07 May 2008

Euro trash

If my life depended on naming two Eurovision Song Contest winners, then ciao, baby. I would have come up with the only two Eurovision songs I can actually remember: ‘Congratulations’ by Cliff Richard was an instant ear-worm in 1968, and the arrival of Abba with ‘Waterloo’ was unavoidable in 1974. (No one would have predicted such a catalogue of hits that was to follow.)

It’s a funny thing, memory: it turns out that Cliff didn’t take home the gong, despite being the only unforgettable song that screened on NZBC’s WNTV-1 that night. He was robbed, and by one of the arch fascists of the 20th Century: Franco.

The last war crime of that grisly reign has been revealed. Franco’s flunkies – executives from TelevisiĆ³n EspaƱola – crossed Europe to do some backhanding and bribing so that the contest was won by Spain’s Massiel. Her song? ‘La La La’ ... ah, you hum it, I'll play it ...

It’s often said that there’s a formula to Eurovision winners: le royale avec cheese of songwriting. I liked Guardian critic Caroline Sullivan on the similarities between ‘Congratulations’ and ‘Waterloo’:

‘Congratulations’ is actually one of the better entries in his catalogue. It has a hip-swinging loucheness that stays just the polite side of naughtiness, and while it's necessary to watch the video to fully appreciate the piston action of those hips, the song stands up in its own right. It employs many of the devices that Abba would go on to use on their 1974 Eurovision winner, ‘Waterloo’: splats of brass, clanging bells, handclaps and a joyous, surging melody. But guess which of the two is regarded as a fine pop song and which is seen as a crummy throwaway?

So there was Cliff, stood up at the altar of the Royal Albert Hall in 1968. It hasn’t always been a dignified career.

Music journalism is often mad, spotty boys raving, but in general the genre has moved on from this classic (left). It’s the opening of a syndicated
on-the-road with-Cliff feature in NZ Truth, in 1962. I'm sure it doesn't reflect Cliffs attitude to his fans at the time.

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