There wasn’t much to indicate that 1998’s Eurovision Song Contest would be one of historic proportions.
One could argue that the world’s favourite Song Contest was in the midst of a terrible slump. Viewing figures were falling across the continent and the Contest hadn’t produced a major hit since Nicole’s ‘Ein Bißchen Frieden’ six years previously. Thanks to Johnny Logan’s second Eurovision victory (with ‘Hold Me Now’), RTÉ would be hosting the Eurovision for only their third time. Just as in 1981, the Simmonscourt Pavilion would be the venue used to stage the live show.
As the results came in, two countries with very different Eurovision track records battled for the title. Switzerland’s 1980s Eurovision entries either did very well (five top five results with one winner) or badly (five outside the top 10). Meanwhile the 80s were an era when the United Kingdom did consistently, if not overwhelmingly, well: one winner, four other top five results and only one song that did not place in the top 10. 1988 would be a battle between a country whose recent Eurovision fortunes had been something of a roller coaster versus another that did consistently well.
The Duelling Reboots
The UK found a consistent level of success with acts who had limited previous chart success. In Dublin, Scott FitzGerald carried the Union Flag. His Eurovision entry, ‘Go’, was written Julie Forsyth, who also sang backing vocals onstage in Dublin. FitzGerald was the epitome of a one hit wonder whose duet with Yvonne Keeley ‘If I Had Words’ had made it #3 in the UK charts in 1978. Eurovision 1988 represented a chance to showcase himself on one of the biggest musical stages in the world, a second chance at stardom.
Scott FitzGerald and Yvonne Keeley – ‘If I Had Words’ (Source: YouTube/belkin59)
Switzerland would be represented by a rarity: a teenager in need of a comeback. Céline Dion was a local celebrity in (French) Canada when one of her singles became a massive hit in France.
Céline Dion – ‘D’amour ou d’amitié (Source: YouTube/Ina Chansons)
‘D’amour ou d’amitié’ earned a gold record in France, something no other Canadian artist had achieved by that point. The lyrics were written by Eddy Marnay, who had also penned the lyrics for Frida Boccara’s Eurovision (co)winning ‘Un jour, un enfant’. Dion and Marnay would work together through her teen years, with edgy and hip songs like ‘Mon ami m’a quittée’ (My Friend is Gone) and ‘Tellement j’ai d’amour pour toi’ (I’m So in Love with You). Songs like these gave Dion the sort of catalogue that little girls and grandmothers loved, but not anyone else. Dion never had a big hit in France after ‘D’amour ou d’amitié’ and her cheesy chart toppers in (French) Canada were drying up by the late 80s.
It was time for a reboot. Starting with this gem:
Céline Dion – ‘Lolita’ (Source: YouTube/CelinedionGR1)
This is indeed the heartwarming song about a teenager girl imploring her older lover to help her lose her virginity – or she will find someone else to do it. Let’s just move on to the results…
The Scores On The Doors
It’s worth remembering that in 1988 we were still a decade ahead of any significant public input to determine a Eurovision Song Contest result: juries determined the winner. Delegations seeking the win worked along those lines, trying to send entries that would inspire support among music and media professionals. Which, it should be said, did not exactly produce a series of winners (or entries) that fired up the European singles charts of the 1980s (or indeed the 90s).
Overall, the best description of the 1988 scoreboard would be flat. There were only seven points between the third and seventh ranked entries. At the other end of the results table there were five very lowly ranked entries that earned between zero and ten points (sadly, Austria received the dreaded nul points). The average score per country for the winner was only 6.85 points our of a possible 12. Despite there being two entries finishing well clear of the rest, this was not a year with a landslide result.
In fact, there was a lot of love for a lot of entries. Ten of the twenty-one entries received at least one douze points. Five countries – Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Yugoslavia—each received three top marks; each also ended up in the top six.
But the Contest demands a winner. 1988 was no different.
Scott FitzGerald – ‘Go’ (Source: YouTube/escbelgium4)
With only three juries left to report, the United Kingdom had a fifteen point lead over Switzerland…
France blanked the UK and gave the Swiss a single point, cutting the lead to 14 points…
Portugal gave the Swiss twelve points, but the UK only three: now the lead was down to five points…
The Yugoslav jury, not known for voting reliably for either country, gave the Swiss six points, and a lead of a single point. Any score for the UK and Fitzgerlad would win… Seven points to the Netherlands… Eight to Germany… Ten to Norway…
Then the camera crew sprinted away from the UK delegation to the Swiss, Fitzgerald knew it was over, and the final twelve points went to France.
‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ beat ‘Go’ by a single point, on the last jury.
Céline Dion – ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ (Source: YouTube/juan8969)
We should acknowledged that neither entry was a hit. ‘Go’ didn’t manage to make the UK top 50; Dion’s entry only managed 11th in the Swiss charts. Yet there is some irony here: Dion did ‘go’ on to bigger and better things, ‘leaving without’ FitzGerald.
Scott FitzGerald never had another hit. Céline Dion, of course, became a global superstar within a few years of her Eurovision victory. She’s currently 11th on the all-time global music sales list. All the acts ranked ahead of her started out in the anglosphere. Her album ‘D’eux’ remains the best selling French language album in history.
And that’s how you reboot a career.
Fast forward to 2018. Ki Fitzgerald, Scott’s son, member of Busted who have had eight top 10 UK singles including four number ones, is a strong music producer and songwriter working in LA and London. He’s also the co-author of Saara Aalto’s ‘Monsters’. Hoping, no doubt, to finish a place better in Lisbon than his Dad did in Dublin.
Saara Alto – ‘Monsters’ (Source: YouTube/LRT)