Sep 5, 2016

411/971 Riki Sorsa: Reggae Ok (Finland 1981)

Riki Sorsa is the other Finnish Eurovision legend to leave us during the Eurovision week of 2016. The death of Riki Sorsa did not come as a surprise. He had already beaten throat cancer in 2008 but the second time around the lung cancer got the better of him. Before his death Sorsa mad his illness public talking about the dangers of smoking. In a poignant  and dramatic video from 2016 he talks about having smoked for 30 years and now having cancer. "Did I stop too late" he asks in the video where he can be seen with and without his hair. Soon after that he died as a respected and loved pop singer at the age of 63 on the day of the first Eurovision semi final. 35 years previously he was in the beginning of his career.

In 1981 the Finnish Eurovision selection (watch it here) was full of established pop artists, and the popular favourite was either the Ralph Siegelish song Titanic sung by Frederik or a love duet Mun suothan tulla viereen sun sung by Eurovision veteran Markku Aro and his Singaporean girlfriend Nisa Soraya. There where also other popular entries and well known artists and there was a loud outcry when the jury of experts chose the most unknown performer of the evening with the most unlikely Eurosong.

I was among the large crowd of Finns who thought that by that choice we could kiss goodbye a decent placing in the final results. The 16th place in Dublin proved that the majority was this time right.

The expected low result did not harm Riki Sorsa, quite the contrary. Having sung previously rock in english he now changed the language permanently to Finnish and the style closer to the mainstream Finnish pop. His major successes included a finnish version of a Swedish hit Aftofalken (Muuttohaukka in finnish) and Haaveissa vainko oot mun, which narrowly lost the Finnish representation in 1985 Eurovision song contest to Sonja Lumme. In 1985 Riki also had another entry Lapset maailman which he sang together with another Eurovision veteran Ami Aspelund. That song came fourth. He entered Euroviisut twice after that with songs Viimeinen tie (3rd in 1991) and Silmiisi sun (4th in 1992). 

Years have been good to Reggae Ok. In the 21st century we have been accustomed to a larger variety of styles in Eurovision than in 1981 when the audience and juries expected disco, pop and schlager. The performance of a 28 years old singer is charismatic and he seems to be surprisingly at ease with his peculiar outfit that caused a lot of criticism particularly in the home front.

The band (with the composer Jim Pembroke with dark hair and in dark glasses) does a good job but the main asset of the group is the keyboard-player and accordionist Pedro Hietanen (a stand up comedian as well as an established musician), who all but steals the show from Riki Sorsa, The whole team seems to have a ball on stage.

After hating the song, I've since grown to appreciate and almost love the Finnish entry and I'm very proud that, once again, Finland dared to do something different in Eurovision.

My points 4/5.

Jul 24, 2016

111/917 Lasse Mårtenson: Laiskotellen (Finland 1964)

The Finnish Eurovision community (and the Finnish pop audience in general) got to her news of passing of two pop music legends in the final week of the Eurovision Song Contest of 2016. Although Riki Sorsa (FIN 1981) and Lasse Mårtenson (FIN 1964) represented two different styles and two different generations, both were popular and loved well beyond their Eurovision appearences.

Lasse Mårtenson had tried to represent Finland already in 1963, when his Kaikessa soi blues (written by Toivo Kärki & Reino Helismaa, the most popular and productive song writing team in Finnish pop music history) narrowly lost the bid to Laila Halme's Muistojeni laulu. In 1964 he was already an established and experienced songwriter and singer and his own composition Laiskotellen (words by Sauvo Puhtila) faced no real challenge in the Finnish selection, on his second attempt Lasse Mårtenson was chosen to represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest held in Copenhagen.

There's no existing video recording of the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest, but the soundtrack suggests that he was well at ease on Copenhagen stage, even though he got mixed up with the lyrics at one point. Laiskotellen has never been a particular favourite of mine,  but one cannot be but proud of his relaxed and professional performance. According to the result, 7th place among 16 participants, the juries agreed. Laiskotellen became one of Lasse's favourite songs and he recorded the song in addition to the finnish version at least in his maternal language swedish and italian (Cara Domenica). You can watch a television performance of the swdedish version and a snippet of a 1992 performance of the finnish version on YLE's Open Archive.

At the time of his Eurovision participation Lasse Mårtenson was married to his Swedish Eurovision collegue Siw Malmkvist, who had represented her home country in 1960 before their marriage and would take part again in 1969 for Germany when she and Mårtenson were already divorced. Tove Mårtenson is probably the only person in the world who can claim to have parents having represented three different countries in Eurovision in three different languages.

Already a year after his Eurovision participation Mårtenson wrote and sang a song with Marjatta Leppänen in scandalous 1965 Finnish selection.  Their song Iltaisin won the public vote but this was overruled by the so called Nordic jury, which chose Aurinko laskee länteen instead (sung by Viktor Klimenko and written by the same team that had penned Lasse's entry 1963). In 1967 in Vienna he took part as a composer of the song Varjoon suojaan, and he would continue to take part in the finnish selection as both composer (1966, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1977), artist (1966, 1967, 1971, 1973 and 1977) and host (1987, you can watch the 1980's Finnish selections Yle's Living Archive).

Pop music was not the only field Mårtenson used his talent. He performed and recorded jazz and blues, and in 1967 he topped the Finnish album charts with a gospel album Voisiko sen sanoa toisinkin. In the late 1960's he started acting and composed music for movies and films, most famously for a tv drama Stormskärs Maija (or Myrskyluodon Maija in finnish). The exquisite theme of the series became his most loved and most performed song, which Anna Järvinen chose as her walk in music in Melodifestivalen 2013.

Lasse Mårtenson was a multitalented and loved musician right until his death at the age of 81 in 14. May 2016. The only sour note came in 2006, when a group of young musicians made a tribute album and concert on his honour. Surprisingly Mårtenson disapproved and loudly voiced his dissatisfaction of the new versions of his work.

My points 3/5.

Apr 3, 2016

165/917 Östen Warnerbring: Som en dröm (Sweden 1967)

Dramatic ballads were hardly Sweden's main area in the Eurovision Song Contest (and it still isn't). In 1967 they tried in that genre and resultwise they succeeded. Performancewise I am not so sure.

After several, more or less joyful songs Sweden changed the pace in 1967 with a pompously arranged ballad sung by Östen Warnerbring. The recorded version of Som en dröm is masterfully arranged and the toneful voice of the singer fits the mood perfectly.

In Vienna, for some reason, the song is nowhere as convincing. Maybe there was something in the sound mixing of the television broadcast, or the orchestra was not up to the task but the overall package just does not work on stage (in front of the dreadful rotating mirrors). The melody is there and Östen sings his heart out which makes the entry plausible, but the orchestra sounds lazy and dull compared to the passionate recorded version. It could have been so much better.

The juries didn't seem to mind and the song finished in the middle of scoreboard with plausible 8th position. One can only wonder how it would have fared with better sound.

Östen Warnerbring tried many times after 1967 to get to Eurovision Song Contest again both as an artist and a composer. My favourite of these entries is the 1983 song Se, which he wrote for Karin Glenmark to sing. But in 1983 it was impossible to beat certain miss Häggkvist.

My points 3/5.

Feb 21, 2016

888/917 Monica Anghel & Marcel Pavel: Tell me why (Romania 2002)

Two good singers together make usually a great duet, but not always. Sometimes when a good singer (or singers) and a good song meet, the result is not as good as expected. Sometimes the pieces don't fit because they are from a different puzzle. That is very much what I think of the Romanian Eurovision entry from 2002.

The first bars of this song are just like written me in mind. A delicate piano intro leads to a magnificently arranged ballad (love that saxophone break) that has a message and feeling which with a tender and thoughtful interpretation could have resulted a perfect schlager.

But the Monica Anghel is neither tender or thoughful. She is a good singer, she has a great presence and a voice that can carry a long way even with a less sophisticated melody. But her voice is just what this song does not need. She blasts out all her passion and despair leaving the melody in ruins.

Marcel Pavel is slightly closer to what this song would have needed. With his dynamics he could have given this song the interpretation it needs, but when he had to compete of space and volume with the mighty diva the song is turned into a race track of two singers that try to outdo each other.

And in this contest of egos the poor song is shred to pieces. All one can think is which of them won, Monica or Pavel. What a waste.

My points 2/5.

Dec 29, 2015

90/917 François Deguelt: Dis rien (Monaco 1962)

The first years of Eurovision Song Contest is considered by many as an uninteresting cavalcade of dull French (or french sounding) ballads with really nothing else to remember them by than the winning entries. While I think this is partly true, I also once in a while try to highlight the great unsung and unremebered masterpieces from these early Eurovision years which I think there are plenty of. The 90th eurosong is not one of those. In fact the whole 1962 Eurovision song contest is one of the dullest and most unforgettable contests ever.

The french singing star François Deguelt had represented Monaco already two years previously with an excellent song Ce soir-là by Hubert Giraud (my review to this great song can be read here) resulting the third place in the final results list. In 1962 Deguelt managed to improve the rating with the 2nd place with 13 points. The winning song, Un premier amour by Isabelle Aubret (in my opinion one of the best songs ever in the Eurovision history) gathered twice the amount of points.

But unlike the result would suggest, Dis rien (penned by well known French singer Henri Salvador) is far inferior to François Deguelts earlier song. Lyrically the song consist mostly of cliches of a French love song and the melody is uninspired. The slightly jazzy arrangement does little to improve the overall impression, which makes me wonder what the juries saw and heard in this song that made them attribute their points to it. Even the singer himself looks like having trouble in keeping awake singins this dull ditty. Maybe the overall low quality of songs (except of the winner and one or two of the other songs) made the juries to follow the old formula. It is in french, it is a ballad, therefore it must be good. 

My points 2/5

613/917 Sarah Bray: Un baiser volé (Luxembourg 1991)

The 1991 is not one of my fondest Eurovision memories. Finland was at the wrong end of the score board again, the winner was far from my favourite and the contest itself was a big mess. That may be the reason that I don't recall many good songs from that year. When the random nuber generator draw me the Luxembourg entry from 1991 I was almost ready to award the song the all too common two points out of five. Well let's just listen to the song once I thought. I was surprised.

Luxembourg was one of my favourite Eurovision countries right until it decided to withdraw from the contest in 1993. The 613th Eurosong was an attempt by the Luxembourg tv to repeat their former successes that had combined a traditional French ballad with a young female singer. Although they didn't succees this year (either), their 1991 entry was much better than I remembered.

Un baiser volé was very formulaic French Eurovision ballad. In first decades there were usually 2-4 of those taking part every year. So in 1991 I very much dismissed this song for being not among the best of those ballads. Nowadays when one has to wait sometimes couple of years to hear a decent French ballad on Eurovision stage this song feels not bad at all.

Also Sarah Bray was much better singer than I remembered and her performance is actually nice to hear and watch. And unlike most of the songs that year, the live version works much better than the studio version shown in the previews.

I tried but found almost no information at all of this young singer, who apparently vanished into oblivion after the contest. If anything, Sarah Bray (real name being Mick Wersant) at least was Luxembourg citizen unlike most of the others that had represented the grand duchy. Where are you and what are you doing, Sarah?

My points 4/5.

Sep 28, 2015

175/917 Sean Dunphy: If I could choose (Ireland 1967)

Ireland is famous for the high number of ballads sung by a male artist in Eurovision Song Contest (19 out of 48 between 1965 and 2015). Of these 19 four were sung during the first consecutive four years that the country took part in the contest. Looking back at those years it is hard for me to distinguish these four entries from another. The third Irish Eurovision entry is the best of these four.

The Irish entry from 1967 is a nice song. Not too slow and not too syrupy, but a positive love song dreaming of a home and a future that the protagonist wishes to build with his loved one. Nothing more. Sean Dunphy was a good singer and sympathetic enough to reach the romantic hearts watching the contest. If I could choose reached the glorious second place in the final results beating for example the more somber French ballads (like L'amour est bleue which later became a world wide best seller.)

I quite like the song. Among the staggering number of 33 different Eurovision ballads from the Green island this is among the best, but still not worth more than three points from me.

Four years prior to the preview videos (and during the era when music videos were a novelty) one was created for this song. See it here. Can't you sense the sparks flying between Sean and his sweetheart?

My points 3/5.