Un Point: 'L'Essentiale' by Marco Mengoni - Italy (2013) 7th place
There comes a point during a Eurovision broadcast when the video screens and the wind machines and the pyrotechnics stop registering. In the best of all possible worlds that’s when an old school entertainer like Marco Mengoni comes on. He doesn’t need a phalanx of onstage drummers or a confetti shower. He just stands there and sings and the audience is spellbound. Marco Mengoni is a fascinating singer – some pundit described his voice as “a captivating miaow” – and his performance of this lovely song was plaintive and sincere. There should be more male singers like him.
Deux Points: 'Bailar Pegados' by Sergio Dalma - Spain (1991) - 4th place
Sergio Dalma has the audience from the moment he gazes into the camera and smiles. It’s no hindrance that he’s charming and handsome but it’s the voice that really gets you. It’s a luscious baritone lined with gravel that purrs against the oboe obbligato in the verse and opens out into a sensual roar for the chorus. The song is an invitation to dance closely and, sung by Sergio, it’s an alluring proposition. There aren’t many singers who can wink at the camera and get away with it but this guy is one of them.
Trois Points: 'I Belong' by Kathy Kirby - United Kingdom (1965) - 2nd place
In her heyday Kathy Kirby was one of Britain’s most popular and successful singers. Her latter-day obscurity is curious and unfortunate because talent-wise she rivaled Dusty and Cilla and her Eurovision entry is one of the UK’s best. 'I Belong' is a big brassy 60s song and it receives a rousing rendition. Kathy is a real surprise package. When she steps up to the microphone looking like a blonde bombshell you expect her to sound like Betty Boop. But then the band kicks in and she belts out the chorus and suddenly you’re watching Marilyn Monroe channeling Shirley Bassey.
Quatre Points: 'Is it true?' by Yohanna - Iceland (2009) - 2nd place
Expressions of heartbreak are often more affecting when held in check and both the writing and performance of this entry are admirably restrained. The song is a lament over lost love and, even though the melody is contained and the lyrics are simple, there’s an overwhelming sense of melancholy to it. Yohanna’s vocals were clean and clear and only towards the end did she openly express the sadness you’d been sensing all along. Three minutes of pure pop perfection marred only by the stupid flying dolphin on the video screen.
Cinq Points; 'Everything' by Anna Vissi - Greece (2006) - 9th place
'Everything' is a break-up song and it’s great – but it took a fully-fledged diva to make it fabulous. You can tell just by looking at her that Anna Vissi is a star – and she gives a star turn. It’s a rock chick performance with a bit of Bette Midler thrown in and the voice is wonderfully worn. From the whispered opening to the full throttle chorus she’s magnificent and so fiery that, when she falls to her knees, the onstage pyrotechnics seem like they’ve exploded from her body. And yes I really do think this should have beaten Lordi.
Six Points: 'Nel blu dipinto di blu' by Domenico Modugno - Italy (1958) - 3rd place
Everyone knows this song. It’s one of the most recognizable songs in the world. But did you know it’s about a man who paints his face blue and starts flying? If not you’ve probably heard one of the many cover versions that omit the surreal prelude – the most fascinating part of the song – and cut straight to the exuberant chorus. That touch of weirdness may have relegated this to third place or perhaps the staid 50s judges found Domenico Modugno too raffish and expressive a performer for their taste. No matter. It’s more famous any song that actually won.
Sept Points: 'Angel' by Chiara - Malta (2005) - 2nd place
Chiara bristles with confidence and certainty. It’s what you want from someone offering to be your tower of strength. 'Angel' is an “I’ll-be-there-for-you” song but it’s not just the words Chiara sings that are reassuring. It’s the way she sings them. Her honey-spun soprano is bang on the note every time and she performs with such warmth and generosity a better person to run to in a crisis is unimaginable. Helena Paparizou, the 2005 winner, is a terrific singer but Chiara should have won if only because she’s beautiful in ways that go way beyond looking like a Bond girl.
Huit Points: 'Rapsodia' by Mia Martini - Italy (1992) - 4th place
Mia Martini’s performance of 'Rapsodia' is extraordinary; it’s breathtaking; if you search the entire Eurovision back catalogue you won’t find another one like it. Mia Martini has a lived-in voice. It’s rough and ravaged – the sound of razor blades – and it’s tailor-made for expressing pain and regret. The song, about two old lovers meeting again, is heart-wrenching as is but sung with that ramshackle rasp it becomes an experience that will give you shivers. It only goes to show you don’t need a pretty voice to make beautiful music.
Dix Points: 'Quedate Conmigo' by Pastora Soler - Spain (2012) - 10th place
'Euphoria' was such a predetermined winner no one really listened to the other songs in 2012. But there were other contenders including this majestic piece of work. 'Quedate conmigo' is a “don’t-leave-me” song and it’s a beauty. It takes the traditional path of starting small and building to a big emotional chorus and Pastora Soler embraces the drama of the song with conviction. The thing that you’ll remember forever however is the extraordinary money note she holds over the key change. I must have watched that bit fifty-seven times and it still gives me goose bumps.
Douze Points: 'Ein Lied kann eine Brücke sein' by Joy Fleming - (West) Germany (1975) - 17th place
What can you say about this Eurovision underdog that hasn’t been said before? It’s the best song that ever came 17th? Eurovision wasn’t ready for a big rocking soul song in 1975 – even if the theme was bringing people together through the power of music – but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Joy Fleming has a voice to die for. That it belongs to a woman who looks like the mother-of-the-bride makes it even better. If you’ve never heard it, imagine Aretha Franklin doing an Ethel Merman impersonation, throw in a heavy metal scream and you’re getting warm. An absolute classic!
Geoff Wallis has been a follower of the Eurovision Song Contest since 1998. He has made an extensive study of all 59 competitions and is a firm believer that the best Eurovision entries are well written and well sung.