If you’re looking for the influence of Italy on popular music it’s interesting to compare the careers of two great Italian-American singers, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. While Ol’ Blue Eyes steered clear of recording much Italian-based music, his pal was happy to embrace his cultural heritage.
Multi-talented Dean found fame not once but twice – the first time as part of a double act in the Fifties with comedian Jerry Lewis. But his relaxed singing style had caught the ear even earlier when he followed Frank Sinatra into New York’s Riobamba Room in 1943. And the Sinatra connection would later give him yet another claim to fame.
He, Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr would together lead the Rat Pack, a selection of entertainers completed by actors Peter Lawford and Shirley MacLaine and comedian Joey Bishop which hobnobbed with presidents and starred on record, screen and stage in various combinations in the early Sixties.
This is a compilation of well-loved Italian love songs – second nature to a man who, like Sinatra, was the proud product of Italian immigrant parents. He was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Ohio in 1917 and, it’s said, spoke exclusively Italian for the first five years of his life. The result is a happy hour (and more) in the company of an acknowledged master.
The north may have Venice, Milan and the leaning tower of Pisa, but songsmiths have tended to focus on Southern Italy, also known as ‘il mezzogiorno’. This begins somewhere between Rome and Naples and is one of the most economically depressed areas of Europe. The people of southern Italy speak with the lilt of the Mediterranean, the dialect sounding almost Arabic in some places. But they are certainly not poor in either spirit or song.
This set of classic Italian love ballads kicks off with one of Dean Martin’s most famous – ‘Volare’, which reached Number 12 in the Billboard chart and Number 2 in Britain in the summer of 1958. It’s followed by ‘That’s Amore’, penned by Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks. This classic not only featured in the Martin and Lewis movie The Caddy but was revived for 1987’s Moonstruck. ‘Innamorata’, a transatlantic Top 30 entry from 1956, similarly came from the Martin/Lewis movie Artists And Models.
Many of the great songs in our collection relate to or mention Naples or
Rome. ‘Arrivederci, Roma’ and ‘On An Evening In Roma (Sott’er Celo de Roma)’ sing the praises of Italy’s capital, while ‘Write To Me From Naples’, ‘Napoli’ and ‘In Napoli’ capture the essence of the city that is the beating heart of the Italian south.
Naples is the third most populated city in Italy with more than one million inhabitants. It sits on the northern edge of the Bay of Naples, one of the most beautiful in the country. The vitality of Neapolitan popular music from the late 19th Century has made its songs world-famous. ‘O Sole Mio’, a Neapolitan standard Dean Martin tackles here, was so famous that it was even sung in place of the Italian national anthem at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, after the conductor of the band failed to find the appropriate music!
Many of the songs featured here first appeared on 1962’s ‘Italian Love Songs’, Dean’s penultimate release for Capitol Records before he left for Sinatra’s Reprise label. The long-player consisted of twelve songs with distinct Italian themes and the orchestra was conducted and arranged by Gus Levene.
With the jet airliner bringing foreign travel into millions of holidaymakers’ lives, the Fifties was an era of musical tourism. Frank Sinatra embraced it with ‘Come Fly With Me’, an album in which each song referred to a different destination, and Dean Martin, as ever, was not far behind. He recorded a number of Spanish and Latin tracks which have been added to our collection as welcome extras.
These bonus tracks include ‘Sway’, a UK Number 6 hit from 1954 that showed its timeless appeal when it was covered 45 years later by dance act Shaft and made Number 2 in the same UK chart. ‘Mambo Italiano’ was written in 1954 by Bob Merrill, the arrangement based on an Italian folk song. It was not only a hit for Dean, who took it to the UK Top 20, but also for Alma Cogan, Bette Midler and Rosemary Clooney (aunt of film-star George).
Dean Martin may not have approached Frank Sinatra as a technical song stylist, but his personality and charm shines through on this selection of songs from his ancestral homeland. As one critic put it, ‘Unless one happens to be a hard-faced cynic it’s difficult not to like Dean Martin.’ We can’t translate that into Italian, but we do know that the combination of the country’s greatest music and a dash of American fizz makes an ideal musical cocktail. Ciao Dino!