The Eurovision Song Contest is a cultural extravaganza, designed to draw the people of Europe together through light entertainment and healthy competition. But ultimately, it’s all about the songs.
Since the first competition in 1956 there have been 68 winners (due to an infamous four-way tie in 1969). Those contestants have ranged from the good (Conchita) to the bad (most of the early 2000s), to the downright ugly (Lordi), but it’s worth exploring the list for some of the gems hidden among the decades. Let us begin...
68 "Satellite” – Lena (Germany, 2010)
Like ripping off a band aid, we must begin with the truly cringeworthy. Lena sounded like a tuneless heiress whose dad has paid for her to record a cover of an Olly Murs track for her 16th birthday.
67. “Un premier amour” – Isabelle Aubret (France, 1962)
A totally forgettable song that even Aubret’s sultry French purring can’t save.
66. “Everybody” – Tanel Padar, Dave Benton and 2XL (Estonia, 2001)
Why did it take three individuals to perform this? Why are they all wearing shirts clearly found on the floor of a TK Maxx? Why on Earth did people vote for this?
65. “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” – France Gall (Luxembourg, 1965)
Serge Gainsbourg wrote this dreary song about a rag doll, performed at Eurovision in 1965 by Gall.
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64. “I Wanna” – Marie N (Latvia, 2002)
The song itself is dreadful, like a tango number from regional panto, but the white suits and fedoras confuse things even more.
63. “Net als toen” – Corry Brokken (Netherlands, 1957)
Given this song drags on for an eye-watering five minutes, you can see why the competition introduced a three minute time limit.
62. “Nocturne” – Secret Garden (Norway, 1995)
Norway were trying to do something different here, but with hindsight this largely instrumental piece is just dull.
61. “Nous les amoureux” – Jean-Claude Pascal (Luxembourg, 1961)
If you like tall, dark and handsome French men crooning softly down the camera lens at you, then 1961 was a good year. For the music fans among us… not so much.
60. “De troubadour” – Lenny Kuhr (Netherlands, 1969)
This 1969 entry from the Netherlands sounds like the 16th century entry from Ye Olde Englande.
59. “Een Beetje” – Teddy Scholten (Netherlands, 1959)
“Een beetje” means “a little”, which is how faithful Scholten says she is to her boyfriend – all quite scandalous stuff for 1959, but the song itself sounds like a nursery rhyme so we’re good.
58. “Merci, Chérie” – Udo Jürgens (Luxembourg, 1966)
If you like tall, dark and handsome Austrian men crooning softly...well, you get the idea.
57. “Dansevise” - Grethe and Jørgen Ingmann (Denmark, 1963)
Quite a pleasant guitar-led ballad from this husband and wife duo who look like they’ve just stepped out of Mad Men.
56. “Dors, mon amour” – André Claveau (France, 1958)
Like a French version of “Beyond the Sea”, another old crooner number you’ll quickly forget.
55. “Wild Dances” – Ruslana (Ukraine, 2004)
If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like when Xena Warrior Princess lets her hair down on a night out, wonder no more.
54. “L'oiseau et l'enfant” – Marie Myriam (France, 1977)
This was the last time France won, but they made the most of it – this song builds up to a powerful finish.
53. “Non ho l'età” – Gigliola Cinquetti (Italy, 1964)
No video recording of the 1964 show exists, so you’ll have to make do with listening to this one blind – a bit like being on The Voice. You probably wouldn’t turn your chair around though.
52. “Tom Pillibi” – Jacqueline Boyer (France, 1960)
This song is about a man who claims to have castles, ships, and many, many women – but Jacqueline claims he’s a complete liar. Mr Pillibi could not be reached for comment.
51. “The Voice” – Eimear Quinn (Ireland, 1996)
After the world fell in love with Riverdance, Ireland served up this ethereal homage to Irish traditional music that secured a record seventh win… but it pales in comparison to its predecessors.
50. “Un jour, un enfant” – Frida Boccara (France, 1969)
A rousing chorus features in an otherwise dull affair – Boccara’s voice is the best thing here.
49. “Ein bißchen Frieden” – Nicole (Germany, 1982)
17-year-old Nicole accompanies herself on guitar for this round -the-campfire jaunt about peace and joy on earth. It’s just “alright”.
48. “Ding-a-dong” – Teach-In (Netherlands, 1975)
A decent melody, but the singer doesn’t appear fully confident with the silly refrain. Probably some of the worst costumes of the 1970s on show here, too.
47. “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” – Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta (Israel, 1978)
A better stab at the same groovy style, Israel’s first ever win almost goes full-on disco, with its white suits and synchronised dancing.
46. “Un banc, un arbre, une rue” – Séverine (Monaco, 1971)
The only win for Monaco in Eurovision history is a classic French chanson with a strong, driving chorus. Even if it is about a bench, a tree and a street.
45. “La, la, la” – Massiel (Spain, 1968)
Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” was beaten by this song, which threatens to stick in your head for days.
44. “Rock Me” – Riva (Yugoslavia, 1989)
Speaking of repetitive tunes that you can’t get out of your head, good luck with this slice of electropop cheese.
43. “Vivo cantando” – Salomé (Spain, 1969)
Let’s discuss Salomé, who broke the no-dancing rule with her sassy shrugs and arm flicks while sporting a blue feathered jumpsuit, a pearl necklace and smoky eyeshadow.
42. “Insieme: 1992” – Toto Cutugno (Italy, 1990)
A touching rock power ballad about the need for Europe to unite as one. Anyone for an encore?
41. “Hallelujah” – Gali Atari and Milk and Honey (Israel 1979)
So. Many. Key. Changes. This truly is the “Love On Top” of Eurovision songs. It’s probably gone up another few octaves while you were reading this article.
40. “La det swinge” – Bobbysocks! (Norway, 1985)
One of many songs that straddles the line between amazing and awful, a bit like two of your aunts doing ABBA at karaoke. We’re cheering them on all the same.
39. “Toy” – Netta (Israel, 2018)
A truly wacky song and performance, Toy has a catchy chorus surrounded by questionable gibberish and chicken noises.
38. “Refrain” – Lys Assia (Switzerland, 1956)
The first ever Eurovision winner is a classic, romantic affair, with playful orchestration and swooning backing singers.
37. “Believe” – Dima Bilan (Russia, 2008)
A mid-tempo boyband-style song, Russia’s big win was an ironically homoerotic affair, with the handsome Bilan exposing his chest while a male ice dancer touched himself nearby.
36. “Heroes” – Måns Zelmerlöw (Sweden, 2015)
Another from the handsome chap category, “Heroes” was like a David Guetta production with slightly underwhelming country-style verses.
35. “Fairytale” – Alexander Rybak (Norway, 2009)
Rybak’s impressive fiddling and folk dancing made this a memorable Eurovision moment.
34. “Running Scared” – Ell & Nikki (Azerbaijan, 2011)
This is nice and all, but it’s a bit like a mid-Noughties band releasing their fourth single from the album, without any budget.
33. “Après toi” – Vicky Leandros (Luxembourg, 1972)
A strong ballad from a popular Eurovision singer, who seemed to have accidentally turned up dressed for a funeral.
32. “All Kinds of Everything” – Dana (Ireland, 1970)
Ireland’s first win is a thoroughly wholesome piece from an original Derry girl. Beautifully composed, it’s almost like something from a Disney film.
31 “Tu te reconnaîtras” – Anne-Marie David (Luxembourg, 1973)
Another ballad with strong orchestration and one of the best choruses from the Seventies.
30. "Arcade" - Duncan Laurence (The Netherlands, 2019)
Catchy dance hits lost out to Laurence who seduced the audience with his atmospheric piano ballad, while looking like that cute guy from your university lectures.
29. “My Number One” – Helena Paparizou (Greece, 2005)
As was the vogue during the early Noughties, this lifts heavily from the home country’s traditional musical elements then adds a modern spin. Like a Greek J Lo.
28. “Fly on the Wings of Love” – Olsen Brothers (Denmark, 2000)
This is a very well-written pop song, and very memorable, but these lads are a strange choice as the ones to sing it. Probably better known from the DJ Sammy version.
27 “Take Me to Your Heaven” – Charlotte Nilsson (Sweden, 1999)
On the surface this appears quite cheesy, but the more you stay with it, the harder it is to find fault. The saxophones and piano chords hark directly back to ABBA’s “Waterloo”.
26. “J’aime la Vie” – Sandra Kim (Belgium, 1986)
This song is so Eighties, it just threatened me with nuclear war at a Rubik’s Cube convention. Easily the decade’s most synth-y, techno-pop excursion.
25. “Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley” – Herreys (Sweden, 1984)
Yes the title is nonsense, and yes it’s cheesy, but really the song is just inescapably catchy.
24. “Save Your Kisses for Me” – Brotherhood of Man (United Kingdom, 1976)
A little dated, but “Save Your Kisses for Me” cannot be denied as a Eurovision classic.
23. “Why Me?” – Linda Martin (Ireland, 1992)
A soft-rock power ballad written by two-time winner Johnny Logan is performed by Eurovision veteran Linda Martin. If anyone doubts her commitment to this competition, watch the blazing row she started during Ireland’s entry process on The Late Late Show in 2014. Douze points.
22. “Si la vie est cadeau” – Corinne Hermès (Luxembourg, 1983)
Why are all these French language ballads so damn good? This is another great one.
21. “What’s Another Year” – Johnny Logan (Ireland, 1980)
The first win for the King of Eurovision, who looked like one of The Osmonds as he stole hearts with this lament of heartbreak.
20. “Everyway That I Can” – Sertab Erener (Turkey, 2003)
Here’s some more of those eastern musical elements being incorporated into an absolute dance banger.
19. “1944” – Jamala (Ukraine, 2016)
1944 deals with Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars against the backdrop of renewed repression. Heavy stuff, but it works perfectly.
18. “Diva” – Dana International (Israel, 1998)
As the first transgender woman to compete in the contest, Dana caused a bit of a stir among Israeli conservatives but was roundly embraced by Eurovision audiences.
17. “Puppet on a String” – Sandie Shaw (United Kingdom, 1967)
The first win for the UK was one of the biggest margins in Eurovision history, though Shaw herself called the ditty “sexist drivel”, and hated it “from the very first oompah to the final bang”. It’s cheesy but undeniably catchy.
16 “Amar pelos dois” – Salvador Sobral (Portugal, 2017)
Once a decade or so, we see the surprise triumph of a gentle, timeless ballad, and this was the most recent example.
15. “In Your Eyes” – Niamh Kavanagh (Ireland, 1993)
Regarded as one of the best singers to grace the competition, Kavanagh soars through this challenging power ballad. It’s one of those “of the moment” songs that could easily have been a hit for Whitney or Mariah during this period.
14. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids” – Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan (Ireland, 1994)
Two middle-aged guys on piano and guitar singing a wistful ballad about their lost youth isn’t your typical Eurovision hit. Indeed, there is a long-held belief that Ireland chose this entry to ensure they wouldn’t win – so as to avoid the cost of hosting for a third year running. It didn’t work.
13. “Only Teardrops” – Emmelie de Forest (Denmark, 2013)
A great pop song with consistently strong melodies throughout. The flute motif is probably the best use of traditional folk elements now heavily employed by many countries.
12. “Zitti e Buoni” – Maneskin (Italy, 2021)
Italy’s triumph at Eurovision last year was all thanks to the full-throttle rock’n’roll of Maneskin, a flamboyant band who wowed Eurovision voters with their Italian-language song “Zitti e Buono”. They were the first Italian entry to win the contest in 31 years.
11. “Boom Bang-a-Bang” – Lulu (United Kingdom, 1969)
Easily the best of the 1969 quartet of winners, Lulu gives this tongue-in-cheek number the playful performance which the music and lyrics deserve, looking every inch the Swinging London girl.
10. “Molitva” – Marija Šerifović; (Serbia, 2007)
Let’s get down to business. Making their debut at Eurovision, Serbia later romped home as champions with this high-drama ballad.
9. “Hard Rock Hallelujah” – Lordi (Finland, 2006)
Finland’s first win after 45 years of participating came at the hands of a heavy metal band dressed in monster costumes – but this ranking is not based on novelty alone, Hard Rock Hallelujah is a pretty great song.
8. “Hold Me Now” – Johnny Logan (Ireland, 1987)
The jewel in the crown of Ireland’s seven wins is this corker from Logan, who returned looking every inch the matinee idol in his pristine white suit. It’s the kind of big power ballad that fist-clenching was made for.
7. “Fångad av en stormvind” – Carola (Sweden, 1991)
One of Sweden’s most popular entries, Carola is winning from the moment she bounds on stage and lets out that first “Woah-oh-oh!”. Her voice is flawless, the key changes are great.
6. “Making Your Mind Up” – Bucks Fizz (United Kingdom, 1981)
A high energy pop song with colourful young performers and fun choreography – “Making Your Mind Up” is the stuff that Eurovision is made of. The famous moment when the boys ripped off the girls’ skirts only to reveal shorter skirts beneath them is one of the competition’s most famous moments.
5. “Ne partez pas sans moi” – Céline Dion (Switzerland, 1988)
Celine Dion was just 20-years-old when she came to international attention with this performance. The song itself is excellent – a French chanson worthy of Edith Piaf, with a slightly twee drum machine stepping up the beat for a bop of a chorus.
4. “Love Shine a Light” – Katrina and the Waves (United Kingdom, 1997)
The beautiful fusion of hammond organ, tambourines, hand clapping and the quasi-spiritual lyrics themselves make this feel like a glorious hymn – and Katrina really takes it to church. This was the last time the UK won the competition.
3. “Rise Like a Phoenix” – Conchita Wurst (Austria, 2014)
Conchita’s performance had everything you could want in a Eurovision performance. Elegant and fierce all at once, “Rise Like a Phoenix” could match the finest Bond theme. The big band adds to the glamour of it all. It was a powerful moment for LGBT+ visibility, too.
2. “Euphoria” – Loreen (Sweden, 2012)
It’s hard to pick any other recent winner that comes as close to contemporary chart toppers as “Euphoria” – a dance hit that many contemporary pop stars would kill for. Written by Sweden’s Thomas G:son – who has produced more than 90 songs for Eurovision competitors across multiple countries – ”Euphoria” is built on clever pop formulas.
1. “Waterloo” – ABBA (Sweden, 1974)
ABBA burst onto the stage at the 1974 competition, kick-starting Sweden’s international reputation as masters of pop. Early adopters of the kind of kitsch which would come to typify the show, ABBA used their platform to offer a taste of the cultural phenomenon they would go on to become.
From the opening piano build to the switch between a minor bridge and major chorus, to the catchy hooks littered throughout, “Waterloo” is a masterclass in how to write a hit, and the song rightly went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time.
ABBA continue to influence Eurovision contestants to this day, and while you may have another favourite, ”Waterloo” is a song on which most people can agree is a solid gold classic. We promise to love you forever more.