When Elton John came last in his attempt to get to Eurovision

8 May 2024, 11:44

The Secret History of Eurovision – documentary trailer

By Mayer Nissim

Elton John and Bernie Taupin had a doomed attempt at UK Eurovision glory.

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Remember that time that Elton John entered Eurovision and came rock bottom of the pile?

Wait, what? No, you haven't somehow forgotten a nul points performance from the Rocket Man, but it's absolutely true that Elton once tried – and very much failed – to be a Eurovision winner.

As for when that happened, we have to cast our minds way back to 1969, just after the release of Elton's first singles 'I've Been Loving You' and 'Lady Samantha', and before the launch of his debut Empty Sky album.

Back then it was far from certain that Elton John would or could become a rock and pop superstar.

He and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin had been eking out a living working as staff songwriters for a couple of years for Liberty Records.

Elton John and Lulu in 1969
Elton John and Lulu in 1969. Picture: Getty Images

So in early 1969, they were among the gaggle of working songwriters looking to have their tune picked for the UK's entrant at that year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Our singer, Lulu, had already been chosen, but the song she would be taking to Madrid, Spain, was very much up for grabs.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin had written 'I Can't Go On Living Without You'. Well, that's what it says on the credits, but Elton later revealed in his memoir Me that he had written the words himself.

Lulu - Can't Go On (Official Lyric Video)

"Written and recorded in Summer 1968, 'I Can't Go On Living Without You' marks the high point and the finale of this period of Elton and Bernie writing-to-order pop," said the label, when the song was given a bit of polishing by Mark 'Spike' Stent for the Jewel Box retrospective.

The other songs in the mix were 'Bet Yer', 'Boom Bang-a-Bang', 'Come September', 'March!' and 'Are You Ready For Love?' (no, not that one, though maybe Elton and Bernie liked the title?).

Lulu performed each of the songs on her own Lulu show over a number of weeks, with the final of A Song for Europe 1969 taking place on February 22, 1969 and being hosted by Michael Aspel.

Lulu - Boom Bang a Bang (Official Lyric Video)

We all know that it was 'Boom Bang-a-Bang' that came out on top, way out in front on 56,476 votes.

'March!' was in second place on 38,418, 'Come September' in third on 11,362, 'Bet Yer' in fourth on 8,306, 'Are You Ready For Love?' in fifth on 5,560.

And in bottom place was Elton John and Bernie Taupin's 'I Can't Go On Living Without You' on a lowly 5,087 votes.

Come September (2005 Remastered Version)

Perhaps it was for the best? While we're convinced that Elton John's brilliant abilities as a performer meant that he was always going to end up in front of house, success as a designated songwriter could well have delayed the inevitable.

Maybe as songwriters-for-hire with a Eurovision feather in their cap, Elton and Bernie would have sold on some of those early songs that made John a star?

But thankfully, it wasn't to be, and it was with 'Boom Bang-a-Bang' that Lulu won Eurovision for the UK, with a table-topping 18 points.

Lulu - Boom Bang-a-Bang | Live at the Eurovision Song Content (1969)

In a competition first, she was actually one of four joint winners, alongside Spain's 'Vivo cantando' by Salomé, the Netherlands' 'De troubadour' by Lenny Kuhr, and France's 'Un jour, un enfant' by Frida Boccara.

As for what happened to Elton and Bernie's 'I Can't Go On Living Without You', Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw and Polly Brown all went on to record the song in the years that followed.

And as we mentioned, in 2020, the previously unreleased demo from a year before its Eurovision failure finally resurfaced with a new mix.

Elton John - I Can't Go On Living Without You (Arranged Band Version / Lyric Video)

The other songs didn't all disappear either.

'Come September', which had been co-written by Mark London - Lulu's manager Marion Massey's husband – was included later that year on Lulu's Album.

Katri Helena recorded the same song as 'Taas kun tuulee', while Jarkko & Laura recorded it as 'Kahden ollaan'.

King Herod's Song | Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) | Screen Bites

Meanwhile, Gloria Hunniford recorded 'Are You Ready For Love'. ABBA's Agnetha Fältskog also recorded the same song as 'Ge dej till tåls'. And if you rummage around, you can find Lulu's versions of all the songs on various compilations.

And if you think that Elton and Bernie's flop was something of a surprise, the genre-defining songwriting partnership of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice pitched a song called 'Try It and See', which failed to even make the final six.

It was given to Rita Pavone at first, before being later reworked as 'King Herod's Song' for their absolutely massive Jesus Christ Superstar the following year, and the subsequent movie.