1956 Contest Song Reviews: The Netherlands

Given that we have a couple of weeks before Estonia starts dropping songs for the Eesti Laul quarter-finals, and there isn’t a lot else going on that I feel the need to comment on, I’ll start my “downtime” series on this blog: reviewing songs from previous contests. My initial thought was to begin with 1997, the first contest I watched, but I’ve decided to start at the beginning: 1956. As there were only seven participating countries back then, each submitted two songs. I’ll review them by country, and then in a final post in which I listen to the contest itself, I’ll rank them according to my personal preference. Today, the Netherlands — conveniently, a country in which I lived for several years, if you haven’t read my About page. So I won’t have to go chasing down lyric translations just yet!

The first song to be sung at the Eurovision Song Contest was “De vogels van Holland” (The Birds of Holland) by Jetty Paer. It’s worth noting that Paer was a Jewish woman whose family managed to escape to the UK at the start of the Second World War. From there, she participated in broadcasts of Radio Oranje, which was the station of the Dutch government-in-exile. So it was a nice touch to start the contest with a symbol of survival.

However, the song itself leaves a lot to be desired. The tune is upbeat and catchy, but the lyrics, written by iconic Dutch writer Annie M.G. Schmidt, seem to go against the spirit of the contest. They claim that the Netherlands has the most musical birds of any country on Earth, even going to far as to say that French, Japanese and Chinese birds pretty much sound alike. According to the lyrics, the Netherlands has the bluest puddles, the kindest girls — you get the idea — that’s why birds sing so sweetly there. Maybe I’m being harsh, but in a contest which was suppose to showcase European unity, the opening song hints more at the nationalism of the past rather than a united future.

The second entry for the Netherlands that evening, “Voorgoed voorbij” (Forever in the past) by Corry Brokken, won the Dutch national final (Jetty Paer was the runner-up). It is a more conventional love song about a failed relationship. Musically, it doesn’t grab you as quickly as “De vogels van Holland”, but has an interesting marching beat during the instrumental break in the second half of the song which builds to the final verse. Brokken is the better singer of the two Dutch entries; at times Paer sounds a bit forced. Overall, I think the Dutch public were correct to give the win to this song.