The nul points songs: En gång i Stockholm

Last time I went through the Swiss song for Eurovision 2004, “Celebrate”, performed by Piero and the MusicStars, and now I will continue my journey through the songs that scored no points at all in the contest. Today I have reached the Swedish 1963 entry “En gång i Stockholm” by Monica Zetterlund.

The 1963 contest was won by Grete and Jørgen Ingmann from Denmark performing the song “Dansevise”, but the other three Nordic countries participating in the contest, Norway, Finland and Sweden, all scored zero points (along with the Netherlands). One of them, Sweden, was represented by a legend. Monica Zetterlund was a huge name in Scandinavia where she is known for many other things than Eurovision, especially jazz, and she has worked together with such prominent names as Louis Armstrong, Bill Evans and Stan Getz. She died in a fire accident in 2005, and in 2014 a film about her was recorded, Monica Z by the Danish director Per Fly. Her Eurovision song in 1963, however, was far from being a success on the scoreboard. What went wrong?

In the following I will go throgh the song, analysing its different elements. Since some of them, f.e. the harmonics, are rather complex, I will have to get very technical. I use note examples when I find it necessary. If it is too difficult to follow, simply skip the part. Otherwise feel free to ask, and I will answer as good as I can. Some words may be marked with an asterisk (*), meaning that they are explained in the bottom of the text.

1. The composition: form, melody, harmonics
“En gång i Stockholm” has a relatively slow tempo, somewhere between 66 and 69 BPM (beats per minute). Had it been a movement in a symphony, the tempo signature would thus have been Adagio (“at ease”). During most of the song, the tempo is kept by an underlying tango-inspired rhythmical figure, which, by the way, is present in several other Eurovision entries at that time, including the 1962 winner “Un premier amour”; it must have been fashionable in those years. The figure, which is relatively silent, is played pizzicato* on double bass as well as on bongo drums, and it goes as follows (approximately):

Later during the song, the rhythmical figure is being varied, f.e. after “Ja, Stockholms vinter…” (1:50 in the video) there is added some emphasis on the second eighth note, making the rhythmical base seem less solid. With “Tyska kyrkans klang” (2:07) the figure is out of function for a moment with the double bass and bongos struggling to get “back on track” before the figure is finally re-established at the beginning of the last verse (“Håll min hand”, 2:34).

1a. form
The form can be explained as follows: 1. A short orchestral intro (I) without a rhythmical base, starting at 0:31. 2. The “groove” sets in (0:42), an the first verse (A1, “Kom med mig”) begins after two bars. The verse itself lasts 11 bars, and it leads directly to the second verse without any break inbetween (A2, “Kom min vän”, 1:28). After the second verse, a contrast piece appears (B, “Tyska kyrkan…”, 2:07) where, as indicated before, the rhythmical figure is dissolved. The contrast piece lasts for eight bars, thus being more regular than the verses in that respect. It leads directly to the last verse (A3, “Håll min hand”, 2:34). At last there is an outro (O, 3.12), repeating the first two lines of the last verse and ending with a long chord. The form is thus rather traditional (except for the 11-bar verse): I-A1-A2-B-A3-O, or AABA, a standard form.

1b. harmonics
The chords are far away from standard pop, as they mostly follow jazz patterns. The main key is G-major, in that the short intro is mostly in D, and there are hardly any clean three-note chords in the song. The harmonics in the verse are as follows:

As you can see, all the chords are altered in one way or another; they either contain a fourth note – typically the major 7th – or sometimes even a fifth note, as is the case with the first chord, containing a 9th (an A in this case) – or they have a different note in the bass, f.e. the G-minor with a C in the bass in the 4th bar. Despite that, the harmonic structure in the verse is relatively stable. It is kept within a G-major scale most of the time, except in bar 4-6 where it moves towards E-flat-major. In the final five bars we are back in the G-scale, and the chords are slowly leading back to G. Here there is constantly a D in the bass, creating a long tension leading “back home”. The “boat journey” in the verse’ harmonics (see the lyrics) may go away from the quay (G-major), but not too far, so we can always get back on solid ground. In that respect, the harmonics are actually more stable than those of another harmonically complex ESC song: Anouk’s “Birds” from 2013 where the key is changing almost all the time, even though the chords there are not altered like they are here. The stability is also consolidated by the rhythmical figure that runs underneath like a slow motor in the boat.

In the contrast piece, however, the stability is under pressure. The harmonies are getting further away from the main key, especially in the second half: The three first bars are Dm/g*, and the fourth bar moves one note up, to Ebm/ab*. In the last four bars, there is a downwards chromatic* movement in the bass which the melody follows, and we can hardly speak of chords here. At the same time the rhythmical figure is “falling apart” with the double bass and the bongos trying to find out where the pulse is. In other words, the contrast piece is a contrast to the stability in the verse, thus being the “conflicted” part before the conflicts are solved in verse 3. In that respect you could say it equals the so-called development part in a sonata form* (it doesn’t contain variations of something from the verse though).

1c. melody
There are four significant aspects of the melody that are worth mentioning here. First, there is a strong tendency towards having 4-note intervals, f.e. in the verse (4-note intervals are marked with red):


The wind instruments in the intro are also playing 4-note intervals for most part. Here are some examples.

Second, there is a strong tendency towards emphasizing the note on the II-step, in G-major that is the note A. F.e., as shown in the first melody example above, the first line “Kom med mig” begins with the II note, making a II-V-I movement, thus playing on a common jazz pattern: I-II-V – where I-IV-V is otherwise more common in traditional western music. Moreover the melody in the verse ends at II, and a line such as “Tyska kyrkans glans” from the middle piece has got the most emphasis on II as well, starting and ending at II. It is a note outside the basic G-major chord (consisting of g, b and d), and it could perhaps be interpreted as an element of uncertainty – or as something unknown and risky (and perhaps therefore interesting and seductive) with the I-note (g) representing the well known and secure (the “solid ground” once again).

Third, there is a lot of sequencing as the melody is basically repeating the same figure at different pitches: “Kom med mig”, “Tysta snö”, “Sommaren”, “Klara sjö”, “Kom min vän” etc. And fouth: The melody is generally low-pitched for a female voice. It only moves up at a higher pitch in the second half of the verse (“Jag har en segelbåt i Klara sjö”), then slowly going down again. You could say that is the melody’s short moving away from the quay where the harmonics moved away a couple of bars earlier, flirting with E-flat major.

2. Orchestration
The intro, which doesn’t contain a clear pulse, is mostly based on wind instruments that are sequenced after each other: A french horn is taking off (see the note example above) and its figure is then taken up by a clarinet, an oboe, a flute and at last a bass clarinet. After this short introduction, a harp is leading up to the groove whose base is the rhythmical figure, or the “boat motor” if you like (pizzicato double bass and bongos). The other instruments are mostly playing floating chords (long notes), except for some of the woodwind instruments, f.e. there is a flute playing “birds” just before the first verse, and a clarinet is playing a downwards chromatic figure after “sommaran är slut” (1:08). Sometimes an instrument group is taken out of the arrangement: in the second half of the second verse most of the chord instruments are taken out, and the chord notes are only played by what sounds like muted woodwinds (1:58), before the other instruments come in again. Other times an instrument group is given special attention by being taken in, f.e. the french horns in the beginning of the second verse (1:28). There are also a lot of crescendos* and diminuendos* in the chord instruments (the waves in the sea?).

An interesting aspect of the orchestration is the disorder that appears in the ‘boat motor’ during the last part of the second verse and continues during the middle piece before the order is re-established with the last verse. In the last bars of the second verse, the rhythmical figure is getting unstable, emphasising the second eighth-note (which was previously not marked) more than the 1-beat, thus making it less certain where the pulse is. As mentioned earlier on, the figure is out of order during the middle piece, but in the third verse, the figure is back to basics, and we are on solid ground again in the orchestration.

3. Vocal performance
There are several interesting aspects of the vocal performance that I would like to point out here. First, Monica is singing in a relatively relaxed manner: her voice is uncompressed, and the singing is relatively silent. Combined with the song’s slow tempo and the low pitch for a female voice, it adds a certain resigned and melancholic, but also seductive flavour to the song. Second, she is performing with a lot of free phrasing: the melody lines are not performed consistently in relation to the rhythm. A good example is the repetition of “Håll min hand” at the end of the song: the first begins at the third fourth-note, and the second begins one eigth-note earlier (from 3:13). Sometimes she is also balancing on the verge between singing and talking, as in the last line in the last verse: “För jag, jag älskar dig”. The free phrasing is a contrast to the (mostly) constant and stable groove in the orchestration.

4. Lyrics and interaction with the music
An English translation can be found at the site Diggiloo.net. It goes as follows:

Once Upon a Time in Stockholm

Verse 1: Come with me, said my friend
Now the fist silent winter snow falls
And summer is over
I have a sailing boat in Lake Klara
Come my friend, my boat is white as snow
Yes, come, let’s go sailing

Verse 2: Come my friend, come aboard
There you can see the Riddarfjärd covered in white snow
Our boat sails in snow
Yes, the Stockholm winter is a peculiar world
Seagulls, in silent and beautiful snow
And beautiful is the island of Stockholm

Middle piece: The bells of The German Church, silently call ‘ding-dong’
A fairytale shore, a fairytale land
That meets the two of us in our boat

Verse 3: Hold my hand, hold my hand
For you and me it’s still summer
Come sailing with me
Where you and I are, there is summer
Summer, it never ends
Because I, I love you

Hold my hand, hold my hand

We are in the central part of Stockholm, and it is winter time. The couple in the story are sailing out on the Riddarfjärd (the waters that surround the old city of Stockholm) observing the city – which is covered in white snow – from the seaside. The city seems like a fairytale land, and it feels like it’s still summer, though it is in fact winter. You may notice a dualism between the real and the unreal. The reality is represented by the winter landscape that is the ambience in which the story takes place. Whereas the unreal is represented by the feeling that it is still summer, and by the fairytale land which the city looks like to the loving couple.

Like the music, the lyrics contain a dualism. Whereas the musical dualism is between the stable (solid ground: the “boat motor”, the main key) and the uncertain (moving away from the quay, away from the main key, the boat motor getting out of function), the lyrics seem to contain a dualism between reality and fiction, between winter and summer. It could perhaps be read as if the fairytale land they meet is represented by the uncertainty in the music, f.e. in the middle piece: While we are hearing about the ‘fairytale land’, the music is moving away from the main key (the downwards chromatic movement in the bass line, 2:21 – see the harmonic analysis). It could be that the music makes the trip out on the fjord more dangerous than it basically is in the lyrics.

One thing the lyrics do not contain is the moving back again. We hear about he couple sailing out in the boat, but not back to the quay. And it leaves us with the imagined summer landscape instead of leading back to the real world (winter time). In that respect it doesn’t follow the music: As we saw f.e. in the harmonic analysis the music is moving back on several occasions (to the main key in the verse, or to the main groove after the middle piece).

The musical and lyrical moving away do not always occur at the same time. F.e. we are still in the fairytale land in the lyrics in verse 3 despite the fact that the music is back to the well known after a chaotic and disordered middle piece.

5. Conclusions and judgement
As the analysis was indicating, “En gång i Stockholm” is a layered song. It contains a rather simple form, but a complex harmonic structure, and there are many elements that are open for interpretation. With the altered harmonies it almost seems like an impressionistic picture of the central Stockholm in winter time. It goes beyond the simple pop formula in many respects, and it contains an artistic depth that is relatively uncommon in the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite that, the song is not entirely a masterpiece; mainly because the melody is very repetitive: As we saw in the melodic analysis, there is a melodic figure that is sequenced during most of the verse, and with the many 4-note intervals, the melody tends towards monotony. But the melody is clearly not bad. Those who listen to it for the first time will probably not read so many things into it as I did here, but it is easy to get captured by the mood contained in the chords, the slow tempo and the melancholic singing.

6. So why didn’t it score?
This is of course not always an easy question to answer. But the song clearly stood out from most of the Eurovision songs of that time, and it would stand out today as well, even though the music in Eurovision is perhaps more diverse now than it was in the early sixties. “En gång i Stockholm” doesn’t work on a pop level. The chords are complex rather than straight forward, there is no catchy chorus to sing along to, and it requires something from the listener. Had the jurors been music analysts or jazz critics, then the song would undoubtedly have gotten some more points.

7. And was the zero deserved?
Those who want Eurovision to be about pop and only pop would probably answer yes. My opinion is different. Artistically, the song is clearly on another level than most other Eurovision songs, and a good result may have had a positive impact on the public image of the contest. Artists outside the pop world may have had a more positive view on it. As it were, Eurovision was often seen as “sentimental rubbish”, one of the reasons for DR to pull out a few years later by the way.

Word explanations
*chromatic – based on half-notes, f.e. an upwards moving sequence: C-Db-D-Eb-E-F or a downwards: C-B(H)-Bb-A-Ab-G

*crescendo – means that the instruments are playing increasingly louder.

*diminuendo – means that the instruments are playing increasingly more silent.

*Dm/g – D-minor with a g in the bass. In general: if there is no m, it means major, so D/g would be D-major with a g in the bass.

*Ebm/ab – E-flat-minor with an a-flat in the bass. E-flat (Eb): a half note below E, whereas E-sharp (E#) is a half note above E.

*pizzicato – refers to playing on a string instrument (violin, viola, cello or double bass) with the fingers rather than a bow.

*sonata form – the modern term for a musical structure that was fully developed during the classical era (approximately 1750-1820), containing an often repeated exposition with a main theme and a side theme (and sometimes an epilogue theme), then a development containing variations of the themes as well as several modulations (key changes), and then a reprise of the exposition. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonata_form

12 thoughts on “The nul points songs: En gång i Stockholm”

  1. I finally got it finished. Since it took quite a lot of time to write it, there may be some errors now and then. I may also have missed some crucial points, and if you guys spot them, let me know. I will edit the article accordingly.

    In general: if you have ideas to how it could be improved, I’ll be glad to hear them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This song is a perfect example of “think twice before you say anything”. Or how can one end up loving a song that he/she disliked some years ago 😉
    Thank you for this article, the Anders!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Or how can one end up loving a song that he/she disliked some years ago”

      It happens all the time with me. Sometimes it’s the other way around: a song that I initially like but which later bores me.

      Like

  3. Wow, that was fun. I learned a lot. 🙂
    And you even gave note examples which I love because my ears are rather deficient when it comes to analysing music.
    Finally, I agree: it is artistic, it has depth, it is different from your usual ESC fare … but it tends to sound a tad dull on first listening (due to the melodic repetition). This is one of the songs that become more interesting the more you listen to them becuase only then do you notice all the unobtrusive variations and surprising shifts in the orchestration. I’ve always believed that art is supposed to make you pay attention and sharpen your perception, and thus Monica’s song qualifies as art imo. (I still cling to the old German distinction between art and entertainment …) I really love the idea behind this song, but the execution has never convinced my 100 %. Hence it is a 9/12 on my list. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think your comment may explain what went wrong in the voting. It takes time to get into it. On the other hand, I have always loved it, but I am also a sucker for unusual chord changes. For the same reason I fell for Anouk’s “Birds” immediately.

      Like

      1. I loved “Birds” from the very beginning too but I don’t know if I had instantly fallen in love with Anouk’s song if I was 20 years old.

        Like

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