A Song for Europe

My Lovely Horse

This weekend the 54th Eurovision Song Contest (Concours Eurovision de la Chanson) takes place in Moscow, Russia (la Russie). Ireland (l’Irlande) is one of 42 countries that will compete in this year’s competition. It has always been more about style over substance and has become, in recent years, more about politics than entertainment. For example, one of the rules of the competition states that each act can have no more than six members on stage during their performance. That’s one trophy that Manchester United won’t win this year. C’est ci bon!

The first nine years of the competition were unremarkable, but two exciting events occurred in 1965. First, France Gall won the second of Luxembourg’s five titles with a wonderful song written by Serge Gainsbourg, Poupée de cire, poupée de son. Second, Ireland entered the competition for the first time. Despite stiff competition from France (La France), the United Kingdom (le Royaume-Uni) and Luxembourg (le Luxembourg), Ireland has been victorious more times than any other European nation with seven wins. The emergence of the Celtic Tiger (le Tigre celtique) brought four wins in the space of five years from 1992-1996. “Why Me?” asked Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, as it cost them a fortune to host the competition on each of the four occasions following those wins. Pourquoi moi?

The Eurovision Song Contest seemed quite glamorous in the 70s and 80s when I didn’t know a lot about music (or glamour). It even produced a few good songs back then. Apart from the Irish ones, however, the last winner who’s tune I can recall is Germany’s Ein bißchen Frieden from 1982. I haven’t heard any of this year’s entries, including the Irish one, and I have no intention of tuning in on Saturday (samedi). I understand that some of the power has been taken away from the voting public and handed back to a panel of “experts” in each country. This should make the whole thing more fair, although I’m sure that RTE will be hoping that Ireland don’t make it Number Eight in 2009. Et maintenant, je vous presente six chansons pour votre plaisir

UPDATE: RTE can bring a sigh of relief as Ireland’s entry by Sinéad Mulvey & Black Daisy failed to make it through to the final

The first nine years of the competition were won by ballads, so when Ireland entered in 1965 they must have thought thay had a good chance. However, it wasn’t a ballad that won, but an uptempo little ditty sung by France Gall, Poupée de cire, poupée de son. Serge Gainsbourg’s song can simply be translated as Wax Doll, Bran Doll, but it can also refer to the singer who is like a doll that is being manipulated by the songwriter, a puppet on a string, if you will. The song has been covered quite a bit over the years, including by the Canadian band, Arcade Fire. Here is a great live version by a band from Scotland (l’Écosse), Belle and Sebastian. It appears on their dvd, For Fans Only. Onze points

Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son – Belle & Sebastian

In 1973, ABBA entered the Swedish national song contest, but only finished third with their song, Ring Ring. The following year they were successful with Waterloo and went on to win the Eurovision in Brighton, England (l’Angleterre). The title of the song refers to the Battle of Waterloo which saw Napoleon Bonaparte defeated, thwarted, outfought, outwitted, hoist with his own petard, placed among the also-rans. I suppose you could say that he met his Waterloo. ABBA went on to worldwide success and are one of only a few acts to achieve any credibility following Eurovision participation. Here’s a version of the song sung in French. Dix points

Waterloo (French Version) – ABBA

By 1967, the United Kingdom had been runners-up on five of the previous eight occasions before Sandie Shaw won it with Puppet on a String. Shaw was not a fan of the song’s lyric and bouncy tune, which was co-written by a bloke from Scotland and a fellow from Ireland called Phil Coulter. Another Irishman, Sean Dunphy, came second with If I Could Choose. Here’s a reggae version of Puppet on a String by John Holt. Nul points

Puppet on a String – John Holt

In 1970, the tables would be turned when the United Kingdom finished runners-up to Ireland. Rosemary Brown, only eighteen, used the stage name of Dana to bring Ireland’s first win with All Kind of Everything. The only controversial aspect of this episode, and perhaps of her whole career, was that she was actually from Derry in the UK. The song has a rather annoying tune with banal lyrics. She sings that “all kinds of everything” remind her of her lover. These include: things of the sea; things of the sky; Monday, Tuesday, in fact, every day; the seasons; weather. You name it. Everything reminds her of this poor fellow. There was nothing that didn’t remind her of him. It must have been hard for her to concentrate. Dana went on to have a successful career in the music industry before shocking everyone by announcing her candidacy for the Irish presidency in 1997. Even though she only came third this time it paved the way for her to become an MEP for Connaught-Ulster in 1999. Her political outlook is even more conservative and religious than her music. So, here’s Sinéad O’Connor singing All Kinds of Everything with Terry Hall. Neuf points

All Kinds of Everything – Sinéad O’Connor & Terry Hall

The person saddled with the rather dubious distinction of being the most successful person in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest is from Ireland. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to win the contest once is misfortunate; to win it twice seems like carelessness. In fact, Johnny Logan won it twice as a performer and once more as a writer for Linda Martin in 1992. His first success came in 1980 with a song written by Shay Healy, What’s Another Year? I can remember the song at the time, although I thought it was an optimistic song that looked forward to another January. It’s actually quite a lonely, existential song and this is certainly borne out in Shane MacGowan’s interpretation. Shane sounds pretty weary in his version. In fact, he sounds like he’s just woken up and hasn’t even had a drink yet. Six points

What’s Another Year? – Shane MacGowan

Ireland’s dominance of the competition in the 90s and the financial burden that hosting it put on RTE inspired an episode of the sitcom, Father Ted. In A Song For Europe, Ted and Dougal try to write a song to enter in the Irish heat of a competition called Eurosong. They come up with an effort called My Lovely Horse, but struggle to find a tune. Then, Ted overhears a catchy little number that Dougal continuously plays on his record player. Ted discovers that it is the b-side of a song that came fifth in the Norwegian contest in 1976 and that everyone connected with the song died in a plane crash! So, he rips off the tune and our boys are on their way to success. Or are they? You can see what they came up with here and see some inspiration for the images here. The song was written by the show’s writers, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, along with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. It appears as an extra track on the Gin Soaked Boy cd single and is less than a minute and a half long. Douze points!

My Lovely Horse – The Divine Comedy