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From Lys to Céline: Top 10 entries from Switzerland

29 September 2017 at 17:00 CEST
Céline Dion on stage at the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin RTÉ
Switzerland has something that few other countries have; two iconic Eurovision winners. Lys Assia, the first ever winner, and Céline Dion one of its most celebrated. We invite you on a trip with us through the Alps to enjoy the best of Switzerland in the Eurovision Song Contest!

Switzerland has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest 58 times since their debut at the first contest in 1956. The Swiss have missed only four contests in 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2003. This was due to poor results in previous years, which according to the rules at the time, meant relegation from the contest.

For many years, the rules stated that the participating songs had to be performed in one of the country's national languages, which gave Switzerland some advantage as they could perform in any of their four official languages, French, German, Italian, and Romansh. In recent years they have also entered songs in English. From their 58 participations, 24 entries have been in French, 12 in German, 12 in English, 9 in Italian, and one in Romansh. If numbers are anything to go by however, French is their winning language with their entries in 1956 and 1988 taking the trophy.

Hitting the jackpot

Switzerland hosted the very first Eurovision Song Contest and they also won it. Each country entered two song in that debut year of 1956. Each entry could be sung by the same or different performers. Lys Assia sang both Swiss songs, the first one was in German, Das Alte Karussell, and the second one in French, Refrain. After some deliberations by the juries, Refrain was declared the winner of the first Eurovision Song Contest in Lugano!

There was controversy in the very first contest though when Luxembourg failed to send their jurors to the compeition and two locals from Switzerland were used as their backup. Written by Émile Gardaz and Géo Voumard, Refrain is at #2 in our Swiss Top.

Lys Assia came back in 1957 with exactly the same team from the winning debut, and a similar song, but she failed in her second attempt, placing eighth out of 10. This didn't deter Lys from entering again but her 1958 entry was very different from her previous songs. Giorgio mixed German and Italian in its lyrics and was a jolly romantic number. The change in style paid off, as Switzerland finished second on the scoreborad and Giorgio entered the the top 10 in the singles chart of The Netherlands. It also features in our Swiss Top 10, at #6.

Leaving Lys

Whilst the 1950s were dominated by Lys Assia, Switzerland got off to a good start in the new decade as well, placing third in 1961. The Swiss entry that year, Nous Aurons Demain was once again written by composers Émile Gardaz and Géo Voumard. It was performed by Italian singer Franca di Rienzo and sits at #8 in our chart. 

The next performer representing Switzerland was the first artist to compete representing two different countries in Eurovision. He was the French artist Jean Philippe who had placed third on behalf of his native country back in 1959 with the song Oui, Oui, Oui, Oui. In 1962 he placed 10th with Le Retour, yet another Gardaz/Voumard composition.

The duo of writers didn’t seem to get tired of the contest as they made a third appearance in a row (and fifth in total) with the song T’en Va Pas in 1963. The song is infamously remembered because of the errors in the announcement of the votes, which showed Switzerland as the winner on the scoreboard at first. After a couple of countries were called in to cast their votes correctly and the board was adjusted, the Swiss song had actually finished in second place. An unfortunate moment, which is still considered by some as one of the competition’s most controversial. 

The singer was the Israeli artist Esther Ofarim, who later built a successful career with her husband in the duo Esther & Abi Ofarim. T’en Va Pas finishes at #4 in our Top 10.

Switzerland didn’t score a single point in two occasions in the 1960s; in 1964 and in 1967 but the results weren't all bad. Switzerland also placed sixth, eighth (twice) and fifth. That fifth place achieved by Paola del Medico for Bonjour, Bonjour is a special one, as it happened in 1969, and it means that technically it was the runner-up to the four winners that tied that year in Madrid. 

The Peter, Sue & Marc years

Despite placing in Top 10 of the Eurovision Song Contest seven times in the 1970s, none of the Swiss entries of that decade make it into our Top 10, with 1976, performed by Peter, Sue and Marc, narrowly missing out on a place. The trio members were Peter Reber (composer, vocals, piano and guitar), New York born Sue Schell (vocals) and Marc Dietrich (vocals and guitar). Peter, Sue and Marc had already placed 12th in 1971 with Les Illusions De Nos Vingt Ans but improved their ranking in 1976 with Djambo Djambo, which finished in 4th place in the contest held in The Hague. 

Peter, Sue & Marc would go on to sing for Switzerland one more time in the seventies, alongside the folk and blues music group Pfuri, Gorps and Kniri, this time placing 10th with Trödler und Co in 1979. Their entry that year would go down as one of the more memorable with their use of props including plastic bags, a watering can and even garden shears!

In 1973 Patrick Juvet represented his country, Switzerland, some years before finding international success as a disco music singer. In Eurovision he only placed 12th with Je Vais Me Marier, Marie, but the song made it to the French charts.

The Swiss entry in the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, Swiss Lady, performed in German by Pepe Lienhard Band, placed sixth but remains the only Swiss entry to have reached #1 in the official Swiss Singles Chart. It also made the charts internationally, hitting the Top 20 in Germany and Austria, and the Top 10 in Sweden and Norway.

Building to success

Another decade that started well for the Swiss was the eighties. In 1980 they entered a team with proven experience in the contest. The song Cinema was performed by Paola who had represented Switzerland in 1969. It was written by Peter Reber (of Peter, Sue & Marc), and the lyrics were by Véronique Müller who placed eighth with C’est La Chanson De Mon Amour in 1972. Cinema recalls the good old times of cinema during childhood, a nostalgic theme that received enough points to finish fourth. It also closes our list at #10.

A further 4th place was reached in 1981 with yet another entry from Peter, Sue & Marc, Io Senza Te, which was performed in Italian. By entering the competition four times, singing in four different languages, Peter, Sue & Marc hold a record in the Eurovision Song Contest’s history. The lyrics of Io Senza Te were written by Nella Martinetti and the song also had some international success with several cover versions recorded. In our top 10 it sits at #9.

The period starting in 1975 and finishing with this song, is one of the most successful for Switzerland in Eurovision with eight Top 10 placings in a row. In 1982 Switzerland went one better than the previous year with Amour On T’aime by Arlette Zola which placed third in the contest held in Harrogate, UK. This song enters our chart, at #7.

After a few disappointing placinges, Swizerland returned to the Top Five in 1986, finishing second behind Belgium’s Sandra Kim. The song, Pas Pour Moi, was written Nella Martinetti, this time with music by Atilla Sereftug, who is also the husband of the performer of the song, Daniela Simons. She not only provided vocals but also played the piano.

Sandra Kim's victory in 1986 caused something of a stir, as official programme notes declared that she had been born in 1971, however it turned out that she was born in 1972 and was just 13 years old when she won for Belgium. The press in Switzerland did not take kindly to the fact that Sandra Kim had not been truthful about her age, declaring their own artist Daniela Simons the moral winner of the contest.

Céline becomes queen

After two fourths, a third and a second place many felt it was time for Switzerland to win again. In 1988 they sent the writers of the successful 1986 entry, Pas Pour Moi, Nella and Atilla, who needed to quench their thirst for revenge in the contest. They wrote a more pop-sounding song compared to their previous entry. The result was Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi, which is also the #1 song in our list of Top 10 entries from Switzerland.  

Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi required a powerful voice to sing it, and they couldn’t have found a better one than that of Quebec’s own teenage star, Céline Dion. Mostly unknown in Europe at that time, Céline gave an outstanding rendition of the song and, after a cliffhanger voting sequence, she won the contest for Switzerland, just one point ahead of the United Kingdom.

Dion’s vocal performance of the song is widely considered one of the finest in the history of the contest even if, after its victory, the entry didn’t achieve the expected commercial success. 

Switzerland hosted the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest in Lausanne. That year Switzerland sent the only song in the history of the contest to be performed in one of their four official languages, Romansh. The song Viver Senza Tei performed by Furbaz placed 13th. 

Celine enjoying the sweet taste of victory EBU

Céline premiered her first English language single during the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest, Where Does My Heart Beat Now, which became her first US Top 5 hit, marking the beginning of her, now legendary, international career. Whilst Céline has spoken about her experiences at the Eurovision Song Contest, she has not performed Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi since the 1980s. 

Keeping the faith

The 1990s decade provided Switzerland with its last two Top 5 placings to date; 1991 and 1993. Sandra Simò ended up in fifth place with the Italian language entry Canzone Per Te in Rome in 1991. Despite Sandra performing in Italian in Italy, the home jury only awarded four points to Switzerland.  

In 1993 Switzerland was once again represented by a young female singer from Quebec, Annie Cotton. At one point it looked like she could repeat Céline's success and Switzerland was one of three countries with a chance of winning at the end of the voting that year. Annie's ballad, Moi, Tout Simplement eventually finished in third place and is at #5 in our list. 1993 remains the last time that Switzerland featured in the Top Five at Eurovision.

In recent years Switzerland has struggled to qualify from the Semi-Finals despite sending some of their biggest stars, like DJ Bobo in 2007 with Vampires Are Alive. Despite being a national hit, Switzerland didn’t reach the Grand Final that year. Even if the vampires were alive, the voters for Switzerland didn't seem to be. 

Switzerland have managed to reach the Grand Final on three occasions; 2005, 2011 and 2014. In 2005 Estonian girlband Vanilla Ninja finished eighth in the Grand Final with Cool Vibes. In 2011 Anna Rossinelli represented the country with In Love For A While. It seemed that the voters were in love for a while with Switzerland and the song qualified from the Semi-Finals only to finish last in the Grand Final. In 2014 the Hunter Of Stars, Sebalter, took Switzerland to the Grand Final once again and also finished fourth in his Semi-Final that year. 

What lies ahead for Switzerland in the Eurovision Song Contest? A new change of direction is planned for 2018 in which they hope to find their next qualifier or maybe even discover Eurovision’s next global superstar!