[This article was originally published in May 2019]
What happens if you take an expert panel of ex-Eurovision contestants, journalists, super fans and a QI Elf, lock them in a pub for an afternoon, ply them with booze and force them to watch and judge all 60 (or so) existing UK Eurovision entries in order to determine which was one was the best ever?
There have been several attempts by journalists and Eurovision fans to pull together such a list, but they’ve never felt quite right – for a couple of reasons. The first being that Eurovision belongs to the fans who follow the competition, and not just the people writing about it.
More importantly, no one person alone has the authority to say: “These are the best songs and in this particular order” (though it’s 3. Bardo, 2. Imaani, 1. Brotherhood, thanks for asking!). So, in the absence of access to a UK wide televoting system, I put together a panel of real experts and invited them to join me at Retro Bar (a tiny Eighties pub tucked down a side-alley off the Strand in London) on the hottest day of the year to date, in order to watch every single UK Eurovision performance in history.
Our 20-strong expert jury included: SuRie (UK contestant, 2019), Nicki French (UK contestant, 2000), Dr Eurovision (who, as the name suggests, has a PhD in Eurovision), Alasdair Rendall (President of OGAE UK, the world’s largest Eurovision fan club), Heidi Stephens (Eurovision live-blogger for the Guardian), James Rawson (pop encyclopaedia and QI Elf), Chris Lochery (Popbitch), plus a host of well-respected Eurovision bloggers and mega-fans (listed at the end of this article).
Jury members were shown videos of each UK performance from every Eurovision Song Contest that the UK competed in, with the exception of 2019 (as it’s not happened yet), 1956 and 1958 (as we didn’t bother taking part), and Matt Monro’s 1964 entry "I Love The Little Things" (as all known footage was destroyed in a fire, and it didn’t seem fair to judge on the recording alone).
Entries were screened in a random order, back-to-back, with one small break in the middle of proceedings when Nicki French demanded everyone get some food before imminent collapse.
Here’s the voting system we used:
Each entry was marked out of 500 points, with 100 points being awarded in five different categories: Composition (melody, songcraft); Lyrics; Vocals (live delivery); Presentation (performance, costume, gimmicks); and Charisma (did the performance have a certain je ne sais quoi?). Jurors were asked to score the entries based on what they saw on screen and not the recorded version of the track.
Scoring complete, the highest and lowest marks were taken out of consideration before the results were added up and averaged out. Oh, and Nicki and SuRie were not allowed to vote for their own entries.
After four hours and literally days of inputting 6,000 scores (5 per entry, 60 entries, 20 jurors) into a massive spreadsheet, I present what we believe to be the most comprehensive, fair and definitive ranking of all the United Kingdom’s stabs at Euro glory!
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60. “Cry Baby” – Jemini (26th in Riga, 2003) 96.0pts
59. “Mary Ann” – Black Lace (7th in Jerusalem, 1979) 137.6pts
58. “That Sounds Good to Me” – Josh Dubovie (25th in Oslo, 2010) 149.6pts
57. “Teenage Life” – Daz Sampson (19th in Athens, 2006) 167.1pts
56. “A Message to Your Heart” – Samantha Janus (10th in Rome, 1991) 180.9pts
55. “Still in Love with You” – Electro Velvet (24th in Vienna, 2015) 182.9pts
54. “No Dream Impossible” – Lindsay (15th in Copenhagen, 2001) 206.8pts
53. “Are You Sure?” – The Allisons (Runner-up in Cannes, 1961) 218.9pts
52. “Love Will Set You Free” – Engelbert Humperdinck (25th in Baku, 2012) 222.1pts
51. “Hold On to Our Love” – James Fox (16th in Istanbul, 2004) 231.2pts
Obviously Jemini, the UK’s only recipients of a disastrous “nul points”, sit right at the bottom of the pack. Carrie Grant (singer with 1983 entrants “Sweet Dreams”) really went in on them during a TV interview: “Questions need to be asked of how we picked our artists, because bare minimum they should be able to sing live, and that girl in particular was awful,” she said. Ouch! It remains the UK’s worst ever Eurovision result.
The rest of the bottom 10 is a smörgåsbord of cheesy bops, electro-swing and iffy vocals (we’re looking at you Ronnie Mitchell), all of which have a soft spot in the affections of many a fan. Poor old Engelbert though, performing his earnest ballad first on the evening Loreen won with her über-banger Euphoria. Didn’t stand a chance.
50. “Love City Groove” – Love City Groove (10th in Dublin, 1995) 234.4pts
49. “Give a Little Love Back to the World” – Emma (6th in Zagreb, 1990) 238.2pts
48. “Love Enough for Two” – Prima Donna (3rd in The Hague, 1980) 239.3pts
47. “The Bad Old Days” – Co-Co (11th in Paris, 1978) 240.2pts
46. “Believe in Me” – Bonnie Tyler (19th in Malmö, 2013) 247.2pts
45. “You're Not Alone” – Joe and Jake (24th in Stockholm, 2016) 252.7pts
44. “Why Do I Always Get it Wrong?” – Live Report (Runner-up in Lausanne, 1989) 255.4pts
43. “Only the Light” – Rikki (13th in Brussels, 1987) 259.1pts
42. “Rock Bottom” – Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran (Runner-up in London, 1977) 259.3pts
41. “Love Is” – Vikki (4th in Gothenburg, 1985) 260.9pts
50 to 41 is a mixed bunch with a number of highlights: Paul & Moran with their back-to-back, plinky-plonky pianos, Bonnie Tyler popping up on a hydraulic platform in Sweden, and Cheryl Baker’s first go with Co-Co to name a few.
And at number 50... is the song named after the act or the act named after the song? Who knows? Who cares! But if someone asks you for a 3 minute presentation on what the Nineties looked like, you could do a lot worse than showing them a clip of “Love City Groove”. Performed by a band who appeared determined to share one tartan suit between the three of them.
40. “Go” – Scott Fitzgerald (Runner-up in Dublin, 1988) 263.0pts
39. “Lonely Symphony (We Will Be Free)” – Frances Ruffelle (10th in Dublin, 1994) 263.9pts
38. “Say Wonderful Things” – Ronnie Carroll (4th in London, 1963) 264.0pts
37. “Runner in the Night” – Ryder (7th in Bergen, 1986) 265.2pts
36. “Children of the Universe” – Molly (17th in Copenhagen, 2014) 267.4pts
35. “Love Games” – Belle and the Devotions (7th in Luxembourg, 1984) 272.0pts
34. “Even If” – Andy Abraham (25th in Belgrade, 2008) 274.5pts
33. “Long Live Love” – Olivia Newton-John (4th in Brighton, 1974) 279.9pts
32. “Beg, Steal or Borrow” – The New Seekers (Runner-up in Edinburgh, 1972) 281.5pts
31. “Flying the Flag (for You)” – Scooch (22nd in Helsinki, 2007) 283.4pts
In at number 36 is “Children of the Universe”, which wasn’t a bad song, but in each interview where she was asked “what’s in store for the performance?”, Molly replied with the words that strike fear in the hearts of hopeful fans across the continent.
“For me, it's about singing the song like I mean it,” she said. “I want it to be about what I'm singing. It's not going to be a Loreen-style performance - I'm not a dancer! I’m going to let the song do the talking”.
Rule one of Eurovision: NEVER rely on the song to “do the talking”.
One act that can’t be accused of not throwing everything at their performance is Scooch. “Flying The Flag (For You)” featured: a full-sized security gate, an over-sized bottle of perfume, a giant sweet, three wheely cases, two airline seats, and the flag of every competing country plastered across four duty free trolleys. Now that’s a show, Molly.
30. “Let Me Be the One” – The Shadows (Runner-up in Stockholm, 1975) 284.6pts
29. “I Belong” – Kathy Kirby (Runner-up in Naples, 1965) 287.9pts
28. “Ring-A-Ding Girl” – Ronnie Carroll (4th in Luxembourg, 1962) 288.4pts
27. “Sing, Little Birdie” – Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson (Runner-up in Cannes, 1959) 290.4pts
26. “A Man Without Love” – Kenneth McKellar (9th in Luxembourg, 1966) 291.1pts
25. “Looking High, High, High” – Bryan Johnson (Runner-up in London, 1960) 292.9pts
24. “All” – Patricia Bredin (7th in Frankfurt, 1957) 296.9pts
23. “Touch My Fire” – Javine Hylton (22nd in Kiev, 2005) 299.6pts
22. “I Can” – Blue (11th in Düsseldorf, 2011) 300.5pts
21. “Jack in the Box” – Clodagh Rodgers (4th in Dublin, 1971) 308.0pts
Patricia Bredin’s ditty was the UK’s first ever Eurovision entry, joining our European chums in the contest’s second year. The ballad “All” has the charm of a classic Disney soundtrack, and doesn’t sound all that dissimilar from Salvador Sobral’s 2017 winner for Portugal, “Amar pelos dois”.
Also good to see Javine and Blue pushing for the Top 20. Javine was, perhaps, hobbled by having to perform second (the doomed spot), while Blue, despite coming 11th overall, actually ranked a respectable 5th in the televote. Relative successes for the UK.
20. “It's My Time” – Jade Ewen (5th in Moscow, 2009) 311.8pts
19. “I'm Never Giving Up” – Sweet Dreams (6th in Munich, 1983) 311.9pts
18. “Say It Again” – Precious (12th in Jerusalem, 1999) 318.8pts
17. “Knock, Knock Who's There?” – Mary Hopkin (Runner-up in Amsterdam, 1970) 319.9pts
16. “Don't Play That Song Again” – Nicki French (16th in Stockholm, 2000) 329.9pts
15. “One Step Further” – Bardo (7th in Harrogate (yes, Harrogate), 1982) 330.9pts
14. “Come Back” – Jessica Garlick (3rd in Tallinn, 2002) 338.0pts
13. “One Step Out of Time” – Michael Ball (Runner-up in Malmö, 1992) 339.6pts
12. “Congratulations” – Cliff Richard (Runner-up in London, 1968) 344.2pts
11. “Power to All Our Friends” – Cliff Richard (3rd in Luxembourg, 1973) 348.6pts
So beloved by the Eurovision community is Nicki French that she hosts the annual London Eurovision Party at Cafe de Paris every April before fans jets off to the main contest. Her track “Don’t Play That Song Again” entered Eurovision at the height of the BSE crisis when UK beef was banned in France, and supermarkets over here were implementing a tit-for-tat boycott on Gallic produce. Nicki French’s CD was sold in Woolworths with the sticker: “Back British – buy French!” Incredible.
The rest of the top 20 contains pop classics from diver and occasional Sugababe, Jade Ewen, as well as John Peel’s favourite Eurovision song of all time by Bardo, and the girl group Precious. Cliff Richard’s two songs appear in quick succession just outside the top 10, with “Power To All Our Friends” surprisingly pipping the ever ubiquitous "Congratulations" to 11th place.
Click through the gallery below to see our Top 10 best UK Eurovision entries
Big thanks to our jury: SuRie (UK, 2018), Nicki French (UK 2000), Dr Eurovision, Alasdair Rendall (President of OGAE UK), Heidi Stephens (The Guardian), James Rawson (QI), Chris Lochery (Popbitch), Ann Gavaghan, Amy MacGregor (Brighton Fringe), Elaine O'Vision (ESC Insight), Farida Zeynalova, Helen Nix, Matt Nicholls, Moa Höijer, Paul Lang, Rob Morris, Sasha Lynch, Stuart Edmonds (Unflopped) and Will Howells.
This year’s semi-finals will be staged on Tuesday 18 and Thursday 20 May at the Ahoy Arena, while the Grand Final, featuring 26 songs, will take place on Saturday 22 May.
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