It’s taken me longer than I’d anticipated to move on from the 1960 contest. This is partly due to a natural cooling-off period that even I go through in the aftermath of the big show, and partly because unfortunately 1961 is the driest year I’ve yet encountered. Maybe I’m just getting bored with the chanson format, or maybe it really is a weak selection of songs, but for whatever reason I really struggled with this one.
Still, the only way out is through, and we’re edging ever closer to the adoption of colour TV and an influx of dynamic young performers who will give Eurovision some of its most timeless hits.
Back to 1961 though, and after Jacqueline Boyer’s victory the previous year we return to French soil. The host city, venue and presenter from France’s last hosting duties in 1958 are all recycled, so it’s the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes, under the watchful eye of Jacqueline Joubert – who shares with Katie Boyle the distinction of having been asked to host the show more than once.
Strong ratings and another popular winner in 1960 see the contest continue to expand, with no dropouts and three debuting nations – Finland, Spain and Yugoslavia. The latter is particularly significant, being the first nation in the Balkan region to join the party, and the most easterly nation yet.
Before the performances start, the singers are all introduced in the running order of the night – causing some confusion to UK commentator David Jacobs who begins to prematurely announce the opening Spanish performance. He also comments on the UK having ‘a very good draw’ at number fifteen, suggesting that the idea of a late position in the running order being beneficial was already taking hold.
Spain‘s Conchita Bautista opens the performances with Estando contigo (Being With You), a full-blooded Latin swing number the likes of which we haven’t seen at Eurovision before now. She’s very expressive, using a lengthy black shawl as a prop and even working in a bit of choreography. I must say, on record this record works a lot better – the orchestra naturally slows things down considerably, but even so it’s an excellent opener that gets things off to an uncharacteristically energetic start. The juries were clearly in a conservative mood, however, and she finishes a middling 9th with eight points.
There was something of the children’s song about Jacqueline Boyer’s coquettish winner from 1960, and Monaco have clearly taken her victory to heart. Popular comedienne Colette Deréal has a schoolmarmish air and a rictus grin that shoots for charming but lands on irritating. Allons, allons les enfants (Let’s Go, Let’s Go Children) is bouncy enough, but I just can’t warm to this. It feels both calculated and out of place. Six points is enough to land it in 10th place.
Jimmy Makulis has the distinction of being Eurovision’s first ever Greek performer – though he’s actually singing for Austria so alas, nothing to see here. He’s an imposing figure with a rumbling baritone, and his sleepy ballad Sehnsucht (Longing) is perfectly adequately sung but deathly dull. He barely moves during his performance, and in the end only the United Kingdom can muster up the enthusiasm to award him a single point, putting him in joint last place.
The first ever Finnish entry is an alluring little lullaby, beautifully performed by the young Laila Kinnunen. Valoa ikkunassa (Light in the Window) rolls along at an unassuming, almost sleepy pace, with a particularly lovely orchestral arrangement to back up Kinnunen’s husky tones. Never a winner, but a lovely understated debut from a country that would seldom find itself in step with European voters. In this case it shares 10th place with the vastly inferior entry from Monaco. Outrageous, I tell you.
Another debut and another strong song follows from Yugoslavia. Ljiljana Petrović gives a highly controlled reading of her ballad Neke davne zvezde (Some Ancient Stars). The Serbo-Croatian language is a lovely addition to the linguistic melting pot, and it’s a beautiful wistful ballad that definitely stands out from the pack. Again, the judges voted for more familiar sounds and she scored a middling 8th position. Another I’d have placed considerably higher.
After three slow songs in a row, the Netherlands mercifully liven up proceedings with the swinging Wat een dag (What a Day) by the elfin-featured Greetje Kauffeld. What starts sounding like another bloody chanson gives way to a lively chorus that builds to a nice rousing finish. Parts of it sound a bit like a Christmas carol, though I can’t put my finger on which one. The audience receive it warmly, no doubt appreciating the shift in tempo, but perhaps surprisingly is the third song to score just six points for joint 10th place.
Sweden continue to field jaunty, light-hearted entries to the contest. The delightfully-monikered Lill Babs gives us April April, which features a largely whistled chorus and a witty, wide-eyed performance from the photogenic singer. This is a much better stab at a ‘fun’ Eurovision song for the time than the irritating kids TV presenter from Monaco, and she seems to be having the time of her life, but the juries don’t share her laid-back enthusiasm, and only France awards the song any points. She finishes fourteenth.
A touch of old-school (even by 1961 standards) glamour arrives next, in the form of German icon Lale Anderson. A contemporary of Vera Lynn, she sang the original version of the highly popular (on both sides) wartime ballad Lili Marlene during World War II, and by the time of the contest was a stately 56 years old. In fact, for the next 47 years she would hold the record for the oldest ever Eurovision performer, only beaten by Croatian rapper 75 cent in 2008 – though the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck, Bonnie Tyler and the Russian Grannies would soon make her seem relatively sprightly in the scheme of things.
Andersen’s song is actually called Einmal sehen wir uns wieder, which translates as We’ll Meet Again, but alas it’s nowhere near as rousing as her old rival’s signature tune. She speak-sings the verse, and doesn’t get much more tuneful for the chorus. She does bring a certain dignity to proceedings, but the whole effect is rather staid and a humiliating 13th place proves that even early Eurovision is no safe bet for an ageing celebrity.
After the German dirge, a bit of classic Eurovision nonsense from home country France feels like a welcome relief. Jean-Paul Mauric was a popular comedian at the time, and Printemps, avril carillonne (Springtime, April Rings) is an ode to the sights and sounds of spring, with a chorus that consists largely of the phrase “Bing bong bing bong”. Patent nonsense, but enthusiastically delivered nonsense at least, which was evidently enough for the juries to send it all the way to fourth place with 13 points. Despite his rather terrifying eyebrows (a bit of a running feature among the man in these early contests…) Mauric is a charming showman and more than a little bit dishy. Sadly, he passed away in 1971 at the age of just 37.
Switzerland have one of the strongest ballads of the evening, performed in French by Franca di Rienzo. Nous aurons demain (We’ll have tomorrow) doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s one of the best of the genre I’ve encountered so far, and deservedly scores well accross the board for a convincing third place finish.
Singing for Belgium, Bob Benny makes his second appearance, having also tried his luck in 1959. He finished 5th then, but would be less successful this year with just a single point from Luxembourg putting him joint last. September, gouden roos (September, Golden Rose) is a big old ballad that doesn’t lack for jowl-quivering drama, but even here feels woefully out of date.
I’m starting to seriously flag at this point, but thankfully the lovely Nora Brockstedt – who provided one of my favourite entries from last year – is back for Norway with Sommer i Palma. Hopes of an early precursor to ‘Y Viva Espana’ are swiftly dashed – the song is a langorous Norwegian jazz ballad, with a refrain in French, although the subject is a Spanish holiday resort. Her gorgeously smoky voice gets a wonderful showcase here. Results-wise, she doesn’t quite match the fourth place of her first entry, but ends a solid 7th.
Danish entrant Dario Campeotto appears in a rather dazzling white suit which suits his loungy ballad ‘Angelique‘ – in which he laments that he lacks the skills (writing plays, playing violin and, curiously, singing) to win the titular girl of his dreams. Despite his modesty it’s actually very nicely sung, though at this point I’m too starved of energy to really appreciate it. The juries do though, with a respectable 5th place his reward.
Nous, les amoureux (We, The Lovers) is the winning song from Luxembourg, and has another one of those big, sweeping intros that seemed to work so well with Eurovision juries. Several performers tonight have shot for self-contained and ended up looking static, but Jean Claude Pascal’s performance is a masterstroke of composure. It isn’t the most interesting song, but it drips with gallic cool and builds to a triumphant but understated finish. It’s easy to see why this was so popular.
The United Kingdom, having previously sent quite end-0f-the-pier performers, opt for a more modern approach this year. The Allisons were marketed as a sort of British version of the Everly Brothers, and their song ‘Are You Sure?‘was by far the most chart-friendly entry this year. Indeed, it was a huge UK hit that spent six weeks at #2 and sold over a million copies worldwide.
It has a lovely dreamy quality, although through cynical 2013 eyes it does seem that the politely handsome young men are singing a love duet to each other. Maybe they were – they weren’t actually related. For whatever reason, the two boys look terribly nervous throughout – which may have cost them the victory. Nevertheless, this would have been an excellent winner, and probably would have been far better remembered than Nous, les amoureux, but it’s a nice early sign of the UK seeing the value of younger performers – which would of course reap dividends before the decade was out. This deserves to be more than a footnote though, it’s one of the very best UK entries of the era.
The biggest worldwide hit of the night, however, comes again from Italy. Betty Curtis sings Al Di La (Beyond), a classic Romantic Italian ballad which would gain a lengthy afterlife through numerous high profile covers. It became a staple of bilingual teen idol Connie Francis’ catalogue of hits, and was also a hit for both Emilio Pericoli and Al Martino. Tonight, coming after so many ballads, it perhaps felt like an entry too far, but it’s obviously a very strong composition with the sort of dramatic, arm-flailing conclusion we’ve come to expect from Italian entries. An excellent closer. As the audience give her a rapturous applause, the curtains pull shut-indicating the end of the performance section of the evening.
Juries still have ten points per country to allocate, one for each juror. Jacqueline Joubert conducts proceedings in French, with David Jacobs providing translations for UK viewers. The voting is quite brisk with no major communication problems – although Yugoslavia are on a noticeably crackly line. Luxembourg starts slowly, with the United Kingdom flying into an early lead. Around halfway, the votes dry up for Luxembourg gradually closes the gap.
With two votes to go it seems the countries are neck and neck, until it is announced that due to a scoreboard error the UK has four more points than they should. You have to wonder if team Allisons noticed this at the time and decided to keep schtum. Either way it’s a bit of a heartbreaker, but ultimately the Grand Duchy wins with a decisive 7 point lead.
Due to the show overrunning, the British broadcast abruptly ends before Jean-Claude Pascal reprises his song. It’s an anticlimactic finish that seems a fitting end to such a dreary contest.
After the Contest
The first Luxembourgish winner was not a major chart success after the contest. After Jacqueline Boyer’s minor breakthrough in 1960, it failed to chart at all in the United Kingdom. However it appears to have done better on the continent, where Pascal enjoyed a lengthy career in film and music both before and after the contest. He received the French legion of honour and was apparently known as ‘France’s most elegant man’ – high praise indeed. He would return to Eurovision in 1981, again representing Luxembourg. He died of Stomach Cancer in 1992, at the age of 64.
Runners-up The Allisons had an enormous UK hit with their entry, and also charted all over Europe. Are You Sure ultimately sold over a million copies worldwide. They never really capitalised on their success though, scoring just two more minor top 40 hits in the UK before disbanding in 1963.
It’s not that the songs in 1961 were bad, per se. Nor was it a bad show. In fact, doing my ranking there are a surprising amount of songs I enjoy. But at this point the format is beginning to feel quite tired and stale. Little touches like the UK’s attempt at fielding contemporary pop music and the introduction of Spain, Finland and Yugoslavia offer glimmers of hope, but the music is starting to feel quite one-note and out of touch.
Historically the contest has always had peaks and troughs in terms of its popularity and cultural cache, so it’s interesting to experience that in something resembling real time, but I’m really itching for the arrival of the wave of teen winners in a few years time. Not quite there yet though.
As for Nous des amoureux, it’s a good song and I certainly don’t resent the victory, but there’s a reason it’s arguably one of the least-remembered winners of the era. That said, a little bit of research suggests it became something of a cult gay classic in the Francophone nations, due to the Secret Love-esque lyrics. If any French-speaking readers have any perspective on this I’d be fascinated to hear it.
Votes from the Lucas jury (given in the traditional 12-0)
12 Spain – Estando contigo
10 United Kingdom – Are You Sure?
08 Finland – Valoa ikkunassa
07 Norway – Sommer i Palma
06 Yugoslavia – Neke davne zvezde
05 Luxembourg – Nous, les amoureux
04 Italy – Al Di La
03 Sweden – April April
02 Switzerland – Nous aurons demain
01 Netherlands – Wat een dag