First Listen: AccuRadio Eurovision Song Contest Classics

In recent years, North Americans following the Eurovision Song Contest have been like Americans conversant in Premier League soccer — there seem to be more of them with each year. Certainly there was enough of a following for Will Ferrell’s American-made Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga last year that I remember seeing social-media postings about the movie from friends I thought would have had no interest in it, even as goofy spectacle.

Ferrell’s movie was all we had of Eurovision in 2020 because of COVID. Ironically, the 2021 competition, with finals to be held in Rotterdam on May 22, comes as the 2019 winning song, “Arcade” by Duncan Laurence, becomes the first Eurovision winner to become an American hit of any sort in the 45 years since Brotherhood of Man’s “Save Your Kisses for Me” in 1976. Abba’s career-launching “Waterloo” came two years earlier.

AccuRadio has two Eurovision-themed channels, both curated by Ewan Spence, who has also helped syndicate the show to U.S. radio at Portuguese-language WJFD New Bedford, Mass., in recent years. Both are built around nominees, not just winners. Eurovision Song Contest Classics plays ‘70s through ‘90s titles. The Music of the Eurovision Song Contest plays contenders from the last 25 years.

There is a thru-line between the two channels, the big-production international ballads that often sound as if they could come from 1978 or 2008. In general, the dividing line for the channels happens around the moment when Max Martin made Europop less exotic in the U.S. Both the old and newer station are based on Europop, but the older one conjures memories of when Abba was the sound’s chief representative in the U.S. Even if you didn’t experience 2000s Eurovision contestants, most would not have sounded out of place on the radio here.

Here’s an hour of Eurovision Song Contest Classics, as monitored on May 12, 2021:

  • Teach-In, “Ding-a-Dong” (1975, Netherlands contest winner by a male/female act that was more MORish than Abbaesque. But I hear its echoes in Gabrielle’s much hipper ‘90s U.K. hit “When a Woman”);
  • France Gall, “Poupée de Cire, poupée de Son” (1965, Luxembourg contest winner; Bacharach-style ‘60s MOR written by Serge Gainsbourg);
  • Bucks Fizz, “Making Your Mind Up” (1981, UK contest winner; male/female group that recalled early Abba as opposed to their more ambitious songs of the early ‘80s);
  • Johnny Logan, “What’s Another Year” (1980, Irish contest winner. Logan is Eurovision’s only two-time winner as well as the author of a third winner. Even without knowing anything about this song, you’d guess it was from the yacht-rock era, and its sax solo anticipates Spandau Ballet’s “True”);
  • Dana, “All Kinds of Everything” (1970, Irish contest winner; polarizing MOR ballad that is still talked about in Europe the way “You Light Up My Life” is in America;
  • Udo Jurgens, “Merci Chérie” (1966, Austrian winner; lush piano ballad that recalls “Can’t Help Falling in Love”);
  • Linda Martin, “Why Me” (1992, Irish winner, written by aforementioned winner Johnny Logan);
  • Gina G, “Ooh Aah … Just a Little Bit” (1996, UK nominee. Only an eighth-place finisher, but probably better known to readers than most of the winners as the Eurodance hit heard frequently during the first year of Top 40’s American comeback);
  • Swarbriggs, “That’s What Friends Are For” (1975, Irish nominee – midtempo pop with the feel of a ‘70s TV theme);
  • Cliff Richard, “Congratulations” (1968, British nominee.  Uptempo MOR’ish pop that recalls Petula Clark’s two-years-older “My Love”);
  • Toto Cutugno, “Insieme” (1992, Italian winner. You may know him for “L’Italiano,” particularly because a 2004 remake of that song by Angelo Venuto became a hit on WKTU New York);
  • John Teigen, “Mil Etter Mil” (1978, Norway nominee with a George Harrisonesque feel);
  • Sandra Kim, “J’aime La Vie” (1986, Belgian winner, synthpop reminiscent of “Flashdance … What a Feeling”).

I enjoyed the ‘70s/’80s Eurovision contenders more than I did most of the more recent titles. The songs I heard in an hour of the newer station covered a lot of familiar styles of the last 20 years — dance/EDM (including two songs with the “Mr. Saxobeat”-style retro-‘20s feel), ukulele-driven acoustic pop, trap pop, Evanescence/Linkin Park-style rock. Surprisingly, I did not hear much of the Euro-flavored turbo-pop that was the highlight of CHR in the late ‘00s/early ‘10s. 

As Americans have become a little more familiar with Eurovision, I’ve found myself less enthusiastic about the music myself. Beyond “Waterloo,” many of the early Eurovision hits were songs that Americans just didn’t get. Some of the more recent nominees were songs of the sort we already had.

The good news is that I really like this year’s Eurovision nominees. Just as dance music has revitalized UK Top 40 in particular, there’s more energy here. There’s a wide range of styles, from the German pre-rock-flavored (but with a message for our times) “I Don’t Feel Hate” by Jendrik to Portugal’s retro-jazz-soul “Love Is on My Side” by Black Mambo. There’s a lot of dance pop, from Shum’s “Go A” (Ukraine) to Albina’s “Tick-Tock” (Croatia) to Benny Cirsto’s “Omaga”(Czech Republic). There’s also a Danish entry by Fyr & Flamme that wouldn’t sound out of place on the original Eurovision channel. You can hear a number of the contenders on my Summer Energy 2021 playlist. 

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