the end you won't really retain anything. It's pleasant and beautifully sung but that's pretty much it.
Grade: 2/5

4. Ann-Louise Hanson & John Ballard / Bara en enda gång
I must admit that I first heard this song in its English version and after that, the Swedish original could never measure up. It always felt clunky and half-baked somehow. But if you are willing to overlook that, it's still a sweet song and the idea to turn Ann-Louise into a cougar and pair her with young and sweet John Ballard is a strike of genius.
Grade: 3/5

3. Ritz / Marionett
Let's just put one thing straight: in my world Monica Forsberg is a cultural monument. She should be the Queen. Or a president. She cannot do anything wrong. And as lead singer (and lyricist) she manages to turn this little ditty into a classic. Lands in exactly the right landscape between silly and cute, between catchy and annoying.
Grade: 3/5

2. Kikki Danielsson / Varför är kärleken röd?
Nothing could have stopped Carola from winning anyway but Kikki had good reason at cursing at the orchestra. What is a slick and elegant number in its recorded version is savagely trampled on until only scattered bits and pieces remain. Kikki's solo career took off anyway with a string of hits this year, while this really nice one remained pretty overshadowed and forgotten.
Grade: 3/5

1. Carola / Främling
Nothing could have stopped Carola from winning anyway but it was a happy circumstance for her that her song was the only one the orchestra know how to play without making it sound sloppy or hopeless. Lasse Holm had perfected his craft and written a close-to-perfect song tailor-made for Carola and has denied the story that Kikki was the first choice to perform it. Full marks from every jury is no surprise given how everything else sounded on the night.
Grade: 5/5

Carola was obviously the best choice for Munich but again I would have loved to seen what could have happened in a parallel universe where Kikki Danielsson had had a better management, better styling, a choreographer and an orchestra able to actually play her entry. Maybe it wouldn't have topped Carola's third place, but it would have been worth the effort for sure.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1982

Maybe Stockholm got punished for downscaling the 1981 Melodifestival, but the competition was about to leave the capital and not come back for five years. Instead, Gothenburg had its real first shot at organising a Eurovision pre-selection.

Gothenburg had in fact hosted the 1975 melodifestival but the whole thing had been masterminded by the same old people in Stockholm. This time, Sweden's second city unleashed their own team and were determined to breathe new life into the show.

The biggest change of format was the introduction of a superfinal: five of the ten competing songs would qualify for the superfinal and get voted upon by the juries while the five non-qualifiers would all officially share the 6th place.

Maybe the ten selected songs don't constitute the strongest line-up ever but at least SVT Göteborg would learn fast how to do things better.

10. Little Gerhard & Yvonne Olsson / Hand i hand med dig
The whole show opened with this jaunty but lukewarm old schlager of a kind nobody wanted anymore (if ever). Half-heartedly performed by a duo without any trace of chemistry.
Grade: 1/5

9. Annika Rydell & Lasse Westmann / Här har du din morgondag
Would you believe? Another jaunty but lukewarm old schlager of a kind nobody wanted anymore (if ever) performed by another duo without any trace of chemistry. At least young Annika showed some temper and talent, totally wasted on a non-song like this.
Grade: 1/5

8. Charlie Hillson / Då kommer min ängel
Let's be kind and call this one an interesting fiasco. An attempt at Swedish rock with contemporary and slightly humorous lyrics that could, perhaps, have amounted to something in the hands of a better performer. The most intriguing part about it is the echo chamber effect performed live by the backing vocalists.
Grade: 1/5

7. Shanes / Fender '62
A harmless but slightly sexist set of lyrics - "I always admired the shapes of her body" - that finally turn out to be about a guitar and not a woman. Oh, well. Acceptable.
Grade: 2/5

6. Liza Öhman / Hey-hi-ho
Liza's solo career kick-started in Melodifestivalen 1980, but only two years later she didn't seem to keen on it anymore. She was already well established as one of Sweden's top backing vocalists and maybe that seemed more appealing. Anyhow, she is by far the best thing about this catchy but fairly mediocre piece of schlager rock.
Grade: 2/5

5. Chattanooga / Hallå hela pressen
This was the song that was hailed as the winner by the younger generation that found something off-beat and less streamlined than the general melodifestivalen output. Charming in its own well but also slightly amateurish. Could have been more than it was.
Grade: 3/5

4. Maria Wickman / Dags att börja om igen
Far too low-key to stand any major chance in 1982, but this is a sensitive little break-up-ballad well performed by another one of all those talented singers than never really made it big in the business.
Grade: 3/5

3. Lena Ericsson / Någonting har hänt
Another soft-spoken but suggestive pop gem with very sweet lyrics about finding love (and sex, most probably, from the sound of a line or two). Lena Ericsson always deserved more attention as a solo singer and despite ending in second place, this song went nowhere commercially after the contest.
Grade: 3/5

2. Ann-Louise Hanson / Kärleken lever
Now we are talking power schlager as Ann-Louise takes to the stage dressed up as the coolest chick in town, armed with a brilliantly arranged pop song written by Anders Glenmark. For some reason the juries gave this one the cold shoulder after voting it into the superfinal, but Ann-Louise still is the coolest chick in town and would still be a good choice for Eurovision.
Grade: 4/5

1. Chips / Dag efter dag
"A mutant schlager monster that crushes every piece of resistance" as one of the evening newspapers put it and I can only agree. The first tangible evidence that Team Mariann had started to master the art of crafting Eurovision songs. There were still a few wrinkles to iron out but this one still feels like an early classic and the shameless nicking of the "wa-wa-wa"-hook from "Waterloo" is the final touch.
Grade: 4/5

The jury made the right decision - of course. No other song in the running would have had a chance of impressing an international audience more than "Dag after dag" in Harrogate. Possibly Ann-Louise could have given Arlette Zola a run for the money, but we will never know.

Then sadly Chips didn't do as well as anticipated in the ESC final. For some reason their performance felt more forced and less lively compared to the one in Gothenburg. An 8th place was Sweden's best showing since Abba - shared with Lasse Berghagen - but was still disappointing. Time to gear up.

Chips - Dag efter dag (Sweden 1982, melodifestivalen performance)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1981

The 1981 Melodifestival is really the odd one out in many ways. There was no sort of open competition where people could send in entries and had only five songs in the running, written by the five composers achieving most success in the Svensktoppen chart during the last year.

The show didn't even have its own slot but was organised as an appendix to another popular entertainment show. Björn Skifs took his second victory in four attempts and got to show himself in a tight, body-hugging outfit on the stage in Dublin.

Björn Skifs with host Janne Carlsson. Picture borrowed from oppetarkiv.se

Ranking the songs really is a real walk in the park. Very easy to know what is good and what is not. Had I been the jury, the evening would have ended this way:

5. Anders Glenmark / Det är mitt liv, det är jag
Anders Glenmark is a great composer, arranger, producer and occasionally a nifty hitmaker in his own right. However, I never got my head around this particular song which fails to trigger any major emotion in me apart from stress.
Grade: 1/5

4. Janne Lucas / Rocky Mountain
Following up his silly but charming song from 1980 with this even sillier but weaker ditty about musical Indians singing scales together every day at eleven sharp. Not unpleasant but pretty pointless. And nowhere near as charming as Växeln hallå.
Grade: 2/5

3. Björn Skifs / Fångad i en dröm
Björn Skifs and his songwriting partner Bengt Palmers were about to turn the opportunity down as they were busy writing their musical Spök and had no time throwing anything else together. Instead they decided to enter one of the musical's tunes and get a bit of free promotion. The song won and the show went on to be a smash hit, running for a long time on stage in Stockholm.
Grade: 3/5

2. Kicki Moberg / Men natten är vår
Abba were about to start recording "The Visitors" but Agnetha Fältskog took precious time off and composed an entry, complete with the first lyrics Ingela "Pling" Forsman ever competed with in MF. Today an event like this would have blown all competition out of the water but for some reason the juries largely overlooked this one. Maybe because newcomer Kicki Moberg was nervous and sounded slightly sharp and shrill when singing live, but this entry clearly deserved better than a last place.
Grade: 4/5

1. Sweets 'n' Chips / God morgon
Chips temporarily had to change their name due to another band claiming the right to that band name, and sported a new and better line-up compared to the year before. Lasse Holm and Kikki Danielsson were still there, now accompanied by Tania who had been performing solo in 1980 and a brand new talent named Elisabeth Andreasson who was about to make quite a mark on ESC history. This was slick, elegant and catchy but it seems the juries were reluctant to vote for any song entered by the Mariann label. At least for the time being.
Grade: 4/5

It remains puzzling as why SVT decided to downgrade Melodifestivalen this year as well as why it was so hard for the juries to reward anything coming from the countryside hit factory in Skara. "God morgon" would have been a fresh and energetic ending to the ESC lineup in Dublin and my guess is it would have improved the Swedish showing a bit. An eighth place, perhaps?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tobson takes on Melodifestivalen 1980

Usually I take on the ESC finals and rank all the songs for the entertainment of my readers (and myself) but life is more than just Eurovision finals. It is also national finals. And since I grew up in Sweden in the 1980's, that particular decade of melodifestivalen means a lot to me.

So I thought I'd do a little special and rank the songs of Melodifestivalen each year for the 1980's and what place is better to start than at the beginning?

The 1980 Melodifestival was held in the largest studio available at SVT Stockholm and was the first edition in many years to be broadcast live. Ten songs were in the running, presented in a fairly relaxed way by television veteran Bengt Bedrup, and Tomas Ledin finally won on his fifth attempt.

Picture borrowed from svt.se

If I had been the omnipotent jury, this is how I'd rank the songs:

10. Chips - Mycke' mycke' mer
The first edition of Chips - featuring Kikki Danielsson and Lasse Holm - was the red hot favourite to win and the song the relatively new label Mariann had pinned its hopes upon. I can see the charm but the song is weak and the lyrics even weaker. Not bad but nothing to write home about.
Grade: 2/5

9. Paul - Tusen sekunder
Quite an elegant little ballad that was later recorded also by Chips in an English version. Melodic and pleasant but Paul - former known as Paul Paljett - isn't much of a performer and makes very little of his song. Would have needed a much more convincing act to get anywhere.
Grade: 2/5

8. Kenta - Utan att fråga
"Off-beat" is nowhere near enough to describe this odd entry by occasional singer Kenta, more known from a number of documentary films about young people at the outskirts of society. Rather poetic but not really my cup of tea.
Grade: 2/5

7. Lasse Lindbom - För dina bruna ögons skull
Written by Per Gessle at the height of his career with his first band Gyllene Tider. He didn't want to enter himself and Lasse Lindbom feels like a pretty poor replacement that lets the song down a bit. Good and unusual chorus, however.
Grade: 2/5

6. Eva Dahlgren - Jag ger mig inte
Eva Dahlgren didn't want to be there. She wanted to be somewhere else. Any place would do. And you could sort of tell. Her lyrics hint at her not being at ease in this competition and in the end she refused to even smile to the cameras. She'd go on to do fantastic things in the Swedish pop world, but Melodifestivalen just wasn't her thing.
Grade: 3/5

5. Tomas Ledin - Just nu
A fairly good rocker and clearly my favourite of Tomas Ledin's solo attempts in Melodifestivalen but the live version never reaches the climax of the studio version. I like my rock songs with sharper edges.
Grade: 3/5

4. Tania - Åh, sjuttiotal
Tania was one of those talents that Mariann records never quite knew what to do with. She had an intriguing voice and presence but never got the right material. This is a good effort, marred by an ill-advised decision to sing the whole thing in a falsetto voice. Also, there are limits to how much you can borrow from other songs and get away with it. Anyone not thinking about Abba's "Gimme Gimme Gimme" after hearing this one can please raise their hand.
Grade: 3/5

3. Janne Lucas - Växeln hallå
A silly but hyper-effective little song about longing for someone you've fallen head over heels in love with but ending up with a snotty receptionist on the line instead. A big hit and an evergreen and deservedly so.
Grade: 3/5

2. Ted Gärdestad & Annica Boller - Låt solen värma dig
Last year's winner came back in the company of his then girlfriend, armed with a song that is obviously a plea against nuclear energy. The presence of this song is nothing short of a mystery. Sweden held a referendum on whether to discontinue its nuclear plants or not a few weeks later and this lyric should normally have been deemed too politically charged to be performed on tv at the time. Also, Ted's record label manager - the incomparable Stikkan Andersson - was famously pro-nuclear power. How did he allow this song to go through? It's a catchy little protest, however. Arguably better than Ted's entry for Jerusalem the year before.
Grade: 4/5

1. Liza Öhman - Hit men inte längre
I'd love to peek into this parallel universe where Liza and her attitude-packed piece of disco rock had represented Sweden in The Hague. It was enough to kick-start her solo career that would result in her being awarded the title "Female Singer of the Year" in Sweden 1980. The best one by a mile.
Grade: 4/5

Quite a good year and Tomas Ledin is an OK choice. My guess is still that Liza would have scored better internationally, perhaps somewhere around 7th place. (And if Ted would have won, I predict all hell would have broken loose over the content of the lyrics.)