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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Eurovision Song Contest: Poupée de cire, poupée de son





Agent Triple P loves the Eurovision Song Contest with all its bizarre musical styles, political voting, underdressed singers and dancers from countries you didn't even know were in Europe, an incomprehensible half time show and the dreadful inevitability that Britain will finish in the bottom five. We usually look forward to sitting down with some unhealthy snacks and pouring derision on the whole enterprise, which is what British people always do, much to the annoyance of those of our European neighbours who take the whole thing far too seriously.  Triple P was once told by a senior politician in a Baltic state that winning Eurovision, with the opportunity to showcase your country to swarms of potential tourists, was worth tens of millions to the economy.  This particular country had yet to win (unlike their two fellow Baltic States to the north) so they were going to get some "top people" on it to concoct a suitably catchy Euro anthem.  Sorry, Lithuania, but you still haven't made it.  

Britain was running equal second as the country that had won Eurovision the most (with France and Luxembourg) after top placing Ireland.  Then last year the Swedes won again to draw level with us at five wins each (although Britain still has by far the most second places).  In Eurovision, however, second is nothing as the winner gets to host the following show with all the touristic marketing opportunities that offers.  When it was hosted in Azerbaijan the host nation poisoned every pigeon in the city to avoid tourists being dive-bombed by the pesky flying rats.  I am sure that this year's Swedish hosts won't go to such extremes.

Britain hasn't won since 1997, which has variously been blamed on the fact that we invaded Iraq, we don't support the EU or that we treat most foreign countries like fiddling little irrelevancies and since a lot of these joined the EU they are getting their own back.  The real issue is that most of our songs, singers and productions are just boring.  Letting the British public vote for the singers to represent us was a total farce so recently, the BBC (who fund a good part of the budget which means that we don't have to qualify for the final) has taken a more (and characteristic) dictatorial approach in just choosing our singers and songs.  this has not really worked any better, with Engelbert Humperdinck coming in dead last (again) in 2012. Much as we love Bonnie Tyler her time has long since past and, worse, her song is terrible.  Still, it could be worse.  France, another five times winner, hasn't won since 1977.


We still own this record


Speaking of France, the first Eurovision song we remember was when we were holidaying in the South of France with our family in 1965.  The same song, which we soon discovered was the Eurovision winner, was played again and again in cafe's shops and on the radio, even though the contest itself had been back in March.  This was Poupée de cire, une poupée de son by France Gall and Triple P's father set out to buy this extraordinarily catchy tune on record.


We still own this record as well


Of course by this time the French chart had moved on so we ended up with a cover version by a French chanteuse, Dominique and France Gall's next record.  Both of these singles had, unlike British ones, four tunes on and we were very taken with France Gall's efforts, particularly Attends ou va-t'en and Mon bateau de nuit.  We did wonder, at the time, why French singers insisted on being photographed with dogs for their record covers.  Subsequently we discovered that France Gall had competed for Luxembourg not France and this record also contained a cover of the French entry that year, N'avou jamias.  Cominciamo ad Amarci had been an entry in that year's San Remo Festival, which had been the original inspiration for the Eurovision song contest.  Perry Como would cover it the following year on his Perry Como in Italy LP.

Decades later we managed to buy a CD of France Gall's music in Berlin and so got the original of Poupée de cire, une poupée de son for the first time, whereupon we discovered that Dominique's cover version was a very good one indeed.




Gall was only eighteen when she won Eurovision with Serge Gainsbourg's clever, punning song (it really doesn't translate at all well into English). Her live performance was far from brilliant and in rehearsal the song was actually booed. Gall later stopped working with Gainsbourg after he got her to sing a song about lollipops, Les Sucettes, which really wasn't about lollipops at all...

There is an interesting version of Poupée de cire, une poupée de son, called Lonely Singing Doll, by largely forgotten British teenage singer Twinkle, which also takes its theme as disillusionment with the life of pop singer without being an actual translation of the original.  Triple P also has a version in his collection by American band Les Sans Culottes which sounds very much like Blondie.  Perhaps our favourite cover is by Swedish symphonic metal band Therion where their version is driven by lead singer Lori Lewis' classical soprano backed by the band's thrash metal guitars.

We are certain that whatever wins this year it won't be as good a song as Poupée de cire, une poupée de son. 

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