The early years of Eurovision are a bit blurry, in all fairness. There are good songs sprinkled here and there, but the show didn't quite find its format or tone until the mid-sixties.
Also, it took a few years to find the ESC formula for songs, the thing we usually try to break away from these days. Back then, it was necessary to find a common ground, a common idea what a eurosong should sound like, for them to be comparable at all.
The early 60's were times of social changes, pop music and a young generation breaking away from their parents, creating a serious shift in the occidental culture. This didn't break through to the Eurovision Song Contest, run by the parental generation, ensuring family friendly programming.
For the period 1961 - 1965, the occasional pop song would sneak into competition, but the real breakthrough would have to wait a few years still.
1961 - Italy
Betty Curtis - Al di là (Italy 1961)
Big athmospheric ballad of a kind the Italians do best. Or do they? There is something about this melody line that I'm not fully comfortable with.
It takes too long, I almost lose interest during the build up, but when Betty Curtis bursts into the enormous chours, I forgive the rest and hum along happily.
And this isn't a fantastic year, there is not so many strong contenders to beat. Quite a few entertaining little ditties (perhaps inspired by the 1959 winner?) but no real unmissable pearls in my history book.
Jean-Claude Pascal - Nous, les amoureux (Luxembourg)
1962 - Sweden
Inger Berggren - Sol och vår (Sweden 1962)
Sweden's first big moment in Eurovision and, in my mind, perhaps their greatest to date. (Sorry, Abba.)
Maybe it doesn't have the same appeal if you don't understand the cute lyrics about the young girl getting into trouble as the gentleman inviting her out for lunch steals her fur coat (intended as a present for his own girlfriend) and leaves her with the bill, but it is still a very happy and catchy little song.
Inger Berggren is an enigmatic and likeable singer, who unfortunately never reached the level of stardom she would have deserved, but thanks to this song she will never be forgotten.
And again, the recorded version is way better - tight, well produced and with a backing group in top gear. It would take a while until the backing tracks entered the stage.
Isabelle Aubret - Un premier amour (France)
1963 - Switzerland
Esther Ofarim - T'en va pas (Switzerland 1963)
Yes... Switzerland again. But they were good during the first years. Must give them that.
And you can't argue with a song like this. Difficult and accessible at the same time, possibly lacking a chorus but instead stubbornly hammering out the hook until it stays in place.
I wouldn't argue with Esther Ofarim either, who seems sweet and determined at the same time, and who spent the greater part of her career thinking she actually won the entire contest.
Maybe she thinks so still. Who would have dared telling her?
Grethe & Jørgen Ingmann - Dansevise (Denmark)
1964 - United Kingdom
Matt Monro - I Love The Little Things (UK 1964)
Despite acheiving one of the 15 second places the UK have secured to date, this is a more or less forgotten entry on home ground. Instead, Matt Monro had a smash hit with a cover version of the Austrian entry by Udo Jürgens.
In my mind, there is no doubt as to which is the better out of these two songs. The UK entry is a melodic, light footed little pop pearl, created by songwriting genius Tony Hatch, in a lovely arrangement that makes use of the orchestra but still feels more modern than most (at the time).
Also the Netherlands entered a good pop song, and France sent in a beautiful ballad, but the UK wins by being so appealing and so well crafted.
Gigliola Cinquetti - Non ho l'età (Italy)
1965 - Luxembourg
France Gall - Poupée de cire, poupée de son (Luxembourg 1965)
For the second time only, I agree with the juries about the winner. What would there be to disagree with here? The winning song is a masterpiece and one of the best winners still, forty-six years later.
It has a very modern feel, a raw youthful energy, rather philosophical lyrics, a naïve charm in France Gall, and more than a hint of... well, lust. And sex. For the first time in the history of the contest.
The whole song is a wake-up call to the old generation, the ominous knock on the door, that the old times are over and something new is about to take over and make its way even inside this clean-cut competition.
France Gall - Poupée de cire, poupée de son (Luxembourg)