Everything there is to know about life, love, pain, suffering and change is embedded in Italy’s best music, just as clearly as it is in Dante. Put another way: to truly understand Italians, you need to understand their music.
Serge Gainsbourg could only find a broad following in France. Only among Germans — and perhaps Austrians — would you find concern over whether or not the Hoff was being hassled. Abba’s rhymes on love may be in English, but their upbeat tunes in the face of tragedy have an unmistakable Swedish cadence.
Unlike Gainsbourg’s growl and Bjorn’s bopping, Italy’s greatest singers are often ignored abroad. Beyond Rosemary Clooney’s girl who went back to Napoli because she missed the scenery, most native English speakers draw a blank when you mention Italian music.
If you have a passion for all things Italian, or just want a soundtrack to your holiday in your luxury villa in Italy, here are the songs you really ought to listen to.
Top 4 famous Italian hits
Anche un Uomo: Mina
One of Mina’s greatest hits, Anche un Uomo (“even a man”), is a power ballad reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s Jolene.
Here the 1960s and 70s pop singer explores the female psyche. She tries to fathom the fragility of men, and accuses another woman of stealing her man.
With no shortage of drama, this is the ultimate breakup song.
Canzone del Sole: Lucio Battisti
From the same era, self-taught singer-songwriter Lucio Battisti is admired as one of Italy’s most innovative musicians.
Canzone del Sole (“song of the sun”) — written by the great lyricist Mogol — recalls a man running into a woman with whom he had a romance when they were young. He remembers her as a child, and rues the fact he no longer recognises her (and wonders how many arms have held her in the time since he last did).
He creates a metaphor for loss of innocence and purity, the Black Sea. What was so transparent and clear when he was a child, has now become dark.
Canzone: Lucio Dalla
A more recent hit (1996), this declaration of love in a song called “song” is a message to the woman he loves — a promise that he will wait for her.
Despite the distance separating them, he cannot forget her. This powerful declaration of love is made the more interesting when you note that, after his funeral in 2012, Lucio Dalla was outed as gay. This sparked widespread debate over Italian society’s attitudes towards homosexuality.
Il Cielo e Sempre Più Blu: Rino Gaetano
For a change of pace, this lively song is perfect for any grey day when you’re seeking motivation.
The singer lists the plights of many people — gamblers, robbers, farmers, spies — but reminds us that regardless of everything, the sky continues to always grow more blue.
In other words, whatever life’s challenges, we must forge onwards.
Singing to improve your Italian
You may just be in it for the drama and romance, and that’s a fine reason to listen to Italian songs. But there’s another reason: while language teachers encourage students to watch films (and I would never discourage seeing classics like La Dolce Vita or Cinema Paradiso), the rushed chatter of a native speaker can be difficult to follow.
Songs, in contrast, move more slowly. Singers are forced to enunciate with clarity to reach the greatest possible audience.
You have permission to sing in the shower at any of our luxury villas in Tuscany.