Week in, week out

William Hartson signs up for the single European song title: 'When Will You Save Your Boom-Bang-a-Dinge-Loo For Me, piep piep?'
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It is a little-known fact that if you multiply the number of entrants (25) in today's Eurovision Song Contest by the number of times (four) Norway has scored nul points, then add the number of times the contest has been held (43 including today's), and finally subtract the number of UK victories (five), you get exactly the number of times the word "la" occurred in the lyrics of Spain's winning song "La, la, la" in 1968. The other odd thing about the Eurovision Song Contest is that instruments are tuned to A at 442 Hz rather than the usual concert pitch A at 440 Hz. The effect is to make the songs sound a little on the sharp side, perhaps to counteract the flatness of the rest of the event.

Yet for cognoscenti, the attraction lies not in the pitch of the music, but in the timbre of the lyrics. Will anything match the perfect Euro- blandness of past winners "Boom Bang-a-Bang" (1969), "Ding Dinge Dong" (1975), "A Ba Ni Bi" (1978), or Sweden's somewhat lavatorial "Diggi Loo - Diggi Ley" (1984)? Will there be anything as potently meteorological as "Fangad av en Stormvind", which brought Sweden another victory in 1991?

There is no doubt that winning titles have become more introspective over the years. After "Save Your Kisses for Me" in 1976 and "Hold Me Now" in 1987, followed closely by "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi" and "Rock Me" in 1988 and 1989, the depth of true Euro-doubt finally burst through in 1992 with "Why Me?" a question that remains tantalisingly unresolved.

We shall not find the answer this year. Only more questions. The Irish entry asks "Is Always Over Now?" and with eight of the 28 lines in the lyrics ending with question marks, the whole song sounds like something from a specialist round of Mastermind:

The Spanish entry, "What Will I Do Without You", is even more quizzical, with 10 questions in 29 lines, including the tautological "What will I do without you if you're not here any more?" Probably much the same as I'd do without you if you were here any more.

The most surprising aspect of this year's songs is the degree of agreement between nations of the former Yugoslavia. With Macedonia (which we have to call "Fyrom" to avoid annoying the Greeks) singing "Somebody Stop the Dawn" and Croatia singing "May the Sun Never Rise", it is clear that Eurovision has succeeded where Cyrus Vance and Dr David Owen failed.

Last year was the first time the Eurovision was won by a song with "Love" in the title (though "Amour" had appeared in two winners in the early days of the competition). Perhaps hoping this is the start of a trend, the entries this time include "When Love Turns to Hate" (Poland), "Love is" (Sweden), "The One that I Love" (Malta) and "Guildo Loves You" (Germany), the last of which has the promising refrain "Piep, piep, piep, ich hab' Dich lieb" and promises "schick ich Euch meinen Liebesbeweis, Nussecken und Himbeereis" (I'll send you my love tokens - nut biscuits and raspberry ice-cream). What more can a woman ask? Gastronomically, this should run home a clear winner, but food has rarely attracted the judges, unless you count the 1966 winner, "Merci Cherie".

The Estonian entry "Mere Lapsed" appears at first glance to be the tale of a love that, unlike the Polish one that has turned to hate, has merely lapsed - perhaps the story of a couple forgetting to renew their marriage licence. Yet it turns out that the words of the title are Estonian and mean Children of the Sea. The lyrics tell the story of lovers stealing off in a boat together: "We'll challenge every storm that comes along, united with the power that we belong," according to the translation on the BBC Eurovision website (though, to be fair, it probably makes more sense in Estonian). All the same, lines such as "We'll harness raging winds to lead us on" and "riding on the depth of our despair there'll always be a wave that gets us there" suggest that their romance might do better if they first waited for the weather to improve.

The UK entry "Where Are You?" sensibly stays on land in the pursuit of love. It starts "I see a picture in a frame, I see a face without a name, Riding alone on an empty train". She then sings: "I would drive through the rain." Presumably in pursuit of the train, though unless it's a slow suburban service I wouldn't give her much chance of catching it, and when she goes on, "You could unlock these chains", it sounds as though she'd be much happier on a bicycle anyway. Still, if he didn't even bother to tell her his name, I fear the romance is doomed.

But will anything come close to those record 138 la-la-las in 1968? The only challenge this time comes from the Finnish entry "Aava", of which the BBC's "free translation" begins: "Wide Earth, open the wide Earth, Wide Earth, open the wide earth, Beauty, greatness, Beauty, greatness, Calm. Wide Earth, open the Wide Earth, Wide Earth open the Wide Earth. Wide." The second verse continues in the same spirit, though there is a "Hummamaa" just before the end. Apparently there are only six different words in the Finnish original, which may be a good thing because we are told that the singer is a Swedish speaker and her Finnish is not all that good.

Taking everything into account, and remembering that nobody ever votes for the eastern Europeans, only countries of the former Austro-Hungarian empire ever vote for anyone singing in German, and no panel from a country that has signed up for the single European currency will vote for the UK, my money's on Ireland. They always win it anyway.