The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
Pity poor Michael Rice.
The knives were out before he even took the stage at the Grand Final in Tel Aviv and came in last place. The British press burped in full outrage: “Is Brexit to blame for the UK’s latest flop?” “UK entry Michael Rice drops F-bomb as he breaks silence on coming last.” “Britain’s Eurovision entry did even WORSE than we thought!”
Now I’m not going to get into analyzing the semi-literate chuntering of Britain’s press too much (if your industry has Piers Morgan as one of its major players, lets just say it’s not an industry that’s going to churn out quality product), but Michael Rice can’t be feeling very good right about now. Hopefully he takes the advice he gave to Pink News to heart about how he overcame bullying and that he also remembers that for some last place finishers at Eurovision, things worked out quite well in the end.
Rice came off in the press as a genial, ambitious and all-round pleasant young man (the whole Gary Barlow and Elton John answer to being repeated baited by the press aside), and I hope his “Bigger Than Us” experience is not the last we see or hear of him considering his obvious vocal talent, work ethic, and entrepreneurial spirit.
And with that in mind, here are some last place finishers who were either shocking due to the stature of the individual/s or last place finishers who went on to fame and fortune or inspire a revolution (literally, in one case).
Christina Simon – Austria – 18th place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1979:
Christina Simon came in joint bottom at Eurovision 1979 with “Heute in Jerusalem” (“Today in Jerusalem”), a song about peace in the Middle-East which seemed appropriate as Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty five days before the Contest that holds to this day. Christina Simon, whose song was co-written with eventual husband Peter Wolf, took defeat in stride and moved to the United States, where Simon and Wolf became a power couple who, together and individually, wrote some of the most famous songs of the 1980s.
We’ve covered Simon, who changed her name to Ina Wolf, before in detail, particularly for her fantastic “Playing with the Boys,” written for Kenny Loggins, from the Top Gun soundtrack. And that was one of the Wolfs’ minor hits. Here is a list of their highlights as co-writers or producers which you may recognize as some of the biggest hits of the 1980s:
The Commodores – “Nightshift”
Starship – “We Built This City”
Starship – “Sara”
Wang Chung – “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”
El DeBarge – “Who’s Johnny”
Patti Labelle – “On My Own”
Indecent Obsession – “Kiss Me”
Okay, the last one will only be of significance to South African pop music fans as Indecent Obsession were the first foreign artists to tour South Africa in 1992 after the end of the international cultural boycott due to Apartheid. And “Kiss Me” was Number 1 on the South African charts for 27 weeks.
But one last place artist had an instrumental impact on societal change in their own country…
Paulo de Carvalho – Portugal – 14th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1974:
Have you ever joked that a song at Eurovision was so bad it could start a riot? Well how about a song that was a signal to launch a revolution? That was the case with Paulo de Carvalho’s “E depois do adeus,” which on his performance at Eurovision 1974 on April 24, 1974, was the first signal to rebel officers and soldiers inside the Portuguese military to launch the Carnation Revolution to overthrow the dictatorial Estado Novo regime, which had plunged Portugal since 1926 into being the poorest country in Europe, a regime under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar and then Marcello Caetano that was as incompetent and corrupt as it was authoritarian and callous.
So hated was the Estado Novo regime that the regime fell with almost no shots fired and no fatalities. It was called the Carnation Revolution as Celeste Caeiro, a restaurant worker, went outside to give out red and white carnations to the troops massed in Lisbon. Zeca Alfonso’s “Grandola Vila Morena” was the other signal, to let the public know that the Revolution was successful. Carvalho tried again for Portugal at Eurovision 1977 as part of Os Amigos, and Carvalho continues to perform in his new fado style to this day. And whereas the rest of Europe wasn’t that excited about what they heard from Carvalho that night in 1974, Portugal heard a clarion call to boot out a despotic regime and transition to democracy.
Now as people rubbish Rice’s “Bigger Than Us,” do recall that British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation shortly thereafter? Coincidence? Probably.
Tooji – Norway – 26th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 2012:
Let’s be honest. It was no surprise that the ridiculously handsome singer of “Stay” came out in 2015, three years after his last place finish at Eurovision 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan. A bigger surprise is why this perfectly fine club banger came in last. Tooji, full name Tooji Keshtar, has had one of the more unconventional career arcs of any Eurovision artist (at least until ice hockey equipment salesman Edgars Kreilis eventually qualifies for Latvia), working as a social worker as well as singing.
The big surprise to everyone was the way Tooji came out – for a country that likes to pat itself on the back for being so progressive, there sure was a lot of clutching of pearls when Tooji released his “The Father Project” video (Warning: YouTube link will ask for age verification) in June 2015. Norway had a spate of “black metal” musicians and fans burning down churches, but never had Norway had a music video of an artist having sex in one, which is a much more productive yet inventive commentary on religion and its influence on society.
The video depicts a priest, played by Tooji, in an Oslo church going up to a priest mid-sermon, kissing him, and then having sex with him on the altar in front of an approving congregation. Tooji lost his job hosting that year’s Melodi Grand Prix Junior, having previously hosted it in 2012. But the controversy aside, Tooji contains to release music and is also an activist for gay rights and immigrant rights in Norway.
Fun fact: The co-writer of “Stay,” Peter Bostrom, has the honor of co-writing both the winning song at Eurovision 2012 (Loreen’s “Euphoria”) and the last placed song.
And speaking of both top and bottom…
Corry Brokken – The Netherlands – 9th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1958:
In case you’re wondering, yes, we are talking about the Corry Brokken, winner of Eurovision 1957 for The Netherlands with “Net als toen.” Brokken decided to give Eurovision 1958 a go as well (she also took part in the first edition in 1956) but was much less successful. She came in joint-last with “Heel de wereld.” Ungrateful bastards back in 1958, you might think.
But Brokken, the only contestant to ever finish both first and last at Eurovision, went on to enjoy a successful career in the Benelux union with several charting songs and film and television appearances. And in 1973, having read a history book on Roman law, decided to go to law school herself, with her last show business appearance being as presenter of Eurovision 1976. And Brokken was an attorney of note in The Netherlands, eventually being elevated to a position of judge in Den Bosch. She briefly returned in the 1990s to performing, but passed away age 83 on May 30, 2016, having enjoyed success in two different careers.
Monica Zetterlund – Sweden – 13th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1963:
This is a result that would have made your blood boil in 1963. Say what you will about Rice’s “Bigger Than Us,” but Monica Zetterlund’s “En gang I Stockholm” was a beautiful, soft jazz ballad whose only crime was that it stood out a little too much from the cookie cutter chansons on display. This is Sweden’s only ever “nul” points, and undeservedly so. To lump it in the “nul” bucket with garbage like Jemini’s “Cry Baby” is a sin.
Zetterlund’s class was recognized by Sweden and America afterwards, as she went on to forge a career in jazz working with American greats such as trumpeter Thad Jones, saxophonist Zoot Sims, and pianist Bill Evans. She also excelled in acting and landed a major role in the Academy Award nominated Swedish films The Emigrants and The New Land, starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, based on the novels of Vilhelm Moberg.
Domenico Modugno – Italy – 14th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1966:
Go to any Chili’s in the United States on a Friday night, right around the peak of Happy Hour. Keep an eye on the table of depressed looking claims adjusters who’d just had the life sucked out of them after a week of being on the back foot to irate customers wanting their settlement money. After a few beers, the familiar refrain of “Volare!” will come up, a moment of joy and camaraderie for the downtrodden worker as they sing along. Well, they’ll sing “Volare” and “oh oh” and that’s about it from Domenico Modugno’s mega-smash “Nel blu, dipinto di blu,” which came in 3 rd at Eurovision 1958.
Yep, the most successful Eurovision song of all time was not the winner its year. “Nel blu, dipinto di blu” won the very first Grammy for “Record of the Year” and “Song of the Year” in 1958 and dominated the Billboard Hot 100. Selling 22 million copies, it is one of three non-English Billboard Top 500 singles of all time (the other two being Richie Valens’s “La Bamba” and Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito”). We will cover Modugno and his influence at a later stage, but in his 3 rd attempt at Eurovision, he came in bottom with the dreaded “nul” points with his romantic ballad “Dio, come ti amo.” Another undeserved last place, but having crushed the United States eight years earlier, the skies were still blue for an Italian legend.
Anna Rossinelli – Switzerland – 25th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 2011:
You know who still has Number 1 albums in her native Switzerland, eight years after coming in bottom with “In Love for a While”? Anna Rossinelli. Rossinelli’s start in the Swiss national selection to the Grand Final is how you want Eurovision to be – a platform for a young artist to launch him or herself to success once the lights go down.
Though the light, acoustic pop of “In Love for a While” got lost in Dusseldorf, Germany in 2011, Rossinelli continues to release singles that charted better than her Eurovision entry. Her latest album “White Garden,” released in January 2019, hit Number 1 on the Swiss charts and was her fifth successive Top Ten album since her 2011 debut “Bon Voyage.”
Lydia – Spain – 23rd Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1999:
Spanish pop singer Lydia – full name Lydia Rodriguez Fernandez – is probably best remembered for her horrid multi-colored candy cane dress at Eurovision 1999. What she is less remembered for is her part in resurrecting an iconic Spanish band after their lead bolted. Formed by brother and sister Sole Gimenez (vocals) and Juan Luis Gimenez (guitar) in 1983, Presuntos Implicados are an influential Spanish pop band that took on elements of Latin and jazz sounds and had a quarter century of success in Spain and Latin America before Sole Gimenez departed in 2008 to pursue a solo career.
Presuntos Implicados recruited Lydia for their 12th studio album “Sera,” which released in 2008 turned out to be a late career smash hit for the band, with the album earning them a Latin Grammy Award nomination. The band still tours and occasionally releases new material, but usually when a band loses its lead singer after the height of popularity and a decade or two (see A’Studio and Sepultura for how this usually goes), you don’t expect the replacement to lead them to one more shot at glory.
Daniel Agust Haraldsson – Iceland – 22nd Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1989:
The Icelandic electronic and house pioneer founder of GusGus surely hopes that the one thing no-one can see is his last place entry for Iceland at Eurovision 1989, “Það sem enginn sér” (“What No-One Sees”). Despite his last place finish with a fairly pedestrian effort, Daniel Agust Haraldsson went on to be one of Iceland and Europe’s most successful indie house and electronica pioneer acts.
Haraldsson cofounded GusGus as a multimedia artistic collective in the mid-90s, but it was as an electronica act that GusGus took off (check out their newest video, titled “Fireworks,” featuring the whippersnapper from that Eurovision 1989 video). Haraldsson always has several projects going at once, so keep an eye out.
Tereza – Monaco – 17th Place, Grand Final, Eurovision 1966:
Imagine the thrill of this headline back in 1966: “Tereza Internally Selected by Grace Kelly to Represent Monaco at Eurovision 1966!” That was exactly what happened, but Europe at large did not care and Tereza came in dead last with “Bien plus fort.”
However, Croatian singer Tereza Kesovija moved back to Yugoslavia and earned a massive following during the Tito years. The collapse of Yugoslavia did not halt her career, and Kesovija became a cultural ambassador of sorts for Croatia, doing several European tours and press engagements. More than 50 years on, Kesovija is still performing strong to this day.
Do #YOU think Michael Rice’s career prospects died on that stage in Tel Aviv? Any last placed artist #YOU feel has made an impact and should be talked about? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.