< 1956 Review | 1957 Review | 1958 Review >
Hosted in Frankfurt, Germany, the second Eurovision Song Contest had a few differences from the first. Each country sent only one song, duets were now allowed, the video footage was successfully preserved, and three new countries joined: Austria, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. The first two had stretches of absence due to poor results, but the UK has had perfect attendance since 1959—for better and for worse.
During the first few years of Eurovision, one of the biggest points of excitement must have been finding out which countries would join next. Indeed, at least one country joined every year from 1957 to 1961. This era is long over; since 2008, almost every country under the most generous definition of “European” has participated at least once. The only ones that haven’t are disputed regions, microstates, dependent territories, and Kazakhstan.
One more odd fact about Eurovision 1957 is that people didn’t need to wait a year after the last one; only about nine months, since it was held on March 3. However, the contest’s date would gradually shift until it was in May once more.
Artist: Bobbejaan Schoepen
Key: B♭ and E♭ major; the instruments were tuned near the 440 Hz standard this time, thankfully.
As with last year, this contest with a simple waltz in Dutch about a simple topic, namely a happy tune playing on the streets. It alternates between lyrics, whistling, and “tra-la-la”. It’s not clear when the Eurovision song order started being randomized, but I feel like they intentionally started with something lighthearted. The bird-like whistling is a nice touch, but it’s otherwise nowhere near as whimsical as “De vogels van Holland”.
Luxembourg: Amours mortes (tant de peine)
Artist: Danièle Dupré
Key: B♭ major
Luxembourg is like the San Marino of 1950’s Eurovision; they usually sent someone from a neighboring country who sang in the most desirable language allowed. Another similarity to today’s Eurovision is that plenty of songs go into the bland pile. In this song, a woman sings about the pain her lover has caused to an unfittingly happy instrumental, and she doesn’t look too excited about it. When the song finished, Danièle took a moment to look at her hands, as if thinking either “did I just do that?” or “I’m glad this is over.” Her musical career was unsuccessful compared to the Belgian representative’s.
United Kingdom: All
Artist: Patricia Bredin, a “one-time singer” according to Wikipedia
Language: English, for the first time
Key: F major—it sounds like the orchestral instruments were tuned for flat keys
I snickered a little when the German presenter referred to the United Kingdom as England; mixing up the two terms wouldn’t go over well today.
As for the song itself, the UK didn’t find its footing on the first try. It was the shortest in the contest’s history until 2015, and it doesn’t consist of much—just some brief lyrics about love on an unmemorable instrumental. Say what you will about the dominance of English in Eurovision, but the language’s rhythm makes it extremely suited for catchy repeated hooks, as later British entries would realize.
I must admit, it feels weird to describe the sound of my two native languages: English and German. When I hear other languages, even ones I know some of, I think about their flow, sounds, and personality. But when I hear English or German, I just think “these are words that I can understand”, so there isn’t a particular way they sound to me.
Italy: Corde della mia chitarra
Artist: Nunzio Gallo
Key: G minor and G major
Eurovision has a long pattern of adding rules because of a controversial song, and this is the oldest example. This song goes on for way too fucking long, 5 minutes and 9 seconds, and it’s why the three-minute song rule was enforced. It starts with about a minute of some dude playing around on his guitar, then it goes into slow opera lyrics about guitar chords and love. When it sounds like the song is ending, the guitar guy just keeps on playing more, so that it can end as slowly as possible.
Although this was the first Eurovision song that made me swear, I do admire something about it. The guitar adds a splash of variety to the contest’s instrumentation and presentation, since the guitarist is standing behind the singer. It’s an early step towards the innovative staging that 21st century Eurovision is known for.
Austria: Wohin, kleines Pony?
Artist: Bob Martin
Key: D♭ major
The first jazzy song of this event, and another with a goofy topic: a man singing about going on adventures with his pony. The title means “Where to, little pony?” and my brain is distracted thinking about the large number of adult men since 2010 who enjoy My Little Pony. If you know me beyond my Eurovision reviews, you just slapped your face and thought “you are the most predictable person in the universe”, didn’t you.
It scored the fewest points in this contest, but I think the song is fun and cute. It almost feels like a reminder that boys can like things considered “girly” too. This guy isn’t ashamed to admit he likes ponies, and we should all strive to be like him.
Netherlands: Net als toen (the winner)
Artist: Corry Brokken (returned from 1956)
Key: A♭ major
As much as Italy’s song was criticized for its length, this contest’s winner is pretty big at four and a half minutes, so the length rule means this song would have been shortened.
After a bombastic intro, the verses and chorus are sung over a romantic instrumental that feels more like “50’s popular music” than opera. It has a bridge section where the strings play freely, then the second chorus is accompanied with a snazzy violin. The bombastic style returns in an instrumental break, followed by one more round of lyrics, then the song ends. For a song whose title means “just like the old days”, it sounds comparatively modern. I still think of this song as old-timey, but a slightly more recent kind of old-timey.
Many Eurovision songs have alternate language versions, including at least two songs from 2023 (Norway and Slovenia). For fun, I listened to the shorter French version (Tout comme avant) and the even shorter German version (Damals war alles so schön). Frankly, it sounds like this song was always meant to be in French, but hey, it won in Dutch anyway. The German version feels more like an obligation, and it has a clear Dutch accent where the “ich” sound, /ç/ in the IPA, is mispronounced. To be fair, that is the toughest German sound to pronounce, and not all native speakers use it.
Germany: Telefon, Telefon
Artist: Margot Hilscher
Language: German, with brief phrases in English, French, Italian, and Spanish
Key: C major, D♭ major at the end
This is the first Eurovision song to use a prop on stage—as the title suggests, a telephone. It’s technically the first multilingual Eurovision song, but I’m not sure if it should count. I’m noticing a pattern with 1957 Eurovision songs: their innovations paved the way for the Eurovision we know today. (Though for all we know, the 1956 songs could have had a giant dildo on stage.)
I find the lyrics of this slow lullaby tune surprisingly timeless. To this day, people feel a compulsion to check their phones, hoping it’ll someday give them happiness. It makes me think… maybe the world hasn’t changed as much since the 50’s as I thought. Technology has exponentially evolved, but human desires haven’t, nor has the tendency for older people to scoff at the technology that younger people use.
France: La belle amour
Artist: Paule Desjardins
Key: B♭ minor and B♭ major
I can tell that in early Eurovision, France stuck to one specific genre—French chansons—that consistently gave them good points, just like Sweden does in modern Eurovision with their dance pop songs. If France is the Sweden of early Eurovision, and Luxembourg is the San Marino, then who corresponds to Moldova? If I find a country that sent fun, creative entries in a variety of genres, they’ll be the Moldova of early Eurovision.
Anyway, this is another alright waltz you’d expect from 50’s Eurovision, and the main distinguishing feature is the alternation between major and minor key.
Denmark: Skibet skal sejle i nat
Artist: Birthe Wilke and Gustav Winckler (first duet!)
Language: Danish, the goofiest sounding language in Europe
Key: D♭ major, D major, E♭ major
A simple romantic song in three different key signatures, with male and female vocals that complement each other well. Strangely, the key changes are near the start, not the end, which made me expect the song to ascend through tons of key signatures.
This song is most famous for ending with an intensive 11-second kiss that shocked TV audiences. I burst out laughing when the kiss lasted this long. Clearly, the couple couldn’t resist doing something extravagant, which sounds a lot like modern Eurovision. This makes me wonder if there were any wild moments in Eurovision 1956 that today’s fans won’t get to see. Was it all just people singing into a microphone?
Switzerland: L’enfant que j’etais
Artist: Lys Assia (she’s back)
Key: B♭ major, C major at the end
It’s good to know that even in early Eurovision, previous winners were often sent again. I’m sure sending previous winners was a little contentious then, just as it is now. The lyrics reflect on the singer’s childhood, and the title means “the child I used to be”. This song was clearly meant to be flashy and showy, like Assia’s winner last year, but I think its intent was more to give viewers a familiar face than to win again. It tied with Belgium for second last place, like the juries decided “we should probably let someone else win”. Still, a decent pick to conclude the contest.
Who’s my favorite?
This time, it’s an easy pick. One song is more complex and musically interesting than all the others, and it’s Netherlands, Net als toen. My list of yearly favorites is now:
- Germany, 1
- Netherlands, 1
- (1 winner)
I wonder how long it will be until I pick the same country’s song twice? I could go until 1977 picking a different country every time, since in 1978, the number of contests passed the number of historical participants.
It was charming to watch the earliest full footage of a Eurovision Song Contest. As with 1956, the presentation was unlike today, but the whimsical spirit was the same.
The presenter for this contest spoke in German, and she sounded a little stiff when reading information about each song from paper. She gradually got more comfortable in this role and was enthusiastic when announcing each singer. I can notice some antiquated things about the presenter’s language. For one, I think the genitive noun case really has declined in spoken German. Take a phrase describing the second song, “die Stimme eines jungen Mädchens”, word for word, “the voice a young girl’s”. Today, German presenter would more likely say “die Stimme von einem jungen Mädchen”, word for word, “the voice of a young girl”, using the dative noun case. Additionally, the presenter addressed the audience using the formal pronoun “Sie”. These days, it’s becoming more common to address audiences with the informal “du” (singular) or “ihr” (plural).
I should probably recap the songs themselves. They blended together a bit more than 1956 did, either because there were fewer, or because countries better knew which styles scored well. Though a lot about the first contest remains mysterious, it’s clear that the second one paved the way for what Eurovision is today.
See you next time for another ten-song Eurovision, with Sweden’s debut replacing the UK.
My understanding of the Danish kiss is that the singers were waiting for the official cue to cut off, which never came. So they just kept kissing while the camera rolled.