This glorious contest has been around for over 60 years, and of course there have been some drastic changes throughout its running time. Beginning in 1956 with only seven competing countries, it has blown up to the huge music festival of 42 countries, three separate contests, more than 100 million viewers and all sorts of delightful extravaganzas which I doubt that Lys Assia and the founding members of Eurovision could have foreseen all those years ago.
But we always have time to reminisce about the past and look back on how things were done in yesteryear — and maybe get a little nostalgic along the way. So much has changed, even though the core of Eurovision has mostly stayed the same in 63 years.
Today we have a contest that is much more open to the public and to the fans, we have playback, a room full of eager fans waving their flags of choice and contestants doing big promo tours by performing in various pre-parties. But it wasn’t always like this, and now here’s a list of things we kind of miss seeing from the old school Eurovision.
7. The respectable gala vibe in the audience
There were times when Eurovision was sort of a musical gala event. The audience were seated and facing directly at the stage, looking a bit aloof and with a severe stiff upper lip. It seemed like it was the high society créme de la créme of each hosting country that was given the chance to watch the show. Fans wearing orange suits, with faces painted in national colours or wielding a huge inflatable Israeli flag hammer were nowhere to be seen.
Instead we had ladies wearing evening gowns (the wild ones were wearing gloves and carrying fans) and the gentlemen were dressed in a tuxedo. All sat gracefully in the room and politely clapped their hands after each act performed, without shouting or having their phones out to take an IG video. No one seemed to have a fan favourite and every act was greeted with the same look of either disinterest or the vague “I have no idea what this was about, but I’m raised the proper way, so I’ll do what society asks of me” smile. Simpler times indeed!
6. The Israeli choreography
The Israelis have always had their own thing going on in Eurovision, but back in the days, we could always count on the “Israeli choreography” to appear on stage. By that, I mean that the singer was of course the main attraction to the song, but the backup vocals got their precious screen time in abundance.
The Israelis were never fans of hiding their backups somewhere in the shades, only to be seen if the camera whooshed by them for 3.5 seconds. No, the backing singers were always very visible and at the climax of the song, they would walk up to the singer, line up on either side of him/her and sing their precious hearts out, and preferably bust out a dance move or two.
This can be seen in about 95% of all Israeli acts since their debut in 1973. “A ba ni bi”(1978), “Chai” (1983), “Olé Olé” (1985), “Kan” (1991) and “Amen” (1995) all spring to mind when thinking about the “Israeli choreography”, just to mention a few. Most recently we saw a glimpse of it in “Golden Boy” in 2015, albeit with a modern twist.
We really, really miss this specific stage lineup, which was Israel’s trademark back in the days, and we’d love to see it make a comeback. In the world today, where everyone should be equal, why not do it the Israeli way and have the joint lineup and choreography of singer and backups locked down like it’s 1983?
5. The contest in Ireland
OK, so its actually nice to have some variety when it comes to the winning countries but we can’t deny the fact that Ireland did an amazing job hosting three contests in a row. I mean, who does that? Spoiler — Ireland did!
Their winning streak in the beginning of the 1990s is a record that will never be broken. Never. And there will never be anyone who will match the all-star winner himself, Johnny Logan. Having Ireland hosting the contest became some sort of a habit, and of course people — probably the Irish themselves included — grew a bit tired of being welcomed to the Point Theatre in Dublin time and time again. The only variation was the one occasion the show was hosted in Millstreet — a gorgeous town but located in the middle of freaking nowhere. Believe me when I say so — I’ve been there.
But it is safe to say that a contest hosted by Ireland was a good contest, no matter the location and they did everything they could to welcome all the delegations, offering some variety, bringing up fresh and new interval acts (hello Riverdance) and do everything in their power to make sure that the contest would not go stale. All in a course of three consecutive years. We’re desperate for a new Irish victory, because imagine what they could do with a modern-day contest, given the fact that they managed to set this undying record without bringing RTÉ on the verge of bankruptcy. Nothing but respect to Ireland, y’all.
It was the early 1990s and Europe was changing. The 1994 contest saw the then highest number of competing countries, when Russia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Hungary competed for the very first time. This increased the number of competing countries from the common number of 22 countries up to 25.
The EBU was not quite ready to accomodate such a high number of contestants. So the EBU ruled that the seven lowest scoring countries of the year before had to sit this one out in order to make room for the newbies. Meaning that Denmark, Slovenia, Turkey, Belgium and Israel were forced to stay at home and watch from a far.
But as well as those relegated nations, Italy and Luxembourg also voluntarily took a pass. We did not realise at the time that while Italy would (eventually) return, Luxembourg’s break would show no sign of ending.
The cold harsh truth revealed itself through the years to come, when one Eurovision after another went by, and still no Luxembourg to be seen anywhere. The “Ah, they’ll be here next year” voices faded as time went by, and this year marked the 25th anniversary of Luxembourg’s departure from Eurovision. But fans refuse to give up and there is a call every year for the Grand Duchy to return to the contest. And we hereby plea as well. Luxembourg, please come back! We love you. Love us in return. PLEASE! Oh, and bring Turkey along with you while you’re at it.
3. The voting procedure and the people behind it
With a whopping 42 countries competing today, there had to be a change in how the the voting procedure was executed, with the latest one being that the spokesperson only gives out the 12 points verbally. A necessary change if we don’t want to sit through the entire night, waiting for the results while drinking gallons of Red Bull to stay awake.
But we sometimes long for the simpler times, when the juries alone were responsible for the voting; times when the spokespersons gave all the points from 1 to 12, via a crackly phone call. The host would repeat those results in two languages (three when Italy hosted in 1991).
This part was managable when there were only 22 competing countries. It wasn’t until 1994 that we actually got to see the people giving the points face to face, with Sweden’s Marianne Andenberg being the very first spokesperson seen by the viewers at home.
Otherwise it was all through a long-distance call, which sometimes worked and sometimes not. The muffled voice on the other end — that probably was praying for the sometimes wonky satellite connection to stay strong for just a couple of minutes — became a hallmark of the results section. Ah, to be young again and hear those beautiful words: “Bonsoir Europe, voici les résultats du jury français”, and wondering what the person behind them actually looked like.
2. Frank Naef
Before Mr Jon Ola “Take it away” Sand, we’ve had several executive supervisors of the Eurovision Song Contest. But none of them — with all due respect — was as loveable and delightfully familiar as Mr Frank Naef. He oversaw the contest from 1978 until 1992, which makes him the longest running executive supervisor in the history of Eurovision.
Frank Naef is Swiss and had that grandpa-like facade which gave both contestants and hosts a sense of security and coziness. His kind face and reassuring voice was like being wrapped in infinitive amount of hugs made out of cotton, and no one — and I mean no one — ever wanted to see him make a frown. Unfortunately this happened several times during the voting procedure in 1991, and probably scared the crap out of everyone around him.
He retired after the contest in Malmö 1992, and was honoured with a large bouquet of flowers, presented to him by Carola herself, which left him both stunned as well as close to tears. We love Jon Ola Sand, but there will never be anyone like Frank Naef. I just bet he had a bowl of Werther’s Original on his desk and invited everyone around him to have a piece, just like a devoted grandfather would do. We bow to your greatness, Monsieur Naef. Please adopt us.
1. The conductors
“And the conductor is…” Words that we unfortunately do not hear anymore in Eurovision. The modern-day contest relies on playback only, and most of the younger viewers don’t know any other way for the music to be performed on the big stage.
And no wonder, for it was 21 years ago in Birmingham when we had the very last contest where a fully fledged orchestra, along with a conductor, was responsible for the instrumental part of the song. Oh, those lovely and ever-so-recognisable conductors!
Many countries sent the same conductors most of the time, and they became like an old friend that visited once a year, only stopped by for about 30 seconds, but was greeted like Santa Claus himself. Guys like Edoardo Leiva, Ossi Runne, Harry Van Hoof, Anders Berglund, Ronny Hazelhurst, Kobi Oshrat, Richard Oesterreicher, Haris Andreadis and — two of my personal favourites — Noel Kelehan and Henrik Krogsgaard.
They became familiar names and faces among Eurovision fans. The contest is definitely lacking the presence of these amazing men, who, let’s face it, kind of held the fate of their representatives in their hands, or their baton more precisely. We will probably never see a live orchestra running the show again, and we can only look back on those simpler days when we saw Kobi Oshrat being cooler than frostbite and Henrik Krogsgaard dancing like no tomorrow whilst he conducted his orchestra… or simply joining his crew on stage. Sigh…
These are only a few things we miss dearly from the past. Is there anything you miss and would like to add on the list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Great post and, yes, I miss those days… However, one very very important think was left out from the list: no free language rule! The fact that you heard so many languages in one night made this event really really special.
Interestingly, after reading the article and several comments made here, would appointment of Maastricht possibly scale down Eurovision (to the point that it looks somehow like pre-2000 contests) ?
Well, I miss the climaxing point announcement as well – even the 8, 10 and 12 was more exciting than just announcing the 12. I wonder who needs an one hour interval act if the voting is shortened like this? Who needs an interval act AT ALL when the points who are announced were given the night before already? The televotes can be calculated while the jury vote is going on – with the juries announcing 8, 10 and 12.
Agree cut parade of nation, and short inteval act, and bring back 1-7,8,10,12 juries points
You forget that most of the audience is not hardcore ESC wankers, and they rather watch a nice performance than 2 hours of freaking points announcement.
I think it’s kept that way to have the jury vote influence the televote as little as possible
Great memories watching with my mother in the seventies and eighties. Very basic production values but nevertheless still brilliant shows to watch. Every country had equal chances of winning. Well more than they do now. By the way why no new posts.
I guess it can be an ideal idea, but bringing live music back would 1) be hard to execute in current modern production – expecting an orchestra to rehearse 40 songs with all the stops would be out of our minds (although FiK’s orchestra can survive modern days with 22 songs so that’s something to watch out) and 2) should live music be insisted, can change the whole production — would it go back to the gala show days of the past? Would it survive modern days where visuals in big shows are regarded as much as the audio?
I was thinking at the very least, bands and solo artists who incorporate instruments in their acts (like Alexander Rybak), should be allowed to play their instruments live. It’s kinda ridiculous to have them mine their instruments.
Lisbon incorporated some live music during the interval with Salvador Sobral and his bandmate from Alexander Search playing the piano. The way the whole thing was set-up, it’s hard not to believe it that it wasn’t live.
I guess it can be integrated back in small dozes. And with the continuing evolution of music, sooner or later, the EBU will have to adapt.
This won’t happen because live instruments require longer set up and open the door for a lot of possible technical issues (watch Adele performing ‘All I Ask’ 2016 Grammys). 40 seconds will never be enough to set up a live instrument and make sure its properly connected to all the mics and solve issues if they appear during the freaking postcard. It’s impossible.
All the more reason that someone should contact Dexter Fletcher about making a feature film about the 1969 Contest!
What do you mean? Are you aware that UK is just out of European Union, but many countries from Eurovision has never been in European Union in the first place : Australia, Russia, Azerbaijan…so on…so on. I have no problem with Brexit, but is scary that British citizens don’t know what it is.
And you will not be a career woman for long, unless your career is to grow potatoes during famine.
Do the BREXIT CAREER WOMEN dance!
Thank you for pointing out this unfortunate error. This is what happens when one has had too much coffee. I apologize and edit immediately!?
I like ESC as it is nowadays (for the most part), but if there’s one thing I truly miss and sad to see gone, when thinking of times when there was a full orchestra on stage, is how the live versions were sometimes (for better or worse) so different than the studio ones (Some very few notable examples: “Vuelve Conmigo”, “Fiumi di Parole”, “Halley”, “Halayla”). Also interesting, in later years, was the choice of adding some live instrumentation to the backing tape (“Where are you”)… It really made me look forward to the live show. (And not a word about… Read more »
I live for the live orchestral performances of Vuelve Conmigo and L’oseau et L’enfant because they sounded so drastically different from the studio versions with how they were arranged. It was quite interesting how playback and the live orchestral worked in unison with some of the entries from 80’s until 1998. The opening 80’s sync beats from Celine Dion’s winning song certainly wasn’t made live l unless I was proven otherwise. And there I say that it was a missed opportunity to render “(Ooh Aah) Just a Little Bit” completely live instead of adding only some strings and harps here… Read more »
The random/drawn running order for songs !
Oh no. The way it’s done now is much better and keeps songs from being tanked by being forced near songs that are too similar.
NOOOO!!!! Look at the running order of the 2009 GF. Lithuania opening? Finland and Spain next to each other? No way was that any good.
The fact that it meant Turkey went second in ’97? That was bullsh*t!
(PERFORMED second, thereby hurting their chances – I love Dinle! One of Turkey’s best entries ever!)
Having visible spokespersons is a waste of time. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. That part of the contest was better before 1994.
It did made announcing the results a whole lot easier to receive than it was before. Otherwise they would have simply brought in those spokepersons onstage, pulling anyone from each of the delegations.
A couple of things I like from old-school ESC, apart from those stated above were: 1. The wonderful logos for the contest that came out every year until the EBU decided to stick to a particular design for the show going forward starting with Istanbul 2004 (with non-text logo designs being more theme-centric). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5acgibv3YBI 2. The stages starting from the late 1960’s onwards. The stage designs for throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s were quite interesting. Some looked great on camera, others, well I don’t know how no one fell off with those seemingly small spaces. Probably the only 1… Read more »
Thanks for sharing this video! It was very interesting, I haven’t dealt with this topic before. There were some really nice logos, I personally love the 1979 one with the violin key 😀
“I don’t have it.”…
Thank you for citing Eduardo Leiva, known in Spain as Profesor Leiva. It’s a great director of orchestra and “arreglista” of songs, specially for Eurovision.
He conducted a bunch of great entries. Hombres and Vuelve conmigo come to mind.
My favorites, though, are Kobi Oshrat (and his shades), Noel Kelehan (of course), Nurit Hirsch, Norbert Daum, and the GOAT Timur Selchuk.
Lovely post, I wouldn’t write it any better. It’s a matter of taste but I really like 1980s and 1990s in ESC which is not a popular opinion. For me 2000-2004 was clearly the weakest period of the contest with only few standouts. Of course politics was always in the background back then and now but I’m missing the time when the contest wasn’t used as a platform for political and social agenda and there were simply songs to enjoy with no (particular) input of staging, visuals and camera angles. I’m missing a time with no scare of stage invasions… Read more »
Israel also repeated the results in 3 languages in 1979 as far as I remember :3
Old Eurovision was definitely something but I like the current one as well and super curious to watch it’s future!
I also miss the old school audience that enjoyed the shows despite them being not hyper high tech, flawless, with complex camera work. I mean, with all the effort, money and thought invested in the production this year I only hear endless b#tching because “OH LORD there were a couple of missed shots!!!!!!!!!!”. It’s like current ESC fans can’t just f$cking chill and enjoy themselves. Instead, so many people focus on what’s wrong like their life depends on that. That is pathetic. It’s like trying to please a bunch of bitter, bored, spoiled, lifeless demanding b#tches that their only joy… Read more »
You know it’s bad when even the rehearsals are being scrutinized by fans before the artists are even there in the venue themselves over the smallest of detail. I’ve largely stayed away from reading up on those as these has apparently given me some great deal of anxiety since 2017.
I understand that the last problem of those “fans” is Eurovision. They are probably bitter of 1001 things that are wrong in their lives, but the “press” (the bunch of bored gay guys who blog about ESC) sort of doing it too. They sit and watch the FIRST rehearsals and literally picking everything that is wrong with them and constantly being over demanding, annoying and disappointed by most things. It’s getting worse and worse every year. If I were the EBU I would kick all those bloggers out until the first dress rehearsal is taking place. No need to create… Read more »
At least the first rehearsal should be closed for the press. The pressure to get it right from the very first run through is ridiculous. Rehearsals are called rehearsals for a reason.
In general, fandoms can get so obsessed with the negatives that they lose sight of why they loved something in the first place.
Then they should go and dedicate themselves to p0rn and hand craft. But I’m sure sooner or later they’ll start to b%tch about that as well. Leaving angry reviews about not satisfying performances.
I already got bored of it , I’ve shifted to camshows now
That’s better, there you can actually open the chat and complain directly about the camera angles and the bad lighting
You know what else was there in the old contests?
only JURIES! 😀
Why would anybody want dictatorship?
Do you know how it looks like?
Or you want your sugar daddy decide for you?
And why, oh why, Why, did you assume that is the context of the comment? 🙂
Why, there were some years where neighbors didn’t even vote for each other at all! (But I like the split we have now).
What nonsense. Neighbors voted for each other, and even for themselves when Switzerland gave 12 points to… Switzerland, when it voted in Luxembourg’s place.
At the very first contest, when they didn’t have that system in place yet.
Poor them…they had no choice but to vote for themselves. Why can’t you accept that is human nature, not a cultural thing?
Israeli choreography never died! Kobi and his crew were doing it just this year!
But yeah, I miss the orchestra. And while I’m glad for how Eurovision keeps evolving to stay current – it definitely wouldn’t still be around if it didn’t – I wish more fans took the time to do a deep dive and explore Eurovision from before the 00s. So many great songs to be found.
It’s so annoying how some fans are so desperate to get Luxembourg back to the contest.
Honestly, I love every decade of Eurovision in its own way:
50s for lovely chansons, longest kiss in contest’s history and Volare (c’mon)
60s for cute ballads, tiny stages and Congratulations (c’mon)
70s for catchy disco, freakish costumes and ABBA (c’mon)
80s for great pop hits, crazy hair, first dress change and Johnny Logan (c’mon)
90s for their diversity, campness, “Sarajevo, we hear you” and Dana (c’mon)
00s for heavy load of europop, all the troll acts and Rybak (c’mon)
10s for superb bangers, amazing show production, Petra & Mans and Euphoria (c’mon)
Can’t wait for the 20s!
Thank you for this sort of heartwarming positivity!! This sort of love and attitude is what I love most about Eurovision, as rare as it may be to see ^_^
I felt it in the arena, surrounded by all the fans in their outfits. Just putting aside thoughts on the songs to just dance together and savor the moment. I especially remember this duo in Union Jack tuxedos waltzing around to “Kruna” and going around to congratulate people from qualifying countries. There are some really good hearted people in our number.
Well, rock is a very broad genre, and there’ve been a lot of rock entries in the past (including even the first edition), but 2000s (especially 2006) were indeed the breakthrough for some more extreme versions, like hard rock, experimental rock and many more with Finland and Turkey as main contributors, so good point there! And frankly there’s way too little rock entries nowadays at Eurovision.
For me Petra’s the embodiment of a perfect ESC host – capable of being both serious and funny, while staying classy the whole time, but I guess to each his own 🙂 And well, cheesiness has always been a part of Eurovision, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, plus every time there’s been a good portion of great (or at least enjoyable) music along with it.
Long live the genius Christer Bjorkman who single handedly made Eurovision a modern competition. Without him, we would not have ESC in 2020.
…which is kind of an overstatement because the contest has managed to be modern starting from 2005.
Yes, you are right, I’m not talking about Christer Bjorkman the singer-participant, but about him being in charge.
Looking at some of the contests of old, there were signs of its modernization in the late-1990s.
Yes, how does a contest like Copenhagen 2014 with zero CB involvement even exist.
C. Bjorkman made a mark, set a standard, you like it or not, he is Modern Eurovision. He said he doesn’t even want Jon Ola Sand’s place. CB is Eurovision. He invented ESC 2000’s.
Sweetheart … hold down your horses … he just helps organizing the show. He’s not gonna cure cancer so dont bow down to him as if your life depended on it to live. In the meantime if you love him like there’s no tomorrow you gotta help him out by influencing televoters to love generic recycled swedish pop agajn … the bought jurys just alone won’t make that 7th win ever happen …
Praising the guy that seeks desperately a 7th win for no reason at all … while paying interrogative words to brag about him!
I always assumed that in 1994, Luxembourg were relegated and they were so outraged that they decided never to return, but looking at the Wikipedia their song placed higher than I remember so I might be wrong. Anyway, 60s-early 90s Eurovision is something truly special, shame us in the east couldn’t join the party then
People either say they were relegated and chose not to come back cuz they were kinda done or they pulled out voluntarily. I think it was the latter.
7 countries were participating for the first time in 1994 so 7 nations at the bottom of the scoreboard had to be relegated. That would be Belgium, Israel, Slovenia, Denmark, Turkey, Luxembourg and Cyprus. At the time Germany was the final prequalifier, scoring 18 points to 17 for Cyprus. Italy placed 12th which was enough to earn a spot in 1994 but they opted not to participate so Cyprus was invited back. To think that Evridiki and MeKaDo could have been absent in 1994 sounds like a blasphemy but it almost happened. Luxembourg was surely relegated from 1994 but decided… Read more »
Thank you for clearing it up! I forgot that when countries got relegated, if a country above them didn’t want to compete, the first relegated country was invited back, which I think was also the reason why Bosnia and Herzegovina competed in 1997 (after Israel withdrew) and of course famously why Latvia competed in and won in 2002, when Portugal withdrew. I forgot that Lithuania also did the same as Luxembourg in 1996, when we refused to compete in the pre qualifying round and didn’t return until 1999, and I believe Romania did the same in 1997. Would be interesting… Read more »
Also, Luxembourg’s entries from 1989 until 1993 are I think a textbook example of a powerhouse collapsing before our eyes. Think about all the Luxembourgish masterpieces over the years like Poupée de cire, poupée de son, L’amour est bleu, Après toi, Tu te reconnaîtras, Parlez-vous français, Si la vie est cadeau and Croire; their last 5 entries show that suddenly they just stopped giving any care to the contest. On the Luxembourg article posted just before, someone explained that 1988 (I think) was the year that the Luxembourgish broadcaster changed (selling their francophone channel), so that basically proves the reason… Read more »
I kinda dug Park Cafe, something kinda simple but modern in a very overblown year. The rest I could take or leave, which is really a shame since they finally started sending artists from Luxembourg itself on a consistent basis (and even a song in Luxembourgish! A really boring song In Luxembourgish, but still!). 1992 was the last year of “classic” Eurovision, with the relatively stable lineup from around the 80s to then. Then 1993 was the transitional year, with some new guys coming in and Luxembourg (and kinda Italy) wrapping it up (their song even kind of sounds like… Read more »
As an Irish person I’d love to see us host at some point I doubt if it’s in the near future but we definitely have a good team in place to do it
It’s so weird how the contest has completely changed. I wonder if I would have fallen in love with the contest in the early years.
It was good for that time, but seriously … crap.
Hopefully you are talking about the last lip sync Britney Spears show you attended while being high ….
Yes Ireland needs another win.We could host it in a brand new venue being built in cork right now that is said to be bigger than the 3 arena in dublin.We would definitely put on an amazing show and maybe even get Niall Horan for an interval act.But to win we need to have a national selection to choose an artist worthy of winning. I would love to have the Eurovision in my country and even better,my city Cork . Ireland has such beautiful nature and architecture to show off to Europe and the rest of the world
I love this nostalgic post, how times have changed… well done s!ster 🙂
I’m sorry , zero points
Yes Modern ESC is great with all the fireworks and amazing choreography but honestly something about Older ESC has a serious charm. The kitch and cheese of some of the songs and the lack of any choreography is just brilliant entertainment (the artists dancing aimlessly around the stage!). And who can forget the orchestra ?