A slight change of format
Before I start reviewing the 1965 contest, a quick note on the format of these retrospectives. It struck me that basically describing the show as I watch it probably doesn’t make for very engaging reading. So from now on I’ll be ranking the songs from worst to best and putting down some thoughts about each one.
Eurovision 1965: Naples
1965 is the biggest Eurovision to date, with Ireland joining the ranks and Sweden returning to the fold to bring the total number of entries up to 18. Thanks to Gigliola Cinquetti’s victory the previous year, we’re in Naples – hosted by one Renata Mauro, who competently holds things together in French, English and her native Italian. Jury points are delivered in increments of 1, 3 and 5.
We’re deep into the sixties now and outside the contest The Beatles and Rolling Stones are rubbing elbows with winsome pop princesses like Sandie Shaw and Marianne Faithfull, although crooners such as Tom Jones and Gene Pitney continue to endure. In comparison, the contest still feels a little behind – but despite the abundance of old fashioned ballads, trendier fare is starting to creep through. The top two this year represent a considerable sea change which will soon render the contest unrecognisable from its prim and proper origins.
In terms of the viewing experience, we’re still in black and white and even for an early contest the staging is noticeably minimal – most of the singers simply walk up to the same microphone used by Renata Mauro, which is situated in front of the orchestra. This doesn’t make for very exciting television, but a handful of strong performances manage to rise above it.
Results: =15 (0 points)
At this point I just have no patience whatsoever for the fusty chansons that dominated the first decade or so of this contest. This is pretty, well sung and entirely inoffensive by any normal standard, but does nothing to distinguish itself from the dozens of soundalikes that came before it, and I struggle to hum a note of it ten minutes after hearing it. It’s 1965, the world at large has long since moved away from this sound and – judging by the failure of this song to attract a single point – the Eurovision Song Contest is beginning to follow suit. Not a moment too soon.
17. Monaco: Marjorie Noël – Va dire à l’amour (Go Tell Love)
Result: 9th (7pts)
Monaco field another French singer, 19 year old Marjorie Noël, who has an appealingly girlish voice that suits this wistful number and presumably helped it stand out from the likes of Belgium to secure a respectable finish. Once again though, it’s a fairly lifeless chanson-by-numbers that doesn’t linger in the mind for much longer than its running time. Strangely, France ignored this while the UK were responsible for 5 of her 7 points, with Switzerland and Yugoslavia also granting her one apiece.
16. Denmark: Birgit Brüel – For din skyld (For Your Sake)
Result: 7th (10 points)
Theatre and movie veteran Birgit Brüel is a little older than many of her fellow competitors, and her experience shows. This is a very delicate, contained performance. In this sense Brüel is a good match for the song. Unfortunately it still goes nowhere and my interest is lost long before it ends. A divisive performance for the juries, her 10 points come via top marks from Luxembourg and Sweden. Nobody else gives it a thing.
15. Sweden: Ingvar Wixell – Absent Friend
Result: 10th (6 points)
If this was the Eurovision Scare Contest, Sweden would have won by a mile. Ingvar Wixell’s heavyset appearence, in dramatic spotlight against a darkened background creates an overall impression that’s more Sweeney Todd than Summer Night City. The song is pretty sinister too, with a sort of Grimm Fairytale vibe running through. An intriguing entry, no doubt, but one that falls into the bracket of unintentional kitsch rather than classic.
Result: =15th (0 points)
I’ve noticed that Finland seem to be quite fond of sending these rather dark lullabies into the contest. They don’t seem to resonate with the juries, especially here where they score their second nul points in three years, but I have a sneaking regard for them anyhow. Klimenko – who was apparently known as ‘the singing Kossack’ in Finland – has just the voice for this sort of thing, deep and melodious. The dramatic opening flourish is misleading, but what follows is perfectly listenable, if not exactly hummable.
Result: 3rd (22 points)
France score another strong result with this jaunty, faintly sexist ditty. The hook gets becomes irksomely repetitive after 3 minutes, but it’s confidently performed and mercifully upbeat. Not without its charm.
Result: =15th (0 points)
There’s something of the Streisand about Germany’s Ulla Weisner, a comparison rammed home by this classy, faintly jazzy number. It’s a bit listless and doesn’t really grab attention on the first listen, but I appreciate hearing something a little bit different. Poor Ms Weisner looks like she’d rather be anywhere else in the world during her performance; her mood presumably wasn’t improved by her ranking on the scoreboard.
Result: 5th (15 Points)
The home team now. Italy’s particular brand of slick balladry travels well, and this is another very strong effort, if not quite up there with the likes of Non ho l’eta and Volare. The Francophone ballads may still be leading the pack at this stage of the competition, but the Italian songs have generally weathered the test of time far better.
10. Portugal: Simone de Oliveira – Sol de inverno (Winter Sun)
Result: =13th (1 point)
Thanks to a single point from Monaco, Portugal’s second entry marginally improves on their inauspicious debut, which was a null-pointer in 1964. Famously one of Eurovision’s most luckless nations, it seems that even at this early stage the Iberian sound just doesn’t resonate with the international juries. Personally I find it a welcome relief in a sea of French ballads. Not that Sol de inverno ups the tempo particularly, but there’s a full-blooded passion to it that sets it apart. She was a wonderful rich voice too. Not for the last time, Portugal deserved better.
9. Switzerland: Yovanna – Non, à jamais sans toi (No, Forever Without You)
Result: 8th (8 Points)
OK so I’ve moaned a lot about the French chansons so far, but I’m still not totally averse to them. Non, à jamais sans toi is a great example of how to do them well. It’s dramatic, well constructed (it never becomes aimless, which is a frequent issue with these songs) and excellently sung by Yovanna – who really gives it some welly. With much stabbing of string and flailing of hands, it builds up to a rousing crescendo and leaves before it wears out its welcome. Very creditable, and a strong closer to the contest.
8. Yugoslavia: Vice Vukov – Čežnja (Longing)
Result: 12th (2 points)
Like the Iberian countries, I’m appreciating the different flavour the Yugoslavian entries are bringing to the contest. Croatian singer Vice Vukov makes his second and last appearance, having reached 11th place in 1964 with Brodovi (Ships). This is the superior of his two entries, a dark and brooding ballad that showcases his rich, deep voice well. In addition to a long and decorated singing career, Vukov went on to become active in Croatian politics – he was elected to parliament in 2003, although a serious head injury in 2005 cut short his career, and he died in 2008 aged 72.
7. Ireland: Butch Moore – Walking The Streets In The Rain
Result: 6th (11 points)
Ireland start as they mean to go on with their debut entry – a sentimental, nostalgic but highly melodic ballad, sung with dewy-eyed gentility by Butch Moore. The template for what will become classic Ireland is being developed here, and it’ll serve them well over the years.
6. Norway: Kirsti Sparboe – Karusell (Merry-Go-Round)
Result: =13th (1 point)
Susan Boyle never talks about the time she represented Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest…
OK that’s a bit harsh, but like SuBo (on a good day) little Kirsti Sparboe has charisma to spare, making her perfectly suited to this chirpy number that falls just on the right side of twee – even if she does look more like she’s closing a school assembly than performing for the international stage. As is so often the way with the Scandinavians, this is a real earworm and with little competition from Sweden and Denmark it’s easily my pick of the nordics for this year. Alas, the juries were largely immune to her charms and a single point from Austria is all she gets.
Result: 4th (16 points)
Udo Jürgens may not have won the 1964 contest, but his entry Warum nur warum? (Why oh Why?) was a hit anyway. So it’s little surprise to see him back again. Sag ihr, ich lass sie grüßen is not a radical departure from his first success, but it’s not a pale imitation either. Jürgens has justifiably built up a reputation as one of the great songwriters of his era, and everything that caught Matt Munro’s ear in 1964 is present here. We’re still very much in the era of Bassey and Munro rather than The Beatles and the Stones, but this is high grade stuff that deservedly does well for him.
4. Spain: Conchita Bautista – ¡Qué bueno, qué bueno! (How Good, How Good!)
Result: =15th (0 Points)
The juries obviously weren’t ready for a vivacious Spanish senorita when Conchita Bautista first appeared in the 1961 contest with Estando Contigo. Despite a catchy tune and a dynamic performance, she scored just 8 points for a 9th place finish. She was obviously banking on a more fun-loving crowd in 1965, as musically and visually this is quite similar to her first effort.
Alas, it was not to be and she comes away with an ignominious null points. This is a big shame as I love ¡Qué bueno, qué bueno! If televoting had been active in 1965 I’m pretty sure this would have done better, as like last time Bautista is one of the few singers who displays any real awareness that she’s playing for television as well as radio. Spinning coquettishly and smiling broadly, she seems like she’s actually having fun up there, which is hugely refreshing to see. Charming and highly underrated – nul points for this was a crime.
3. Netherlands: Conny Vandenbos – ‘t Is Genoeg (It’s Enough)
Result: 11th (5 points)
During the first couple of decades of the Eurovision, we see no shortage of female performers taking a passive role – either singing wistfully of love lost, gratefully of love received, or with increasingly unsettling chirpiness about how love has transformed them into agency-free mannequins (Not just this year: think Puppet on a String, Jack in the Box, Prima Ballerina etc.)
For this reason, it’s highly refreshing to see Conny Vandenbos here, presenting the image of a woman totally in control of her destiny. Her man has done her wrong – not for the first time – and she’s drawing her final line in the sand. She throws herself into the song with imperious relish, softening up in the verses as she recalls better times, but transforming into pure steel on the chorus, leaving no doubt in your mind about the subject’s chances of winning her back.
A high-energy, percussion heavy number (bongoes!), this is an excellent opener to the contest, and Ms Vandenbos gives a compelling performance that makes you regret that she never returned to the contest – save as part of a classic moment of unintentional comedy when she presented the Dutch votes in 1998. The ever-liberal Norwegians give this top marks, but other than that it’s criminally underrated when the scores come in.
2. United Kingdom: Kathy Kirby – I Belong
Result: 2nd (26 points)
Ten years in and with a brace of near-misses behind them, by 1965 the United Kingdom must have been hungry for a win. Much like Matt Monro the year before, sending Kathy Kirby – a major light entertainment star at the time, most famous for her swinging 1963 revamp of Doris Day’s Secret Love – should have given them good reason to feel confident.
With her Marilyn Monroe inspired look and brassy, theatrical delivery Kirby was still a little bit of a throwback compared to the cooler, more refined likes of Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw, but she certainly feels more reflective of the mid-sixties chart scene than most of the entries tonight. ‘I Belong’ is a brisk, likeable song that sounds like it could serve as the showtopper number in an Ethel Merman musical. Kirby belts it out with gusto, building to a rousing climax in what feels like a winning performance. In another year, it probably would have been, but unfortunately when it came to dragging the contest into the post-Beatles era, one entry just pushed that little bit harder…
1. Luxembourg: France Gall – Poupée de cire, poupée de son
Result: Winner (32 points)
In some ways it’s quite surprising that Poupée de cire, poupée de son won the contest so convincingly. It was a justifiable and necessary moment in the contest, but the leap from the inoffensive likes of Non ho l’eta and Un premier amour is considerable, and it’s to the credit of the juries that they got on board with it.
On the other hand, it’s not the kind of performance you can ignore. Positioned towards the end of the contest in the middle of a run of fairly unexciting ballads, it stands out by a mile. It’s interestingly structured in that it’s almost all chorus – it starts in high gear and barely slows down until the end. Gall’s live vocal could generously be described as shaky, but it’s not the kind of song that really relies on the singer being pitch perfect. In any event, with most of the other uptempo entries clumped together in the first half of the contest (Netherlands, UK, Spain, Norway) it’s a hell of a wake-up call, and a deserved winner.
That said, its influence on the contest can’t be said to be entirely benign. It’s written by pop-provocateur extraordinaire Serge Gainsbourg, packed with his trademark self-referential lyrics about a wax doll ‘under the sun of my blond hair’ singing songs she doesn’t understand. In Gall’s own early career this was just one of many hits she would have under Gainsbourg which used double meanings that the young singer herself couldn’t appreciate – something which made her increasingly uncomfortable later on. In the contest too, the young female singer as the object without free will of her own crops up again and again after this.
Reservations aside, the success Poupée de cire, poupée de son was undoubtedly a good thing for the contest’s future. A game-changer was sorely needed at this point, and Ms Gall provided just that. A massive hit in mainland Europe (though curiously not in the UK) it cemented her status as a fast-rising star in the Francophone world, and helped to introduce the ye-ye genre into the contest. The age of the chanson was coming to an end, and an altogether more colourful Eurovision Song Contest was on the horizon.
After the contest
Poupée de cire, poupée de son sold more than 500,000 copies in France alone (where Gall and Gainsbourg were retrospectively criticised for representing Luxembourg instead of their homeland). It also reached the top 5 in Norway, French-Canada, Luxembourg, West Germany, Belgium, Finland and The Netherlands. In 2005 it was voted as one of the 14 best Eurovision songs ever as part of the contest’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Gall recorded many other Gainsbourg-penned hits around this time, most of them equally provocative. After ending her association with him she enjoyed sporadic success in the seventies and eighties, most notably with her 1987 album Babacar, which featured the massive continental hit ‘Ella elle l’a (later successfully covered by fellow Eurovision alumni Kate Ryan).
Kathy Kirby’s success in the contest didn’t help her song to become a hit, ‘I Belong’ crept into the UK charts at #36. Her recording career largely stagnated after that, although she remained a popular presence on British television through the early seventies. Plagued by personal problems including schizophrenia and bankrupcy, she formally retired from show business in 1983, living the rest of her life in relative seclusion. She died of a heart attack in 2011, aged 72.
Of the less successful entries, Udo Jurgens also scored a big hit in the German-speaking territories with Sag ihr, ich lass sie grüßen. He would have better luck on his third and final appearance at the contest the following year, but that’s another write-up…