People often associate Italian music with songs such as ‘O Sole Mio or Funiculì Funiculà– Neapolitan songs requested so frequently by tourists that one of Venice’s mayors actually banned gondoliers from singing them. Quite a drastic measure, but Italian music artists have written and recorded so many great songs that it seems a shame that just a few get so much attention.
There are so many great Italian songs that a top 10 list is not enough…songs such as La cura, Il cielo in un stanza, La Bambola, Vivo per lei, La donna cannone, Miserere, Piccolo Uomo, Con te partirò and many other songs deserve to be on the list, too. Narrowing the greatest Italian songs down to a top 10 list was challenging, but here are some of the most beloved songs in Italy:
Criteria: songs on this list are by Italian composers, in the Italian language and dialects.
10. Senza Una Donna – Zucchero
Italian rock singer Adelmo Fornaciari, aka Zucchero, skyrocketed to international stardom after collaborating with Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Miles Davis.
1987 was the year Adelmo Fornaciari became a star. Hugely successful upon its release, the album Blue’s was Zucchero’s breakthrough. It was produced by Corrado Rustici, one of Italy’s best music producers, who also worked with artists like Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John and many more.
Senza una donna was the smash hit of Blue’s and was recorded again as a duet in 1991 with Paul Young. The single became a hit throughout the world. Zucchero has a distinctive textured voice with a gravelly timbre, but he sings Senza una donna with great lyricism and tenderness. Although the Italian version is less popular, the true beauty of this song lies in its meaning and simplicity. Rustici’s guitar solo is so emotional and touching. Doesn’t this song bring back many fond memories?
9. Perdere L’Amore – Massimo Ranieri
Perdere l’amore…poetry and music paired so beautifully that words fail to express the grandeur of this song! Written by Giampiero Artegiani and Marcello Marrocchi, Perdere l’amore was first released in 1988 by Massimo Ranieri. He won the San Remo Music Festival in 1988 interpreting Perdere l’amore. This beautiful song is actually more popular in Lara Fabian’s interpretation. I chose Lara’s live performance of Perdere l’amore because the lyrics are subtitled in English. Ranieri’s duet with Silvia Mezzanotte, who beautifully also interprets La Cura, is awesome as well. The orchestra’s accompaniment is outstanding, both dramatic and spirited. View it at the TopTenz playlist of Top 10 Italian Songs at YouTube.
8. Quando, Quando, Quando – Tony Renis
This spot on the list goes to one of the best songs of the 60s, Quando, Quando, Quando. The original Italian lyrics were written by Alberto Testa and the music by Elio Cesari, aka Tony Renis. Tony Renis, Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee, wrote and produced many memorable songs for artists like Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Julio Iglesias, Nikka Costa, Andrea Bocelli, etc.
Quando, Quando, Quando has been translated into English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Vietnamese and has been the subject of numerous musical adaptations by other musicians. Tito Rodríguez, a prominent Puerto Rican arranger, composer and singer of the mambo era, recorded the very popular mambo version of this song, Cuando, cuando, cuando. The song’s most notable English rendition was recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck under the title Tell Me When.
7. Tu Vuò Fa’ L’Americano – Renato Carosone
Written in 1956 by Renato Carosone in collaboration with Nicola Salerno, Tu vuò fa’ l’Americano remains one of Italy’s most recognized songs. Tu vuò fa’ l’Americano is generally considered a satire on the Italian immigrant’s (futile) pursuit of the American Dream. It is estimated that 4 million Italians immigrated to the US between 1890 and 1925.
Tu vuò fa’ l’Americano was featured in It Started in Naples (with Sophia Loren and Clark Gable) and was also performed by Jude Law, Rosario Fiorello and Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. The Puppini Sisters version is also very interesting.
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6. Al Di Là – Emilio Pericoli
In the U.S., Emilio Pericoli is the artist most associated with Al di là, a sublime song written by Giulio Rapetti Mogol. Pericoli recorded a cover version of Al di là, first performed by Betty Curtis and Luciano Tajoli at the San Remo Music Festival in 1961. Luciano Tajoli’s performance at the San Remo festival was mesmerizing. He captured the essence of this beautiful song, just like Pericoli did in Rome Adventure.
Emilio Pericoli sang Al di là in the popular 1962 romantic drama Rome Adventure, also known as Lovers Must Learn. It starred Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue. Wondering what Al di là means? Don (Troy Donahue) answers to Prudence (Suzanne Pleshette): “It means… It’s kind of hard to explain… far far away, beyond the beyond, beyond this world. That’s how much he loves her in this song.”
5. Minuetto – Mia Martini
Minuetto is a song written by Franco Califano, known also as Il Maestro, and Dario Baldan Bembo. It was released as a single by Mia Martini and turned out to be one of the greatest successes of the 70s. The lyrics of Minuetto perpetuated a popular stereotype of that era: the pattern of disastrous love, the woman who repeatedly falls in love with the wrong man. Despite the stereotypical concept behind the song, the lyrics are so beautifully written!
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4. Meraviglioso – Domenico Modugno
Domenico Modugno is considered the father of the Italian cantautori and one of Europe’s greatest artists. He composed the music of Meraviglioso and Riccardo Pazzaglia wrote the lyrics. Meraviglioso tells a very emotional story. It’s night. Filled with an overwhelming desire to die, a man stands on a bridge watching the dark water. Suddenly, someone behind him “maybe an angel dressed as a passer-by”, takes him away from the bridge and says:
The gifts they gave you,
The life, the love…
The hug of a friend,
The story ends on a positive note. The night is over and the man regains his will to live. Negramaro’s rock version of Meraviglioso is the newest cover of the song.
3. Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare) – Domenico Modugno
Nel blu dipinto di blu is Modugno’s signature song. Commonly known as Volare, the song won in 1958 the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and in 1959 the first Grammy awarded for Record Of The Year. Written by Domenico Modugno and Franco Migliacci, Nel blu dipinto di blu was the only foreign-language single to achieve this honor. The English lyrics of Volare were written by one of the most accomplished lyricists, Mitchell Parish. It was also translated into Russian (title unknown), Spanish (En el azul del cielo), French (Dans le bleu du ciel bleu), Portuguese (Azul pintado de azul) and many other languages. It is estimated that Nel blu dipinto di blu has been covered at least 100 times, by everyone from Barry White to Luciano Pavarotti. Claudio Baglioni, Francis Connie, Dean Martin, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong are some of the many artists who have recorded Volare. It is the most frequently sung song in the Italian language and probably the best known after O sole mio.
2. Canto della terra – Andrea Bocelli
I could listen to this stunning song over and over again. Canto della terra (Song of the Earth) is the second single from Bocelli’s hugely successful album, Sogno. The song was written by Lucio Quarantotto and Francesco Sartori. These two incredibly talented artists wrote also Con te partirò (Time to Say Goodbye), one of the best selling singles of all time.
Canto della terra, just like Con te partirò, was later recorded as a duet between Andrea Bocelli and the world’s best-selling soprano, Sarah Brightman.Their divine and powerful voices blend effortlessly. Andersen’s quote, “where words fail, music speaks,” captures the essence of this spine tingling live performance.
1. Caruso – Lucio Dalla, Gigi Finizio, Gigi D’Alessio
It’s the summer of 1986. The lyrics describe an imagined meeting between Lucio Dalla and Italy’s legendary tenor Enrico Caruso in Sorrento, Naples, “on the old terrace, beside the gulf of Sorrento”, the same place “where the sea shines and the wind howls.” A heartbreaking and incredibly intense song, a truly sublime work of art comes to life.
Written by mitico Luciao Dalla and covered by Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Julio Iglesias, Laura Pausini, Mina, Al Bano, Josh Groban and Lara Fabian, the song Caruso inspired the world’s greatest musicians and singers.
Dalla dedicated the song to Enrico Caruso- a tenor who had a very complicated and unhappy life in Italy on both aq personal and professional level. Giacomo Puccini asked when Caruso auditioned for the opera La Bohéme, “Who sent you to me? God Himself.” Yet, Caruso attained more fame in America than Italy. Lucio Dalla’s subtlety brings this aspect up in the song’s lyrics. The song Caruso was Dalla’s way of romanticizing the tenor’s last days in Sorrento. This is the story behind the song: while traveling, Lucio Dalla’s boat broke down between Sorrento and Capri and some of his friends invited him to spend the night over at their hotel. It was the same hotel where Enrico Caruso died, the Vesuvio Hotel. Lucio Dalla decided to spend several days in Sorrento to find out more about the tenor’s life. According to the hotel owner, a very ill Caruso spent many of his last days at this hotel giving canto music and singing lessons to a beautiful young woman. Maybe he was in love with her, nobody knows this for sure. It’s also uncertain if the woman who Lucio Dalla describes in Caruso is the tenor’s daughter or the young woman to whom he was teaching canto. All in all, the song Caruso was, and still remains, a musical masterpiece. This song has touched so many hearts, so many people around the globe.