08 August 2013

Luxembourg's Winners at The Eurovision Song Contest

Vicky Leandros Apres toi

In what came as no surprise, the tiny country of Luxembourg has decided not to participate at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest in Denmark. This will be the 21st consecutive occasion that the Grand Duchy has been absent from the Eurovision stage. Its last appearance coming in 1993 when it managed a 20th place with the song Donne-moi une chance by Modern Times.

It's certainly a great shame that we can no longer enjoy what Luxembourg may offer the competition but, as one of its founding fathers, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had from its past triumphs. It has secured five victories across three decades, most of which are among the most memorable winning entries from the Contest.

1961: Nous les amoureux by Jean-Claude Pascal

Luxembourg's first win came in 1961 when Nous les amoureux received points from twelve of the fifteen possible voting juries. Listening to it now, it is very much a song of its time. Even by early 1960's standards, it is old fashioned. That's not to say it is unbearable, just that French chanteurs can be an acquired taste. Since its success, there has been debate about the nature of the lovers described in the song. Could this be an early Eurovision expression of gay love?

  • Pascal's version of Nous les amoureux is a cover of the debut single by Isabelle Aubret, who would win the 1962 Contest for France. This would seem to debunk the assertion regarding the lyrics.
  • The song did not chart in the UK.
  • Pascal returned to Eurovision 20 years later to represent Luxembourg for a second time. On this occasion, he sang C'est peut-être pas l'Amérique (It May Not Be America), but only managed to secure 11th place.

1965: Poupée de cire, poupée de son by France Gall

Four years later, the style of song from Luxembourg had completely changed. With this change came a second win; the entry producing a noticeable influence on the mindset about how the Eurovision Song Contest could be won.

The transition began with this Serge Gainsboro composition, a bouncy boom bang-a-bang number with which Eurovision would become synonymous over the next few years. But as with all of Gainsboro's songs, there was more to it than met the eye (or should that be ear?) Sung by a beautiful yé-yé girl - 17-year-old France Gall - it was later discovered that the track was more of a commentary about her and her style of singers than it was about a simple stuffed doll.

Apparently, it was derided in rehearsals for its styling. You know, for being a pop song rather than a hang over from the pre-Fifties rock era. No wonder France Gall sounded out of tune and looked like a rabbit in the headlights when performing it on the night. No matter, the juries loved it and made it the winner over odds-on favourite, Kathy Kirby.
  • The song did not chart in the UK.
  • Young British singer Twinkle recorded an English version of the song called Lonely Singing Doll which was equally unsuccessful in the United Kingdom.

1972: Après toi by Vicky Leandros

Vicky Leandros had last appeared at The Eurovision Song Contest in 1967 when she sang one of that year's strongest entries, L'amour est bleu (Love Is Blue). That was yet another entry for Luxembourg which, while it went on to become one of the biggest selling Eurovision songs, only managed fourth place.

Unperturbed, Vicky returned five years later with, in my humble opinion, the best ever winning song: Après toi. Although the track is not reflective of the music of the time, it is an otherwise very strong ballad and impeccably presented by Ms. Leandros. While it became embroiled in a battle for first place with the UK's favoured Beg, Steal or Borrow, it held off the challenge and won with a gap of 14 points over The New Seekers.
  • Après toi was translated into several languages for release in various international markets. In the UK, it became Come What May and peaked at Number 2 in the charts. It was held off the top spot by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace.
  • Vicky Leandros had two further minor hits in the UK with The Love In Your Eyes and When Bouzoukis Played.
  • In 2006, Vicky entered the Eurovision fray once more when she tried to qualify for Germany. The song Don't Break My Heart did not secure enough points in the German qualifiers. 

1973: Tu te reconnaîtras by Anne-Marie David

Winning The Eurovision Song Contest in successive years is an unusual feat, but Luxembourg managed it when it defeated all comers at the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg on April 7, 1973. With Cliff Richard in the line-up, the word on the street was that the United Kingdom had this year's Eurovision all sewn up.

However, the Bachelor Boy had not reckoned with the pure vocals of Anne-Marie David and the gem of a song called Tu te reconnaîtras (or for that matter, Spain's Mocedades who were runners up). This was the golden age of Eurovision when several songs were in the reckoning and the top three entries at the 1973 competition were proof of that. So close was the voting that only six points separated Cliff in third from Anne-Marie in first.
  • Ms. David recorded the winning song in several languages. In the UK, it became Wonderful Dream and peaked at Number 13 in the charts.
  • In 1979 Anne-Marie returned to the Eurovision stage, this time representing France. In another tightly fought final her song, Je suis l'enfant soleil, eventually came third behind Spain and 19 points adrift of winners Israel.

1983: Si la vie est cadeau by Corinne Hermès

Thirty years ago, Luxembourg would enjoy its final Eurovision win with another full-on power ballad. Five years before Celine Dion, there was Corinne Hermès. While Eurovision launched Dion into international stardom, it only served to launch Hermès into international obscurity. 

It's one of those winning songs that is difficult to recall, mainly because it wasn't the international (or pan-European) hit that many of its predecessors had been. Not surprisingly, its biggest selling market was French speaking, although it did manage to find itself in the Irish Top 20.

With the benefit of three decades of hindsight, Luxembourg appears to be deserving of its win. While the voting was close (just seventeen points separating fourth from first), many of Corinne's contenders were relatively weak or unfortunate. A case can be made for both Israel (great singer, so-so song) and Sweden (an English version may have seen her win), but on the night the French singer was vocally stronger (and had the benefit of performing last).

  • Si la vie est cadeau has been recorded in English as Words of Love (listen here) and in German as Liebe gibt und nimmt (listen here).

At the time, Luxembourg's final win saw it join France as overall joint leaders with five Contest victories each. Of course, since then both nations have been joined by Sweden and The United Kingdom - but, of course, surpassed by Ireland's seven wins.

I wonder if we will see the tie broken at some point by welcoming Luxembourg back into the Eurovision fold for a sixth win? 

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