1958: the one where the juries couldn’t spot a worldwide smash hit Written By Andrew Brook
In the run-up to the 2018 contest we’ll be taking a look back at earlier editions from years ending in ‘8. And to begin with we go right back to the 1958 contest, when Eurovision was in its infancy.
Things could hardly have been more different; the contest took place on a Wednesday, and lasted just over an hour. The first of just ten songs started barely a minute from the start of the show, whilst the presenter – the wonderfully named Hannie Lips – didn’t take to the stage at all until all the songs had been presented.
The venue for the contest was the small town of Hilversum. And if you have to ask “Où est Hilversum?” then you’re too young to remember the bakelite radiograms, with a dial that proudly displayed the name of Hilversum alongside Florence, Vienna, Paris and London.
The set for 1958 was modern in design. The names of the songs were presented on the new-fangled scoreboard in thrilling lower case. The logo for the contest was a funky piece of modern art, which was intended to be represented on the tiny stage, but ended up looking more like a rickety window frame with some net curtains draped over it. And flowers. Tulips everywhere. It is a wonder the orchestra didn’t spend the evening sneezing!
And so to the songs. In what was only the third contest the winners of the previous two editions returned, with mixed results. The reigning champion, Corry Brokken, performed second - and came last, with a song that didn’t seem noticeably worse than her winning song the year before. An early example of the curse of performing second? Corry is the only singer to have come both first and last. She is very fondly remembered by Eurovision fans for her appearance during the voting at the 1998 contest, where a pre-rehearsed exchange presenter Ulrika Johnsson went wrong, and Ulrika’s comment “A long time ago, was it?” sent the entire audience into hysterics.
Returning to the contest for the third and final time was the grande dame of Eurovision, Lys Assia. She sung a jaunty little ditty called ‘Giorgio’, which had more than a passing resemblance to ‘The Ballad Of Davy Crocket’. It went down well with the judges, and after the penultimate round of voting was one point behind the leader.
The contest was won by France with ‘Dors, mon amour’, sung by André Claveau. The song itself is long forgotten, and turned out to be the swan-song for M Claveau’s career, who fell into obscurity shortly afterwards and retired from the music industry.
But if the winner of the competition itself didn’t set the world alight, one of the also-rans certainly did. The winner of the San Remo Festival ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu’ came a distant third, in spite of being performed twice as a result of a technical difficulty. Maybe Domenico Modugno’s performance was deemed a little too eccentric for the jurors. Maybe they found the brass accompaniment to be too avant garde. Maybe they couldn’t get their heads round the title (The blue painted blue). Maybe they all just had cloth ears.
Better known as ‘Volare’, the song went on to win Song of the Year at the inaugural Grammy Awards (the only Eurovision song ever to do so) and went to number one around the world, including in America. The song went on to sell an estimated 30 million copies, and has been covered hundreds of times, notably by Dean Martin, the Gipsy Kings, Luciano Pavarotti and Il Volo.
All the main participants in the 1958 competition have, sadly, passed away; most recently, of course, Lys Assia. But whilst memories of the participants will fade, Volare will live on as one of the most popular songs in the western world. It will be remembered when it is a hundred years old in 2058, when it will almost certainly still be the best selling Eurovision song of all time.