No one told us the future would bring us mp3s, YouTube and streaming services. But that’s not the only reason we did it.
If, like me, you’re a Eurovision fan of a certain age, your collection of memorabilia from the contest will inevitably include a bunch of vinyl singles and albums. In my case, I accumulated them partly because that was the only way to legitimately own songs from the contest at the time – we’re talking 1992-97 here, the early years of my fandom. But also because I couldn’t resist the allure of those second-hand record traders from the continent and their adverts in the back of the OGAE UK club magazine. Most weeks would see me safely taping coins to cardboard and trotting down to the post office to secure some International Reply Coupons to send off to the likes of Frank Robinson and Guy Christiaens in Belgium, Steen Sørensen in Denmark, and – still going strong even now! – Bea de Vrind in the Netherlands. I guarantee that those names still resonate with certain fans of my era. “Generation Offline”, if you will. And as small-scale as the process may have been, receiving those discs from abroad felt exciting and exotic to a teenager in a provincial British city.
While my teenage budget meant I mainly stuck to collecting 7″ singles of the more mainstream entries, the late 80s and early 90s in particular also saw the release of annual compilation albums featuring every song (or almost every song) from the respective year’s contest – even if rights issues meant they occasionally took the form of cover versions by studio acts with names like “Four You” or “Anisa”:
— A Shed of #SPACEMAN 👩🚀 (@ashedofphotos) May 3, 2022
Those annual compilations went by the wayside as vinyl became less relevant. From memory, 1993 was more or less the last season with a significant number of 7″ single releases of the year’s ESC entries. But everything is cyclical – or, to put it in Eurovision terms, there’s nothing new under the sun – and it’s fair to say that the world has firmly embraced vinyl once again. Not only as a medium to listen to, but as a sought-after collectible. Just ask anyone involved in the industry about the ever-present production delays thanks to pressing plant backlogs and similar (before taking a step back while they tear their hair out).
So it’s hardly surprising to see the Eurovision family seeking to capitalise on the modern vinyl trend. After all, we’re a fandom with the collector gene and, very often, the disposable income to back it up. In a world where the single of Ireland 1972 can have an eBay asking price of £149.95 – not to mention the official replica trophy that retails for £250 (and that I secretly really want on my bookshelf) – it’s no stretch at all to believe there’s an eager audience out there just waiting for a lovingly presented vinyl release of this year’s ESC entries.
And indeed, the “Official Vinyl Record Set ESC 2022”, as the eurovision.tv shop calls it, is already sold out on the official portal – though that may also be down to the pulling power of a free set of postcards! However, other retailers have it ready and waiting for eager punters inspired by Saturday night’s grand final.
The team at UMC has kindly furnished us with a review copy of the ESC 2022 vinyl to review in this, the big week of the year for Eurovision fans around the world. And a very lovely thing it is, too. You’ve seen the front cover at the top of this post, showcasing the familiar Turin 2022 artwork, while the interior gatefold features a dramatic shot of the now-infamous “kinetic sun” from the PalaOlimpico stage:
Unlike those late-80s/early-90s compilations, when the contest had just over 20 songs and it was easy enough to squeeze them onto a single record at the expense of a little quality, the contest nowadays typically has around 40 entries – so like it or not, any ESC vinyl release is inevitably going to be a multi-disc affair. Those charged with the task in 2022 have rightly decided that the best way to approach this challenge is to lean into it. With Russia having got itself disqualified for fairly obvious reasons, it turns out that the remaining 40 countries can be neatly split across a 4LP set with a nicely symmetrical 5 songs on each side.
And by forgoing any attempts to squeeze lots of music into too small a physical footprint like in the olden days of mass-market compilation albums, you have the obvious advantage that the sound quality is given the necessary room to breathe.
Yes, sound quality. It’s one of the key factors cited by every vinyl aficionado, of course. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that, even as an audiophile, you’re likely to find fewer surprises buried away in excellent-quality reproductions of the ESC 2022 songs than you would do in – let’s say – a lovingly remastered Led Zeppelin or Joni Mitchell album. But let’s not do ourselves an injustice with that kind of snobbery. After all, why shouldn’t “our” music also get the chance to properly pop out of a pair of high-end speakers? And from the studio tricks of “Halo” or the intimate guitar plucks of “Með hækkandi sól” to the soaring sounds of “Space Man”, this year’s crop of ESC contenders offer plenty of musical layers for eager listeners to pick out here – layers that tend to get mercilessly swallowed up by the heavy compression of Spotify and co., and that certainly go missing in the invariably messy sound mix of the live TV broadcast.
Even if you’re more of a collector than an audio devotee, the Official Vinyl Record Set (sorry, I can’t stop using that phrase now) stands on its own two feet as an item to own and love. The artwork of the individual sleeves is attractive in its own right:
…and frankly, the whole thing just looks and feels really nice. And isn’t that enough? With the last few years we’ve all had, including a year in which our beloved contest didn’t even take place, I think it’s more than reasonable for us to enjoy and appreciate nice things for the sake of it. Not least a nice thing like this, which gives the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest and its participating entries the weight with which we, the hardcore fans of the competition, always hope they’ll be treated out there in the real world. After all, a vinyl release like this, building on established trends in the music industry, helps to legitimise the ESC as a valid and thriving part of that industry. Which it is!
And last but not least, of course: The vinyl format has the age-old benefit that it makes you really sit down and listen to the songs like we used to, instead of just popping all 40 of them on shuffle and letting them blend into the background while you do the dishes. That teenage vinyl collector I mentioned earlier? He definitely approves.
As much as the ESC has benefited hugely from the current digital age, allowing us to enjoy the contest together and share in the highs and lows in real time across the continent – and that digital-driven popularity is one reason the show has become successful enough to justify a vinyl release in the first place – the inherent nature of social media and online interaction means it can all feel a bit ephemeral once the dust has settled. Here, instead, is a product that neatly flips the ESC 2022 slogan on its head: this isn’t just the Sound of Beauty, it’s also a fine example of the Beauty of Sound.
Our thanks once again to the team at UMC for the review copy of the ESC 2022 vinyl!