Small nations

Many otherwise intelligent and discerning people delight in the Eurovision Song Contest, and can name the winners stretching back decades. Personally, the magic and mystery of Eurovision rather misses me, but one thing I have noticed and respected: the contest really matters to small nations. For Bosnia-Herzegovina, for Ireland, for Belgium, for Finland – there is genuine joy at success, and even at just being on equal standing with the big guys on this stage, if no other. ESC_1974_logoOne of Europe’s small nations is Malta, an island in the Mediterranean which has had the historical misfortune of being strategically valuable. At different times the island was conquered by the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Vandals, the Moors, the Sicilians, the Spanish, the French, and lastly the British. Mussolini tried to capture Malta during the Second World War. He failed, but his air force dropped a few thousand tonnes of bombs in the attempt.

Malta’s turbulent history is reflected in its language. Maltese is described by linguistic authorities thus: “a Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet, descended from Siculo-Arabic, but altered in the course of Malta’s history by adopting vocabulary from Sicilian, Italian, English, and to a smaller degree, French”.

This is the language which you will hear in the following track, which was intended to be Malta’s entry in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.  For some reason – bickering in the Arts Ministry? funding problems? – Malta withdrew.

gusman

Enzo Gusman

This was the year the contest was won by a Swedish group, by the name of Abba, with “Waterloo”. It is fair to say that even had Malta’s Enzo Gusman got to perform “Paci Fid-Dinja” on stage in Brighton (where the contest was held that year), it unlikely he would have taken the chocolates.

It is, well, undistinguished. Mainstream, lightweight pop, with a bit of Moog synthesizer in the background. But, hey! It was good that the Maltese were having a go. More than that: a sentimental song calling for “Peace on Earth” (that’s what the title means) sounds a whole lot better than many the slogans of our own time: Stop the Boats. Build the Wall. Ban the Burka.

Maybe the Maltese know the value of peace more than most. They were, after all, conquered by Napoleon, before he faced his Waterloo.

  • Artist: Enzo Gusman
  • Single title: Paci Fid-Dinja
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Elyphon
  • Catalogue: 101
  • Manufactured in: Italy
  • Year: 1974

 

Love and theft

Billy Vaughn was an American multi-instrumentalist and band leader, who had success in the 1950s and 1960s. These were days when a hot dance band could earn a living playing instrumental versions of popular tunes. It was the quality of the playing and the inventiveness of the arrangement, rather than new material, which was the selling point. Do something different, make it new.

0036 B side

This track, “Wabash Blues,” does that, but it also sounds weirdly familiar. Anyone who grew up when ABBA were giants, in the 1970s, will know what I mean.

ABBA’s 1974 single, the somewhat repetitively titled “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, begins like this:

“Wabash Blues” begins like this:

Slow down the tempo of “I Do x 5”, and it sounds like this:

Speed up the tempo of “Wabash”, and this is what you get.

Vaughn’s record was a hit around the world, including Sweden, in 1959, when Benny and Bjorn were teenagers. Bound to have heard it …

No problem in that. Music is, in Bob Dylan’s immortal words, a matter of love and theft. Everyone steals from everyone else. What matters is the end product. “I Do” is not ABBA’s finest work, but the sax is the highlight. And Billy Vaughn’s version of “Wabash Blues” is a delight. He takes a jaunty ragtime tune from the 1920s, turns it into something from a burlesque show, with wonderful sleazy sax.

  • Artist: ‎Billy Vaughn And His Orchestra
  • Single Title: Carnival In Paris / Wabash Blues
  • Track: Side B “Wabash Blues”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: London 45-HL-1566
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1959

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