ESC 1965: Song Reviews

All right, I’m back! With the official-ish start of the Eurovision season a couple of weeks away, and the bidding process for the 2023 host city down to its shortlist stage, it seemed like a good time to return to my reviews of contests past in preparation for next year.

This time, I’m reviewing all the songs in a single post, and then the show itself afterwards. There won’t be the two-songs-per-post system for the 2023 national selections, in case you were wondering. Just one post for all the songs in a particular show.

AUSTRIA – “Sag ihr, ich lass sie grüßen” by Udo Jurgens
Udo’s back for a second go at the contest, and despite my frequent proclamations that schlager isn’t a genre I have much interest in, I’m starting to think I might be in denial. While I don’t like this as much as his previous entry, this is still wonderfully nostalgic and the vocals are as smooth as honey.

BELGIUM – “Als het weer lente is” by Lize Marke
Fairly standard uptempo love ballad with some nice wordplay and vocal arrangements. Happy to listen to it when it’s on, but I don’t seek it out.

DENMARK – “For din skyld” by Birgit Brüel
This kind of ballad has been done to death by this point in my opinion, but I imagine I’ll have to endure more of this for a few years yet. The musical arrangement has the “walking in a forest” atmosphere which wasn’t particularly original to begin with.

FINLAND – “Aurinko laskee länteen” by Viktor Klimenko
Parts of this song feel modern, especially the horns — they really carry the track, and are too much in the background for my liking. Klimenko’s voice isn’t hugely engaging, but he brings warmth to the performance.

FRANCE – “N’avoue jamais” by Guy Mardel
Sticking with their tried and tested formula once again, France brings us a charming, uplifting chanson which doesn’t do anything wrong and has a catchy chorus, but that’s about where it ends.

GERMANY – “Paradies, wo bist du?” by Ulla Wiesner

I’m not sure of the count, but this isn’t the first or second time Germany has sent in an entry which sounds like it belongs in a dusty bar long after dark. They do this kind of thing quite well. I suspect the eerie atmosphere of the studio version will be ruined by the orchestra on stage, but hopefully it can retain some of its quirky rhythms and beats.

IRELAND – “Walking the Streets in the Rain” by Butch Moore

Any Eurovision fan will be able to tell you that Ireland has won the competition seven times, more than any other country — being particularly dominant in the 1980s and 1990s. But it all started here, with their debut; and I think you can already hear that success is not far off. This song is fully realised and memorably dramatic, even if perhaps a little dated.

ITALY – “Se piangi, se ridi” by Bobby Solo
Ah yes, the good old Italian ballad. I’ve heard better, I’ve heard worse. It’s just not an exciting song in the context of what else is on offer this year.

LUXEMBOURG – “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” by France Gall
Arguably the moment Eurovision started featuring pop music, you can tell this is going to be something special from the tension in the first bars, which release with a burst into a song which doesn’t let up for all of its 2.5 minutes. This is considered to be one of the great entries of the early years of Eurovision, the only blemish being the questionable way in which songwriter Serge Gainsbourg used the lyrics to suggest control over Gall as his “doll” — a joke that 18-year-old Gall was left out of. It is worth taking into consideration that she distanced herself from the song and the contest in later years.

MONACO – “Va dire à l’amour” by Marjorie Noël
Simple but effective ballad, probably the best of the more traditional offerings this year. The studio version gives Noël plenty of room to make the most of her vocals, and hence I’m worried about the orchestra drowning her out on the night.

NETHERLANDS – “‘t Is genoeg” by Conny Vandenbos

Leave it to the rational, down-to-earth Dutch to bring along songs about what happens after the love songs of the Italians and French. Like Corry Brokken in 1957, Vandenbos sings of a relationship gone awry — although in this case it’s not the boredom of a loveless marriage, but being played by her boyfriend. The song is pacey and I expect Vandenbos to deliver a similarly put-out performance on stage.

NORWAY – “Karusell” by Kirsti Sparboe
I prefer this song about a carousel to the one performed by Lys Assia for Switzerland in 1956, but that’s about where it ends. The presentation of this is too cutesy; it sounds like it’s come out of a children’s musical. Junior Eurovision is still many decades away.

PORTUGAL – “Sol de inverno” by Simone de Oliveira
Back for their second year, Portugal continues to establish their reputation for eclectic entries: this track swings about the place, with de Oliveira’s vocals shifting from semi-operatic to hushed and intimate (and back again). I struggle to get a grasp on this song, but admittedly my interest in Portuguese entries is something that I’ve only developed recently.

SPAIN – “¡Qué bueno, qué bueno!” by Conchita Bautista
There’s a long-running debate in Eurovision circles as to whether artists should return for a second shot, especially if they’ve done particularly well the first time. I don’t expect this will ever be resolved, because there are plenty of examples fro both sides of the argument. In this case, while Bautista’s second entry is an entirely competent song, it doesn’t have the anywhere near the immediate and lasting impact of “Estando Contigo” in 1961.

SWEDEN – “Absent Friend” by Ingvar Wixell
One of the great innovators of Eurovision history, Sweden noticed that the rule of singing in one of your official languages technically was an unspoken one, so they decided to chance it with one in English. This made some sense, given that the UK was regularly at the pointy end of the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the song they chose was an uninspired aria sung in such a way that it wasn’t always clear that the language was indeed English. Maybe that was the point?

SWITZERLAND – “Non, à jamais sans toi” by Yovanna

Switzerland trying to out-French the French with a chanson that could easily have been sent in from Paris. It doesn’t do much for me, especially when I keep expecting to shift into “Non, je ne regrette rien” as the “non” is almost identical.

UNITED KINGDOM – “I Belong” by Kathy Kirby
The British kept slightly missing the mark in early-to-mid 1960s. They sent in perfectly competent and memorable songs, but there was always something else that had a stronger appeal in the end. I don’t mind this one, but there’s something about it that feels too formal. Having said that, I think I am harder on songs where I speak the language sung because I have a greater appreciation of nuances I wouldn’t pick up elsewhere.

YUGOSLAVIA – “Čežnja” by Vice Vukov
In this year’s batch, you can see some countries shift towards a more contemporary sound, whereas others, like Yugoslavia, continue to send in tracks which wouldn’t be out of place in the 1950s. I’m afraid I find this one too difficult to focus on, too easy to skip.