As my journey through Eurovision’s past has (slowly) progressed, I’ve found myself increasingly impatient for the arrival of a bit of colour – both visually and musically – to liven up proceedings. We’re getting closer, but before things really start to get interesting there’s a significant backwards step as for the first – and thankfully last- time since 1956 I arrive at a contest for which no TV broadcast footage survives. So, to evaluate this contest I’ve, as ever, listened to the studio versions of the songs several times, and also listened to an audio of the show from a surviving radio broadcast, which a kindly Eurovision guru has provided to me interspersed with still photographs from the event. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best thing available.
Denmark picked up their first win – and indeed the first ever Scandinavian victory – the year before with Dansevise, so tonight we’re in Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen. One Lotte Wæver is the host, and participation is steady at sixteen countries. Sweden were boycotting the contest due to a strike by the musicians union – not the first time that the country that came to be known as one of Eurovision’s most enthusiastic participants would express serious ambivalence about their involvement. In their place come Portugal, participating for the first time. After a lengthy musical opening, featuring a full brass band, Ms Wæver arrives onstage in a rather chic sleeveless number for some brisk introductions.
First up is Luxembourg represented by French singer Hugues Aufray. The song, Dès que le printemps revient (When Spring Returns) is a fairly repetitive midtempo with a catchy call-and-response hook. It builds up towards the end thanks to some unusually forceful drums in the final chorus, but I don’t find it terribly interesting. The juries are kind though, and fourth place gives them a decent improvement on last year.
A small piece of history follows, as The Netherlands field the first Eurovision contestant not of white European origin – Anneke Grönloh having been born in Indonesia. Her song Jij bent mijn leven (You are my life) is extremely catchy and has a sort of swing-sixties vibe that I haven’t picked up on previously. Grönloh has a distinctive voice and she approaches this song with real attack. It is a little slight, and feels like it’s starting to flag before it ends, but an enthusiastic finish redeems it. This finished a fairly dismal 10th with just 2 points, but definitely deserved a lot better. One of my favourites.
Arne Bendikson for Norway fields a cheerful if rather silly little number called Spiral. The lyrics don’t bear much scrutiny, but in these early contests I’m always appreciative of something uptempo, and it’s a nicely constructed track that doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s little surprise to learn that Bendikson – who also wrote the track – is one of Norway’s most prolific songwriters, specialising in lightweight pop and children’s music. Not one for the ages, but harmless. He finished exactly midtable in 8th place.
A predictably warm applause welcomes the host entry from Denmark – Bjørn Tidmand with Sangen om dig (Song About You). He had previously appeared in the Danish national selection in 1963, losing out to Dansevise. This is another breezy piece, likeable without being especially distinguished. It finishes 9th. I think this may be the longest run of upbeat – or at least midtempo – songs I’ve yet experienced at these early contests.
Finland continue the theme with yet another jaunty entry very similar in theme to the Norwegian song. Laiskotellen (Idling) celebrates lazy Sundays of doing absolutely nothing, and the laid back delivery reflects this. Of all the Finnish entries so far, I think this one does the best job at making the notoriously difficult language sound attractive. A modest 7th place is nevertheless their joint best-result so far, and they’ll have to wait nearly a decade to best it.
Austria‘s eighth appearence marks the debut of one of her most distinguished performers, Udo Jürgens. The much-covered performer is reputed to have sold over 100 million albums in his lengthy career. His first Eurovision appearance captures him at an early stage, but his song Reach for the Stars had already been a UK number one for Shirley Bassey three years previously. Warum nur warum? (Why, oh Why?) is easily one of the best compositions this year, a quiet piano ballad that nevertheless builds up beautifully. It’s somewhat underrated in sixth, but the song had an afterlife.
France don’t stray from their tried and tested chanson formula this year, but nevertheless I’m very fond of Le Chant de Mallory (Song of Mallory). It’s a ballad in the classic sense, telling the story of a love affair between a soldier and a young woman. Singer Rachel (no surname, like Cher) has a rich, slightly tremulous voice and the song has a pleasantly dreamy quality. I can imagine it appearing in a family-friendly French musical of the time. It was written by the same team who gave France their second victory with Tom Pilibi. This doesn’t quite match that success, but still scores a creditable fourth place.
Perhaps growing frustrated at our run of near misses, the United Kingdom field by far their biggest star to date this year with Matt Munro – already a popular recording artist thanks to hits like ‘My Kind of Girl‘ and ‘From Russia With Love‘. Munro was internally selected by the BBC, presenting six songs for the UK public, from which I Love The Little Things was selected to go to Copenhagen. Alas, it’s a rather listless number; Munro is obviously a seasoned vocalist, and he does his best with it, but it just doesn’t quite lift off. The whole thing feels strangely restrained, as if everyone playing is worried about offending anyone by actually having any fun. Nevertheless, it’s another runner up for the UK, our fourth in seven entries without a win.
Next we have the first ever Bulgarian contestant on the Eurovision stage – though she doesn’t represent her home country, which is a good four decades away from debuting. Instead, Nora Nova represents West Germany. Man gewöhnt sich so schnell an das Schöne (How quickly we become accustomed to the nice things) is in possession of one of the longest song titles in Eurovision history. It starts deceptively slowly before exploding into a brassy jazz number, performed with real zest by Ms Nova. I think it’s great fun, but the juries were less impressed and this scored the dread nul points, Germany’s worst ever performance.
The song from Monaco just totally passes me by. Performed by French singer Romauld Figuier, Où sont-elles passées (Where Have They Gone?) is very ‘standard early Eurovision chanson’, so much so that I could swear I’ve heard the exact same song about fifteen times already so far. Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, as the juries actually place this in third, but I can’t think of a single interesting thing to say about it.
Poor luckless Portugal get their Eurovision career off to the worst possible start, with Oração by António Calvário joining Germany in the nul points hall of shame. It’s not a terrible song by any means, in fact it’s a fairly standard and well-sung ballad. It is, however, instantly forgettable, so I can see how it came to be overlooked.
The next entry certainly wasn’t overlooked – it won by the largest margin in contest history, a record it still holds (albiet thanks to the subsequent change in voting format making it very difficult for such a margin to be achieved). Gigliola Cinquetti was just sixteen when she won the right to represent Italy with No No L’eta. At this point Italy was used to sending entries that went on to be huge worldwide hits while being undervalued by Eurovision juries, but in this case everything comes together. The song is a gorgeous lullaby, perfectly suited to Cinquetti’s rich, velvety tones. It’s one of the quieter Eurovision winners, even for the more restrained early years. Nevertheless, she delivers a confident vocal and by the rapturous applause at the end of her performance, she certainly makes an impression.
So much of an impression, in fact, that the contest for all intents and purposes ends with her – the remaining four entries all perform terribly. The unenviable task of following her falls to Yugoslavia, singing in Bosnian for the first time with Život je sklopio krug (Life Has Come Full Circle). It’s a fairly dreary number, with depressing lyrics about life’s inescapable bleakness, or something. It’s not an awful song, but like most nul pointers it has a lifeless, in-one-ear-out-the-other quality. I’m still waiting for Yugoslavia to field something on a par with their gorgeous contest debut.
Anita Traversi first sang for Switzerland in 1960, achieving eighth place. She returns tonight with I miei pensieri (In My Thoughts), faring considerably worse with the fourth and final nul pointer of the evening. I struggle to remember how her first entry went without prompting, and this one doesn’t especially stand out either – though it is fairly pretty. Again though, very chanson by numbers, with a listless melody that never really grabs hold. After this, something interesting happens which has nothing to do with the fairly pedestrian music. At the close of the Swiss performance, a protestor rushes onstage bearing a placard reading ‘Boycott Franco and Salazar’ (the right-wing Spanish and Portuguese leaders). Obviously, we can’t see any of this as the broadcast is lost, but by all accounts he’s removed swiftly and the enviably composed host continues the show. The crowd is audibly discomfited though, and continue muttering well into the Belgian performance.
All that excitement is a tough act to follow, so you have to feel a little sorry for Belgium‘s singer Robert Cogoi, who is lumbered with yet another nice-but-dull French ballad. Près de ma rivière (Near My River). Belgium seem doomed to forever linger at the lower end of the scoreboard, and this song duly scores a measly two points to place 10th. They’re still two decades away from a real contender.
Spain close the show with yet another entry that reaches beyond the contest’s established borders. Los TNT – Tim, Nelly and Tony Croato – are a sibling trio of Uruguayan descent. Their song, Caracola has a feel of a classic fifties ballad, with quiet verses building to a highly rousing chorus. Perhaps it was already a little out of date, as the juries award it just a single point to finish 12th, but after a run of dreary songs it’s a relief to end on something with a bit of energy.
The voting mechanism is changed yet again this year – with juries dishing out just three scores of 5, 3 and 1. A few countries need to repeat their scores – most notably Spain at the very end, but on the whole things seem to run fairly smoothly.
The winner is a foregone conclusion from early in the voting, and Gigliola Cinquetti winds up winning for Italy with a 32 point lead over Matt Monro’s runner up. She scores top marks from eight of the sixteen juries. With most of the points concentrated at the top end of the scoreboard, four countries end with the indignity of null points – Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and Yugoslavia.
After the contest
Early Italian Eurovision entries tended to have an unusually strong afterlife even when they didn’t win, so it’s little surprise that ‘Non ho l’età’ went on to become a huge hit for Cinquetti. It topped the charts in Italy, France and Belgium, and enjoyed a lengthy chart run in the UK, where it peaked at #17 in the original Italian version. In total it sold over 3 million copies worldwide – making it almost certainly the most successful winner to that point. Cinquetti enjoyed a long media presence in Italy after the contest, recording a number of other successful songs, returning to Eurovision as a contestant in 1974, and as a host in 1991.
Despite another creditable runner-up position, the UK entry was not a chart hit for Matt Monro. However, while attending the contest he was impressed by the Austrian entry by Udo Jürgens. His English-language recording of the song — entitled ‘Walk Away‘ peaked at #4 in the UK charts and became one of his signature hits. He would subsequently record a number of other Jürgens compositions, including his Eurovision entries from 1965 and 1966. Monro himself never returned to Eurovision, but remained a popular recording artist and concert performer right up until his death from liver cancer in 1985. In 2005 a compilation of his hits entitled Ultimate Matt Monro peaked at #7 in the UK album charts. It went on to receive a Gold Disc for sales of over 100,000 copies.
There are a handful of very likeable songs in the 1964 lineup – including one of the most youthful-sounding winners to date. That, plus the presence of genuinely sixties-sounding numbers from the likes of The Netherlands and Austria amongst the predictable slew of chansons, makes for an important year that feels like a small but significant step forwards for the contest.
Unfortunately there are also a fair number of rather drab entries that really bring down the energy – not helped by the lack of visuals. On the whole this isn’t a year I can see myself returning to often, but a handful of the entries will go down as keepers. Onwards and upwards to 1965, a controversial year with another very significant winner…
Votes from the Lucas jury (given in the traditional 12-0)
12 The Netherlands – Jij bent mijn leven
10 Italy – No No L’eta
08 France – Le Chant de Mallory
07 Austria – Warum nur warum?
06 Germany – Man gewöhnt sich so schnell an das Schöne
05 Finland – Laiskotellen
04 Spain – Caracola
03 Denmark – Sangen om dig
02 Norway – Spiral
01 United Kingdom – I Love The Little Things