You silly Italians with your love of English-language songs even though you have no idea what they mean! You crack me up. I love you. You make me warm inside, even as I chuckle sardonically each time I hear a DJ attempt to translate a song title – half the time, you dorks are wrong. I also laugh when you claim that everything in Italy is better and that nothing America makes is any good – which is why your favorite movies come from Hollywood, your sneakers are Nike, and Nirvana is your favorite band. But I digress.
I’m fascinated by the pervasiveness of English-language music around the world. How did we get the monopoly on far-reaching tunes? Why aren’t English speakers more open to embracing music from other cultures? It’s not as though other countries don’t produce amazing music – yet, at music stores back home, “World Music” is usually banished to a single lonely shelf.
I can’t enjoy a song if I don’t understand the words is a common argument. Certainly, there’s something to be said for being able to “get” all facets of a song: every once in a while, my Italian friends will ask me to translate a song for them and in the 60s and 70s, many chart-topping American songs were covered by Italian singers to make them more accessible to Italian audiences. But – and feel free to argue with me if I’m wrong – in the end, it’s the beat that makes the music, so usually, it goes like this:
My friends: I’m honey, honey, honey, honey.
Me: What the hell are you singing?
My friends: I’m honey?
Me: It’s “I’m horny”, not “I’m honey.”
My friends: Oh. I’m horny, horny, horny, horny.
Me: Do you even know what that means?
My friends: No.
Me: Do you want to know?
My friends: I guess. Sure. Whatever.
You can protest all you want, but I don’t believe for a second that if you heard a fantastic song in another language that you wouldn’t love it. To test my theory, I present you with Ten Italian Songs You Would Love if You Knew They Existed. The older songs are songs my parents raised me on and the more recent ones are songs I’ve come into contact with since I’ve been living in this crazy boot.
The reason you will love these songs is because I love them and you and I – we always agree.
La Canzone del Sole by Lucio Battisti
In Italy, saying you love Lucio Battisti is so common it would be trite… if the man hadn’t been the most gifted songwriter on the fucking planet. If you know him, you are doubtless satisfied that I have selected one of his songs for this list. If you don’t know him, I am honored to take you from your sad world of black and white to vibrant technicolor. The famously reclusive Lucio wrote about love: happy love, tortured love, indecisive love, lost love (I’ll live without you, even if I don’t quite know just yet how I’ll live without you), wasted love, beloved women (“If you’ve never seen a man cry before, look at me. Anna – I love Anna), love you just can’t quit (You again? I’m not surprised. You again? But we’re supposed to be over).
Choosing just one song to introduce you to Lucio Battisti is damn near impossible because they are all perfect; so beautiful they can reduce the most hardened man to tears. The man did not write a bad song. I could suggest his worst song – there isn’t one – and you’d still love it. So I’ve just put a clip of La Canzone del Sole (The Song of the Sun) – his chart-buster from 1971 – although I very, very nearly put up a clip of the stunning La Luce dell’est (The Light from the East). Oh, what the hell:
Lucio Battisti’s music is beloved to this day; when he died from cancer in 1998 my mother wept. One of my favorite things about living in this country is that I can turn on the radio on any given day and hear one of his songs. RIP, Lucio. Man. Myth. Legend.
A great song from the man in the top hat: another Italian legend. Rino Gaetano’s brief, musically prolific life ended in tragedy: after being injured in a car accident in Rome, he was rejected from 5 hospitals before dying on his way to the 6th. He was 30 years old. The accident happened mere days before his wedding date. Before his death, Rino Gaetano produced numerous hits – energetic, beautiful melodies, often named after women. The area I live in is lousy with Rino Gaetano tribute bands, and the crowd always goes nuts when they play 1978’s Nuntereggae più – a, for the time, innovative half-rap, half-sung diatribe against high-profile Italian politicians, sportsmen, and celebrities of the day. The song’s title is in Calabrese dialect, roughly translated as “I can’t deal with you anymore.”
Via by Claudio Baglioni
Why do I like this song – from Baglioni’s 1981 album, Strada Facendo? I don’t know. It’s pretty thin, and very early 80s. Maybe that’s why I like it, and why you do, too. Chorus: “I want to get out of here! My feet ask me – where? But [who cares, as long as it’s] away! I can’t lose you because you’ve never been gone. I want to get out of here! You’re shooting rocks at me from your eyes; it’s like being in a duel and we have to take ten paces and then look at each other for the last time and then…. away!” YES, AWAY!
Il Parco della Luna by Lucio Dalla
Another great Italian songwriter; again, a tough choice. I went for 1980’s Il Parco della Luna because it’s my favorite Lucio Dalla song, even if it’s not the most well-known (Balla Balla Ballerino?). It’s the legend of Sonny Boy; a brave but lonely hero (?) It’s been more than a hundred years since Sonny Boy rode into the Park of the Moon with his wooden horse and Fortune, his woman. His teeth of iron and his black eyes zeroing in on the sky to understand its mysteries….
… Sonny Boy’s drawn the constellations on his arms….
Fotoromanza by Gianna Nannini
Throaty-voiced Gianna Nannini has been a household name in Italy since the 1970s. She recently collaborated with rapper Fabri Fibra on his single “In Italia.” Fotoromanza is one of her hits from 1985; an ode to the exquisite torture of waiting by the phone. You let someone torment you who, at the end of the day, you won’t know anymore…. you, too, right? Will you call me or not? Will you call me or not? Who knows who will win? She goes on to compare love to a series of equally exquisitely awful things, starting with “a gas chamber” and ending with “a poison-flavor ice cream cone.” True then, true now.
Ci Vuole un Fisico by Luca Carboni
I wasn’t in Italy in 1993, but this song – a song which has the power to reduce my friends to nostalgic sighs – makes me feel like I was. In the refrain, seemingly sweet-faced Luca gives his audience a very special piece of advice: You need a hot bod to do whatever it is you want to do. Also, in the early 1990s, Luca Carboni was quite handsome, except for some unfortunate hair and clothes. Also, no one in this video is actually playing an instrument. Also, why do their outfits keep changing? Each one is worse than the next. I try to sneak the beastly title of the song into as many conversations as I can. It is surprisingly easy.
Baila (Sexy Thing) by Zucchero ft. Manà
My friend Paolo introduced me to this song – and this ultra-famous Italian singer – on a ride to the airport about a year ago and I’m sure he’s probably kicked himself a hundred times ever since. I love it! I’m not a superfan of Zucchero’s other stuff, but this 2001 summer smash hit kicks ass and in this video, Zucchero is fucking cool.
Stop! Dimentica by Tiziano Ferro
I don’t usually go for girly boys trying to act tough, but this 2006 song speaks to me. Stop! Forget! Get over old news, dig? Please, for all of our sakes.
Tranne Te by Fabri Fibra, ft. Marracash
This is not the first time Italian rapper Fabri Fibra has graced the hallows of this blog, and I don’t think any of you are surprised. FF is ridiculous, has a cone-shaped head and funny ears; naturally, I’m strangely attracted to him. In this 2010 track, Fabri Fibra pairs with Marracash to deliver a futuristic rap diatribe against hypocrisy or inertia or whatever; the title means “Except You.” Everyone dances… except you! Everyone drinks… except you! In the summer, everyone works… except you! It’s like virginity – first you lose it, then you want it back. I don’t want to like this song, but I do – if you’re beautiful and blonde, yell Ao Ao! If you’re beautiful and brunette, yell Ao Ao! It’s irresistible.
Pryntyl by Vinicio Capossela
This song is just delightful, and couldn’t have come out at a better time – this past summer, when I was trying to convince my friend Berto to hire me as a mermaid for his family’s beachside shack. My awesome plan didn’t work, but there’s always next summer. In the meantime, enjoy this delightful ditty about a mermaid who sings Mermaid-ese: pryntyl, slash slash, smack smack, glu glu. Just call her Nunu….
What are your favorite Italian songs you think other people need to hear?
16 Replies to “Ten Italian Songs You Would Love if You Knew They Existed”
Oh, I LOVE that mermaid song! It had somehow slipped under my radar, despite me spending this last summer by the sea in Calabria trying my best to turn into a sirena, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.
This is pretty predictable, but I do like Fabrizio de Andrè. He may not be cool now, but I love the way he tells stories. This one’s gorgeous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axcJgYsmBEE
In my Italian language study I’ve always sought out cantautori but I still can’t really understand the lyrics. So I agree that it is the music, beat, singer’s style etc. that contains the appeal. I saw a TV commercial not long ago with a foreign family listening to a very crude English language song, bouncing their heads with big smiles on their faces. The tag was “learn English!”. So, now when I find myself doing the same to a song by Giorgia, Laura Pausini, Gigi D’Alessio and others I think what an idiot to not to know what I’m reacting to. But I’m pretty confident their songs are not a series of rude words like the commercial. :^). Ma chi sa!
What I love is going to the supermarket, browsing through the produce section, and suddenly hearing an unbleeped version of an Eminem song come blasting through the sound system. I’ll be looking around thinking, “So really? You’re all okay with this?” And no one even notices.
The first Italian music I actually owned was a cassette tape of Pino Daniele’s in an outdoor market in Milan in 1996. Because I had heard like 2 songs of his I kind of liked. That tape – the 1980 album Pino Daniele – still has maybe my top favorite song in Italian – E Cerca e Me Capi, which I’ve listened to – to various degrees of comprehension – and cried and loved over and over. Alleria’s another great one of his – and one I never even bothered to understand all the words to.
I’ve tried his later, jazzier albums and I kind of hate them. Oh well…
I was waiting for your reply, Paul – this post had you written all over it. Eternal gratitude to you for introducing me to Rino Gaetano. I could never quite get into the Pino Daniele, though….
You also introduced me to Io Vivro by Lucio. I listened to that ad infinitum during my last big break up.
You know, I had that Lucio Battisti album, Emozioni, for years before I even began to take it, and him, seriously. It was a gift, and I think it was left unwrapped for like 6 months. When I got around to listening it I thought it was absurdly, hopelessly corny and dated. Like a really poor Italian version of Air Supply. I’m not sure how but somewhere in 2004 I actually started listening to it and I never really stopped. Boy was I wrong. You latched on immediately, so credit to you. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating.
Also because your Fabri Fibra got me looking at my Italian rap. Frankie HI-NRG MC’s Quelli Che Benpensano. Also at that time Jovanotti’s Serenata Rap was playing everywhere. Ok, I need to stop youtubing Italian music…
I was sooooo hoping to see you’d listed Samuele Bersani here, so imagine my disappointment when you didn’t! He’s written songs for some of Italy’s best-known singers – including Lucio Dalla, who helped Bersani get his start.
Honestly, his songs are catchy, complicated and unique – and so damn good they inspired me to write a novel. (I’m not exaggerating.)
If you haven’t checked him out, you really, really should.
Ooooh…. I haven’t heard of him. I am on the case!
You won’t be disappointed, I promise!
Any hints on where to start?
Website or album? His “poppier” stuff is early in his career, from albums like “C’Hanno Preso Tutto” and “Freak”, and his more recent work “L’Aldiqua” or “Manifesto Abusivo” is more of a haunting quality, overall. There are still fun tracks, though, with very catchy melodies.
Generally speaking, I like to start with the first album and work my way forward. I’m fascinated by the way artists develop and change and how their work evolves. With Bersani, there’s a clear maturing that takes place over time.
Obviously I can’t say enough good things about him.
Sorry – his website is http://www.manifestoabusivo.it/ by the way.
Anything by Frabrizio de Andre.
And Lucio Dalla’s “Gesú Bambino” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGv2JbIpy24
I would like to find the song from the movie; Hemingway & Gellhorn, the song they sang in the Sloppy Joe’s Bar together. It might be call “Everyone tells you, your blonde”. I would love the know it.
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