Although I only recently started watching ESC when it first became OFFICIALLY available in the US when Logo broadcast it in 2016 (I was hooked INSTANTLY!), I’ve been aware of it for a long time, thanks to my natural love of music. And because I was a DEVOTED listener of “American Top 40” in my younger years, it was when I was in fifth grade that the late, great Casey Kasem clued me into the existence of Eurovision in 1974, when Mocedades and ABBA were first charting in America. And again in 1975 when Teach In hit the Billboard AC chart and they were featured on another short-lived countdown show using that chart, “Music Scene USA with Wink Martindale“. I didn’t realize that “Save Your Kisses For Me” was a Eurovision song until more recently, even though it was all over radio in the US in 1976. Same with “Volare“.
After I got into ESC, I started voraciously going back through the entire history of the contest, checking out songs here and there, and finding a lot of songs that were, well, in my opinion, good but not great. Not that they were bad – although some of them have been and we’ll talk about THOSE later in the week, heh heh. But I’ve also found quite a few that I rather like, quite a lot. Even five years later, I doubt I’ve heard more than 20% or so of all the entries, although I’m trying to hear more and more of them every day. But of the ones I have heard that came out during the 20th century, I’ve found fifteen of them that stick out to me as favorites – songs I’ve played over and over again. So these are my top songs of the contest from its inception in 1956 through the 2000 contest. Once again, all the clips worked for me when I checked them yesterday on the PC, so remember it might not work on other media like phones, tablets, dongles, or others – your mileage may vary!
And now….AWAY WEEEE GOOOOO!
15. “Theatre” – Katja Ebstein – Germany 1980 – 2nd
I LOVE the staging on the live performance from this, and I also think it would have been a better champion than “What’s Another Year” by Johnny Logan, which to be honest I have always found to be kind of a meh, standard heartbreak ballad, nothing better or worse than other acts of the day. This is fun and original and I really wish ESC had gone with this one in 1980.
14. “Disco Tango” – Tommy Seebach – Denmark 1979 – 6th
Ok, the word “Disco” is in the song title, so you KNOW I’m going to be there, heh heh. And the man actually succeeded in putting disco to a tango beat – fantastic. Truthfully, it doesn’t surprise me that Denmark came up with this – they have a way of taking advantage of current musical trends. I also love the typical disco ripoff of the “Hernando’s Hideway” note succession at end of the chorus, something a TON of disco songs did…And man, can Seebach rock that 70s porn-stache or what?
13. “Knock Knock Who’s There” – Mary Hopkin – United Kingdom 1970 – 2nd
Hopkins’ “Those Were The Days” was a true classic of my childhood, but I hadn’t really looked up any of her other music over the years. But this simple little ditty is definitely a fun little song and so very much Eurovision-ish in its sound and feel…
12. “Fly On The Wings Of Love” – The Olsen Brothers – Denmark 2000 – GRAND CHAMPION
I’m still stunned that this song didn’t make an impact on the American charts – this is just such a wonderful, feel-good love song.There’s a reason it’s considered an ESC Classic these days, and was easily the one to beat in 2000. How could anyone not want to fall in love with this song playing behind them? It’s utterly FANTASTIC! 🙂
11. “Ne parti pas sans moi” – Celine Dion – Switzerland – 1988 – GRAND CHAMPION
Of course this is going to be on the list – it’s freakin’ CELINE DION for Pete’s sake! While I question the outfit she chose to wear at the contest (heh heh), there is no doubt that the worldwide superstar she would soon become was clearly in evidence, so confidant in her performance, so sure she was right on point – and she WAS…she usually is. It was easy to see she would go on to become one of the most beloved female vocalists of all time…and it all started at Eurovision 1988…
10. “Hold Me Now” – Johnny Logan – Ireland 1988 – GRAND CHAMPION
In all honesty, this isn’t much different in tone and feel than his earlier winner, “What’s Another Year”, but I like the lyrics better, and his performance is much more lively here than he was in 1980, which was just BLAAAAH. They call Logan “Mr Eurovision” for his double win as a performer/writer and his additional songwriting win, and there’s a reason for that – he’s perfectly suited to be the type of performer who excels at Eurovision…
9. “Rock And Roll Kids” – Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettingan – Ireland 1994 – GRAND CHAMPION
This touch of days gone by is utterly captivating, the introspective and reflective lyrics are beautiful, and the wonderfully simple instrumentation adds to the overall nostalgic feel of the song. Their harmonies are perfect, and the song just washes over you and doesn’t let you forget it…and it never fails to bring a tear to my eye…simply MAGIC from beginning to end…
8. “Save Your Kisses For Me” – The Brotherhood Of Man – United Kingdom 1976 – GRAND CHAMPION
The first of the songs on this list that was a pretty big American hit, hitting #1 on Billboard‘s Adult Contemporary chart and #27 on the Hot 100, the group had already hit with “United We Stand” several years earlier. The songs cutesy lyrics are hella fun, and I remember this being all over the radio when I was in 7th grade. That choreography though…ROTFLMFAO! The song’s unexpected final line hook and fade cements it forever as one of the greatest Eurovision champions of all time, even with the dorky choreography…
7. “Apres Toi” – Vicki Leandros – Luxembourg 1972 – GRAND CHAMPION
I admit to being fairly new to this song – I only checked it out for the first time about a year ago – but it’s easy to see why it won the top spot in 1972. Leandros had been in Eurovision a number of times prior to winning with this French-language break-up love ballad. and she was a dynamic performer by this point in her career, the kind of singer that Celine Dion would later develop into, able to handle all kinds of music and emotion in the song. She’s just dynamite all the way around.
6. “Nel blue dipinto del blu (Volare)” – Dominico Modugno – Italy 1958 – 3rd Place
I have loved this song since I was a kid, but I didn’t even realize it was a Eurovision entry until researching what Eurovision songs had hit the American chart about three years ago. It is officially the biggest hit Eurovision song of all time on the Billboard charts, spending five weeks (non-consecutive) at the top of the chart, was Billboard‘s #1 song of the year in 1958 – one of only two foreign-language songs to receive that honor thus far, the other being 2017’s “Despacito” (which because of the remix, was NOT entirely in Spanish) – and won the Grammy award for “Record Of The Year” – the VERY FIRST one ever given – in early 1959. It’s also one of the most covered ESC songs of all time, recorded thousands of times by artists in dozens of languages worldwide. It was a hit several more times over the years in the US in English as “Volare“, by Dean Martin, Bobby Vinton, Vic Damone, and Al Martino (a disco version, yikes!) among others. It has well earned its spot in history, not too damn shabby for a song that didn’t even win the contest…:-)
5. “Love Shine A Light” – Katrina And The Waves – United Kingdom 1997 – GRAND CHAMPION
Katrina and the Waves are considered a one hit wonder in the US, never again hitting the US airwaves in a major way after their breakthrough mid-80s smash “Walking On Sunshine” was severely overplayed by US Radio. But in other parts of the world they’ve continued to have hits, and I was sure this song would return them to the American charts. At the time of this win, I was working for a major record store chain (what’s THAT, daddy?) and we were hearing great things about the song, although I don’t remember any discussion of ESC coming up with it, probably because they were afraid radio wouldn’t touch it; it wasn’t to be anyway. But I fell in love with the song at the time and it remains a favorite to this day.
4. “Ding A Dong” – Teach In – The Netherlands 1975 – GRAND CHAMPION
OK, NOW we’re getting into the SERIOUS stuff, heh heh. I have LOVED this song from DAY ONE. It’s just so chirpyhappyearthyhippie how can you NOT love it?Although it didn’t make a HUGE impact on the charts in the US, in the way it’s predecessor (see #2) and its follow-up (see #8) would, it did enough. It was biggest on the Billboard “Easy Listening” (now Adult Songs) chart, where it climbed to #25 and got some airplay in the Seattle/Tacoma market where I was living at the time. It’s also had the honor of being referenced in a Sundance-winning film, “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl“, and I was the only person at our local film festival premiere of that film who got the joke that was made about it, because I was probably the only person there who knew what the hell it was…To be totally honest, had the language rule not changed so the song could be performed in English, I honestly don’t think the song would have won that year, as it would have been in Dutch, and the English version is much more fluid-sounding to me.
3. “Waterloo” – ABBA – Sweden 1974 – GRAND CHAMPION
Officially voted the greatest Eurovision winner OF ALL TIME by fans at the occasion of the contests’ 60th anniversary in 2015, it truly deserves its place in history and legend. “Waterloo” is just a great song all the way around, with a driving, fun melody, a perfectly worded lyric, and a singable chorus. It launched ABBA into international superstardom, putting them on the path to becoming one of the most successful acts of all time, and made me a LIFELONG fan as well. Although TBH I prefer several of their other hits – probably “Dancing Queen”, “Take A Chance On Me” and “VoulezVous” – over “Waterloo”. And unlike Teach-in above, I think even if had been performed in Swedish, it would have won. The song was just THAT DAMN GOOD.
2. “Eres Tu” – Mocedades – Spain 1973 – 2nd Place
I don’t speak Spanish – not a word. Never have, despite the best efforts of aunts and uncles who tried to teach it to me as a small child. But this song instilled in me my almost lifelong deep love of Latin music; from the second I first heard it on the radio, I was totally entranced. To this day, I still love Latin music – see my huge collection of Luis Miguel CDs – because I like the flow, the way each phrase is spoken, the distinctly different Latino beat. When “Eres Tu” was out here and a major radio hit in the U.S., and I bought the 45 (what’s THAT, Daddy? Ooops, sorry, already did that joke, heh heh) of it one day, my Mom was APPALLED – “What is that? Why did you buy that? It’s not even in English!” I told her, simply, “I like it.” That was good enough for her. I taught myself the lyrics phonetically, learned it backwards and forwards, and to this day, I ABSOLUTELY ADORE THIS SONG. And it held a Billboard record for many many years – until “Despacito” came along in 2017, it was the highest-charting Spanish language song in Billboard history, climbing to #9 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1974; it technically STILL holds that record, as it remains the ONLY pure Spanish song to do so, since “Despacito” was parity in English on the single, which featured (shudder) Justin Bieber on it, and so were other releases to chart from Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Enrique Iglesias, among others. It’s also one of the most recorded songs in history as well. The English language version, “Touch The Wind“, is NOT a direct translation – it features totally original lyrics, and both versions have been hits by other artists on a variety of US charts over the years. And going back to Luis Miguel for a moment…his 1988 cover version is just MARVELOUS…
1. “Love Is Blue” – Paul Mauriat and his Orchestra – Luxembourg 1967 – cover version of “L’amour est blu” performed by Vicky (Leandros) – 4th place
Yes, this is a total cheat, and I know it. It’s also one of the most-recorded Eurovision songs EVER, along with “Volare” and “Eres Tu” among others. Although the song became a hit in French as “L’amour est blu” and in English as “Love Is Blue” (and even as “Colours Of Love” in a few places) by a variety of recording artists, it’s Mauriat‘s instrumental version that became the most known version around the world and that remains the gold standard of the song. The song easily ranks in my top 20 songs of all time – possibly top ten. I was a wee lad of not quite five years old when it was all over US Radio, and it was one of the most unique songs EVER when it came to radio play – when it was a hit, it played on practically EVERY station my mom used to listen to, It was on the top 40 stations, on the “standards” stations, and on the beautiful music stations as well. And it was a MONSTER in all three formats. It is one of those rare songs – a NON winning song that became a monster hit around the world including the US, and only four (!) other ESC songs have done that – three by the original Eurovision artist, the aforementioned “Volare” and “Eres Tu“, and UK’s 1996 entry, “Ooh Ahh Just A Little Bit” by Gina G (the lowest ranking song to do so – it finished 8th in the contest); a fourth song, “Al di la“, Italy’s 1961 entry, was a hit around the world, but almost all of them were by other artists.
So that’s it – my top fifteen Eurovision Classics 1956-2000! Later this week, I’ll highlight my favorite songs from 2001-2015 and also go over some of the real TURKEYS to ever be featured in Eurovision…and what scares me is that so many of them actually came close to WINNING…::shudder::
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