“Bonsoir L’Europe!”; and welcome to the first article in an exciting new series we’ve planned out for the site – a collection of top-10 countdowns, which will cover some entertaining yet overlooked aspects of the contest. In today’s introductory article, I am going to be counting down what I believe are the top 10 most epic high notes in ESC history!
Looking back over the 50-plus years of Eurovision to date, there are so many aspects of the contest which seem to have slipped under the radar somewhat. I mean, everyone knows which song holds the record for the most points, or which country has won the most times, but has anyone ever paid attention to things like… ooh I don’t know… the best Eurovision key changes ever? Or the most entertaining orchestra slip-ups? Not very often. So, with this latest series, we will attempt to rectify that!
Without further ado, I start today with a little-explored yet highly memorable component of Eurovision: the big note. There have been many, in varying degrees of tunefulness and innovation, and it has been quite a challenge to whittle them down to the following top ten…
10 – Magazin & Lidija – Nostalgija (Croatia 1995)
The largely forgettable Croatian entry of 1995 was a very typical Balkan ballad for two minutes and fifty seconds… and then… and then we cut to Lidija, who appears to be performing the final note of the song in an expected perfect cadence… but then she goes higher… and higher again! And all of a sudden we have a Whitney-esque “will she ever stop” kinda thing going on. The near-perfect execution of this note – regardless of how terrifying her facial expression was whilst singing it – probably helped the song become the first post-Yugoslavia Balkan entry to break into the top 5.
9 – Aiste Smilgeviciute – Strazdas (Lithuania 1999)
I sincerely hope I’m not alone in absolutely adoring this song. Appearing alone on stage first in the running order, Lithuania’s second representative in the contest Aiste sung the socks off this quaint and ethnic number, which seems to be composed almost completely of notes worthy of inclusion in this top ten. However, what really “lights my fire” (going all Azerbaijani on you there) is that build-up towards the end. And THAT note, good god that’s a spine-tingler. I accept that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and some will listen to it and just think “horrible, horrible, tuneless, horrible” … but whatever your opinion, it cannot be denied that it is one hell of a note.
8 – Hari Mata Hari – Lejla (Bosnia & Herzegovina 2006)
Similar to “Nostalgija”, “Lejla” was pretty much an archetypal Balkan ballad – though this time an etnically-instrumented Zeljko-penned monster of a Balkan ballad; which was just about guaranteed success in the highly receptive mid-2000s era of the contest. The stellar performance from the backing singers, the crowd with their glow sticks and the understated yet almost magical backdrop all helped to lift this song out of the realms of the ordinary, however for me it’s that last note which seals it. Many a time, I’ve rewound the DVD just to listen to that final “LEJLAAAAAAAAAAAA” again. THAT’s how you end a song people. “Dramatic” now has a new definition.
7 – Natalia Barbu – Fight (Moldova 2007)
As some of you may know, 2007 was my first live ESC. And this was the song which closed that particular contest. In essence, this was my first experience of a Eurovision big note. And bloody hell, it’s certainly a big note alright! And it comes out of nowhere – Natalia ended every chorus with the “fight forever” which seemed to venture to the highest point her voice could reach… but all of a sudden we get this one, which goes even higher. And it’s followed by a key change! Hyperventilating here.
6 – Nayah – Je Veux Donner Ma Voix (France 1999)
France has an exhaustive back-catalogue of criminally underrated entries at ESC, and this is one of them, in my opinion. I just love it… more so in the studio version though, it has to be said. The live performance – barring her unnervingly prominent cheekbones – was all well and good, up until the last chorus, which is peppered with potentially epic notes. Literally, one after the other. They’re amazing. She just didn’t quite hit it right, and as the final note I’ve highlighted above (“ma voiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiix”) dragged on and on and on, that crystal clear note descended into a wobbling door-hinge of a squeak, frankly painful to listen to. What a shame, Nayah. It’s such a great note, but she couldn’t quite hit it *sigh*.
5 – Justyna – Sama (Poland 1995)
In a similar vein to “Strazdas” except much MUCH more experimental. This was an ethnic explosion, awash with those chromatic notes that I just love and everyone else seems to hate. One of these such notes is one of the most epic things ever to have graced the ESC stage. The build-up to it is just fabulous, we’re all anticipating just how high she’s going to go… and then she hits us with it. Crystal clear, spot-on picth, magical. Or painful, depending on your tastes.
4 – Rona Nishliu – Suus (Albania 2012)
Any recent Eurovision fan or casual viewer will probably find it rather odd that I’ve only awarded Rona Nishliu’s truly show-stopping “Suus” 4th place in this top 10. Pretty much the entire song is full of the epic notes I’m trying to hunt out right? And I am the single biggest fan of “Suus” EVER. But just wait and see what’s beaten it! The particular note I’m singling out here, is the wordless middle-8, which saw Rona rise to the highest note ever heard to date within the confines of the Baku Crystal Hall, and led onto the final chorus, complete with three lots of the infamous “qaaaaaaaaaaj” note which characterises the song. Rona, I salute you.
3 – Alyosha – Sweet People (Ukraine 2010)
Now this one isn’t so much an epic high note; more an epic long note. And it’s one hell of a powerful one at that. The “hooooome” here lasts a whopping fifteen seconds, and the challenge I set you, right this minute, is to try and match it. Once you can hold that three-tiered note for as long as Alyosha can, you can officially call yourself a professional Eurovision cover artist. Because that note is such an iconic slice of epicness, which – combined with the inspired minimalist staging – propelled this song from a disappointing mid-table result to a strong top-10 showing for Ukraine.
2 – Kaliopi – Crno I Belo (FYR Macedonia 2012)
This, ladies and gents is what is known as a whistle tone. And it’s a bloody good one at that. Kaliopi’s masterful control of her own voice allowed her to hit this one bang on the head every single time she went to sing it, and it probably contributed a great deal to the fantastic result “Crno I Belo” eventually got. The first few times I heard this song, I pretty much bypassed that note, assuming it was an electric guitar. But then… then I realised… that’s her VOICE. Oh dear lord. The talent of that woman is beyond words.
…. but she isn’t quite worthy of the title of “Most Epic High Note In ESC History”. Oh no. That is reserved for this classic 70s Finnish gem:
1 – Monica Aspelund – Lapponia (Finland 1977)
This is the song which inspired this whole series. The other night, I fell asleep and left my iPod playing on shuffle in the background. Hours passed, then this song came on, and THAT note right there woke me up. At twenty past three in the morning. That’s how brash and piercing it is. Now I don’t know if it’s technically the highest pitch that I’ve featured today, but it certainly feels like it because it comes out of nowhere and is accompanied by the baritone backing singers. What’s more, Madame Aspelund got that note spot on, and upon closer inspection, those apparent cracks in her voice are actually blips in the tape due to its age. So she hit it, she held it, and then – best of all – once she was done with emitting the most epic note in ESC history, she went back to doing her blissful jolly hippy sway as if nothing at all had just happened. This entry in general had so much charm and this note just adds to its appeal. Without a doubt one of Finland’s best, and now the official winner of ESC Views’ first top ten countdown. Congratulations!
That was a rundown of my personal top picks, but what do the other ESC fans have to say on the subject?
Hans Leenders from the Netherlands: Well, you picked some monument of a song here (Lapponia). Every ESC fan should know this entry! 🙂
Nick Eurovision Song Contest from Greece: Lapponia is in my top3 of the epic high notes! My winner is Nostalgija – incredible high note at the end!
Paul Marks-Jones from the United Kingdom: Poland 1995 Sama
Mark Hall from the United Kingdom: Blue – UK (when one of them hit that high note)
I’ve only selected ten here, but I had a shortlist of over 30, and I’m sure that even then I missed some of them. This top 10 showcases what I believe are the best of the best in this field, and a couple of them are more or less in line with the opinions of the fans mentioned here. It’s probably something which hasn’t exactly been considered all that much in the past, and our next top 10 will continue in this vein, albeit with a new topic – so I hope you’ve enjoyed this one, and that you’ll join me and Rory for the rest of the series! 😀
Have any comments on this top 10? Feel free to leave your views below! 😀