1958 Dean Martin – Volare
Europeans love having song competitions where artists perform new songs and compete for prizes. One such competition in Italy was the Sanremo Music Festival. The festival was first held in 1951, and it is still an important event each year.
Domenico Modugno was an Italian who began acting in films in the mid-fifties. He also wrote and sang music. In 1957, a song he had written came in second in the festival. He and Franco Migliacci then co-wrote the song Nel Blu Di pinto Di Blu for the 1958 festival. A pair of paintings inspired Dominico to write the lyrics of the song, a mashup about a man painting himself blue and how it felt to fly.
Domenico and fellow actor and singer Johnny Dorelli presented the song in a January 1958 festival and won first prize. As a result, the song was Italy’s representative in the Eurovision Song Contest in March, where it came in third.
Domenico quickly recorded the song, and the multiple versions of the song sold over 22 million copies. Despite the lyrics being entirely in Italian, his single version reached the charts in the US in August and hit #1 on the US Hot 100 two weeks later.
After the success in Italy, they quickly released the single in the rest of Europe. In August 1958, they released Domenico’s Italian version of the song in the United States. On the same day, eight other versions by international stars were released. Domenico’s single topped the Hot 100 and won Grammy awards for Record of the Year and for Song of the Year.
Only two more of those other eight releases ever charted in the US.
The McGuire Sisters had a number one hit in 1957 with the song Sugartime, but their single of Volare only reached #80 on the Hot 100. They sang the first line in Italian, but sang the rest of the song in English, using lyrics written by Mitchell Parish.
While their single did not do well on the charts, it did reappear in an episode of the Mad Men television show. Two more of their singles reached the Hot 100 top twenty in 1959 and 1961, but after that, their career was all but over.
Another Italian also recorded the song: Dean Martin. Dean had already had a top ten hit earlier in 1958 when his single Return To Me reached #4. While that song was mostly in English, he did sing a few lines in Italian. His version of Domenico’s song used Mitchell’s English lyrics for the first and last verses, with the original Italian lyrics in the middle of the song. Dean’s record company released his version in August as Volare, and the single peaked at #12 a month later.
Dean already had a top five single in early 1958 with the song Return To Me, but Volare was destined to be his last top forty single for nearly six years. It would take Everybody Loves Somebody to put him back on the charts in 1964.
One other recording of Volare became a hit in 1960 for Bobby Rydell. His single peaked at #4 in 1960. His video on the Perry Como Show even included young women flying over the stage thanks to some balloons.
And if you haven’t heard about it yet, you should know that the European Broadcasting Union has organized the first American Song Contest in March through May, 2022. The contest will have multiple qualifying rounds, including entries from all fifty states, Washington, D. C., and five US territories. The hosts should be Snoop Dog and Kelly Clarkson.
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