Eurovision 1958As the Eurovision enters its third year, a number of significant events happen. Most notably, the convention of last year’s winner taking responsibility for hosting it is established – and so it is that for Eurovision 1958 we find ourselves in the AVRO studios of Hilversum, Netherlands. of course before the contest becomes more of a spectator sport, the actual location is somewhat moot beyond the language of the host, but nevertheless it’s nice to know.

Also, the United Kingdom kicks off a lifetime of sour grapes towards the contest by stropping off after 1957’s debutant Patricia Bredin didn’t do as well as expected. It’s the only time to date the UK will miss the contest, and indeed the only contest in which none of the songs are performed in the English Language.

Finally, this is a breakthrough year for the contest as it’s the first time that an entry becomes a bona fide global hit. But not for the last time, the song with the strongest afterlife will not turn out to be the one that wins…

There’s no preamble from the host, just a quick introduction from the Orchestra and a shot of the scoreboard before song number one from Italy takes the stage.

Domenico Modugno

Domenico Modugno – Proof that every loser wins.

This is Domenico Modugno with the song Nel blu dipinto di blu (In the blue painted blue)which, as you probably know, turned out to be one of the biggest hits ever to come from Eurovision and to date the only one to top the American charts, which it did for five weeks after being retitled Volare. It has since become quite the standard, covered by everyone from Dean Martin to David Bowie.

But, of course, it doesn’t win here. There’s nothing much wrong with the performance that I can see, he stands in what is presumably a nice suit (we’re still in monochrome) and delivers a strident performance with typically Italian arm-flailing passion. It’s obviously the most contemporary thing here by miles, but Eurovision juries were ever strange beasts and he has to settle for third place. Maybe it was the dickie-bow. Never trust a man in a dickie bow.

Like last year, the reigning champion shows up to defend her title which means Corry Brokken is back in second for the home crowd. She’s wearing a very similar dress to the previous year, and still rockin’ that Liza Minnelli before Liza Minnelli hair. The song is Heel de wereld (The Whole World), and it’s a pretty shameless attempt at recapturing the magic from last year. A little slower, but with an orchestral flourish in much the same place. She sings it very well and it’s certainly a nice song, but the jury was having none of it, and she ends up in joint-last place with a solitary point. Oh, the indignity

André Claveau

Winner André Claveau

The actual winner is up next, and it’s André Claveau with Dors, Mon Amour (Sleep, My Love) for France. He has a curious purring quality to his voice and – if I can be a little uncharitable- rather an odd face. Still, the song has a lullaby quality that’s very easy to remember which may account for its success. After Domenico’s arm-flailing, perhaps the more self-contained physicality on display here was considered in better taste. It’s not my favourite, but clearly popular in the hall and another confident, professional performance. Interestingly, it finishes with another triumphal orchestral flourish which was clearly the recipe for success in these early days.

Luxembourg have, yet again, sent a solo woman with a classy french chanson. I’m sensing a theme emerging here. The fabulously-monikered Solange Berry performs Un grand amour (A Great Love) with some very provocative looks to camera. The song plods a bit, and she comes off ever so slightly smug. The musical backing is rather low key for the most part, with just a piano and a bit of brass until the half-hearted flourish at the end. She joins Corry Brokken in the one-point wooden spoon position.

Alice Babs

Alice Babs made a very Swedish impression

Ah, Sweden next, making their contest debut. I have to be honest – I adore Sweden. The language, their attitude to the contest and the music that they’ve produced. I’ll try my best to be objective in these write-ups, but I’m always going to slightly favour them. Their first entry is Lilla stjärna (Little Star) performed by Alice Babs – who eschews the usual evening gown for a quirky appearance in the Svensk national dress. The song sets the tone for much of what would follow for Sweden, with a strong melody and liberal use of ‘la la la la’ lyrics – but don’t sneer, it works beautifully. This sounds like an old-school Disney ballad in the best possible sense, and her voice is high and clear, but never shrill. Sorry, I just adore this. The juries are kind too, and she finishes a respectable 4th.

For no apparent reason we get an interval at this stage, with the orchestra performing a lively instrumental number called ‘The Wedding Dance’. I’d certainly tap a toe to it – in fact it has the manic, slightly Soviet-sounding feel that would probably impel me to fling my theoretical other-half around in circles until some sort of accident ensued. A curious, but enjoyable sideshow.

It isn’t particularly kind to Denmark‘s Raquel Rastenni, however. Her song Jeg rev et blad ud af min dagbog (I tore a page from my diary) – despite an acting moment in the intro in which she literally tears a page from an actual diary – is really a bit of a bore. She continues to clutch the diary throughout her performance, which looks slightly awkward. Also – there’s no kind way to say this – she doesn’t appear to be in the very first flush of youth, and the whole routine takes on a bit of a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane vibe. She sounds a bit wobbly on the final note too. Not a favourite with me or the juries, who place her 8th with 3 points.

Another returning artist sings for Belgium, the glamourously named Fud leClerc, who sang for the country in 1956. That year he was lumbered with a rather depressing chanson about people drowning themselves, or something, but this year’s Ma petite chatte (My Little Sweetie) is more upbeat, with a jazz-inflected swing. It’s a bit elevator music, and his eyebrows are truly the stuff of nightmares, but hummable enough. He seems happy with it at the end, and finishes fifth.

Margot Heilscher

Margot Heilscher single-handedly invents the Eurovision novelty entry.

Germany next, and yet again a familiar face. Last year I wondered if Margot Heilscher might have been slightly embarrassed by the gimmicky staging of her entry ‘Telefon, Telefon‘, but it’s evidently her stock-in-trade as she ramps the schtick up even further this time around. Für zwei Groschen Musik (Twopenny Music) is an ode to jukebox music, and she appears in full Miss World regalia, complete with crown and sash. It’s bizarre to think that Germany are basically inventing the novelty entry with Margot. She even has a pile of 7″ vinyl discs that she spins around playfully as she sings.

It’s very difficult to allude to this without sounding like I’m taking cheap shots, which I’m really not, but it’s fascinating that this contest is taking place a mere 13 years after the end of World War II – easily in living memory of all of the performers. Of course in many ways the creation of Eurovision was informed by this, but still, the wounds must have remained fresh, and it’s interesting that Germany (which was also still actually only representing the Western province, and would remain so for the next 32 years) has so far stuck to very light, uptempo numbers.

Anyway, Margot seems like a game sort, and it’s certainly catchy, if a bit basic. I’m not hugely enamoured of it, but it’s a nice break from all the ballads. In a slight comedown from her fourth place in 57, she finishes 7th tonight.

Austria follow, a country that debuted in last place the previous year. They see some improvement with Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe (The Whole World Needs Love) by Liane Augustin, replacing irritating schlagers about donkeys for a more standard ballad. Augustin sings this well, although it brings absolutely nothing new to the table even at this early stage. Joint-fifth is about right.

Lys Assia

Lys Assia has some fun on her final time out.

Last but certainly not least, the third and final (to date) appearance by Lys Assia for Switzerland. After becoming the first winner in 1956, her attempt to recapture the magic the following year didn’t really pay off, so she’s gone for a change of pace here. Giorgio is a quick-tempo ode to a loveable waiter (I think), and it’s performed with vim and vigour by Lys. A very wordy song, she does well to keep up with it. The instrumental sounds a bit like the theme to an early-morning cowboys & indians TV show from the seventies. It’s totally featherweight, but I find myself genuinely charmed by this. The humour and enthusiasm with which she approaches it is completely infectious. It would’ve been a lovely winner, and she very nearly does it, but ultimately settles for second place.

They think it’s all over… but apparently due to technical difficulties (his performance wasn’t seen in all of the countries) Italy will be performing again. This is also our first sight of the host, Hannie Lips, who makes this announcement in English and French. Dominico seems unfazed by the balls-up, and delivers another enthusiastic performance.

The Voting

After another jaunty instrumental, Hannie Lips returns to take the votes. No grumpy looking secretary this year, just a telephone. Each jury consisted of ten judges who simply chose the best song, their decision representing a single point. So if five national jurors chose a song as the favourite, that song would get five points from that country etc. There are a few awkward moments, particularly the Austrian spokesperson ploughing through at a faster pace than Ms Lips can repeat his votes. At the start of voting it looks like a straight fight between France and Italy, but Dominico’s support drops off dramatically halfway through, and Lys Assia makes a late sprint for glory, finishing just 3 points behind André Claveau.

Dors, Mon AmourAfter The Contest

Dors, Mon Amour was a success in the French charts, although André doesn’t appear to have reached particularly great heights subsequently. He was first male to win it though – and to this day the contest tends to be quite female dominated. The real story is Volare, which as discussed above went on to absolutely massive success, proving that the juries don’t always get it right.

Final Analysis

On the whole, a likeable lineup of songs for the contest’s third year – you really get the sense that it’s finding its feet. A more even split of male and female singer helps to sidetrack the ballad fatigue, and there are three songs this year that I’d count as genuine favourites. Next year the UK come crawling back, Monaco joins the lineup and after a hugely successful year, Domenico is back for revenge…

Votes from the Lucas Jury (given in the traditional 12-0)

12 Sweden – Lilla stjärna
10 Switzerland – Giorgio
08 Italy – Nel blu dipinto di blu
07 France – Dors, Mon Amour
06 Netherlands – Heel de wereld
05 Luxembourg – Un grand amour
04 Belgium – Ma petite chatte
03 Germany – Für zwei Groschen Musik
02 Austria – Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe
01 Denmark – Jeg rev et blad ud af min dagbog