ESC 1996 Song Reviews

1996 EUROVISION SONG CONTEST - OSLO

 

This is the page where I tell you exactly what I think about the songs in the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest held in the Oslo Spektrum on May 18, 1996 and won by Irish singer Eimear Quinn. This is one of my favourite Eurovisions, delightfully hosted by Morten Harket and Ingvild Bryn and staged on three stages set up using the theme of an oilrig. The quality of music was also high featuring a number of songs with folk influences, no doubt triggered by the success of Secret Garden 12 months previously.

 

1. TURKEY - Besinci Mevsim - Sebnem Paker ***

One of those songs that proves that there is room in the world for the word 'nice'. The song never really reaches any great heights, but it never tries to. Sebnem Paker, while giving us little taste of what was to come in 1997, brings character to her vocal performance, and the fragile rhythm of the song gives just enough support to the accompaniment of the violin, accordion and brass. This song is very difficult to categorise, and that can only be a good thing.

2. UNITED KINGDOM - Ooh Aah Just a Little Bit - Gina G **

This song is pathetically easy to categorise, it's a disco song. After failing in 1995 with acid jazz, the U.K. turned to dance in 1996 and, thank goodness, didn't win with it either. Gina G's vocal is weak, the song has no substance, and (and this is possibly most damning) it's not really that good to dance to. If a good song means to you that it's got a beat and you can dance to it, then there is a small chance that you may enjoy this. Otherwise...

3. SPAIN - Ay! Que Deseo! - Antonio Carbonell

Oh my goodness! This is arguably the worst Eurovision song of the decade. The genre of music is described as 'new flamenco' and, using this song as an example, it involves a singer screaming his lungs out from the back of his throat and never really hitting any note in particular. It's one of those vocal performances that is so bad, it becomes funny. Would the song have fared better with a singer? I doubt it. The rhythm is attractive but the music keeps falling over itself.

4. PORTUGAL - O Meu Corao No Tem Cor - Lucia Moniz ****

This song takes a little while to get used to because of the several stylistic changes that take place during the song (funk to pop to folk to funk again). Once you've gotten used to those, though, this really is quite delightful. The orchestra is used well and Lucia, while sounding a little underdone in the opening section, handles the bulk of the song quite well. Many people go quite crazy over this song. I'm not one of them but it's certainly worth many listens.

5. CYPRUS - Mono Yia Mas - Constantinos **

Just when you thought you weren't going to get a power ballad... Well, it's a power ballad without the power. That's the song's fault, not Constantinos, although his voice doesn't exactly overflow with strength. I was thinking that this song sounds like it could fit into an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical, but that really is a harsh statement, and I don't think that this song is quite that bad. Nonetheless, quite boring.

6. MALTA - In a Woman's Heart - Miriam Christine ***

This song is one you could easily imagine being sung by the Pointer Sisters or Gloria Gaynor. Miriam Christine (only 16 at the time) has a wonderfully mature, deep voice which is capable of really belting a tune out. As indicated earlier, this song has a late seventies black American woman feel about it, so if you are into that sort of thing, give this a go.

7. CROATIA - Sveta Ljubav - Maja Blagdan ***

There are a great many Eurovision entries that contain wonderfully written songs, but are compromised by a questionable choice of singer. This is another of them. Its what you might call a 'power waltz'. The verses build very slowly to a wonderful climax in the chorus, which is quite majestic, and the instrumental section is a marvel to listen to. Maja's voice, however, is far too breathy and thin to cope with the extremities of the song. She imitates power with two ill-placed high-pitched screams, but these only serve to show how thin the voice is. This song deserved better. Still, many love it and even this version has much to admire.

8. AUSTRIA - Weil's Da Guat Got - George Nussbaumer *****

This song is not just a gospel song; it's a great gospel song. George (who, incidentally, is blind) sings with an unbelievably rich voice which would not be out of place in the Deep South of America, and plays piano with great power and style, bringing out the raw emotion of this type of music. This is one of the only Eurovision songs that actually benefits from having five backing vocalists. In my mind, this is one of the all-time great Eurovision songs and deserves regular listening.

9. SWITZERLAND - Mon Cur L'aime - Cathy Leander *

Oh wow, a ballad. (yawn) I can hardly contain my excit...(zzzzzzzzzzz). This is a slow ballad with one musical theme repeated about fifty times. Cathy's voice is unremarkable but we'd never know if it was any good because this song is so dull. Forget this.

10. GREECE - Emis Forame to Himona Anixiatika - Marianna Efstratiou *****

This is a wonderfully creative composition capped by an excellent performance (musically, that is, say what you like about the dancing). The song features a bongo-driven 7/8 rhythm and a chorus featuring an orchestral arrangement that evokes memories of John Wayne (or, for Australian readers, the music in the Victoria Bitter commercial). Mariana's voice is light but never light on and she works well with the vocal harmonies in the bridge and chorus, giving this song great warmth. The overall effect is a very original performance of a well-crafted song.

11. ESTONIA - Kaelakee Hl- Ivo Linna and Maarja-Liis Ilus ***

This is a very pretty song. The recipe is fairly simple: one old male voice; one young female voice; a gentle rhythm with a light accompaniment; build gently until all ingredients are mixed together, and presto! - Easy listening heaven. Personally, I find this song a little repetitive and lacking in anything that sparks real emotion, but many people are very fond of it (particularly 4KQ listeners) and you may be one of them.

12. NORWAY - I Evighet - Elisabeth Andreassen ***

It's a power ballad. Not a bad power ballad, but, nonetheless, a power ballad. The pan flute adds a nice touch to this song, and Elisabeth's voice, well, let's just say that shes brought class to Eurovision on each of the four occasions that she has sung. However, I find the whole thing a bit formulaic. The song builds nicely, but not in any way that's going to give you goosebumps. Give this a few listens and then move on.

13. FRANCE - Diwanit Bugale - Dan ar Braz et L'hritage des Celtes *****

Possibly my all-time favourite Eurovision song. Dan ar Braz is a legendary Celtic musician and this piece has a great atmosphere. The song is quite slow with a very gentle rhythm, yet builds very subtly, almost as though it wasn't trying to. By the time the chorus is sung for the last time, following a chillingly beautiful whistle and uillean pipe solo, the song has wrapped you up in it's warm sound and carried you to a place where birds sing, children play, women swoon and men dream. Not a bad way to spend three minutes, really!

14. SLOVENIA - Dan Najlepsih Sanj - Regina **

This sounds like the songwriter had two good ideas and put them together to make one bad one. The gentle rock rhythm is attractive, so is the show-style melody, but not together. It doesn't help that Regina's vocals don't blend with the rhythmic style OR the melodic style, so basically it's one big mess. There is also a prominent oboe which, I suspect, was part of the same idea as the melody. Someone could pull this song apart and come up with a couple of real gems.

15. NETHERLANDS - De Eerste Keer - Maxine and Franklin Brown ***

"Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seven..." oh, sorry, I thought I was listening to something else there. This is a wonderful performance of a seventies-style disco tune. Of course, it helps if you like seventies-style disco tunes. The vocal performance can't be faulted, (Franklin in particular has a wonderfully rich voice), nor can the orchestral arrangement, which supports the song superbly. Basically, whether or not you like this song depends on whether or not you like the style.

16. BELGIUM - Liefde is een Kaartspel - Lisa del Bo ***

This is a wonderful performance of a seventies-style pop tune. (Can somebody send some nineties music to the Low Countries, PLEASE?!) It sounds like something Elton John circa 1976 might do, a little Philadelphia Freedom-esque perhaps. Lisa's vocals are strong and her voice has an intriguing quality to it. If you like this kind of stuff, go for it, but I do question the wisdom of sending a song like this to the Eurovision in 1996! (unless, of course, people in Belgium are still listening to stuff like this.)

17. IRELAND - The Voice - Eimear Quinn ****

This was not the best song of the 1996 Eurovision (we know that because it won!) but there is a lot to like about this very Irish sounding tune, written by author Brendan Graham and sung by Anuna vocalist Eimear Quinn. Eimear's voice is brilliant for this type of music, although, regrettably, her performance on the night was less than brilliant. For me, the highlight of this song is the wonderfully written violin solo which transforms the entire character of the song from a gentle whisper to a boldly made statement. Easily the best of the Irish songs that won in the nineties.

18. FINLAND - Niin Kaunis On Taivas - Jasmine *

This song was invented for the skip button. In fairness, the basis of the song is very good. The orchestra and band create a quiet country feel that does have a pleasant sound to it. But the vocals are just wrong, both Jasmine's inappropriate lead vocal and the mass of backing vocalists that create an ugly mess that is simply too heavy for the instrumental backing. Listen to this if you must but I wouldn't waste too much time.

19. ICELAND - Sjbd - Anna Mjll Olafsdottir *****

Delightful. If you haven't worked out the title yet, it's pronounced "Shooby-doo" and the song is a big band piece that, lyrically, pays tribute to the great American singers of the early 20th century. Anna's voice is fantastic for this style and the backing vocals and orchestra complete the laid-back feel. This is not a cheap imitation of jazz; this is the real thing. Definitely worth a regular spin.

20. POLAND - Chze Znac Swj Grzech - Kasia Kowalska *****

Another of my all-time favourites. In a competition that tends to attract fairly light, happy songs, this is a particularly dark and moody composition. It sounds like a show tune but is more Bernstein than Hammerstein. The orchestral arrangement is dense, the solo oboe is melancholic, and Kasia's vocals are compellingly desperate and painful. In a year that included Eimear Quinn, Marcel Palonder and George Nussbaumer, this was the outstanding vocal performance of 1996. Kasia is also an accomplished actress and the theatricality of her stage performance in Oslo is worth seeing. This is quite brilliant.

21. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA - Za Nasu Ljubav - Amila Glamocak *

The arrangement of this slow ballad is catastrophic. The backing vocals are far too dense and the orchestral arrangement is far too thin. With that in mind, I don't really know what this song is trying to do. There may well be a good song hiding in there somewhere but it is never allowed to create any atmosphere, and Amila's vocals, which I don't think were ever really strong enough for this piece, just get crushed in the mess. If you can find something here, please let me know.

22. SLOVAKIA - Km Ns Ms - Marcel Palonder ****

There is a lot to like here. Nothing original in the style, just a straight pop ballad, but it builds through the verse well enough and creates the warmth that most love songs try to generate. The most outstanding feature of this song, however, is Marcel's rich voice. He switches effortlessly between power and delicacy and there is a genuine friendliness to his voice, something almost fatherly. Definitely worth repeated listening.

23. SWEDEN - Den Vilda - One More Time ****

The vagaries of the draw for order in Eurovision often lead to weak endings to the show, but this is a perfect closing act. This is a gentle song with a genuine Scandinavian feel to it. The vocals move from unison to harmony and back again very skilfully and the instrumental arrangement uses the orchestra, featuring piccolo and piano, to create the icy backdrop to this Swedish folk tale. The effect is that of making the listener feel warm while making them aware that all around is freezing cold. A very well crafted composition.

 

 

In summary, this was an outstanding Eurovision Song Contest. For me, the standout songs were the entries from Austria, Greece, France, Iceland and Poland. On the rung below that I would put Portugal, Ireland, Slovakia and Sweden with Turkey rounding out the top 10. The dud of the night was easily Spain, whose entry has given me many a good laugh over the years.

 

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