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.
As the national finals begin rolling out for Eurovision 2019, we take a look at some highlights from national contests past and artists who went on to achieve success after their participation. Today, we go back to A Song for Europe 1972 as the writer of one of Christmas’s biggest earworms tries to craft for British folk pop sensations The New Seekers.
Christmas 1973. United Kingdom. Two glam rock titans from the Midlands duking it out with their own Christmas songs for the Number 1 spot on the UK Single Charts: in one corner, Wolverhampton’s own Slade with “Merry Xmas Everybody,” and in the other, Birmingham’s own Wizzard with “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.” Two of the UK’s all-time bestselling Christmas anthems going mano a mano in a brutally competitive Christmas song season that saw both annihilate Elton John’s “Step into Christmas” in the process, no mean feat considering Elton John had just conquered the United States and UK with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” months earlier.
Ultimately, the rowdier, more raucous “Merry Xmas Everybody,” famous for its “So here it is, Merry Christmas” refrain won, remaining at Number 1 on the UK Singles Chart for five weeks. But close on its tail was the “wall of sound” of Wizzard, complete with children’s choir, ultimately peaking at Number 4. Neither made much headway in the United States – the top Christmas singles that year in the US were Commander Cody’s “Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas” and John Denver’s “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” leading one to wonder what the hell happened in the US in 1973 that led to two charting seasonal songs about alcoholic fathers. However, both Slade and Wizzard’s Christmas classics endure in the UK to this day, as anyone shopping in a mall from November on will tell you.
Formed in the summer of 1972, Wizzard was one of many projects started by multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood. Other projects included The Move, who are famous in the UK for their hit single “Flowers in the Rain,” which was the first charge single ever played by BBC Radio One at 7 a.m. on September 30, 1967. Wood was also in the first incarnation of Electric Light Orchestra with Move band-mates Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, his input being the introduction of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production formula of using multiple yet similar instruments to play the same parts to achieve a “grander” sound that tightened ELO’s early cacophonous sound into the tight fusion of Beatlesque pop and classical orchestration that dominated the charts in the 1970s.
But between The Move and Wizzard, Wood was commissioned by the BBC in late 1971 to create a song to perform for The New Seekers, who had just achieved a worldwide smash with their redo of a Coca-Cola commissioned jingle called “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Cliff Richard had been internally selected to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1972, but scheduling conflicts with worldwide touring meant that the BBC required a Plan B, and The New Seekers were officially selected. A bold choice, considering their chart dominance at the time, to send to Edinburgh. (Note: Though Monaco won in 1971 with “Un banc, un arbre, un rue,” Monaco could not fulfil its obligation as host to EBU standards, so the event was sent to Scotland instead.)
Wood wrote “Songs of Praise,” which like the other five songs in the contest was specifically written to suit The New Seekers’ sensibilities of light pop melded to American folk and gospel. Formed in 1969 by Sri Lankan born guitarist Keith Potger, the New Seekers were assembled after Potger’s Australian-based band The Seekers broke up. The “New” part also referenced Potger bringing in more rock elements to his sound, though not substantially enough to alienate the original Seekers fan base. Initially, there was instability in the line-up, but by late 1970 the classic line-up of Eve Graham, Lyn Paul, Marty Kristian, Peter Doyle, and Paul Layton was solidified.
As anyone alive in the 1970s will tell you, it was a rough decade for the United Kingdom, between macroeconomic mismanagement and persistent strikes, and both adversely affected “A Song for Europe”. A coal strike in February 1972 resulted in power cuts in several regions, meaning that a large percentage of the UK audience would not have seen “A Song for Europe” on the special edition of Cliff Richard’s BBC1 show on February 12, 1972. The power cuts resulted in a much-reduced audience for “A Song for Europe” that year, resulting in a similarly reduced postcard vote, where audiences wrote in to the BBC by postcard to vote for their favorite song of the night. (“Songs of Praise” starts at 13:30 in the video below.)
So how did “Songs of Praise” fare? Dead last, with 3,842 votes to the Tony Cole, Steve Wolfe and Graham Hall penned “Beg, Steal or Borrow” and its 62,584 votes. “Beg, Steal or Borrow” was the overwhelming favorite, garnering 49.2% of the overall vote. Not that quality wise “Songs of Praise” is a bad song. It is not. It’s a pleasant enough pop folk song, though compared to “Beg, Steal or Borrow” lacks a memorable hook. “Songs of Praise” was considered good enough to be recorded shortly thereafter and included with “Beg, Steal or Borrow” on their March 1972 album “We’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
On the night of Eurovision itself, March 25, 1972, “Beg, Steal or Borrow” came in second to Luxembourg and Vicky Leandros’s “Apres toi”. Yet another second for the UK. However, “Beg, Steal or Borrow” was just as successful commercially as “Apres toi” on European singles charts, garnering almost as many Top Ten chart placements. “Beg, Steal or Borrow” did manage to crack the Billboard Hot 100 at 81, though more on the strength of “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” than Eurovision, which was even more unknown to Americans in the 1970s than now.
As for Wood, he continued to work, though increasing personal and artistic tensions with Jeff Lynne led to him leaving ELO and forming Wizzard, which took his much loved “Wall of Sound” philosophy to glam rock, in mid-1972. With former ELO members Bill Hunt and Hugh McDowell, and adding former Move members Rick Price, Charlie Grima and Keith Smart, Wizzard was one of the more eccentric glam rock bands out there. Decked in warpaint and colorful costumes, and including saxophone and cellos in the mix, it was not long until Wizzard hit paydirt with two back to back Number 1 hits in “See My Baby Jive” and “Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)”.
However, after “I Wish It Could Be Christmas”, Wizzard’s form nosedived and Wood did not see such success again as his constant forming of bands, break-ups and pushing the envelope farther out in terms of sound caused the hits to dry up. Constant broadcasts and versions of “I Wish It Could Be Christmas” did keep him in the charts every so often. And despite Roy Wood famously not seeing success in the US – ELO only began charting there after Wood left – he was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland as part of the original line-up of ELO with Lynne, Bev Bevan, and Richard Tandy.
So as you drink you Christmas tipple and engage in seasonal cheer, you can be joyful that the writer of one of your favorite Christmas songs was first put through his paces in the national selection process of Eurovision.
Do #YOU think the United Kingdom should have sent “Songs of Praise” to Edinburgh instead of “Beg, Steal or Borrow”? Or would Vicky Leandros’s “Apres toi” have pipped that one to the post as well? Share your thoughts with us on our forum, below in the comments or on social media!