Playlist of the Week – Eurovision for Beginners
Hello Dear Readers!
As the summer begins, I thought it would be a nice idea to start building playlists to help you engage with the Contest and share your love with others. What better way to start this weekly tradition than with a rundown of twenty of the most influential songs from the history of the Contest, from 1956 to Today.
Find the playlist here: Eurovision for Beginners Playlist
But why did I select these twenty tunes? Each of these songs are an integral strand within the epic tapestry of Eurovision. Whether they changed the direction of the Contest, brought a new wave of interest and fans, or represented a broader change in European societies, each song has played a role in making the Eurovision Song Contest what it is today.
- Refrain performed by Lys Assia — Switzerland 1956
The first winner, the self-proclaimed “Mother of Eurovision” and ever tenacious Lys Assia represented her home country on home soil during the first ever Eurovision. She went on to represent Switzerland two more times.
- Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) performed by Domenico Modugno — Italy 1958
If not the most well-known and successful song to come from the Contest, it is among the top ones. Covered by some of the world’s most famous artists, translated into a multitude of languages, Volare continues to be performed to this day. It also remains a point of contention – to this day – throughout the ESC fan community that this did not win.
- Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son performed by France Gall — Luxembourg 1965
Enter the youth movement. At the time, France Gall was the youngest singer to perform a winning entry and the song talks about her feeling like a “doll of straw” being contorted to appeal to a mass audience. A message that spoke to the youth of the 60s and continues to speak to hearts of those today.
- Waterloo performed by ABBA — Sweden 1974
Artists have become big years after the Contest, they have been big going into the Contest, but only one artist has ever become big as a direct result of winning Eurovision: ABBA. Entering the night as a Swedish pop group, ABBA became international superstars after winning the Contest in Brighton.
- Hallelujah performed by Gali Atari and Milk & Honey — Israel 1979
The third time a country successfully defended its title, Hallelujah is an anthem of peace that continues to be used throughout the continent to harken the need for love and understanding, Israel even had the singers perform it when Jerusalem hosted the Contest again in 1999 as a tribute to those who were being impacted by the Balkan War. The song remains a classic for hardcore fans and casual viewers alike.
- Making Your Mind Up performed by Buck’s Fizz — United Kingdom 1981
Eurovision has become synonymous with over-the-top, glittery, gimmicky performances for those who grew up or fell in love with the Contest in the Eighties and Nineties. This winning entry started that trend. Heads were turned when the guys ripped the girls’ skirts off to reveal shorter ones underneath: and thus, the ESC costume change was born!
- Ein Bißchen Frieden performed by Nicole — Germany 1982
Germany (or “West Germany” at the time) was one of the founding countries of Eurovision. It had competed in every Contest, but had never won. This all changed with the Ralph Siegel-penned entry performed by a 17 year old high school student. Not only was this Germany’s first win, but it set a record for point accumulation and margin of victory.
- Hold Me Now performed by Johnny Logan — Ireland 1987
Seven years after performing Ireland’s winning song in 1980, Johnny Logan returned to the ESC stage to represent the Emerald Isle with a song he coauthored. Logan was the first, and so far only, artist to be the performer for two winning entries. He picked up a third winner’s trophy as an author of the 1992 winner Why Me? This is also what sparked the Irish domination over the next ten years: five victories, a second place, and two other Top Ten finishes.
- Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi performed by Céline Dion — Switzerland 1988
Two years before her big break, Céline Dion was a rising star in the francophone (French-speaking) world and was asked to represent Switzerland. Not only is Céline Dion one of the biggest artists to compete on the ESC stage, she had one of the most harrowing victories, beating out the UK by only one point.
- Nocturne performed by Secret Garden — Norway 1995
Notorious for its lack for lyrics (only 24 words), Nocturne is the only non-Irish victory between 1992-1996. Despite this fact, it is known as the most “Irish-sounding” song to win the Contest – with the heavy emphasis on the violin and harp. It remains one of the most popular songs from the 90s.
- Just a Little Bit performed by Gina G — United Kingdom 1996
The only other non-winner on the list, this Contest classic is one of the most commercially successful ESC songs in history. Finishing a mere 8th, this song’s lack of a victory remains highly controversial. The song came into the Contest riding high in the charts and continued this dominance after the ESC. It is one of the most popular ESC songs from the 1990s and can routinely be heard on dance floors around the world. While many fans may disagree with placing this song amongst the company of others on this list, I believe that its unprecedented (and unmatched) commercial success throughout and beyond Europe helps it earn its spot among the top twenty.
- Diva performed by Dana International — Israel 1998
The first year in which televoting was used, Israel stormed to victory on the back of Dana International, a transgender woman who was known for her foot-stomping, club anthems. Not only did Diva bring a new genre to the forefront of the Contest, but it also brought to light an oft-ignored population. As a transwoman, Dana International became an icon, not just for transpeople, but for all members of the LGTBQ population across Europe. While there have been various drag acts to compete in the years since, Dana International remains the only transperson to compete.
- Fly On the Wings of Love performed by The Olsen Brothers — Denmark 2000
One of the biggest surprises to win the Contest, fewer entries had lower odds of winning than Fly on the Wings of Love. But, the song was an instant hit across Europe, endearing itself in the hearts of young and old across the continent. The song is often cited as one of the best to win, particularly in the 2000s.
- Wild Dances performed by Ruslana — Ukraine 2004
In its second year, Ukraine won the Contest with a foot-stomping dance track. This entry is important because it pushed forward two trends of the early 2000s: the rise of Eastern Europe and the increased importance of a catchy stage show. While Estonia and Latvia both won just a few years previously, 2004 saw a rise in the success of Eastern European nations as the Contest was larger than ever before with the advent of the semi-final, which eliminated the need for regulation and the all of Eastern Europe was able to compete simultaneously. Wild Dances is also infamous for being a fairly simple song that won due to its amazing choreography; inspiring acts that continually got more and more outlandish.
- Hard Rock Hallelujah performed by Lordi — Finland 2006
Breaking the records set by the United Kingdom in 1997, this song reached new heights in points acquisition and margin of victory. Hard Rock Hallelujah remains the most successful hard rock song and one of Finland’s twelve Top Ten placings, only finish in the Top Five. This entry broke the Contest out of the cycle of pop tunes and ballads that have dominated it for most of its history. Since, there have been a variety of rock songs as well as experimental entries.
- Molitva performed by Marija Šerifović — Serbia 2007
Not only was this the first winner that I ever saw, but Molitva represents a turning point for the Contest. It beat out zanier entries that, no doubt, would have been victorious just years before, setting the Contest on a track towards stronger compositions and lyrics while simultaneous scaling back the spectacle of performances. Not only that, but Molitva remains one of only two non-English songs to win the ESC in the televoting era (Israel 1998 being the other).
- Fairytale performed by Alexander Rybak — Norway 2009
The current record holder for total points accumulated and margin of victory (and, at the time, most 12pts and many other point records), Fairytale was written, composed, and performed by Alexander Rybak. The song went on to chart in almost every European country, reaching gold and platinum status in a variety of nations. It was the first winner to achieve major commercial success in the 2000s and helped to bring relevancy back to the Contest.
- Satellite performed by Lena — Germany 2010
Another song that raced up the scoreboard and European music charts. Satellite not only continued a trend of commercial success for ESC winners, but restored faith in the Contest for many in Western Europe who had figured no country in the west stood a legitimate shot at winning the ESC. This revitalized the Contest and the following year saw the return of Austria and Italy, the latter of which was returning from a 13 year absence.
- Euphoria performed by Loreen — Sweden 2012
The records mentioned above that Norway 2009 once held, those were broken by this entry – Sweden’s fifth victory: Euphoria. The song was known for the stunning performance, the easy to learn lyrics, and the choreography that Loreen performed on stage. Euphoria joined the ranks of the few songs to land on music charts outside of Europe and Australia since the 1970s, reaching the charts in throughout the Americas and a few countries of Asia and Europe.
- Rise Like a Phoenix performed by Conchita Wurst — Austria 2014
In a year in which political and economic turmoil could be found throughout the continent, a singer purporting to represent peace, understanding, and acceptance performed a song about rising up despite being hurt. While Rise Like a Phoenix did not have the commercial success of its most recent predecessors, it remains an anthem of rising above those that wish to do you harm, whether it be in relationships or in a society that wishes to tear you down.
Honorable Mention: Dansevise (Denmark 1963), No Ho l’Eta (Italy 1964), La La La (Spain 1968), the four winners of 1969, Ding-A-Dong (The Netherlands 1975), Diggi-loo Diggi-ley (Sweden 1984), Love Shine a Light (United Kingdom 1997), Sanomi (Belgium 2003), Tonight Again (Australia 2015)
What songs do you think are integral to Eurovision’s history?
Stay tuned next week, our playlist will be Eurovision for Anglophobes, a playlist of twenty of the best non-English language songs in the post-language rule era (1999 and onwards).