Everyone’s a winner

This is what happens when you don’t think things through…

Lulu, Salome, Massiel, Frida Boccara and Lenny Kuhr

The 1969 winners line up. (L-R) Lulu, Salome, Massiel (1968), Frida Boccara & Lenny Kuhr

Given how close many of the results prior to 1969 were, it seems unfeasible that nobody involved had considered the possible ramifications of a tie. What seems more likely is that they never thought beyond the possibility of two countries sharing victory – which probably wouldn’t have been especially controversial. Four, however, was a patently ridiculous result, and the contest’s fragile reputation took a severe knock as a result.

On the other hand, the fallout from this result forced a serious examination of the voting system. Changes were immediately put into place to prevent the situation from being repeated, and over the next few years the scoring system would go through a series of iterations, before finally landing on the iconic 12-1 system in 1975.

It actually wasn’t until 1991 that the issue reoccurred – a more manageable two-way tie between Sweden and France which was broken by counting who had received the highest number of top marks – Sweden. Had this been the rule in 1969, The Netherlands would have won. However, the tie-break rule has since been altered again; it now awards victory to the country that has received the widest spread of points – in which case France would have come out on top.

None of that mattered on the night though, and so it was that France, The Netherlands, Spain and The United Kingdom were forced to share the victory. It’s hard to imagine any of them felt particularly happy about this, but rules are rules, and so 1969 stands as one of the most controversial contests ever, and a monument to poor forward planning.

Madrid: Saturday 29th March 1969

Laurita Valenzuela

Former model Laurita Valenzuela was the evening’s host.

Whether or not the rumours that Spain engineered their 1968 victory through nefarious means have any grounding, they certainly grabbed hold of the opportunity to host the show with both hands. No less a figure than surrealist painter Salvadore Dali was invited to design the publicity material for the night, including a bizarre metal structure that appeared on the stage, and the faintly trippy interval film. The host was former model and Spanish television star Laurita Valenzuela, resplendent in beehive and a gown that seems to have been stitched together from a box of doilies.

Due to their objection to a contest hosted in Francoist Spain, Austria withdrew this year.As there were no debutants, this left a total of 16 nations competing, with Yugoslavia opening the show and Finland closing. For my money it’s another strong year, with very little to dislike. Here’s my personal countdown from worst to best.

16. Yugoslavia: Ivan & 4M – Pozdrav svijetu (Greetings to the World)

Ivan & 4M - Pozdrav svijetu | Eurovision 1969 Yugoslavia

Result: =13th (5pts)

Yugoslavia have generally been very strong up to this point in the contest, but this lazy collection of international greetings shoehorned into a bland, lifeless song is the worst kind of Euro-cynicism. Perhaps their consistently middling placings were starting to rankle, but after the quirky exuberance of last year’s Jedan dan, this is a major comedown. Even Ivan looks and sounds bored.

Love the suit though.

15. Luxembourg: Romuald – Catherine

Romuald - Catherine | Eurovision 1969 Luxembourg

Result: 11th (7pts)

When Romuald last appeared at the contest – representing Monaco in 1964 – I complained that I could barely remember his song or think of a single remarkable thing about it. The same is true here. Catherine is a gentle song, Romuald sings it well and doesn’t make any major blunders. The whole thing is nice, professional and completely forgettable.

14. Ireland: Muriel Day – The Wages of Love

Muriel Day - The Wages of Love | Eurovision 1969 Ireland

Result: 7th (10pts)

After essentially sending the exact same song four years in a row, Ireland finally mix things up with an uptempo pop number. Clad in a short but voluminous lime green dress and taking advantage of a portable microphone, Muriel Day bounds onto the stage with a wide grin and an energy level that borders on demented.

In other words, this has all the elements of a classic Eurosong. Except, frustratingly, after a promising opening “The Wages of Love” flatlines completely. It’s a curious thing, it’s upbeat and fast paced, Day sings it with gusto, but the energy just isn’t there. There are no gear shifts or interesting moments to capture the listener’s attention – at one point Muriel slows it down as if building up to a big finish, but then it reverts straight back to where it was before. The result feels as if she’s rushing through a 3 minute verse to get to a chorus that never arrives. Refreshing as it is to see Ireland at least trying to branch out, this is a half-written dud of a song. They’d return to more familiar territory in 1970, with blockbusting results.

13. Sweden: Tommy Körberg – Judy Min Vän (Judy My Friend)

Tommy Körberg - Judy, min vänn

Result: =9th (8pts)

I feel slightly guilty placing this so low, as it’s another pleasingly breezy entry from the Swedes, who continue to show an endearing lightness of touch with their entries. But the standard is high this year and it just falls a little too easily into the middle of the road. That said, it’s another entry that is well loved at home to this day, possibly as a result of Körberg’s own enduring popularity as a recording artist and stage performer. He delivers a charming, confident performance that almost elevates the song above the status of pleasant filler. Almost, but not quite.

12. Belgium: Louis Neefs – Jennifer Jennings

Louis Neefs - Jennifer Jennings | Eurovision 1969 Belgium

Result: 7th (12pts)

Louis Neefs is another very charismatic performer – something I noted on his last appearance in 1967. Like the Swedish entry, this – musically speaking – is very easy to listen to but doesn’t really stand out. His body language is great though, he has a faintly aloof, debonair vibe, except for the random moments when he jerkily flings his arms into the air in time with the punchy orchestral stabs of the chorus. You sort of wish he’d been given a song as charmingly odd as his performance.

11. Norway: Kirsti Sparboe – Oj, oj, oj, så glad jeg skal bli (Wow, Wow, Wow, How Happy I’ll Be)

Kirsti Sparboe - Oj, oj, oj, så glad jeg skal bli | Eurovision 1969 Norway

Result: 16th (1pt)

Poor luckless Kirsti Sparboe makes her third and final Eurovision appearance, and once again she’s roundly ignored by the juries. ‘Oj, Oj, Oj…’ is a perky number that the Norwegians seem to have taken to their hearts as something of a cult classic. It’s fairly repetitive and seems to have been pieced together around the borderline-irritating hook, but once again her charm and obvious enthusiasm pulls it through. Personally I prefer her less-remembered but more melodic 1967 effort, but this is a likeable 3 minutes. It’s a shame this is the last we’ll be seeing of her.

10. Switzerland: Paola Del Medico – Bonjour, Bonjour (Hello, Hello)

Paola Del Medico - Bonjour Bonjour | Eurovision 1969 Switzerland

Result: 5th (13pts)

Switzerland makes its first attempt at a full-blown Schlager, very much in the style of Germany’s “Ein Hoch der Liebe” from last year. Given that the top four all won, this is technically the runner up of the year. It isn’t really bringing anything new to the table, but it’s jaunty, charming and enthusiastically performed. After years of wading through listless chanson, this is the kind of filler I can totally get on board with.

9. Monaco: Jean Jacques – Maman, Maman (Mother, Mother)

Jean Jacques - Maman, Maman | Eurovision 1969 Monaco

Result: 6th (11pts)

Maman, Maman sounds like a song that was written with live performance in mind. It’s brisk, strident and theatrical, with enough dynamic shifts going on to retain interest and keep the energy level up. The military flourishes during the verse are a particularly nice touch, and it gains extra French points for liberal use of the accordion.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of child performers at the contest. 12 year old Jean Jacques acquits himself very well in the company of more seasoned entrants, but he does bring a slightly stagey feel to the performance. He’s visibly nervous and while his vocals are impressive, there’s no interaction with the camera and his performance lacks any sense of spontaneity. Still, this is one of the stronger compositions of the night and it deserved to do well – though in terms of setting a precedent I’m relieved that it wasn’t one of the winners.

8. United Kingdom: Lulu – Boom Bang A Bang

Lulu - Boom Bang-A-Bang

Result: =1st (18pts)

Possibly burned by Congratulations narrowly losing to La, La, La the previous year, the United Kingdom send their most overtly crass, gimmicky entry to date. Like many of the big stars to represent the UK during this era, Lulu has subsequently expressed little fondness for ‘Boom Bang-A-Bang’. However, this didn’t stop her from delivering one of the stand-out performances of the evening.

A song like Boom Bang-A-Bang would be impossible to treat reverently, so Lulu’s solution is to ham it up outrageously. At this point the 19 year old singer already had years of experience not just as a stage performer but also as a TV star, and she’s evidently comfortable in both mediums. She knows exactly how to work a camera, darting her eyes for the close ups and wiggling her hips for the wider shots. Her closing cry of “Ole!” is a shameless bit of crowd-pleasing for the hall, which naturally goes down a storm.

Lulu is still somewhat in the public eye almost fifty years later, and while I’ve never found her to be the most likeable of celebrities, you have to wonder what she might have been able to do with a song more worthy of her talents. For me this is by some distance the weakest of the four winners on record, but as a live performance you have to admire the sheer level of showmanship on display.

7. Finland: Jarkko & Laura – Kuin silloin ennen (Like in Those Times)

Jarkko and Laura - Kuin silloin ennen | Eurovision 1969 Finland

Result: 12th (6pts)

Finland are another country who seem to have a cultural sensibility that’s very distinct from mainland Europe, resulting in some enjoyably kooky entries over the years. From the moment Jarkko and Laura walk out dressed head-to-toe in black carrying a boater hat and a cane, it’s clear that this is going to be one of them.

Kuin silloin ennen has a sort of lilting Nordic folk vibe mixed with more theatrical elements that culminate in a charming little dance break. It feels like a Romantic-comical number from some kind of lost Finnish musical. The effect is sweet, silly and the sort of thing only the Finns could hope to get away with.

6. Italy: Iva Zanicchi – Due grosse lacrime bianche (Two Big White Tears)

Iva Zanicchi - Due grosse lacrime bianche | Eurovision 1969 Italy

 Result: =13th (5pts)

High on class, high on volume and fair belted out by experienced singer Iva Zanicchi, this should have been a showstopper for Italy, but it wound up as one of their less successful entries of the era. My only explanation is that other ballads tonight made more of an impact,as it’s difficult to fault this on its own terms. The verses are soft and reflective,the chorus passionate and grandiose. Zanicchi’s vocal is impressive, and she builds to a suitably rousing finish. In other words, this ticks all the right boxes Maybe it was just a little too by-the-numbers.

5. Netherlands: Lenny Kuhr – De Troubadour (The Troubadour)

Lenny Kuhr - De Troubadour | Eurovision 1969 Netherlands

Result: =1st (18pts)

Another year, another winner built around a “la la la la” hook. No wonder people quickly became cynical about the contest. Although to be fair, ‘De Troubadour’ works harder than most to earn its sing-a-long chorus. For one thing it actually has verses that feel consequential to the song rather than obligatory. Kuhr is the first female to win the contest with a self-composed song, and the first to win while playing an instrument live. She has a striking throaty voice for a young girl, which gives the song a pleasingly odd medieval beer-hall feel that’s entirely in-keeping with the song’s lyrics. One of the quirkier Eurovision winners of the era.

4. Germany: Siw Malmkvist – Prima Ballerina

Siw Malmkvist - Primaballerina | Eurovision 1969 Germany

Result: =9th (8pts)

I like this song because it sounds like what I imagine old-school German pop music to sound like. Faintly sinister, with a touch of beer-hall Oompah about it, it’s essentially a Grimm fairy tale set to music. The lyrics address a lonely and loveless porcelain doll in a Glockenspiel, reminding her that life is fleeting and all beauty will fade away eventually. I love this strange vein of darkness you often find in continental pop – especially in the way it contrasts with Swedish singer Siw Malmkvist’s jaunty delivery.

3. Spain: Salome – Vivo Cantando (I Live Singing) 

Salome - Vivo Cantando | Eurovision 1969 Spain

Result: =1st (18pts)

After a dreary opening pair from Yugoslavia and Luxembourg, the home entry was probably rewarded for finally kicking the evening into high gear – and how! Spain’s second consecutive winner has a lot in common with the first – after a mournful opening verse it kicks into a peppy, repetitive chorus delivered with gusto by the singer. Viva Cantando is a little more interesting than La La La though, in that once the first verse is out of the way the song is just one long chorus that builds to an increasingly frenzied pace via a series of key and tempo changes. Salome quite literally throws herself into it, flailing her arms wildly and flirting with the camera like a pro. It’s an excellent, hugely energetic performance that deserved to score well. It’s also one of the campest spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.

2. Portugal: Simone de Oliveira – Desfolhada portuguesa (Portuguese Husking)

Simone de Oliveira - Desfolhada portuguesa | Eurovision 1969 Portugal

Result: 15th (4pts)

Portugal have historically struggled to bridge the gap between the music that’s popular at home and the elements that appeal to a broader European sensibility. Simone de Oliveira’s second entry (she previously appeared in 1965) was an enormous domestic hit, but her patriotic dramatics evidently baffled the juries and she ended up just one rung off the bottom with a measly 4 points.

I love hearing a bit of ethnic flavour at Eurovision, and this totally works for me. It’s a real diva performance, with Olveira belting imperiously like a Portuguese Eva Peron. The intensity borders on scary at times, but in a contest that still sees the majority of entrants playing things safe, it’s always a pleasure to hear something genuinely distinctive, especially when it’s delivered with such commitment.

1. France: Frida Boccara – Un jour, un enfant (A day, a child)

Frida Boccara - Un jour, un enfant | Eurovision 1969 France

Result: =1st (18pts)

The shifting demographic of late sixties Eurovision may have challenged the dominance of the French chanson on the contest, but it didn’t kill them off immediately. In fact the period from 1969-1973 could be considered the golden age of the genre. What it did do was force the Francophone ballads to evolve into something more dynamic and emotionally charged, as opposed to the rather languid early efforts.

Un jour, un enfant is a masterpiece of the form – pairing a dreamy and evocative melody with a powerful vocal from Frida Boccara. Alone onstage with nothing to distract from her performance, she delivers easily the most compelling three minutes of the night. It’s not a catchy song in the way that the other three winners are, but it’s stirring, passionate and Boccara’s emotional vocal draws you into the story from start to finish.

If you’re not a French speaker it’s well worth looking up the gorgeously poetic lyrics, which rise far above the other winners this evening. But a performance of this quality doesn’t require full comprehension to get its message across, as evidenced by the ecstatic ovation she receives at the end. To my mind, this was the real winner of the night.

Interval Watch

The aforementioned short film, entitled La España diferente (A different Spain). Based on the themes of Earth, Fire, Wind and Water, it showcases a range of images from Spain – from landscapes and tourist attractions to extreme close-ups of open flames and cascading water. Filled with abrupt, jumpy cuts and strange perspectives, and accompanied by trippy, dramatic music, it’s pure arthouse and very much of its time.

The Voting

Eurovision 1969 Scoreboard

The final scores are in… but who’s won?

Once again, each country had ten points to be distributed freely – based on the favourite song of ten national jurors. The voting is rather chaotic from the start, with several juries forced to repeat their scores for clarification. A clear leader never really emerges – at the halfway point France are on 13 points, with the United Kingdom on 10, Monaco on 8 and Spain and Switzerland on 7. France and the UK continue to run more or less neck and neck until the last third, with Spain slowly catching up. The Netherlands seem to be out of contention until France award them a whopping six points – the highest single total of the night – bringing their total to 18 and pushing them into the lead with two votes to go. Spain, France and the United Kingdom share second place with 16 points each.

Penultimate voters Portugal awards two votes apiece to Spain and France, pushing them up to 18 points too for a 3-way tie. The United Kingdom get one vote, leaving them just one point behind. Everything depends on the never-predictable Finns…

3 points to Ireland – bringing their total to 10.

1 point to Italy – bringing their total 5.

1 point to United Kingdom – drawing them level. The crowd are audibly excited, but surely France or The Netherlands will edge ahead now?

3 points to Sweden – taking their total to 8 and leaving Finland with just 2 more points to give.

2 points to… Switzerland! It’s over. The crowd erupts. It’s not clear what exactly is going to happen now.

Executive supervisor Clifford Brown confirms that there are four winners this year. Presenter Laurita Valenzuela seems as baffled as the audience, and asks him to repeat the ruling. The crowd are more subdued now. Valenzuela eventually calls Massiel onstage to hand over the awards. Due to the sheer amount of winners, only the singers are given medals, with the songwriters receiving theirs after the broadcast. This section has the air of  a gradution ceremony, with Salome, Lulu, Kuhr, Salome and the various composers all standing slightly awkwardly in a row.

Tradition must be obeyed though, and the show ends with all four singers reprising their songs in full. This must have caused the show to overrun considerably. By the time the credits finally roll, the hall is already half empty. A bizarre, largely unsatisfying result to one of the most eventful contests yet. And the fallout had only just begun…

Lulu

Lulu enjoyed the most visible career of the four 1969 winners.

After the contest

The tied result caused serious disgruntlement among the participating countries, and a mass-walkout ensued. Sweden, Norway, Finland and Portugal all boycotted the 1970 contest – despite the fact that a tie-break rule was devised to ensure the situation would never be repeated.

The result also possibly diluted the success of the winning songs. Lulu’s Boom-Bang-A-Bang was the biggest global hit, reaching #1 in Norway, #2 in the UK, and top ten in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium among others. The other three winners experienced much more localised success.

Despite reaching a peak of popularity during this time, the contest entered its third decade looking distinctly vulnerable, its credibility severely knocked by the results of the past two years. It would take an unassuming Irish girl to help set things back on course in 1970…