15 July 2014

Eurovision UK: A Song For Europe 1981

1981 was the year in which the United Kingdom won the Eurovision Song Contest for the fourth time. 

Not news to the ardent Eurovision fan of course, but do you remember the singers and groups that Bucks Fizz were up against in the UK national final that year?

It had been usual for twelve acts to appear in A Song For Europe, but in 1981 the performances were reduced to just eight. Among them were a couple of reasonably well-known names of the time, but most of the groups were assembled for the competition, along with singers that were new to viewers.

Here's the line-up that year, together with some personal thoughts about each song.

1. Not Without Your Ticket: Headache (7th)

Why a group would name itself Headache and enter the Eurovision national final is anyone's guess? It was asking for trouble given the reputation of the Song Contest. Even Terry Wogan couldn't resist a smirk.

Although I enjoyed Not Without Your Ticket's (a very cumbersome title, I believe) contemporary sound and feel, it suffered from the lack of a real hook and performance appeal. The latter was not helped by the lead singer, whose facial contortions were a little disconcerting. It probably didn't deserve its seventh place, but it was never going to win either.

2. All Cried Out: Gary Benson (4th)

One of the better known names in the 1981 national final was Gary Benson, who had written for the competition previously.

He had tried and failed in 1977, but had enjoyed more success with a potential entry in 1975. That year The Shadows had been chosen as the UK performers and one of the songs that competed for the ticket to the Eurovision final was Don't Throw It All Away. It only managed fourth place out of the six competing songs, but his own recording became a Top 20 hit later in the year.

All Cried Out was a gentle ballad, much the sort of song one would expect of Benson. Having listened again, it appears that he may have had some tuning issues, no doubt costing him some regional votes. All in all it's a pleasant tune, but nothing spectacular. It would never have won Eurovision and fourth place in this national final was probably fair.

3. For Only A Day: Unity (8th)

It was really not surprising that this one finished in last place. Even by Eurovision standards, its message of peace and love was too overtly saccharin and the presence of a chorus of schoolgirls dressed as if they had just left the set of Little House on the Prairie certainly didn't help.

Lead singer Sue Glover had some pop (and Eurovision) pedigree, though. She was first involved with Eurovision with her sister, Sunny, when they backed Lulu on Boom Bang A Bang. Then in 1975, they were both backing singers for Joy Fleming who sang the German entry that year. They would later back Vikki Watson on the UK's Love Is... in 1985.

More famously, Sue along with Sunny, was a member of the original Brotherhood of Man which had a few chart entries around 1970. That band in another guise, of course, would win Eurovision in 1976.

4. Wish: Beyond (3rd)

Not a bad little pop tune that has a rousing chorus, which over time could quite easily get into your head. Therein lies its problem.

In many ways, Eurovision is about immediacy and I'm sure this one would not have clicked with European audiences quickly enough. Proof of this was that it came third with the regional juries.

Beyond didn't disappear into the ether immediately though. This group too has its own Eurovision connection. A couple of months later, it would be backing Kate Robbins (a member of Prima Donna, the UK's 1980 contestants) on the Number 2 hit, More Than in Love.

5. Making Your Mind Up: Bucks Fizz (1st)

It has now become one of the UK's most iconic Eurovision songs and, at the time, little did we know Making Your Mind Up would become the 1981 winner.

Bucks Fizz had only been together for two months by the time of their performance, but the four looked as if they had been a group for some time. Only Cheryl Baker may have been known to Eurovision fans, having performed as part of the group Co-Co, the UK representatives in 1978 with the song The Bad Old Days.

This time she was singing Making Your Mind Up, an uptempo, Fifties-styled pop tune. It wasn't reflective of what was happening in the pop charts of the time, but it certainly stood out from its Eurovision competitors. Not only did it have a memorable tune, but also a charm that pulled in all age groups. How could you forget the bright colours, the appeal of the singers, the dance routine and the now infamous 'skirt-ripping' incident?

6. Have You Ever Been in Love: Gem (4th)

Having already provided the co-writing credits for Making Your Mind Up, Andy Hill now appeared as vocalist with the group Gem, alongside his partner Nichola Martin (creator of Bucks Fizz).

Have You Ever Been in Love? is a fabulous tune and in any other year could have won A Song For Europe. A beautiful ballad, it only managed fourth in this competition, but during the following year it would become a Top 10 hit for Leo Sayer.

7. Where Are You Now?: Lezlee Carling (6th)

Another heartfelt ballad, this time delivered by 21-year-old Lezlee Carling, who appears to have fallen off the Earth since this attempt at Eurovision.

Although she has a strong voice, Where Are You Now? seems more appropriate for a singer who is much older than Ms. Carling.

Its main failing is that it sounds dated, even by 1980's standards. For a song such as this, its lack of a really killer hook does not help, either. Sixth place was about right on the night.

8. Don't Panic: Liquid Gold (2nd)

Before voting started, Liquid Gold were the favourites to win the UK ticket to Dublin. They entered the competition on the back of three Top 40 hits the previous year - the biggest of which was Dance Yourself Dizzy which peaked at Number 2 on the British charts.

Don't Panic was very much in the same vein as those songs: a dance tune that was sure to be a smash in the discos and clubs.

Consequently, it appeared as if it would be a foregone conclusion that the band would storm through the voting and, having had those hits across the Continent too, bring home the Eurovision crown to the United Kingdom once more.

The regional juries had other ideas though and left Liquid Gold trailing in Bucks Fizz's dust in second place, twenty seven points behind Making Your Mind Up. Don't Panic didn't fare too well either when released as a single, missing the Top 40 by topping out at Number 42.

However, from the eight songs presented, the national juries obviously got it right by selecting Making Your Mind Up. But could any of the other contenders that year have been equally as successful? Personally, I believe Liquid Gold could well have brought home the trophy too, but we'll now never know.

The rest of the songs had no real potential in my opinion, but you might feel differently.

All images courtesy of above video.

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