I’ve been sitting on this idea for a while now. I want to do more fan participation sort of things on the blog and previously I did two this or thats for the US versus UK and a rematch. European and Australian readers will be familiar with Eurovision, but for the uninitiated, here’s a video that explains Eurovision: it’s basically the Olympics but for music, mostly in Europe with a couple non-European countries thrown in as a treat:
Every May Eurovision is held and it’s a lot of fun. The performances are often flamboyant and well, it’s just something you need to see for yourself. People will often host Eurovision watch parties at home or people go to bars for watch parties.
This got me thinking… What if the rock bands of the 60s, 70s, and 80s competed in Eurovision? Some people might be wondering Why didn’t the UK send The Beatles to Eurovision so they could basically sweep? In the classic rock era, Eurovision wasn’t the sensation that it is now: it used to be safe and sanitised, not the camp, anything goes performances of this day and age. And nowadays you have a lot of troll entries that take the piss out of Eurovision, and that’s really the fun of it, you watch it drunk or high and laugh at the so bad it’s good songs. You have to remember that rock music in the 60s would have been considered edgy and there was a huge divide . The music establishment didn’t exactly love rock music, I mean the Grammys didn’t have a rock category at all for decades. The only rock bands that would have won Grammys in their prime were ones with crossover pop music appeal, like Elvis, The Beatles, The Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Elton John, Billy Preston, and The Bee Gees. Remember, while the musicians were boomers, the establishment at that time weren’t boomers, they were older.
Of course I’m just one person running a blog so I decided to do my own little rock and roll Eurovision type thing where I combined it with March Madness. Americans will know what that is. For the non-Americans, it’s a university basketball tournament: single elimination with brackets. The difference between this poll/tournament thing and Eurovision is we have no time limits for the songs and it’s a brackets style tournament rather than points since the voting took place on my Instagram.
I picked 16 songs from different countries (I divided the UK into England, Scotland, and Wales as you’ll see to make things more interesting and you must keep in mind during the era, a lot of countries didn’t exist yet) and randomly matched them up through a pick a name from a hat generator on the internet. The 16 songs are on this Spotify playlist if you want to listen along as you read this post. The theme I was going for was masterpieces and legendary songs from each country, so not a very Eurovision thing really, but hear me out, we’re trying to find the best rock song in Europe as picked by the readers! Here are all the songs and the justifications
- “È Festa” – Premiata Forneria Marconi (Italy): PFM are one of Italy’s best known bands and 70s prog rock is one of Italy’s great contributions to rock and roll history. This song is one of PFM’s most famous and they even translated it to English as “Celebration”. I love all the movements in the song and the instrumental jams. This is a prog rock essential.
- “Black is Black” – Los Bravos (Spain): One of the biggest international hits from Spain. You might have heard the Los Bravos song “Bring A Little Lovin'” in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. “Black is Black” was the band’s biggest hit, reaching #1 in their native Spain and #4 in the United States in 1966. French pop star Johnny Hallyday (considered the French Elvis) covered it in his native language as “Noir, c’est noir”.
- “Il est cinq heures, Paris s’éveille” – Jacques Dutronc (France): It’s regarded as the French “Waterloo Sunset” for the picture it paints of Paris. In 1991, this song was voted the best French-language single of all time. It topped the charts in France in 1968. It’s a beautiful song, simple as.
- “Atlantis” – Donovan (Scotland): This song was picked for its beauty. You might have heard it in the film Goodfellas. It combines poetry, literature, and psychedelia with its different movements. The monologue at the beginning introduces Atlantis before going into this energetic psychedelic love song. It’s a hippie anthem and was a hit for Donovan, reaching the top 10 in the US in 1969.
- “Khochu Peremen” – Kino (USSR): This song was picked because of its importance to protest movements in Russia and the other countries of the former USSR. Viktor Tsoi was basically like the Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain of the Soviet Union, a genius, a legend and gone too soon. There’s a wall dedicated to Tsoi in Moscow with the title of the band’s signature song “Peremen” written on the wall. It’s an anthem for those who want change. Tsoi was considered a rock pioneer and had quite a bit of success by the late 80s, travelling to Paris, Tokyo, and the United States.
- “Without You” – Badfinger (Wales): This song was picked because Badfinger are one of the most popular artists to come from Wales and the song was an Ivor Novello Award winner in 1972 for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. It was famously covered by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey, but in my opinion nothing beats the original, which sadly never was released as a single because the band didn’t see much potential in it. Paul McCartney called it the “killer song of all time”. Harry Nilsson covered it after hearing the original at a party and thinking it was a Beatles song.
- “Sevenler Ağlarmış” – 3 Hürel (Turkey): When I first heard this song, I was mindblown. It’s an Anatolian Rock classic that is reminiscent of Hendrix and Santana. It’s an epic with multiple movements combining psychedelia and Turkish music. It’s the beauty of rock and roll spreading all over the world, people from different cultures put their spin on it. The band were formed in Turkey in the 70s by three siblings: Onur, Haldun, and Feridun Hürel and went on to be one of the most famous rock bands in Turkey. Sadly, the musicians all went back to day jobs, but thanks to the internet a new generation are discovering their music.
- “Black Rose” – Thin Lizzy (Ireland): This year, Thin Lizzy were voted Ireland’s best rock band. Yes, they beat U2. Ask any Irish person who the most loved rock star in Ireland is and one of the most common answers you’ll get is none other than Thin Lizzy’s frontman and lyricist Phil Lynott. Ask any classic rock fan what band they consider underrated and you’ll hear Thin Lizzy a lot. Not only was Phil Lynott a rock star, he was also a published poet, with his poetry book Songs For While I’m Away. Ireland has a long tradition of excellent writers and honestly, Phil Lynott should be up there on the same level as the other greats, some of which he name checked in this song. It’s a beautiful love song to his country and the word play is top tier. Musically, I’d say it’s as much of an epic as Stairway or Bo Rhap.
- “Computer Love” – Kraftwerk (West Germany): One of Kraftwerk’s best known songs, it was famously sampled by Coldplay on their song “Talk”, and that’s why younger readers might recognise it. It topped the UK charts in 1981. There wouldn’t be electronic music as we know it without Kraftwerk.
- “The Four Horsemen” – Aphrodite’s Child (Greece): Aphrodite’s Child was the band where Demis Roussos and Vangelis got famous. The group had multiple hits in Europe, but my personal favourite song of theirs that always sends a shiver down my spine because of how beautiful it is, is “The Four Horsemen”, which was so good that The Verve sampled it in “The Rolling People”. The song was on the band’s legendary 1972 Biblical inspired concept album 666.
- “Sultana” – Titanic (Norway): One of the biggest international hits from Norway, this Santana inspired song reached the top 10 in the UK in 1971.
- “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin (England): No introduction is necessary for this one. It was either this or “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but I picked “Stairway” because it came out first. This is basically part of every classic rock station’s starter pack.
- “Waterloo” – ABBA (Sweden): The only one on this list to be an actual Eurovision entry, and winner. ABBA are the most famous band to come out of Eurovision and won in 1974 with “Waterloo”, the first Eurovision win for Sweden. They went from Eurovision to being one of the best selling bands of all time. Wow!
- “Gyöngyhajú lány” – Omega (Hungary): A very ahead of its time rock song, hard to believe it came out in 1969 because it sounds like it’s from a few years later. You might have heard it sampled in Kanye West’s 2013 song “New Slaves”. Omega are Hungary’s best known rock band and later recorded an English version of the song called “Pearls In Her Hair”. The song was covered across Eastern Europe and even covered by Scorpions as “White Dove”. I love the violins in this song. It’s another one of those songs that sends shivers down my spine.
- “Radar Love” – Golden Earring (Netherlands): Golden Earring are one of the most popular bands from The Netherlands and this song was an international hit, reaching the top 10 in the UK and top 20 in the US. Once again it’s another song with multiple movements.
- “Dej Mi Vic Své Lásky” – Olympic (Czechoslovakia): The song this album is from, Želva, is considered one of the first rock albums from Czechoslovakia, part of the Big Beat genre, which was basically their version of Beat music as made famous by British rock bands. It’s one of their most popular songs.
Here are the brackets:
And here are the outcomes with the winner in bold text:
Round 1: The Sweet 16
- PFM (42%) vs Los Bravos (58%)
- Jacques Dutronc (48%) vs Donovan (52%)
- Kino (35%) vs Badfinger (65%)
- 3 Hürel (35%) vs Thin Lizzy (65%)
- Kraftwerk (52%) vs Aphrodite’s Child (48%)
- Titanic (38%) vs Led Zeppelin (62%)
- ABBA (75%) vs Omega (25%)
- Golden Earring (85%) vs Olympic (15%)
Thankfully no one got zero votes. Some of these were neck and neck like Jacques Dutronc and Donovan and Kraftwerk and Aphrodite’s Child, both decided by just one vote.
Round 2: The Elite 8
- Los Bravos (41%) vs Donovan (59%)
- Badfinger (71%) vs Thin Lizzy (29%)
- Kraftwerk (39%) vs Led Zeppelin (61%)
- ABBA (71%) vs Golden Earring (29%)
These were much more clear cut but Los Bravos vs Donovan and Kraftwerk vs Led Zeppelin were very close at times, like a horserace. I was surprised that Thin Lizzy didn’t get move votes, but I’m guessing my audience are more partial to Badfinger’s style.
Round 3: The Final 4
- Donovan (60%) vs Badfinger (40%)
- Led Zeppelin (64%) vs ABBA (36%)
Badfinger were holding their own for a bit there, but lost. For Zeppelin vs ABBA, not even close. The losing bands from this round will compete for the bronze
Round 4: Who won?
- Donovan (51%) vs Led Zeppelin (49%)
- Badfinger (32%) vs ABBA (68%)
Donovan was ahead for much of the voting window, but Led Zeppelin caught up and narrowed the gap and by just one vote, Donovan won. For Badfinger it wasn’t even close, ABBA got the bronze.
Silver🥈: Led Zeppelin
So that’s our European rock & roll brackets, What are your thoughts on the songs? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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Fun idea! I watched Eurovision a few times as a kid while growing up in Germany – I think mainly because my six-year-older sister did (not that I want to blame her!). If Eurovision would only be 20% as good as the music you offered for voting, I probably would have continued to watch it.
If I had the choice between Donovan’s “Atlantis”, a song I’ve always liked, and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, it wouldn’t even be a question which tune I would vote for. If I could pick only one classic rock song, it would be “Stairway”, even though in classic Zep fashion they creatively borrowed without giving credit – and I say this as a fan of the band’s music!
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I can only watch Eurovision with friends because of how ridiculous the music and the performances are. I can’t watch it seriously like some people can.
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