Important things were happening in music in 1964.
Gene Pitney sings in Italian.
And, why not?
Pitney's hyper emotional style with his operatic vocal tendencies is perfect for Italian pop music of the 60s. The beat and pop appeal to the kids and the operatic stylings appeal to the older listeners.
The move, wasn't however, novel.
The Italian-Americans with their love of music had their feet in jazz going back to the earliest sounds coming out of New Orleans. The trad pop singers were awash with them: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Al Martino, Jerry Vale and many others. The Italians flocked to the new sounds of rock 'n' roll also: Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Dion, Johnny Restivo, Jack Scott, Annette Funicello, Connie Francis, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, The Four Seasons and others. It was a way to escape poverty or the mundane.
Italian music was everywhere in the early 1960s.
The success of Italian films, the emergence of the San Remo song contest all had an impact on American and English speaking audiences.
Connie Francis had recorded an album of Italian songs, "Connie Francis sings Italian Favorites" (1959) and Dean Martin had some mixed language on the Italian themed "Dino: Italian Love Songs ) from 1960.
The big push on Italian sounds as opposed to Italian American singers probably dates back to "Volare" by Domenico Modugno released in 1958. It spent five non-consecutive weeks at #1 and became Billboard's number-one single for the year and the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1958. (It was translated and also sing in mixed language by all sorts of people including Bobby Rydell, Dean Martin (#12 1958), Al Martino, and later Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Jerry Vale, David Bowie, Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Dalida, Gipsy Kings, and Barry White.
But, Gene Pitney wasn't Italian.
And you didn't have to be to have hits.
Elvis Presley and his love of Dean Martin, Mario Lanza and Caruso had no trouble taking the Neapolitan numbers ‘O Sole Mio’ and ‘Torna a’ Surriento’, Anglicising them and having hits with them as "It's Now or Never" (a mammoth #1US, 1960) and "Surrender" (#1US, 1961). He would go on to record the traditional Neapolitan ballad "Santa Lucia" in Italian for his 1964 film "Viva Las Vegas" (the song was released on his " Elvis for Everyone" LP from 1965).
This is not aimed just at the Italian market but also at at American-Italians, Italian immigrants of other nations and the "hip" pop music crowd in general.
So why not Gene?
The sixties was pop music at its greatest experimentation and it was expressed in it's desire to appeal to all people and exclude no one.
And that meant recording foreign language songs or foreign themed songs, or both.
Elvis, Johnny Cash, Connie Francis, Trini Lopez, Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Jay and the Americans, were all releasing albums or singles in foreign languages.
American pop stars singing in German, Spanish, Yiddish, French and Italian words were all on the airwaves, somewhere.
There were three ways to tackle the foreign language experiment. Sing foreign language songs in their language, sing foreign language songs translated into English or sing English songs in the foreign language.
Gene, here (largely), sings English songs (including at least three songs that had been big hits for him) in Italian whilst throwing in some more recent Italian compositions. This approach may be, because, the album seems to have compiled some of Gene's Italian language single releases going back to 1962 (the Italians loved him).
Regardless of motivation, it works. For those not familiar with Italian traditional tunes you can hear familiar 60s songs … the same beat, the same melody, the same groove just sung in Italian.
The album did well overseas and was followed up by Gene's appearance at the 1966 San Remo song contest at which he sang "Nessuno Mi Puo Giudicare" which became the title of another album of Italian songs for him in 1966.
The Italian experiment worked so well that Gene released the Spanish language "Pitney Español" in 1966 though he has nothing on Connie Francis who released albums, apart from the Italian one, in Spanish (1960), Jewish (1960), German (1964) and err, Irish (1962)
This album was Gene's eight album.
Tracks (best in italics)
- A Poche Ore Da Te (Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa) – (David-Bacharach-Mogol) – his #17 from 1963. A magnificent song and this version hits all the right notes
- Città Spietata (Town Without Pity) – (Washington-Tiomkin-Nome) – his #13 hit from 1962. Another good reading.
- Un Soldino (If I Didn't Have A Dime) – (Russel-Medley-Pace) – recorded by Gene in 1962. A gentle poppy song with Gene in great voice though "jukebox" in Italian is , apparently, "jukebox".
- Ritorna (Half Heaven, Half Heartache) – (Schroeder-Gold-Goehring-Mogol) – his #12 from 1963. Another great song and well done though it doesn't hit the emotional high as the English version.
- Resta Sempre Accanto A Me (True Love Never Runs Smooth) – (Bacharach-David-Pallesi) – his #21 from 1963. Glorious.
- E Se Domani (If Tomorrow) – (Calabrese-Rossi) – perhaps done originally by Fausto Cigliano for the San Remo 1964 contest.
- Che Sara Di Me (What Will Happen To Me) – (Specchia-Leuzzi) – pure early 60s fluff in any language.
- Quando Vedrai La Mia Ragazza (When You See My Girl) – (Giacci-Rossi) – Little Tony and Laila Kinnunen both recorded it in 1964. A great song with a good beat … you can almost see the visuals to this in one of the Italian dramatic comedies of the early 60s.
- E Quando Viene La Notte (Come The Night) – (Pace) – a dramatic one with a good beat.
- Non Lasciamoci (Only Love Can Break A Heart) – (Bacharach-David-Pace) – his #2 from 1962. Very nice.
- Foglie Morte (Autumn Leaves) – (Prevert-Kosma) – much covered and done. This is light and airy and captures the right autumnal mood. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autumn_Leaves_(1945_song)
- Vorrei Capire Perchè (Tell Me Why) – (Chiosso-Torrebruno) – light and catchy
Fantastico Gene … I'm keeping it.
Nothing in the US or England.
1964 Quando vedrai la mia ragazza #1 Italy
A Poche Ore Da Te (Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa)
Città Spietata (Town Without Pity)
E Se Domani (If Tomorrow)
Che Sara Di Me (What Will Happen To Me)
Quando Vedrai La Mia Ragazza (When You See My Girl)
Foglie Morte (Autumn Leaves)
Vorrei Capire Perchè (Tell Me Why)