I'm a Eurovision fiend, this is true, but every so often a song comes along that wins it that so shakes up the contest that everyone radically rethinks their approach to the contest sooner or later. So, having viewed and reviewed far too much ESC footage than one man ought in a short space of time, I've got this short rundown of the songs that I think were most influential. In chronological order.
What gets things onto this list? Well, general influence on the way the contest goes, I suppose. Songs that, in some way shape or form, influence other performers down the years at ESC, and, who knows, maybe even stuff outside the Contest. Well... here goes. I hasten to add that I'm not necessarily a fan of all these songs, but there you go.
1965 - France Gall, "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" - Luxembourg.
Put simply, if Serge Gainsbourg hadn't presented this to a little-known Luxembourgish chanteuse that he was boffing at the time, the Eurovision would have died out. It was the first "modern" (well, for the time) pop number to enter - and win - Eurovision. It's testament to this song's general grooviness and wit that it's been covered on many an occasion by individuals and groups that would probably think the Eurovision beneath them.
Before "Poupée de Cire," Eurovision had been dominated by that singularly dull (with exceptions) institution known as chanson francaise (or its equivalent for Holland or Denmark or wherever. This changed all that, though the French persisted with their chanteuses well into the 2000s. Which is why they've not won for over 20 years but that's beside the point. It also helped show that if you get a "name" song writer - like Serge Gainsbourg in this case - it can help your chances immensely. After all, when Dima Bilan won for Russia in 2008, he did so with a song written by an American producer called Jim Beanz. Not to mention, of course, their entry of tATu in 2003, which led to hopes/fears (delete as appropriate) that they might get to lezzing out on stage (they didn't, for the record). The fact that tATu were an internationally known act at the time, though, helped their chances somewhat.
1974 - Abba, "Waterloo" - Sweden.
This needs no explanation.
Every year since this won, pretty much, there's been a relentlessly happy upbeat number, usually from Scandinavia, attempting to score points for it. Other than Charlotte Nilssen and "Take Me To Your Heaven" in 1999, none of them have succeeded at this.
1981 - Bucks Fizz, "Making Your Mind Up" - United Kingdom.
Why's this lightweight, inoffensive number so influential? Skirt ripping, that's why. More generally, because it was the first one to broach the idea of some sort of stage show as a memory aid when the voting takes place. After all, in the Eurovision, you have 183 seconds to appear on stage before 25,000 people in the flesh and (according to some estimates) five hundred million people over TV (yes, five hundred million, as in half a billion, or one fourteenth of the Earth's population) round the world in order to get them to vote for your or whatever. As such, you have to be memorable. Although neither phone voting or huge worldwide audiences were in place in 1981, it led the way for increasingly elaborate performances, which really took off after 1997 with the Europe-wide rollout of phone voting.
Though the skirt rip evolved into the multi-skirt rip, the bra rip, and then the multi-layered dress/tuxedo/latex undercrackers rip (as used in Marija Šerifović's reprise of her winner "Molitvá" at the beginning of the 2008 event), the idea of an innovative (yes, this was an innovation at the time!) stage show is still with us, and by 2006 reached its zenith/nadir (delete according to your prejudices) when Lordi happened. Of course, there had been ridiculous stage shows before Lordi; I refer you to 2004, when Ruslana Lyzhicko won by having her and her cohort dress up as barbarians from the Carpathian mountains and stomp about and blow ten-foot-long hunting horns. And to 2003, when Sertab Erener won by having a bevy of belly dancers and doing an impression of a maypole. And Alf Poier who did very well for Austria in 2003 by singing some rubbish about animals and leaping about silliliy. And Guildo Horn and his Orthopaedic Stockings (they're his support band... yes, this is what he genuinely said) in 1997, with his climbing on the light fittings... the list is endless.
Unfortunately the stage-related silliness went on hiatus in the early 1990s as the Irish kept winning with some frankly dull-as-ditchwater songs. But thankfully, help was at hand...
1995 - Secret Garden, "Nocturne" - Norway.
I've put these two songs together because their influence is concurrent, and it's a stylistic influence. In 1995, Norway broke the Irish dominance by entering a song that was I. more Irish than the Irish, and II. sort of like the uber-folk number. It won. Heavily. It was like nothing else at the time. Since then, though, the number of folk (meaning anything involving the traditional sounds of the country that entered it, be it Nordic, Latin, Slavic, or Near Eastern) influenced songs has been off the scale. Although you could argue that Israel's earlier entry "A-Ba-Ni-Bi" was earlier, it was more of an anomaly than anything else. The only way the Irish could return to their position of Top Dog at Eurovision was by entering a song that ripped it off wholesale in the form of Eimear Quinn's "The Voice." Speaking of ripoffs, I can't help but suspect that in the game Icewind Dale II, composer Inon Zur lifted bits of this song for the soundtrack, but that's by the by, and I can't be arsed to play through IWDII just to confirm this.
Whereas Dana International's "Diva" was the first winner that had electronic dance beats throughout it. Similarly, the number of dance-pop songs that have entered Eurovision since then has been similarly ludicrous.
So there we have it. Going back through my Eurovision writeups, I've got so many instances of the adjectives "folksy" and "dancy" that I can't be bothered to count them. Some songs even combine the two, notably "Shake it up shekerim" by Kenan Dogulu for Turkey in 2007, "Every Way That I Can" by Sertab Erener, also for Turkey, in 2003, "Vampires Are Alive" for Switzerland in 2007, "My Number One" by Elena Paparizou for Greece in 2005, and so forth.
The folk and dance numbers also made excellent provision for ridiculous stage shows involving dancing, himbos, dancing himbos, giant rubber bands on the back of trousers, fantastical costumes, stomping, ten-foot hunting horns, leather, latex, big drums, spangly condoms... oh my!
But alas, all this seems to be changing, as juries are reintroduced, on a 50/50 basis with televoting (about bloody time that Svante Stockselius takes note of what I've been saying for years!!!!), and name songwriters (Jim Beanz, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote "It's My Time" that will be performed in the 2009 event for us in Britain by someone called Jade Ewen). And here's why...
I wasn't very convinced by this song when first I heard it. In fact I may even have quoted amnesiac on it. However, it's grown on me a wee bit since then, and other factors have led me to believe that this is the way successful Eurovision entrants are going.
Why, I hear you ask?
Because, firstly, it's understated. No pyros, no explosions, no lesbian antics, no singers that look like Uruk-Hai. Just one woman and five backing singers, the former of whom has the voice of an angel - albeit a short, bespectacled, pugnacious angel. The sort of voice that cracks microphones and makes that sleepy bloke at the back of the 25,000 seat stadium sit up and take note.
At first I thought it was a backlash against the silliness of the Eurovision in recent years, then in 2008 Dima Bilan - who has a similar sort of voice - wins for Russia. And lots of other countries that year entered big-voiced singers. And the UK entry for 2009, Jade Ewen, has a similar big voice. This is the way things are going, chaps and chapesses, so you can put away your chainmail and your leather corsets and your belly dancers.
I can't say I approve though. The Eurovision's always been a cut above ordinary singing contests because of its audience and scope for ridiculousness. If it reverts to a battle of the voices, it's no better than... bloody hell... the X Factor. It's going backward to the 1960s Song Contests, and that's no way to be.
I hope, therefore, that someone enters a death metal or black metal band in 2009, and it wins. And it has a stage show involving gore and chyme and lasers and stuff blowing up. And the band are all trannies or something like that. Yeah.