I admit it. For the first time in history, the long-running Eurovision Song Contest grand final aired in the US last year, on the Logo cable network. I decided to check it out…and got hopelessly hooked in on what some feel is a “cheesy” tradition. I don’t care – I LOVE IT!
The 2017 Grand Final is later today – it will air from 3-8 PM ET US on Logo again this year. And I started to think about the history of the contest, and being a chart freak anyway, I dug out my books and did some checking. And you know what? Eurovision has had almost NO Impact in the long running US charts.
Yes, there have been a few songs here and there that have become hits in the States. But not very many. Still, when you can reference an obscure Eurovision winner by name and get a stunned and genuine laugh out of me in a film like the Sundance favorite hit Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, you know some of us…probably have WAAAAY too much time on our hands…more on this in a moment…
The biggest chart hit in the US to come out of the contest actually was NOT a winner – it was French orchestra leader’s Paul Mauriat’s monster 1967 hit “Love Is Blue” – the instrumental cover of the vocal version of the song that finished in fourth place that year went on to become a worldwide smash later in the year. The song spent five weeks on the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, and eleven weeks on top of the Easy Listening (now Adult Contemporary) chart. Wow. I always have loved this song, it’s a classic.
Then we have to skip a few years. The mid 1970s were the most active for Eurovision songs on the American charts. In fact, from 1973-1976, at least one of the contests’ participants (but not always the winner) were bonafide US hits.
In 1973, Eurovision runner up was the Spanish group Mocedades, who had an international hit with their song “Eres Tu“, a song which has become a staple in both its native Spanish and in dozens of translations into other languages. Latino heartthrob Luis Miguel had one of his biggest hits with a cover version in the late 1980s. Again, the song is a classic, and I will always remember my mother asking me “What is THAT? It’s not even in English!” the first time she heard me playing the 45 I had of the song. At the time I had no knowledge of what Eurovision was, just that it was a cool song. And remains so to this day.It reached #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and also went top ten AC, and remains one of the top selling foreign language hits in US chart history.
By far the biggest US hit to come out of history of the contest was 1974’s Eurovision winner, “Waterloo” by ABBA – the song catapulted the Swedish quartet to international fame and by 1977 they had topped the charts in over a dozen countries and become a true superstar act. I mean, after all, do any other Eurovision winners have a massive hit stage musical based on their music? Come on. “Waterloo” was just the first of the group’s long string of top ten hits in the US, hitting #6 and setting the stage for many more in the years that followed.
1975’s winner was an irrepressible perky song about life called “Ding-A-Dong” by the Dutch band Teach-In. It was a much bigger hit in Europe than in the US; although it missed the Hot 100, it climbed to #22 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. I remember hearing it on “Music Scene USA” the AC countdown show hosted by Wink Martindale (it was the AC chart version of “American Top 40′ at the time) for several weeks, and the local station in Seattle I listened to at the time played it all the time. And it has now been immortalized – well, sort of – in a line from the aforementioned “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl“, in a scene where Greg and Earl’s history teacher, Mr. McCarthy, is talking about his memories of his father, who was a scholar on obscure Eurovision winners and could tell you that the winner in 1975 was a song called “Ding-A-Dong“. OMG, I let out a huge snicker at the sold-out festival premiere at Independent Film Festival Boston, and had several people turn to look at me with a weird stare – I was the ONLY one in the whole audience that got the joke…sad…
Moving on…1976’s winner was that year’s entry from the UK, “Save Your Kisses For Me” by Brotherhood Of Man. It was another of those perky “I’m leaving but I’ll be back soon” songs sung from a father to a child – Gilbert O’Sullivan had had a hit with “Clair“, a similar song a couple of years earlier – but you don’t realize it until the very last line of the song “Even though you’re only threeeeeee” and the song just tapers off. Boom. The song was a modest hit in the US, again mostly on Billboard’s AC chart, where it went all the way to the top, while peaking at #27 on the Hot 100.
And…believe it or not, that’s it, folks. It’s been FORTY ONE years since a Eurovision finalist has charted in the US. WOW. And this despite that since 1999, most songs have been in English – prior to that, they had to be in a native language unless English was a predominate second language in the country, which is how ABBA got to sing in English; the sad thing is it’s mostly due to poor marketing, because a number of songs that have made the finals in those years could have easily been hits in the States if a record label had jumped on them.
Take last year. Last year was the first time I ever got to see Eurovision, and like I said, I got hopelessly hooked within three minutes of it starting. I’ll be there every year it airs in the US for sure. And there were a half-dozen songs in the finals that could have been major US hits had they been able to land US distribution. I had three favorites in particular – Poland’s entry by Michel Szpak, who came in eighth with “Color Of Your Life” thanks to the fan voting (it had finished far lower on the judges voting) – it was my absolute favorite last year.
Then there was Australia’s Dami Im (no, I still don’t get why Australia is participating in EUROvision) with the marvelous “Sound Of Silence“, which was the runner up behind “1944” by Jamala, from the Ukraine (which I suspect was more than a little bit influenced by the political situation at the time, although it was an excellent song) – what a powerhouse that song is.
And finally, Lithuania’s entry “I’ve Been Waiting For This Night” by Donny Montell – although I didn’t particular care for the final word echo repeat at the end of each verse, the song was fantastic.
And so another Eurovision winner will be known in a few hours. Among my favorites this year:
Australia – “Don’t Come Easy” by Isaiah
Austria – “Running On Air” by Nathan Trent
Romania – “Yodel It!” by Ilinca and Alex Florea (this has another “Ding A Dong’ written all over it)
Cypress – “Gravity” by Hovig
Bulgaria – “Beautiful Mess” by Kristian Kostov
and over forty other fantastic songs. Congratulations to all the finalists – I’ll be waiting with baited breath to see who wins this year!
UPDATE – I regret to say that I missed one hit – a HUGE one – in the original post – and it was in fact bigger; I was unaware until watching the Eurovision contest yesterday that “Nel blu dipinto di blu” by Dominico Modugno was a Eurovision song; I totally missed it in my research; I must have glossed completely over it as I was checking through each year’s finalists. The song placed third in 1958’s Eurovision contest and it was in fact the biggest US hit to come out of Eurovision – it spent 5 weeks on top of Billboard’s Hot 100, was Billboard’s #1 Song of the year in 1958, and is more commonly known by its US title, “Volare“; it is also the ONLY Eurovision hit that has been a top 40 chart hit more than once in the US; later in 1958, in English and recorded by Dean Martin, it hit #15 and in 1975, a disco remake by Al Martino peaked at #33. My many humble apologies to Eurovision fans – never let it be said that I don’t admit my goofs…and especially when it includes a gaffe such as this, the biggest selling foreign language hit in US chart history….::Bad TC, No Cookie::
Also published on Medium.