In a sense the UK’s relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest mirrors its attitude to ‘Europe’ as political entity: a conflicted, pendulum-swing mess of amused contempt, cynical superiority, desperate attempts to play catch-up and a fundamental feeling that no matter how hard Britain tries to play the game it will never quite understand or accept the rules.
On the one hand, ‘nobody’ takes the Eurovision seriously. On the other, there’s a shallow-buried feeling that Britain is Better At Pop than the continent, which every so often surges into a public sense that we really ought to win it. Those surges tend to result in us recruiting a top songwriter, or producer, or performer or entrepreneur to win Eurovision – and Sandie Shaw, reluctantly, was the first example.
As its writer admitted, “Puppet On A String” was designed for Eurovision, not for Sandie, so of course Shaw hated it and feared its impact on her career*. It’s very efficiently tooled for Europe, a lively song on a jaunty bed of light orchestration – it sounds a few years out of date, and quite cut off from ‘pop’ as it had developed during the British mid-60s. But that doesn’t mean it’s a horrible record – the quick, brassy rhythms suggest jerky marionette movement very effectively, the hooks are good, and Shaw doesn’t let her distaste for the thing show. In truth it’s the kind of immediately catchy, mildly annoying song that would have had a good shot at Eurovision whoever was singing it.
*Shaw’s record sales were on the wane in 1967, so her career as a pop star was on shaky ground anyway, “Puppet” or no. In 1968 she launched a fashion line and got a TV gig – what is probably true is that “Puppet” became a millstone in terms of the kind of fans she attracted, and her reputation.