Recommended: Domenico Modugno – Radio Show
I dunno if we’ve ever mentioned this on ILB before, but I take the first part of my government name from this guy, which is weird because neither of my parents own any music by him. Domenico Modugno is known to the non-guido world for two things: he did the original version of “Volare”, and he’s the guy being lipdubbed on the only video anyone has watched on Vimeo in the past three years. He deserves a little more credit.
I do know we’ve mentioned this before though: Italian Amerophilia is a subject very dear to my heart. Visitors to Italy who stray off the tourist paths would be stunned by how in paisano villages, pizzerias serve up humungous plates of French fries with ketchup, and how every town has a Via Roosevelt or Via Washington. When my father first came to England, despite never having touched the stuff back home, every bar he went to he order “Whiskey Coca Cola”, because in his mind that was what people drank in English-speaking countries. If Gary Cooper’s corpse rose from the grave right now, it could be elected Italian Prime Minister in less than a week. Italians love American shit.
Which is what makes Modugno so interesting as an artist: although he clearly understood and perhaps even envied Dean, Frank and Tony’s success after their families had hoped on the boat, he wasn’t 100% happy with it. The entirety of Modugno’s career can be seen as an attempt to claw back the crooner style from the Vegas Strip and place it squarely back in an Italian folk tradition. A resident of Puglia, he mainly covered folk and traditional songs from Italy’s most rural, least industrialised areas (Naples, Sicily, Sardinia) to facilitate this.
Anyway, “Radio Show”. As this awfully translated press release lets you know, the album compiles a bunch of stuff from Modugno’s radio appearances circa the turn of the 1960s, before Johnny Hallyday-esque leather jackets and Levis were de rigeur for Italian musicians. There’s some banter, some skits, an interview, and hella artistry.
“Le Morte Chitarre” is the pick. A setting-to-music of a poem by the Sicilian author (and 1959 Nobel Laureate for Literature) Salvatore Quasimodo, it flits 50/50 between Gothic danse macabre and moribund flamenco performance, a tarantella crippled. You can hear the emotion bounce off his John Oates moustache as he performs.
The version of “Volare” included here is the live one that triumphed in the 1958 San Remo Festival, and for some reason cuts off stunningly abruptly at the two minute mark. “Lu Pisce Spada” is another Italian restaurant classic, about some bad shit going down with fishermen.
Look, I appreciate that dead Italian crooners are a hard sell, especially ones who on first listen come across as some Bella Pasta soundtrack shit. But I implore you to stick with this all the way through. Nobody switches from understated to pained like Mimmo did.
Check the whole thing out on Spotify here.