1997 EUROVISION SONG CONTEST - DUBLIN
If you happened to want Daniel Viles' opinions on the songs of the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Dublin on May 3, 1997 and won by British band Katrina and the Waves, then you've come to the right place. This is, in terms of the music performed, my favourite Eurovision Song Contest with many songs of exceptional quality. The show was well hosted by Carrie Crowley and Ronan Keating (yes, that one) and the staging was utterly brilliant, featuring a circular stage with televisions hidden throughout the staging, and lighting changes for each song that made it difficult to believe that each song had been performed in the same place.
1. CYPRUS - Mana Mou - Hara and Andros Constantinou ****
A wonderful start to the contest. This song has an interesting rhythm which is both a rock beat and a dance beat and yet not really either. The vocal harmonies are slightly reminiscent of ABBA but don't hold that against it. The Constantinou siblings both have intriguing voices, particularly Andros who would be more than capable of holding entire songs on his own. There is just a wonderful feel here which, I must admit, I am finding very difficult to describe. Just trust me that this is definitely worth listening to.
What a difference a year makes! Sebnem Paker seemed like a very nice singer in Oslo in 1996. In Dublin in 1997, suddenly she was a purring siren in a black dress over a body stocking singing in a way that had the whole crowd frozen in awe during the verses before getting them jumping and clapping during the choruses of this song which has become a real Eurovision favourite. The verse features Sebnem's amazing voice searing over an ensemble of Turkish percussion, strings and winds before exploding into a chorus of such rhythmic perfection that it demands a physical response from the listener.
3. NORWAY - San Francisco - Tor Endresen ****
One of the more fun songs in this year's contest. The song is a reminiscence of the 'flower power' era and listeners will get a tickle out of hearing the references to American songs in amongst all of the Norwegian. This rock 'n' roll shuffle features several acoustic guitars and a vocal from Tor that makes it obvious how much he enjoys singing. There really is quite a lot to enjoy here.
4. AUSTRIA - One Step - Bettina Soriat ****
And Austria gets funky again! Recent Austrian entries have circled around various black American styles of music and this one is a feelgood dance-funk number performed with great energy by Bettina. Her voice is slightly weak for this style of music (she was probably selected as much for her dancing as her singing) but she manages to carry it well enough. The injections of brass give a kick at the right moments and the saxophone solo reminds me of the time during the eighties when you couldn't have a top ten hit without one. A little dated, but very good.
5. IRELAND - Mysterious Woman - Marc Roberts **
Well, it took five songs, but we finally got our first boring ballad. It's all standard stuff; slow pop beat, clear vocal, soppy lyrics, minimal instrumentation and slightly strange vocal harmonies. Given that the 1996 Irish winning entry had preserved the folk feel of this contest, this Irish entry is disappointing.
6. SLOVENIA - Zbudi Se - Tanja Ribic **
This song seems to be quite well loved. The music is best described as a slow march and the melody is quite anthem-like. This creates a strong, militaristic feel which anyone who likes that sort of thing will find very attractive. For me, this keeps threatening to reach great heights but never does. I find Tanja's voice wanting for strength at crucial moments and, in short, I'm just not moved by the song at all. But, many people are, so give this a listen and find out if you are one of them.
7. SWITZERLAND - Dentro di Me - Barbara Berta *
"Dentro di Me", with its gentle slightly-funked beat and lifted chorus, doesn't really do much for me as a song, but it is the atrocious vocal performance that really makes the listener suffer. The notes that hit the correct pitch can be counted on your fingers, and Barbara's voice has no quality to it at all that could possibly give the listener a chance to forgive the lack of technique. It's worth noting that Switzerland's last Eurovision victory came via the voice of a Canadian. Somebody has obviously stolen all of the decent singing voices from Switzerland. Maybe the result of too much chocolate?
8. NETHERLANDS - Niemand Heeft Nog Tijd - Mrs Einstein *
Apparently, the Dutch enjoyed the seventies so much, the whole country decided to stay there. It's too easy to make fun of the fact that this vocal group is made up of five women who looked like they just finished work at the library, but the song, which attempts to be a sort of Pointer Sisters-style pop song, is so lacking in redeeming features that I don't have to resort to that. If you have a chance to see the ladies' dynamic stage performance, make sure you grab the chance to be bowled over by their sheer energy (beep! beep! sarcasm alert! sarcasm alert!)
9. ITALY - Fiumi di Parole - Jalisse ****
For all of you who have listened to this song and are desperately trying to work out what other song it sounds like, let me save you some time and say that it's "Listen to Your Heart" by Roxette. Now that we've got that out of the way, this is quite good to listen to. The singer reminds me in looks and sound of Madeleine Kahn (yes, that's a good thing) and while that may not sound like a good vocal style for this type of song, let me assure you that it really does work. Give this a good listen.
10. SPAIN - Sin Rencor - Marcos Llunas ***
Spain are definitely the winners of the 1997 Eurovision 'Most Improved' award. After the shocker of 1996, they returned to something the Spanish are quite good at - crooning! Marcos has a voice reminiscent of a certain crooning Spaniard who's rather in love with himself, and this song comes straight out of the Julio songbook. There's nothing original about the composition, but it's a wonderful crooning song and Marcos' performance is great for this style, even if his facial expressions on the night were a little comical.
11. GERMANY - Zeit - Bianca Shomberg **
After an introduction featuring an oboe riff stolen from "Rhapsody in Blue", this power ballad never really gets off the ground. Apparently, Bianca has won Celine Dion look-alike sound-alike competitions but her voice has little of the quality of Celine's and it's certainly too thin to save this rather dull composition. If you like Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, you might like this song (you also might like to get some psychiatric help), if not, don't bother with this song for too long.
One of my all-time favourite songs, Eurovision or not! This is a very complex composition with overlapping rhythms, difficult harmonies, many stray noises from instruments that add not to the rhythm or melody but to the atmosphere of the song, and a lead vocal line that is deceptively difficult to sing. Anna Maria not only sings the vocal with ease, she sings it with a passion and sincerity which, combined with the highly philosophical lyrics, combine to make a defiant statement of self that is both aggressive and inspiring. I can highly recommend Anna Maria’s jazz albums too.
13. ESTONIA - Keelatud Maa - Maarja-Liis Ilus ***
Along with Turkey's Sebnem Paker, Maarja-Liis was the other performer to perform in both the '96 & '97 contests, and, like Sebnem, Maarja's voice noticeably developed in that year. The composition is quite standard pop fare but it builds pleasantly enough and Maarja's voice carries the song in a way that she wasn't capable of in Oslo. Since this contest, Maarja has begun her recording career in English. Hopefully, although her pretty face could sell many a bad pop song, she will steer towards more creative songs. Her first release, "First in Line" was a good start.
14. BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA - Goodbye - Alma Cardzic ***
I felt a little sorry for Alma during this song. Her voice has a wonderful expressive quality to it, and the song itself is a good little sixties-style pop song. But the Bosnian Eurovision committee, in their wisdom, chose the same stilted backing musicians as the ones who looked so amateurish in Oslo a year earlier and the same arranger who buried both songs in heavy vocal harmonies. With one backing vocalist instead of five, this song would have sounded wonderful. Have fun listening to this song, and try to block out the dreadful backing vocals.
15. PORTUGAL - Antes do Adeus - Célia Lawson ****
This is quite likeable. Unfortunately, the Portuguese indulged in a little stage gimmickry that backfired (the backing singers all wore dark glasses and identical suits and clicked their fingers almost in unison) and the song got no points. Still, it's a good thing that the world got to hear it. The song is slow with a sad feel and the rhythm is very slightly reminiscent of Spandau Ballet's "True". Celia has a deep, rich voice which is both mournful and comforting. Even the mumbling of the aforementioned backing vocalists during the verses contributes positively to the mood. Give this a listen; it deserves it.
16. SWEDEN - Bara Hon Älskar Mig - Blond **
A mixture of a nineties concept (boy band) with a seventies concept (shit music). This is boppy seventies style pop (think "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and you'll be on the right track) and, given the style, the arrangement is not too bad. The vocals, however, are too weak to give the song any character and, basically, its appeal rests on the fact that it's being sung by three blond young men.
17. GREECE - Horepse - Marianna Zorba *****
No, that's not a joke; her surname really is Zorba. This is fabulous. The Greeks, as usual, have submitted a very Greek song complete with bouzoukis, finger cymbals, wooden flutes and traditional percussion. Marianna has a very folksy sound to her voice, which is exactly what is required here. The verses sweep her voice over a stripped back instrumental accompaniment before the chorus’s highly melodic vocal line is counterpointed by the oboe and supported by a tightly woven instrumental arrangement that really is a delight to listen to.
18. MALTA - Let Me Fly - Debbie Scerri *
Audiences may well be reminded of Marina Prior or Sarah Brightman when watching Debbie perform. The song sounds like a show tune and the vocal performance is equitable with someone singing in a show (i.e. as singers, they make great actors). Neither the song nor the performance really endear themselves in any way to the discerning listener and I wouldn't bother too much with this one.
19. HUNGARY - Miert Keel, Hogy Elmenj? - V.I.P. *
Well, why not do a Boyzone impersonation at a show co-hosted by Ronan Keating? Like the Swedish entry, this song (mid-tempo pop) is basically relying on the fact that four guys who look like models are singing it. The song, which I'm sure expresses some element of teen romance, doesn't really go anywhere at all, and the singers were definitely chosen for their looks. If you are a 13-year-old girl, get the video, otherwise, flick!
20. RUSSIA - Prima Donna - Alla Pugatchowa ***
Another song that sounds half show-tune, half pop anthem. Actually, there's a little of Taylor Dayne in Alla's appearance. To be fair, Alla gives a wonderfully theatrical stage performance and her larger than life voice is perfectly suited to the lyric. The chorus is quite boisterous, and so is Alla, who in the week leading up to the contest, threw a bit of a 'willy' at the airport because there wasn't a limousine to collect her. What was the song called again?
21. DENMARK - Stemmen I Mitt Liv - Thomas Lægård ***
The second rap in Eurovision history is about a man who falls in love with the girl from directory assistance (they don’t write ‘em like that anymore). The chorus to this mid-tempo song is sung (not rapped) and is quite good to listen to. As with "Love City Groove" in 1995, if you don't mind rap when the music around it is interesting, there's a bit to listen to. The rapping is crisp; if I spoke Danish, I'm sure I'd understand every word. If you like this, don't watch the video, just stay in your ignorant bliss.
22. FRANCE - Sentiments Songes - Fanny ****
Putting teenage singers in Eurovision to capitalise on the 'cute' factor is quite common, but Fanny's voice is exquisite. Then 17, her voice had a wonderfully mature quality to it and this song showed it off to the full. A mid-tempo pop composition, backed by a pop band and pizzicato strings, 'Sentiments Songes' creates a very introspective mood and is actually a very contemplative song well worth repeated listening.
23. CROATIA - Probudi Me - E.N.I. ****
Remember, 1997 was the year of the Spice Girls, girl groups and boy groups were everywhere. What often gets forgotten though, is that some of the songs that these groups were singing were actually quite good, and this is definitely a good song, performed with wonderful energy (no sarcasm this time) by the four girls from ENI. The vocals are raw and undeveloped, but they do enough to support this fun song, which, rhythmically, has a few similarities to Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway". Don't be turned off by the apparent commercial appeal, this is great fun to listen to.
24. UNITED KINGDOM - Love Shine a Light - Katrina and the Waves ****
There are rock anthems and there are rock anthems. This is a great rock anthem. It was a bad result for Eurovision that it won because it was always going to spawn a series of poor imitations, but there's no doubting the quality of this song. In a contest in which the competitors are often inexperienced professionals or even amateurs, Katrina's professional performance really stood out and there is a lot to be learned from the way she carried herself on stage. Her vocal performance was strong and she carried the lyric over a simple arrangement that was so effective in giving the song the feel it needed. Listen to this as much as you like.
This performance was the most stunning of the contest. Paul's vocals are a tiny bit weak, but I feel that this was written with the visual element in mind. The song is driven by a house beat, but is topped with an ethereal arrangement of synthesizers, strings and piano and a vocal line that is intelligent both lyrically and musically. The videos, both the recorded video or the Dublin performance, are must-see. This song is wonderful by itself, but with the presence of Paul Oscar staring you in the face, it takes on a completely new dimension.
In summary, some outstanding songs featured in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. My personal favourite was the Polish entry, very closely followed by those from Turkey, Greece and Iceland. Those behind that include Cyprus, Norway, Austria, Italy, Estonia, Portugal, France, Croatia and the United Kingdom. From this contest, I'd actually have to trim down my list of favourites to award votes, not buff it up as in every other year, and so, to create my top 10, I'd leave out Austria, Estonia and the U.K. The dud of the night award goes to Switzerland in a photo finish ahead of the Netherlands.
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