Finally, after 30 years, the last of the seven original countries to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest won for the first time. Sandra Kim lifted the trophy for Belgium in Bergen in 1986 and the show travelled to Brussels for the first time. Viktor Laszlo was the host of the competition which was won by Ireland for the third time and by Johnny Logan for the second, a record still unmatched. Now, 30 years later, we look back at the 1987 Eurovision Song Contest.
Belgium had the honour of hosting the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in the country's history. The highest number of participants ever, 22 up to that point, entered the contest in 1987. Greece and Italy returned to the competition after a year of absence as well as all the participants from 1986. As the contest was taking longer, the EBU decided that 22 would be set as the maximum number of participants. This proved problematic, as both returning and new countries showed interest in taking part, but their wish could not be granted over the next few years.
Two are stronger than one?
In a country where two broadcasters alternate to send a song to Eurovision every year, the 1986 contest was won by a Walloon entry, so in 1987 the Flemish broadcaster, VRT, was responsible for the Belgian entry. They sent Soldiers Of Love which finished 11th performed by Liliane Saint-Pierre. VRT also wanted to co-organise the contest, and they had initially planned it as a joint production, however an agreement could not be reached in basic things such as the host city, and so broadcaster RTBF decided to organise the event on its own.
The managing director of RTBF, Robert Stephane, expressed how deeply moved they were after Sandra Kim’s victory the year before: "This was a pure joy, because it’s a victory we had been expecting for 30 years but the emotion is nothing compared with the tremendous happiness and pride we are feeling tonight." RTBF welcomed all Europe in the Parc des Expositions, at the foot of the Atomium, in the heart of the so-called Palais du Centenaire.
There was some controversy as the opening film only contained images from Wallonia but, as compensation, the postcard films were filmed also in Flanders, and were shown before the competing artists appeared together with a character from popular Belgian cartoons.
Viktor Lazlo by Thierry Mugler
As VRT stepped out, the French-speaking broadcaster RTBF chose one presenter only, the successful female artist Viktor Laszlo, who took her stage name from one of the characters in the film Casablanca. She opened the contest presenting her latest song, Breathless, and presented the show both French and English. Her eye-catching looks included giant earrings, impressive hair styles and two outstanding costumes designed by Thierry Mugler. It was the epitome of '80s chic.
Viktor's outfits kind of matched the wonderful set which was conceived as "stylised magic serving the songs" and according to its designers, was "one of the hits of the broadcast." It certainly was, featuring lazers, it gave the contest one of its first modern stages, catching up with the trends of the times.
Johnny Logan makes history
The winner of the 1987 contest was Hold Me Now performed and written by Johnny Logan, who had already won in 1980 with What's Another Year and had written the second-placed song in 1984 Terminal 3 performed in Luxembourg by Linda Martin. Johnny is the only singer to date to win the contest twice as a singer.
Since Udo Jürgens won the contest 1966 Logan had been the only male soloist to win the contest in 1980, and then he did it again in 1987.
Hold Me Now was a massive hit that topped the European charts after the contest, eventually peaking at #5 in the World Chart in June. It was also voted as the third favourite song from the Eurovision Song Contest in the 50th Anniversary show Congratulations in 2005.
Running like the Wind
Germany came second in 1987 with the song Lass die Sonne in dein Herz by the group Wind. For the group, it was the second silver ranking after being the runner-ups in 1985, something no other act has achieved. Coincidentally, Germany also came second to Johnny Logan in 1980, and also with a song penned by Ralph Siegel, Theater, performed by Katja Ebstein. Rob Pilatus, one half of the now infamous duo, Milli Vanilli, accompanied Wind in 1987. He died in 1998 aged just 32.
The male duos
Both Greece and Italy returned to Eurovision after one year and, although it was actually the Greek male duo which was named Bang, it was another male duo that captured most of the attention that night. Italy was back with two internationally-known stars Umberto Tozzi & Raf.
Raf wrote and performed the worldwide hit Self Control three years earlier while Umberto was responsible for the smash Gloria and also Ti Amo. All those songs were successfully covered by Laura Branigan and co-written by Giancarlo Bigazzi, who also co-wrote Gente Di Mare along with Tozzi & Raf for the Eurovision Song Contest. In Brussels they placed 3rd and the song later became another European hit entering the Top 10 not only in Italy, but also in other countries like Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria.
Going back to the other returning country, and bearing more than one similarity to British heartthrobs from their time, Wham!, Greece entered the duo Bang with a song in the retro style of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go called Stop! They stopped climbing the ranking at number 10, improving the Greek results of the previous 5 years.
Israel sent the pair of comedians Datner & Kushnir who bore a resemblance to the Blues Brothers. The Israeli Minister of Culture threatened to resign if the song was performed in Brussels, as he felt their entry Shir Habatlanim or Lazy Bums was unsuitable as an example of popular music from his country. However his views didn’t prevail and Datner & Kushnir carried on as the Israeli entry and eventually placed eigth, improving Israel’s ranking by 11 places from the year before. Apparently the Culture Minister didn’t keep his promise either…
Only The Night, The Light
On the other hand, the UK scored its worst placing at the time, 13th, with Rikki and his song Only The Light, although Viktor Lazlo first introduced it as "Only The Night". Back in 1987 the United Kingdom had only ranked outside of the top 10 once for the first 30 years of the contest, finishing 11th in 1978. The showing in 1987 was considered as a big flop which was also reflected by its run in the UK charts.
Other important flops that night include punk Plastic Bertrand, who had a worldwide hit with Ça Plane Pour Moi in the late 1970s. He chose to represent the successful Luxembourg instead of his native Belgium, the home country, but despite its title, Amour, Amour, there was not much love for him from the juries who placed Luxembourg second-last with only 4 points.
Canadian-born Gary Lux, had been part of the Austrian entry three times before: in 1983, 1984 and he also participated as a soloist with Kinder Dieser Welt two years before in Gothenburg. He placed 8th in 1985 so he was back in the competition with high hopes of improving it with a contemporary song, Nur Noch Gefühl, but he got only 8 points in return, after a somehwat disappointing performance, placing Austria 3rd last.
One song which didn't score well with the juries was Finland's Sata Salamaa performed by Vicky Rosti, which placed 15th. Despite this, the song has become a firm fan favourite with many viewing this as one of Finland's strongest and most underrated entries.
Sweden and the “loo”
Melodifestivalen was already a top affair in Sweden back in 1987, and that edition was one of the more disputed they had. Eventually the winner was Lotta Engberg with the song Fyra Bugg Och En Coca-Cola but when it came to the Eurovision Song Contest, the commercial reference had to be taken out, so a change in the lyrics and a new recording was commissioned.
Sweden had been particularly successful with songs including "-loo" in their titles, their two winners to that date being Waterloo (1974) and Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley (1984) so why not trying it for the third time? “Fyra bugg” turned into “Boogaloo” and “och en Coca-Cola” was now “dansa rock and rolla”. Despite getting an early set of 12 points from the Israeli jury, Lotta with Boogaloo placed mid table, finishing 12th.
1980s too cool for school
The 1987 Eurovision Song Contest proved a modernisation not only of the show, but the songs too felt much more contemporary than they had been for most of the decade. Of course the looks and styles of the artists also deserve a place in the 1980s retrospective books.
Starting with Norwegian Kate’s stalagmite hair style, going to the “moody 80s avant garde” make-up of Spain’s Patricia Kraus, the tropical relaxed H&M look of the Swedes or the even more relaxed Italian style of the Italians and the extreme shoulder pads of Dutch Marcha. Not forgetting a lot of white and some fuchsia outfits, this was definitely an image of its times.
Being Europe Day on the 9th of May and to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the interval act was dedicated to the "European Community" with a variation on Beethoven’s Ode To Joy featuring young dancers, images from Europe and a flute solo by Marc Grauwels.
The voting was exciting, if only for a while, with the early lead moving from Yugoslavia, which matched their best ever result, 4th, with Ja Sam Za Ples, to Germany and, eventually to Ireland, in the 7th round. Ireland kept leading until the end, confirming the hype surrounding its performer, Johnny Logan, who had already won the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest, this time to finally capitalise on his success and build a successful career in several European countries.
1987 was not going to be Johnny Logan’s (or Wind’s!) last contest, though…