Eurovision: Always terrible but at least it used to have a novelty value

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Bucks Fizz in 1981.

Eurovision: A party political broadcast on behalf of Euro-sceptics if ever there was one.

Anyone wishing to persuade their compatriots that Britain really should leave the European Union as a matter of urgency simply has tell them to tune into BBC1 tonight for this annual cheese-fest.

Masquerading as a music contest, this bloated televisual nightmare is simply an excuse for all the other countries of Europe (especially France) to show just how much they dislike us.

Mind you, we don’t do ourselves any favours, do we?

I mean, Bonnie Tyler is this year’s United Kingdom Entry. Really?

Don’t get me wrong I’m as fond as the next man of her massive Eighties hit Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

The video alone – with its weird imagery taken at an all boys school where nudity and the consumption of drugs which make your eyeballs turn into small suns seems commonplace – is frankly unforgettable.

But if we are reduced to wheeling out stars from 30 years ago then surely we’d be better off opting for Duran Duran or asking Wham to reform.

I’ve nothing against the Welsh warbler selected to champion this Sceptered Isle in Malmö tonight, other than that she appears to be somewhat past her best.

I guess we’ll see when the block-voting by members of the former Soviet Union commences this evening.

Maybe it’s my age but I don’t remember it always being a foregone conclusion that the UK would receive fewer points than Lichtenstein.

Although, to be fair, during the 1980s the countries taking part in the competition were at least in Europe.

Nowadays they’ll take anyone – including Israel, Cyprus and various intercontinental countries such as Russia and Turkey.

My first memory of Eurovision is of the year when family-friendly Bucks Fizz were the toast of Europe.

The grinning four-piece, with their daring outfit change, won the contest in 1981 with Making Your Mind Up – a song so bad all the other countries in Europe voted for it so that we were forced to keep listening to it and seeing the group’s garish outfits on Top of the Pops.

These days, Eurovision has its own website and there’s even an app to download – should you run out of chores to do – which allows you to immerse yourself in competition trivia and learn all the words to Moldova’s entry.

Of course, 30 years ago – even though the contest was well-established there was still a huge novelty factor when countries most of us only knew from O-Level or GCSE geography came together on the same night via the wonder of the small screen in our living rooms.

Back then we laughed at the idiosyncrasies of Europe’s smaller nations – until, that is, they started beating us with songs which sounded like they’d been made up by a drunken medieval peasant.

We didn’t mind so much when Ireland’s Johnny Logan kicked off the decade by winning with What’s Another Year. At least we could understand what he was saying.

But did the Aussie-born singer really have to return in 1987 and win again with Hold Me Now? Surely there should be rules against that sort of thing.

I bet Terry Wogan agrees with me.

Of course, Eurovision in the Eighties also introduced the watching public to a little-known, Canadian-born singer by the name of Celine Dion whose Ne partez pas sans moi won first place for Switzerland in 1988.

She was 20 at the time, years before she hit full diva mode with her epic theme from the movie Titanic.

That victory launched Celine Dion on the path to global stardom. Yes, it’s Eurovision’s fault.

Oh well, at least we can thank it for the music of Abba.

Pick up a copy of The Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia.

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Now that’s what you call an 80s phenomenon…

The 80s was, of course, a decade of fads – shoulder pads, boomboxes and neon spandex included – but there’s one particular trend has never gone away.

In fact, the ‘Now That’s What I call Music!’ albums, usually boiled down to ‘Now!’ went on to become a staple of the music industry in the UK and worldwide.

Everyone remembers the first one they bought (or in my case the first one my mum bought me).

Moreover, most can even recall their favourite songs on it. Mine was the very first release in 1986 and there was a three-way tie between Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, Total Eclipse of the Heart, by Bonnie Tyler and Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran for my most played track.

The idea for the Now! phenomenon was born in the Virgin Records offices of Richard Branson in London.

The premise was to create a collection that would include original versions of hit tracks rather than the watered-down edits that were rife on their competitor albums.

Bizarrely the series took its name from a 1920s advertising poster for Danish bacon featuring a pig listening to a chicken sing “Now that’s what I call music.” The poster was purchased by Branson and was hung behind his cousin’s desk at the Virgin Records office.

The pig became the Now! series’ mascot for a while, making its last appearance on Now! 5.

Virgin teamed up with EMI and the first album in the original series was released in November, 1983.

Initial pressings were released on vinyl and audio cassette, with a re-release on CD in 2009, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album and series.

Among its 30 songs, the excellent Now! 1 – the only album I had for my record player at the age of 11 – features 11 songs which reached number one on the UK Singles Chart: You Can’t Hurry Love by Phil Collins, Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran, Red Red Wine by UB40, Give It Up by KC & The Sunshine Band, Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, Karma Chameleon by Culture Club, Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, Down Under by Men at Work, Baby Jane by Rod Stewart, Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) by Paul Young and Candy Girl by New Edition.

The Now! series became a reliable blockbuster around two to three times a year by sticking to a much-used music industry formula.

It took a collection of the biggest radio hits and packaged them together in a compilation – and bingo.

Now II, released in March, 1984 debuted at number three on the UK Albums Chart and then climbed to number one a week later, staying there for five weeks.

The first full-track edition to be released on CD, as well as on vinyl and cassette, was Now! 10 in November, 1987. I have this too…

It reached the top of the UK Albums Chart for six weeks and featured three songs that reached number one on the UK Singles Chart: Pump Up the Volume by MARRS, China in Your Hand by T’Pau and La Bamba by Los Lobos.

This release pretty much summed up the problem with buying a compilation CD/record – you often had the sublime (Fairytale of New York by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl) as well as the ridiculous – My Pretty One by Cliff Richard).

Vinyls ended with Now! 35 and cassettes ended with Now! 63. Part of the series was also released on the MiniDisc format, starting with Now! 43 and ending with Now! 48.

These days the Now! releases seem predominately aimed at the young, especially ‘tween’, girls.

Eighty-two Now! albums have been released to date. The newest album in the series, Now! 83 was released last month.

Now! 83 features 12 songs which reached number one in the UK Singles Chart (most of which I confess I haven’t heard of).

Back in the 80s, before the days of digital downloading, if you were keen on the UK Singles Chart it made perfect sense to purchase a Now! album. It was music’s version of one-stop shopping.

And in our age of digital downloading, iTunes, Spotify and even YouTube, these compilations are still thriving. The series is the biggest selling compilation series… ever. It’s also the longest-selling branded compilation album in the UK.

“Now That’s What I Call Music! has always been a hit because every edition brilliantly distills each two or three months in pop,” says Mark Goodier, of Smooth Radio and the voice of Now! since Now! 21. “When a collector like me reviews the collection of Now! albums, it’s an accurate journey through the last two and half chart decades”.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia