Abba's 'Waterloo' is voted best song of 50 Eurovision years

The Eurovision song contest celebrated its 50th birthday by beaming live from Copenhagen with all its usual kitsch and glamour. Saturday night's programme ended with the announcement that Abba's catchy "Waterloo", which won Eurovision in 1974 and shot to the top of the charts, was the best all-time song in the history of the contest.

The Italian "Nel Blu Di Pinto di Blu", better known as "Volare" which gave Dean Martin one of his all-time hits, came in second, and in third place was the 1987 winner "Hold Me Now" by Ireland's Johnny Logan.

Although the Swedish smash hit was bookies' favourite, there were 14 other songs in the viewers' poll - not all of them winners of Eurovision.

The two-and-a-half hour special included a mix of archive video and live appearances from former winners, including Logan, who was dressed in white, and Brotherhood of Man, who received a standing ovation from the 6,000 strong audience. Other performers included Israel's Dana International, Denmark's Jakob Sveistrup, and the dance troupe Riverdance. Abba did not make an appearance.

The shortlist of songs was chosen by fans from the competition's catalogue of winners at Ten of the nominees came from online votes while four extra songs were wild cards thrown into the mix.

The special was shown in 31 countries, but notably not in Britain, despite Sir Cliff Richard and Brotherhood of Man fighting it out for best song. "Save All Your Kisses for Me" (1976) by Brotherhood of Man ended up in fifth place in the anniversary contest, while the Cliff Richard classic "Congratulations", which was entered despite never having won the Eurovision contest, was eighth. Richard sent a video message of congratulations marking the contest's birthday party.

The BBC chose not to carry the event as it was "too remote" for British audiences. The Irish Times suggested that the BBC lost interest in the celebration after it withdrew from hosting it when complications arose with the proposed venue, the Royal Albert Hall.

Viewers who did manage to catch the special, which was also shown online, cast their votes as they traditionally do via text messages and phone calls. National juries from 31 countries also weighed in with their favourite selections.

Although Eurovision is sometimes derided for trumpeting songs that don't even fall in the peripheral vision of the rest of the music industry, the 1974 selection of "Waterloo" launched Abba's international career. The pop glam single rocketed to the top of the charts and within two years, sold more than six million copies. When the band, which consisted of Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad split in 1982, they had sold more than 180 million albums.

Part of the appeal of Eurovision is the number of countries that can enter. Any country that falls in the region covered by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which includes Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Syria can enter.

The viewers' favourites

1: "Waterloo" by ABBA (1974) Sweden

2: "Volare" by Domenico Modugno (1958) Italy

3: "Hold me now" by Johnny Logan (1987) Ireland

4: "My Number One" by Helena Paparizou (2005) Greece

5: "Save Your Kisses For Me" by Brotherhood of Man (1976) UK

6: "Fly On The Wings of Love" by Olsen Brothers (2000) Denmark

7: "Ein bisschen Frieden"by Nicole (1982) Germany

8: "Congratulations" by Cliff Richard (1968) UK

9: "Everyway That I Can" by Sertab Erener (2003) Turkey

10: "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi" by Céline Dion (1988) Switzerland