Eurovision Song Contest 1981 Review

It’s back to Dublin for 1981, exactly one decade after the show was last held here (in 1971, if you don’t remember). Morocco left after their trial participation last year, but so did Italy since Eurovision just isn’t that popular there. On the other hand, Yugoslavia and Israel returned and we got a new debut from Cyprus. This means we have a total of 20 participants, tying the previous record, but not breaking it.


And it’s back to Dublin, a city we’ll visit many times in the future. This year opens with a compilation of views of Ireland (and other random stuff like people walking and glassblowing), as was traditional back in the day. We get a very colourful logo at the start that shimmers with the whole rainbow, foreshadowning the fact that Eurovision will keep gayer and gayer.

Tonight, we’re hosted by Doireann Ní Bhriain, who starts off by welcoming us in Irish, then in French and only then in English. I must say, the set is very pretty this time around, they clearly put a lot of effort into it. Also, the postcards are back, yay.


Austria - Wenn du da bist

Performed by
Marty Brem

Honestly, I really enjoyed this song. It’s a bit reminiscent of Austria’s 1979 entry, except more upbeat. Once again, it has that warm, personal quality to it that makes it impossible for me to dislike this.

Honestly, great start for the contest, I like when we get a non-standard opener instead of upbeat pop.

Turkey - Dönme Dolap

Performed by
Modern Folk Trio and Ayşegül

I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason why this scored so poorly was language bias. I don’t doubt that it would’ve got a top 10 finish if it was performed in English (and wasn’t performed second).

This small diatribe aside, it’s absolutely not the kind of song you’d expect from a group called “Modern Folk Trio”. There’s no folk and a lot of disco here. It’s a genuine banger and a pleasure to listen to. I think that it executes the “minor verses, major chorus” trope well, the switch isn’t jarring like in a lot of other entries. It also has some banging strings, which are always a bonus for me.

Germany - Johnny Blue

Performed by
Lena Valaitis

Germany was really intent on winning, huh. Just like the previous year, everything here says “yes, hi, I’m the winner, give me your 12 points”. It has a very clear sense of progression, which is something most songs fail at. It doesn’t flounder around in the same place, but it also doesn’t burn through its ideas at a breakneck pace. Everything is given just the right amount of time to develop.

Of course, it’s very strong lyrically. Not only does it have a strong hook (Blue, Blue, Blue Johnny Blue), but it also tells a very elaborate story about a musician (Johnny Blue), who grew up lonely and friendless, but became a successful musician anyway and “everybody is singing [his] songs” now.

It also throws in a little gimmick - a harmonica. As I’ve said countless times, a “gimmick” doesn’t mean “bad”, at least for me. It’s simply something that stands out and hooks me in. It may be visual or auditory, doesn’t matter. And I’d definitely classify the harmonica as a gimmick under my definition, just as I did the whistling in Belgium’s 1957 entry.

Luxembourg - C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique

Performed by
Jean-Claude Pascal

This stands out from most other songs here by being rather old-fashioned by 1981 standards. It’s a very heartfelt chanson about the song here being just as good as American songs. Jean-Clause has definitely aged and he doesn’t sound as smooth or confident as he did in 1961, but it’s still a worthy entry and a nice change of pace.

Israel - Halayla

Performed by

It’s not bad per se, but it isn’t very interesting either. The vocals are pretty weak and get drowned out by the instrumental, and this time I definitely can’t blame the mixing since other entries are balanced properly. It also does that thing where it starts out fun, but then just dissolves into repeating the chorus several times over. It just feels unfinished and underexplored, I didn’t find it particularly fun. Still, it was a decent effort at making a disco song with an Israeli sound, so I can’t be too harsh on it.

Denmark - Krøller eller ej

Performed by
Debbie Cameron and Tommy Seebach

And here we have Tommy back, with another disco banger (though without any tango). It also has a nice message about racial equality: we love our children no matter their eye colour or the texture of their hair.

It’s honestly hard to say a lot about this, it’s just a plainly good song. Well done to Debbie and Tommy.

Yugoslavia - Lejla

Performed by
Seid Memić Vajta

This is actually a pretty cool entry. It starts out as a slow and downbeat entry, but speeds up as it goes. This really helps its sense of progression and makes it feel quite interesting if I’m being honest. Plus the backing singers add a lot here, at least in my opinion. Seid has a rather raspy voice, so the smoother backing vocals create a nice contrast with the lead. It’s definitely a good choice for a comeback (and I’m happy to see Yugoslavia back in general).

Finland - Reggae O.K.

Performed by
Riki Sorsa

I understand why this didn’t score so well. First of all, this has about as much in common with Reggae as I have with the Prime Minister of Canada (that is, nothing in common at all). Secondly, it’s just very repetitive and the refrain of “Reggae O.K.” starts to get on my nerves by the end of the song.

Though I have to give Riki the kudos he deserves. He looks like he’s having the time of his life and you can’t help but feel his infectuous energy. The audience cerainly did, judging by the huge applause he received after his performance. It was definitely a huge crowd pleaser.

France - Humanahum

Performed by
Jean Gabilou

And here we have France falling back to a formula that works well: a powerful ballad about a serious topic, but this time with a male singer, uh-huh. It’s well-sung, well-composed and well-written, but it just kinda doesn’t do a lot for me. It just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi that a lot of other French entries had. It’s still not bad or anything.

Spain - Y sólo tú

Performed by

And it’s back to disco for us. Compared to a lot of other elaborate songs this year, this is pretty simple, but I think it works to its advantage. It’s just a nice song with few flourishes. It’s very hard to dislike it.

Netherlands - Het is een wonder

Performed by
Linda Williams

Honestly, this is quite lovely. It’s a charming little song about the wonders of love. It has a rather funky country-like instrumentation (though with a bit of synths, because 80s), but that doesn’t make me dislike it. Linda is a fun performer too, which always makes me like an entry more. Still, it’s rather simplitic overall to really get stuck in my brain.

Ireland - Horoscopes

Performed by

Wooo, what a banger. It feels like this is the first time in a decade that I’m excited about an Irish entry. But this is just great. It has a very elaborate choreography for 1981, lots of chemistry between the group members, a lovely energetic instrumental, catchy lyrics and a strong message.

It starts with a slow strings-heavy intro, but picks up pace immediately after this and becomes a total disco banger. Though it keeps the string-heavy instrumental after this, there isn’t a lot of brass, which makes it stand out a lot. It’s also the low string instruments like double basses and cellos and not violins, which gives it a slightly mischievous tone.

The lyrics are great too. In my opinion, astrology is total bunk (as I’ve mentioned before during my 1970 review), so a song that takes a stance against it and calls it “crazy, crazy” is right up my alley. Now, I’ll admit that I sometimes do read horoscopes for fun, they sometimes give me a good laugh, but being seriously invested in them is silly, at least in my opinion. “It’s we, not the stars above, who write our horoscopes” indeed. Joe Burkett (the lyricist) had it completely right. We shouldn’t let the planets take control of our lives.

And, of course, last but not least, the performance. All three members of Sheeba have great chemistry together. While the choreography would be considered laughably simplistic in these days, it’s really elaborate for 1981. They walk forwards and backwards, turn towards each other and bow and do all sorts of fun movements.

Needless to say, I really loved this.

Norway - Aldri i livet

Performed by
Finn Kalvik

It’s obvious why this scored low - coming between two flashy upbeat bangers left this mellow ballad with no chances to leave and impression. In all honesty, it fails to impress me too. It’s pleasant enough, but doesn’t have anything impressive about it (and I’m definitely not one of those ballad haters). I just want something more substantial, that’s all.

United Kingdom - Making Your Mind Up

Performed by
Bucks Fizz

Well, this entry is all about the performance. The song is completely secondary here, as evidenced by the fact that they juries didn’t care about their tuneless singing at the end one bit (ok, the juries were composed of regular people back then, not musical professionals, so it’s a very different situation). And I have to admit, it’s a great performance, definitely ahead of its time for 1981. There’s a dance break, something that wouldn’t become common until the 2000s, a dress change, something that, again, wouldn’t become common until the late 90s.

I don’t really have anything to say about the lyrics, they’re very vague and generic, which works to this song’s adantage though, as they were judged by all sorts of people who might’ve infused them with their own meaning (or didn’t understand a word because they didn’t speak English). The sync between the line “but if you want to see some more” and the skirt rip is extremely memorable though, it’s hard to deny that. I understand why it’s a fan favourite.

Portugal - Playback

Performed by
Carlos Paião

Ah, never change, Portugal. While most countries decided to sendd stuff about love, you sent a song about, wait for it, lipsyncing. And it’s a total banger. I believe that the only reason it got second-last place was because of 1) being in Portuguese and 2) coming right after the UK. I refuse to believe that people just simply thought that this disco banger was actually bad.

I believe that this was around the time when using playback (i.e. prerecorded vocals) was finally becoming feasible and people saw the rise of performers who didn’t actually sing, but just mimicked singing. So this was most likely intended to make fun of the music industry (much like Austria in 1977), but in a lighthearted way while also remaining a credible song (unlike Austria in 1977).

Belgium - Samson

Performed by
Emly Starr

This really is the year of the disco. Even Belgium got in on the trend (very successfully, I might add). In all honesty, I’m having trouble saying a lot about it, it’s very close to other songs this year. Sometimes, the vocals get a bit too quiet. I really like the bridge with the whispered backing vocals though, it gives the song its own flavour.

Greece - Feggari kalokerino

Performed by
Yiannis Dimitras

While this is a lovely ballad, it just fails to stand out against other, more upbeat, entries. There’s nothing particularly bad about it, but there’s nothing great either. I’m glad it exists to provide some diversity though.

Terry Wogan actually remarked the same thing, he said that it was in constrast to what’s come before and that it could lead to high marks. And it’s true, I’m completely unsurprised that it scored pretty well.

Cyprus - Monika

Performed by

Welcome to the contest, Cyprus. Clearly, they wanted to make a spash, which is how we got this jazzy disco banger with a saxophone and a piano. It feels like it should be much worse, but it all works. Everything comes together and creates a total banger. And you can’t discount the performance either, it’s very charming. Well done, Cyrprus, for having a total banger as your first entry. While it isn’t as amazing as some other debuts, it’s still well above average.

Switzerland - Io senza te

Performed by
Peter, Sue and Marc

For once, I agree with Terry Wogan about something. This is also my favourite. Peter, Sue and Marc have been trying to win this for a decade and they’ve done it (in my heart, not in real life).

Of course, the vocals are the best part, as they usually are with Peter, Sue and Marc. Marc (and I know that it’s Marc playing the guitar and singing since Terry said that Peter is playing the pan flute) has a bit of a raspy voice that contrasts with Sue’s silky vocals really well and gives some amazing harmonies. It’s honestly a bit of a shame they haven’t entered again after this, I would’ve liked to see them tackle 80s-style songs.

But also, I can’t just not mention the pan flute. It might not feature that much during the sung part, but the intro and the instrumental break with it set the mood marvellously. But, of course, I wouldn’t want to underplay the role of the guitar and the piano, as well as the orchestra itself. There are a lot of layers here and they all come together very naturally.

Sweden - Fångad i en dröm

Performed by
Björn Skifs

This time around, Björn didn’t forget the lyrics. Also, for the second time in a row, Sweden brought some extremely contemporary rock. As such, it really stands out from all of the disco and ballads.

The performance is less energetic than last year, but I think it fits this song much better as it’s a darker, more atmospheric piece about being stuck in a dream. This is one of many “minor verses, major chorus” songs, but, unlike so many others, it executes the change very well. Both the verses and the chorus feel well-developed and self-sufficient, but still like a part of one song.


  1. Switzerland - Io senza te
  2. Portugal - Playback
  3. Ireland - Horoscopes
  4. Sweden - Fångad i en dröm
  5. Turkey - Dönme Dolap
  6. Denmark - Krøller eller ej
  7. Belgium - Samson
  8. Cyprus - Monika
  9. Austria - Wenn du da bist
  10. Yugoslavia - Lejla
  11. Germany - Johnny Blue
  12. France - Humanahum
  13. Luxembourg - C’est peut-être pas l’Amérique
  14. Finland - Reggae O.K.
  15. Netherlands - Het is een wonder
  16. Israel - Halayla
  17. United Kingdom - Making Your Mind Up
  18. Greece - Feggari kalokerino
  19. Spain - Y sólo tú
  20. Norway - Aldri i livet


  • Austria - 1 (1965)
  • Belgium - 1 (1961)
  • Denmark - 1 (1963)
  • France - 4 (1969, 1976, 1977, 1979)
  • Germany - 3 (1957, 1972, 1978)
  • Italy - 1 (1958)
  • Luxembourg - 3 (1956, 1964, 1973)
  • Monaco - 2 (1968, 1970)
  • Netherlands - 1 (1959)
  • Norway - 1 (1966)
  • Portugal - 1 (1967)
  • Spain - 1 (1971)
  • Sweden - 2 (1962, 1980)
  • Switzerland - 1 (1981)
  • Turkey - 1 (1975)
  • United Kingdom - 1 (1960)
  • Yugoslavia - 1 (1974)

Finally, we welcome Switzerland to the list of winners. Out of the original 7 participants, they took the longest to get here.


What an absolute banger of a year honestly, so many great songs. Not that much genre diversity, but eh, I’ll take it anyway, I’m not bothered by something like this. The interval act was brilliant too, called Timedance, a depiction of Irish music from the past to the present. It really does feel like a precursor to Riverdance, which I’ll discuss later on, of course.

Clearly, RTE wanted to show Ireland in the best light possible - and succeeded at it in every way. This contest was extremely sleek and modern, the host was warm and nice, the stage was spacious and the voting sequence was more exciting than ever - with the extrmely close race between the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland. This is exactly the kind of year I love, so it’s no surprise that I rank it pretty highly.

But I’ll see you all in Harrogate for 1982, which is the smallest town the contest has been held in so far (though not overall, but more on that later).