Abba, cabaret and smug marionettes: the 1974 Eurovision track contest reviewed!

Abba, cabaret and smug marionettes: the 1974 Eurovision track contest reviewed!

Fifty years on, the footage of Abba performing Waterloo on the 1974 Eurovision track contest could be very acquainted certainly: the conductor dressed as Napoleon, Agnetha’s blue satin knickerbockers, Björn’s star-shaped guitar. It’s been endlessly repeated on TV exhibits and documentaries: the second that unexpectedly launched the profession of one of many greatest bands of all time, pop historical past within the making. However it’s not often, if ever, proven in context. Maybe Abba’s success is so sui generis – Sweden had by no means produced an internationally profitable pop artist earlier than, and it’s by no means produced one something like as profitable since – that context appears apart from the purpose. However this weekend, BBC 4 is screening the whole 1974 grand ultimate in full.

Instantly, the setting plunges you again into what appears like a really distant previous certainly. Right here is Eurovision from a time earlier than anybody watched it for camp worth – you may’t think about any homosexual bar in 1974 clearing its schedules to display screen this; a Eurovision that takes itself somewhat significantly, a short look by the Wombles however. It’s Eurovision that predates even Terry Wogan’s presence: in 1974, his famously sardonic remarks had been nonetheless confined to radio protection of the occasion. Viewers needed to make do with sports activities commentator David Vine, ever-ready with a helpful pen-portrait of the competing nations – “Norway! The place the place they drink aquavit and do marvellous ski-jumping!” – and blessed with the flexibility to speak up the varied artists in a approach that makes you lose the desire to dwell earlier than they’ve even taken the stage: “Made his debut in his mother and father’ circus … used to do impressions of Maurice Chevalier,” he presents of Monaco’s Romuald.

‘Essential lady singer discovery’ … Luxembourg’s Ireen Sheer singing Bye Bye, I Love You. {Photograph}: Shutterstock

Luxembourg’s entrant, he claims, has “simply been voted a very powerful lady singer discovery of the 12 months”, a curiously unverified reality – and judging by her limp efficiency, it may need been a straw ballot of her shut associates and relations. “Stand by for these boys, as a result of something might occur,” he says of Yugoslavia’s unpromisingly named Korni Group, making them sound just like the Butthole Surfers within the days after they used to set hearth to the stage and smash up their tools earlier than they’d truly began enjoying: the Korni Group come on and sing a cabaret quantity in Serbo-Croat.

In reality, cabaret was Eurovision 1974’s watchword. In 2024, we’d sometimes increase an eyebrow at Eurovision’s galumphing makes an attempt to maintain tempo with popular culture – a little bit of awkward rapping right here, a clumsily deployed lure beat there, a smattering of disco-influenced pop-house that Dua Lipa and even Kylie wouldn’t give houseroom to – nevertheless it’s as hip as Saturday evening at Berghain in contrast with what was taking place 50 years in the past. Introduced by Katie Boyle sporting a floor-length peach night robe and Margaret Thatcher’s hair, it occurred on the tail-end of one in every of mainstream pop’s all-time nice eras: within the weeks instantly previous its broadcast, the British Prime 40 had performed host to David Bowie’s Insurgent Insurgent, Aretha Franklin’s Till You Come Again To Me, Suzi Quatro’s Satan Gate Drive, Stevie Surprise’s Dwelling for the Metropolis, the nascent disco of the Love Limitless Orchestra’s Love’s Theme and Sizzling Chocolate’s gripping, eerie Emma amongst a humiliation of riches.

However you’ll pressure your ears looking for even its vaguest reflection contained in the Brighton Dome that 12 months: closest is Finland’s entry, a piano ballad by Carita known as Preserve Me Heat that bore the affect of Carole King’s Tapestry, albeit a observe from Tapestry that had been subjected to some form of course of that eliminated each final shred of its character. Twelve years after the Beatles, the beat increase and the British Invasion, the looks of a “pop group” continues to be a novelty thought-about worthy of remark from Vine. Israel’s pop group is known as Poogy: they’ve matching tank tops, good harmonies and a fairly terribly weedy track.

Yugoslavia’s Korni Grupa singing Moja Generacija. {Photograph}: Shutterstock

Carita however, the ballads invariably sound like one thing that Engelbert Humperdinck may need essayed 5 – 6 years beforehand, and there’s a number of clompy oompah music, maybe as a result of the in-house orchestra flip just about something quicker than that into cacophonous mush, together with the efforts of Greece’s bouzouki-assisted Marinella and Spain’s Peret, who rocks up bearing a flamenco guitar and a few off-colour lyrics: “Should you cease for a blonde whereas driving on the highway and he or she solely needs a experience, it doesn’t work in any respect,” he’s apparently singing, though it’s maybe price noting that this translation comes courtesy of David Vine, who, as we’ve already established, isn’t probably the most veracious supply. Germany’s Cindy und Bert appear promising: get your self to YouTube should you haven’t heard their 1970 single Der Hund von Baskerville, which is – and I’m not making this up – a canopy of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid with Sherlock Holmes-themed German lyrics. However no: one other cabaret ballad.

Britain’s entry is by Olivia Newton-John, who as Vine notes, seems a bit startled within the scene-setting pre-performance footage. Maybe she’s occupied with her profession. A few years earlier than, she was releasing exceptionally well-made country-influenced pop – critics claimed her cowl of If Not for You superior to each Bob Dylan’s authentic and the celebrated model on George Harrison’s All Issues Should Cross – and now take a look at her: struggling manfully with Lengthy Reside Love, the hideous offspring of a secret tryst between Puppet on a String and Cliff Richard’s Congratulations. Below the circumstances, you too may be inclined to jolt on the considered what had gone incorrect.

Olivia Newton-John poses with policemen in Brighton previous to the 1974 Eurovision track contest. {Photograph}: PA Archive/PA Photographs

The favourites had been Dutch duo Mouth and MacNeal, who had a clompy singalong known as I See a Star, a frightful little bit of onstage enterprise involving puppets of themselves, and, in Mouth, a person whose overconfident efficiency suggests he thinks he’s already received. With the good thing about hindsight, watching his array of gurns and realizing seems to digicam is like watching a very smug goose that’s about to fly right into a jet engine: he has actually no thought what’s about to occur.

However nor, it appears, does anybody else. Abba are the solitary entrants who’ve any actual hyperlink to present pop music – Waterloo bears the distinct affect of glam, most particularly Roy Wooden’s Wizzard – the solitary entrants who aren’t smothered by the orchestra and the solitary entrants who seem like they belong on Prime of the Pops somewhat than in Batley Selection Membership, a riot of satin and silver platform boots. However they’re launched by Vine’s dismissive commentary (“If all of the judges had been males, which they’re not, I’m positive they’d get a number of votes,” he shrugs, not the final individual to imagine Abba had nothing going for them however the Nordic appeals of Agnetha and Anni-Frid), the viewers reply no otherwise than they do to Pooky or Peret, and their victory isn’t the clear sweep you would possibly count on. Italy’s Gigliola Cinquetti offers them a run for his or her cash with the admittedly very fairly ballad Si; the British jury – there was no public vote in 1974 – offers them no factors in any respect.

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As if to underline how out of contact all of it was, 4 weeks later, Waterloo was the UK No 1, and everyone knows how issues performed out for Abba thereafter. Mouth and MacNeal cut up up earlier than the 12 months was out: one does somewhat image Mouth taking the outcomes somewhat badly. For a mercy, Newton-John was three years away from accepting the function of Sandy in Grease and additional rectifying her profession with one other string of exceptionally well-made singles: the yacht-rock glory of A Little Extra Love and Magic, the ELO-assisted disco of Xanadu, the world-eating Bodily.

Poogy went on to grow to be big in Israel, earlier than – and once more, I’m not making this up – shedding their viewers with a closely prog and jazz-influenced third album. However with the best of respect to Poogy, and certainly Peret, the Korni Group and Cindy und Bert, if it wasn’t for Abba’s presence, 1974’s Eurovision track contest could be long-confined to the dustbin of historical past. Watching it 50 years on is a chastening expertise, that makes Abba – and certainly at present’s Eurovision – shine a bit bit brighter: three minutes of pop historical past and 103 minutes that remind you of what you haven’t been lacking.

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