Can I Interest You in an Old Merry-Go-Round?

YouTube offered its mercy to me. The first recommendation all the while I was listening to this work, was Billy Joel’s Piano Man, an in my opinion fundamentally superior song. Though while YouTube was reaching out a hand of good-will to me, I hit it away and made myself listen to the second entry of 1956’s Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne: Das Alte Karussell by Swiss singer Lys Assia.

This is the first song from Switzerland to ever grace the stage of Eurovision finals and the second song of the entire competition. For a view on the first entry be sure to visit my last post about it here. It also contains a bit more information on what I’m doing in this series of blog posts.

This song is way worse than the last one. I’m sorry. Maybe it’s just the fact that I understand German better than Dutch, or maybe it is just that with less complex lyrics about birdsong you can do little wrong, but I sure didn’t need a repair manual for an old carousel.

But let us start at the title. Das Alte Karussell means The Old Merry-Go-Round in German, and that’s probably way more descriptive of the song itself than it should be. The instrumentation surely makes a good effort at evoking the slightly monotonous and out of tune music of an old-timey fair. Though I, myself, wouldn’t count that as a positive. After all, I want to listen to a song and not find the background music for my career as a 20th-century showman. To be fair the instrumentation is not the worst this song has to offer, at least if you ignore the fact that at some points it almost completely blocks out the timid vocals.

Well actually, I don’t know if that’s a genuine downside. The lyrics don’t draw me in either. Sure, they are a weird pastiche of a derelict fairground, but certainly, no one who tried to restore a run-down merry-go-round would need a song as a reminder to lubricate the mechanisms if the carousel ran too slowly. I know I’m taking this way too literally, but I can’t help it with a song as empty of metaphor and depth as this one. Just block my ears as the instrumentation tries to emulate the sounds of the broken organ of the merry-go-round.

In my mind, there’s a clear reason why Lys Assia, who died only last year, didn’t win with this particular song. Though remember her, she will come up again, and I said “this” for a reason in the last sentence.

Thank you, next!

Musical Birds: Eurovision’s First

This is a terrible project. Some would maybe even say this is torturous. They would probably be right. It is a long project, and especially, the first few entries will be produced only with a few groans uttered by myself during the writing process. This is supposed to be a comprehensive overview of all Eurovision Song Contest finalist entries, from 1956 to today. Starting, for every year with the worst entry and going through the table from the bottom. I’m by no means a musical expert, but what would be the fun in an expert opinion? So this is 1956’s worst entry.

Well, there’s a slight problem at this point for the Grand Prix de Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne 1956: We actually, have no clue what the worst song was. We don’t even know how the jury voted on the entries. The only thing that was published was the winner of the competition. I won’t tell you, who won, right now, but if you’re dying to know, Wikipedia will be your friend (here). I won’t fret too much though, and we’ll just continue our endeavour in 1957.

No, no, no, no. You thought you could escape 1956? You thought wrong. I will just go through them in order of the draw, saving the winner for the end.

So this is 1956’s first song: De Vogels van Holland, sung by Dutch singer Jetty Paerl. It is a Chanson, not in just the French sense of the word, but it fits the style. Jetty Pearl sings about the birds of Holland and it’s just a happy, mildly patriotic song about the birds of Holland. Fittingly enough, the instrumentation of the song starts with slight trills reminiscent of actual bird song, before Jetty Pearl praises the musical prowess of Dutch birds. I didn’t know birds would keep to the confines of international borders, but I’m no ornithologist.

My cursory research into dutch songbirds hasn’t brought any scientific paper to light that would have dared to compare songbirds on a national level, though I now feel slightly more informed about the breeding habits of three dune-dwelling, insect-eating songbirds of the Netherlands. Namely, this includes the meadow pipit, the European stonechat, and the northern wheatear – neither of which is endemic to the Netherlands, nor does the song of any one of these birds strike me as particularly beautiful. Remarkably Jetty Paerl offers us a hypothesis why the birds of Holland are so musically adept:

‘t is geen wonder want nergens zijn de plassen zo blauw
Als in Holland mijnheer
Als in Holland mevrouw
‘t is geen wonder want nergens is het gras zo vol dauw
Zijn de meisjes zo lief, zijn de meisjes zo trouw
En daarom zijn de vogels hier allemaal
Zo muzikaal

Jetty Pearl

Regardless of the doubtful nature of statements implying that lakes are not as blue, girls not as sweet and faithful anywhere other than in Holland, I can’t bring myself to believe that this would hold up to any scientific rigour. Granted, the point of the Grand Prix de Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne is entertainment, not scientific accuracy. Though I doubt that a song that couldn’t distract me from this weird rabbit hole of research into Dutch songbirds will find its way into my regular listening.

In fact, I’ve been procrastinating listening to it again for long enough to essentially forget what I’ve even written a month ago. I mean, there are worse songs to listen too. It’s neither musically nor lyrically interesting, but good enough to sway to and fro a bit.

I hope I’ll see you next time around when I review Switzerland’s Lys Assia with Das alte Karusell.