In celebration of: Adriano Celentano
On one level, this post is a tribute. A little bit of blogosphere shine spotlighted upon one of the true greats of European music, a man who has been at the top of his game for over 40 years in Italy, and has become one of the greatest selling non-English language recording artists of all time. A man who’s done it all from the early days of Italo rock’n’roll through to disco, proto hip-hop,folk, and balladry. A man who has been one of the few Italians in the media to have stood up to Berlusconi’s Mediaset axis, and indeed a man so popular that Berlusconi can’t censor him because to do so would be to gag one of Italy’s most popular sons. A man who, indeed, I have a special relationship with: my father rinsed these tapes of Celentano purchased off Moroccan immigrant market stall holders when we went back to Sicily on holiday, bumping them into the car seemingly every day when I was between the ages of 3 and 16. Indeed, to this day I doubt there’s a recording artist who I’ve spent more time listening to than “Il Ragazzo Del Gluck”.
On the other hand, this post is just an excuse to use this photo:
What a fashion plate.
So, Adriano Celentano. Those of you with your ear to the ground over the past year-and-a-half are probably already familiar with “Prisencolinensinainciusol”. Played out in clubs you’re not cool enough to get into, and remixed by Greg Wilson (who is apparently “known within the disco and dance communities over the past three decades for putting together some of the world’s finiest edits”, although I was more familiar with his work in My Two Dads), the gut reaction of most second generation Italians to hearing this touted as an artefact of hipness was something akin to how a Britisher would feel hearing Gilbert O’Sullivan talked up as a dubstep progenitor. The guy with the oddly Scandinavian syntax who writes the crate-digging section of Hip Hop Connection called this out as arguably the first hit rap record worldwide. He’s probably wrong, but fuck me it’s fantastic, some weird collision of a military march, a goofball disco in 73, and the end credits to history’s greatest TV show. For the uninitiated, the gibberish vocals are what English sounds like to the Italian ear.
He’s done better though, although nothing to get dead-eyed vinyl collectors excited. His rock ‘n’ roll period was his finest: one of the oft overlooked aspects of the Italian psyche is its Amerophilia. See the number of Italian streets called Via Kennedy or Via Roosevelt, check out how often John Wayne and Gary Cooper seasons run at cinemas in the land of Fellini, or just observe how Italy’s TV ratings always has Walker: Texas Ranger at the top of the list. And so it was with rock ‘n’ roll: originally just a gang of guineas hollering “Yeah yeah, fare la whiskey soda con le hot dog, yeah yeah yeah”, Celentano took it into a twangless version of surf rock, complete with Elvis sneer and the first actual application of the poetry of the Italian language to capital “p” Pop Music. Check out “24,000 Baci” for the finest example, don’t check out the Mr Bungle cover version of it because Mike Patton has never contributed to a good song ever.
For countries that don’t have a large footprint in worldwide pop, a common theme is the placing of traditional music styles into the fashions of the time. Anyone who’s stumbled across Eastern European rap channels where they interrupt the sub-Jazzy Jeff beats in order for an extended balalaika solo will know the score. Italy at least has an enjoyable folk history tradition though, mainly because in between creating the world’s greatest art, eating, and being molested by priests we needed some music to keep our spirits up. Celentano’s got his roots in the Puglia region, birthplace of overrated late 19th century dance craze the Tarantella. There’s a little of that in “La Mezzaluna”, but thankfully it’s crowded out with a bossa nova makeover and a tango beat. Maybe bump this during the latest series of Strictly Come Ballroom instead of having to listen to the house band do a waltz version of “All Summer Long”.
And to bring things to a close, “La Storia di Serafino”, the theme song from Adriano’s 1969 movie “Serafino”, about a shepherd who gets a whole heap of money and then pisses it up against the wall. Statistics show that if more than three paisano Italians are kept in an enclosed space together for over five minutes, eventually one of them will start humming it. Especially those weird monk incantation noises about 40 seconds in.
SPECIAL BONUS MATERIAL
Adey on Youtube:
Strangely Cliff Richard musical-esque version of “24,000 Baci”
What Youtube was made for: