1 November 2015
How do you decide your top 10 Eurovision songs of all time? With excruciating difficulty, that’s how. It wasn’t so much about finding a group of “best ever” songs. Naturally we’ll all have several songs that we can just slot straight into a top 10. In fact, from an initial group of 26 songs, I had the top 9 decided quite easy. The difficulty was the last spot.
Also difficult was the exact order at the top of the list. I’ve had a Top 5 for some years now, so for newer songs that made the top 10, how does the fresh infatuation compare to the enduring love of the older songs?
To help place songs, three criteria were used: 1) instant appeal, 2) Eurovision Song Contest performance, 3) enduring appeal. All songs were rated out of 3 for each and had to score at least 7 points in total for any hope to make the top 10.
First, the songs in the initial top 10, and now relegated by newer ones…
=10) 2013 – Norway – Margaret Berger – I Feed You My Love (4th)
From the shortlist of songs that fought for tenth spot, it quickly became three, then two, and then finally – after so much torture – one. For days I struggled with this, eventually using a technicality to break the tie. The eventual 11th best song was only my second favourite during its ESC year, whereas the Berger was always my favourite of 2013. What’s so good about I Feed You My Love? Everything! From the first moment seeing it win Norway’s national final, I was intoxicated by its energy and magnetism. Thanks to the combination of a pulsating song, stylish presentation and perfectly matched vocals, there’s a very alluring, bordering on sensual, quality to it. The majestic curves of the Berger in that white bodysuit didn’t hurt either. Score: 3-2-2. Relegated: 2016-12-10.
=10) 2008 – Ukraine – Ani Lorak – Shady Lady (2nd)
For many months after posting the initial Top 10 in late 2015, I would still agonise over that 10th spot, and there were many times I thought I made the wrong decision. When watching old songs on youtube it was rare that I didn’t give Shady Lady another look. When a song from 2016 leapt into the top 10, the decision was now made. Both of them out. So to recognise the close tussle, I’m now officially declaring them equal. The initial reasoning to break the tie (that Shady Lady wasn’t my favourite of the year at the time) is easily offset by its enduring appeal. In terms of song and dance presentations, it’s the best ever, and I always have a smile on my face at the end. Plus, the song is superb, the choreography brilliant (I love the head-nods so much), and Ani presented it flawlessly. Score: 1-3-3. Relegated: 2016-12-10.
Top 10 as of 2016-12-10
10) 2011 – Slovenia – Maja Keuc – No One (13th)
This was a slower embrace, initially infatuated with Maja’s powerful vocals before becoming fully infatuated with the song. The change to English from Vanilija to No One proved a slight positive if anything, meaning all Maja had to do for this song to become an all time favourite was to nail the ESC performance. In the semi final she ended the song with a silly Aguilera type vocal run, which proved the only blemish on a perfect performance. In the final she discarded it, which made the performance perfect. With Slovenia not reaching the final for several years, Maja admitted to feeling the pressure to deliver for her country. Come on! With her voice, and this great song, it was never in doubt. Score: 2-3-2.
9) 1997 – United Kingdom – Katrina And The Waves – Love Shine A Light (1st)
The UK were in a deep malaise at being Eurovision failures for 16 years, made all the more frustrating with four second placed finishes and that neighbours Ireland seemed to be winning every year. The thing is, most of the hype was exaggerated once you actually heard the songs. That was until 1997 when finally there seemed genuine legitimacy about the UK’s chances. Within a few seconds, it was confirmed. Love Shine A Light was so infectious and likeable that it destroyed the competition with a higher relative score than even Sweden in 2012 and Norway in 2009.
Note that this era of ESC was a time of watching it “cold”. No preview videos, no CDs, no nothing other than the Sunday evening broadcast. Love Shine A Light endured in my mind for many years, and became the first ESC-related CD I ever bought. I stumbled upon the single while browsing a secondhand bin of a small record store near my work. Jackpot! In compiling the top 10, I listened again to confirm the magic was still there. It was. Score: 2-3-2.
8) 2013 – Azerbaijan – Farid Mammadov – Hold Me (2nd)
This was an entry where the ESC performance totally transformed the song. Before ESC it was only on my radar as one of the better ballads. Then ESC, wow! The guy in the box mirroring Farid outside, the powerful vocals, great music and simple, pure energy and addictive qualities of the song, I was hooked. During the months after ESC, Farid would become my favourite listen, always getting a repeat or three, and eventually supplanting Margaret Berger as my favourite song of the year. Even now, two years on, the chorus keeps popping into my head: Hold me, just unfold me, unchain my heart, give me love, give me hope. Yes, those lyrics are not 100% correct. It’s a shame Hold Me never won, as it got more 12 points than Denmark’s winning song and was light years better than Azerbaijan’s 2011 winner of Running Scared. We needed you then, Farid! Score: 1-3-3.
7) 2009 – Albania – Kejsi Tola – Carry Me In My Dreams (17th)
With Albania revealing their ESC entries so early (late December), this was one of the very long romances leading into a Eurovision Song Contest. It was also the first year that I started to listen to songs immediately that they were announced, rather than wait for the CD. After the second listen I was hooked, before soon becoming hypnotised. Some of this bleary effect could have been induced by Kejsi herself, with her appearing spaced out on the Festivali i Këngës stage. It’s worth a check on youtube.
The original version in Albanian was almost 5 minutes long so the next challenge was a shorter version in English that would be just as good. It succeeded, making it more contemporary without sacrificing the feel of the original. Stretching those English vowels also exposed the delightful vibrato in Kejsi’s voice. The ESC performance was curious to say the least. While I can’t explain the two midgets, the guy in all green might have been a translation error of boogie man, with the Albanians finding “booger man” online instead. Score: 3-2-3.
6) 2006 – Romania – Mihai Traistariu – Tornero (4th)
Tornero was a massive European hit, and released in several versions, including cover versions. This was all news to me during Eurovision time; learning it much later when hearing the Greek cover by Tamta at a party. At the time, I recall a brilliant dance song with an absolutely brilliant vocalist. It’s one of the most polished vocal performances you’re ever likely to hear at an ESC. Only Sweden’s Sanna Nielsen in 2014 immediately springs to mind as rivaling it. I then became fascinated with the choreography, and still am. Mostly, it is the song. It’s just that brilliant, and the vocals so effortless. Score: 2-3-3.
5) 2006 – Norway – Christine Guldbrandsen – Alvedansen (14th)
Again from 2006, and again effortless vocals, is Christine and The Elf Dance. This is the most angelic, crystal clear voice you’ll ever hear. The song and the staging are so evocative of the snowy Norwegian winter, and that’s despite the superb tans on the ladies. The song infuses pop, dance and folk and really infests itself once it hits the bridge. Most of all, it is Christine herself that keeps this song warm in my heart. She’s so mesmerising in her delivery, bringing a disengaged quality to the performance while somehow still keeping the viewer engaged. For large periods she doesn’t look at the camera, and always kept the microphone a comfortable distance from her mouth. It’s much like Norway itself, which loves its disengagement from the European Union. Christine emerged from her national final with the only Norwegian language song in the competition, and sadly it’s been the last time we heard Norwegian on the Eurovision stage. Score: 2-3-3.
4) 2015 – Russia – Polina Gagarina – A Million Voices (3rd)
This is the song that caused a rethink of my all time favourite Eurovision songs. It’s still unfathomable that Polina did not win Eurovision 2015. I’ve watched her performance at least a dozen times now and each time I’m left the same emotional wreck that she herself feels at the end. It’s the greatest vocal and emotional presentation of a song ever. The song’s profile is very similar to Azerbaijan’s in 2013 in that it was the ESC performance that really made it. The only difference is that Polina was much higher on my pre-ESC rank (7th) compared to Farid (15th). Polina also left a much stronger immediate legacy by becoming my favourite song at ESC while Farid was only fourth in 2013. Score: 2-3-3.
3) 2016 – Slovenia – ManuElla – Blue And Red (14th SF)
This is the song that will stay with me as the most iconic Eurovision song ever. Stockholm 2016 was my first Eurovision I ever attended, and every time I hear the first note from ManuElla a sudden rush of great memories and emotions rush through my mind. Beyond that is also the song itself: a pure classy piece of cross-over country pop. Then there’s the warmth in ManuElla’s voice I love so much, and the song’s message resonates to my core too. Blue And Red would always enter the top 10, so it was only a matter of which position. Quickly I settled on the top 4, with initial thoughts it might break into the top 2, before deciding between it and Russia 2015 for third. Waiting 6 months has confirmed the enduring appeal of the song, and it’s quite emotional now to even write this. Gee, those damn memories and emotions rushing back! The tiny niggle that prevented it breaking into the top 2 was that I preferred the national final performance to the Eurovision one. It was more natural and a better fit for this type of music. ManuElla was superb in projecting the song’s message – with her cute expressions and dancing at the end – and I missed that at Eurovision. Added: 2016-12-10. Score: 3-2-3.
2) 2003 – Iceland – Birgitta Haukdal – Open Your Heart (8th)
The other big battle in this top 10 was for number one. Birgitta had owned it since first hearing her song at Riga 2003. She was first on stage that year and apparently would have been quite a strong favourite with a later draw. This meant nothing to me, as all it did was set a benchmark for the remaining songs of that year’s competition, and seemingly for all future Eurovision songs. 2003 was a strong year with it being the last year before semi finals replaced pre-qualifying and relegation, televoting was in full swing, and Russia sent TATU to raucous publicity. They finished third in an ultra close 3-way vote. Turkey’s win was also a portent of the sinister bloc voting that would soon harm ESC. Who cares anyway. It’s about the music and Birgitta was immediately entrancing.
Whether it was the rhythm, the music, the melody, the hooks, the key changes, the harmonies, the sweet vocals, the chocolate coloured tan, or the intricate flower choreography, there was just something so infectious about Open Your Heart that remains today. Even after 12 years, there is not a hint of fatigue with it. Birgitta also started my big fanaticism with ESC. I’d buy the Eurovision CD of that year and the previous, and she would become my first ever online CD purchase when I bought her band Irafar’s CD from an Icelandic music store.
Birgitta’s had several attempts to return to ESC, the best being the lovely ballad Medal Andanna in 2013 – the 10th anniversary of her 2003 ESC appearance. Birgitta also fought off for 10 years the new number one. Unfortunately, the new number one had become to irresistible to ignore. Regardless of this change at the top, Open Your Heart remains in my heart as the most perfect and pivotal ESC song ever. Score: 3-3-3.
1) 2005 – Switzerland – Vanilla Ninja – Cool Vibes (8th)
Many readers of this blog will know my affection for this band, and its lead singer Lenna Kuurmaa. Both Vanilla Ninja and Birgitta have a similar story with me being immediately entranced by both. The only difference was that I first heard VN on CD whereas it was the ESC stage for Birgitta. VN’s ESC performance would then confirm my affection, and provide a surprise that it was four girls, not a producer/DJ with a guest soloist that I presumed. I also learnt they were from Estonia. From there, both Birgitta and VN stayed in my heart as being my favourite Eurovision songs ever, with Birgitta holding the title primarily as being the current champion, and you must defeat the champion to become the champion. Part of me didn’t want to decide between them either. Now it was required.
When you look at both songs, they are quite similar, being pop/rock, which is my favourite genre of music. Open Your Heart is a bit softer and more infectious, while Cool Vibes starts slower and is more powerful. Both take you on similar dramatic journeys, with Birgitta’s more emotional and VN’s more exciting. Both Birgitta and Lenna are engaging in similar ways, having distinctive voices and beautiful eyes. It’s a combination that never fails. Like with Open Your Heart, there’s absolutely no fatigue with Cool Vibes. That’s even more incredible given that VN have so many other great songs in direct competition.
Ultimately, it’s the enduring legacy that pushes Cool Vibes ahead of Open Your Heart. Not only have I listened to it and watched it far more times, Cool Vibes sent me on a crazy trajectory in life, of seeing VN live in Estonia in 2008, meeting Lenna, visiting Estonia two more times, seeing other parts of the world, and providing a decade’s worth of musical enrichment through VN’s albums, Lenna’s solo albums, and her recent Moonland project. None of these experiences would have happened without Cool Vibes, and I’d be much less fulfilled as a person without them. Score: 3-3-3.
2009 – Azerbaijan – Aysel and Arash – Always (3rd) – 1-3-3
2009 – Ireland – Sinead Mulvey & Black Daisy – Et Cetera (11th SF) – 3-2-2
2007 – Iceland – Eirikur Hauksson – Valentine Lost (13th SF) – 3-2-2
2010 – Slovakia – Kristina – Horehronie (16th SF) – 3-1-3
2010 – Germany – Lena – Satellite (1st) – 3-2-2
2016 – Italy – Francesca Michielin (16th) – No Degree Of Separation – 3-1-3
2000 – Estonia – Ines – Once In A Lifetime (4th)
2001 – Greece – Antique – Die For You (3rd)
2002 – Estonia – Sahlene – Runaway (4th)
2004 – Serbia & Mnt – Zeljko Joksimovic & Ad-Hoc Orchestra – Lane moje (2nd)
2005 – Norway – Wig Wam – In My Dreams (9th)
2007 – Moldova – Natalia Barbu – Fight (10th)
2008 – Norway – Maria Haukaas Storeng – Hold On Be Strong (5th)
2011 – Georgia – Eldrine – One More Day (9th)
2013 – Belgium – Roberto Bellarosa – Love Kills (12th)
2013 – Estonia – Birgit – Et uus saaks alguse (20th)
2016 – Poland – Michal Szpak – Color Of Your Life (8th)
Nine of the Top 10 songs are “millennial” simply because this was the period that ESC itself changed. Not only did televoting make the contest more contemporary, releasing the music and the shows on CD and DVD, and then with the rise of the internet, it meant much more engagement. Before 2000, at least in Australia, it was hear them once and forget about them. In Europe, the more successful ones got heard on radio. Otherwise, that’s it.
It’s also worthwhile to note that this is my personal Top 10. Not one single piece of objectivity entered the equation when selecting songs. The only time it was remotely used was to separate Norway 2013 and Ukraine 2008. Even then, the next time I revisit my Top 10, those places could reverse. It really was that close that some days I believe have it wrong (Edit 2016-12-10: as it proved!).
Katrina And The Waves was the only winning song to make the Top 10. Germany’s 2010 winner might have made it with a better ESC performance. Even though it was a rare year that my favourite ESC song actually won the competition, I was left a little underwhelmed with Lena’s sassy interpretation compared to the more innocent, shy one from the national final.
Eight of the Top 10 feature girls as vocalists; only two are boys. No surprise there as I’ve always much preferred the female voice, with solid vocals and tone being an integral part of my pure listening enjoyment. As you might have deduced, I really listen through the layers. The two boys that did make it have great voices anyway. Looking to the long list, there were four and a half others, with the half being Azerbaijan 2009. Maybe add another third for Greece 2001, for a total of 4.8 if my year 9 maths doesn’t betray me.
The worst performed song at ESC in the Top 10 is Slovenia 2016 at 14th in the semi final, with Albania 2009 the next worst at 17th in the final. On the initial long list, only three other songs didn’t make the final, with Ireland 2009 finishing 11th of 19, Slovakia 2010 16th of 17, and Iceland 2007 13th of 28 (single semi that year). Eirikur was so disgusted that he swore never to return to ESC. He’s kept his promise. Note that 2007 was the year after Lordi won, so the hard rocker might have expected a bit better. In reality, Lordi were an anomaly and it was the first year that bloc voting destroyed the integrity of a semi final. He wasn’t the only one to suffer.
The most successful years in the Top 10 were 2006 and 2013 with two entries, while Slovenia is the most successful country with two songs. Initially Norway had two in the top 10 before before relegated by Slovenia 2016, and had two others on the long list. Including the long list, the other countries with multiple entries are Azerbaijan, Iceland and Ukraine with two each, and Estonia with three.
Do you have a favourite Top 10? Post it in the comments. Remember, you can’t be wrong about your own opinion!
The Old Top 5
2003 – Iceland – Birgitta Haukdal – Open Your Heart
2005 – Switzerland – Vanilla Ninja – Cool Vibes
2009 – Albania – Kejsi Tola – Carry My In Your Dreams
2006 – Romania – Mihai Traistariu – Tornero
2006 – Norway – Christine Guldbrandsen – Alvedansen