Saturday, December 21, 2013


Earlier this week in Forgotten Hits we made the comment:

It was about as unlikely a #1 Hit as could be in 1958 ... rock and roll was in full swing but this little "import" from Italy dominated the airwaves.  Sure, there were successful cover versions ... most notably by Bobby Rydell and Dean Martin ... but it was Domenico Modugno's version ... sung completely in Italian! ... that managed to top the charts.

Other Top Ten contenders on the chart that week included the #1 Hit by Ricky Nelson "Poor Little Fool", the instrumental hits "Patricia" and "Rebel Rouser" by Perez Prado and Duane Eddy respectively, Bobby Darin's first big chart hit "Splish Splash", "Hard-Headed Woman" by Elvis, "When" by The Kalin Twins (written by our FH Buddy Paul Evans), "My True Love" by Jack Scott, "Just A Dream" by Jimmy Clanton and the Bo Diddley-beat of "Willie And The Hand Jive" by Johnny Otis.

Not far behind were other future rock and roll era classics like "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters, "Little Star" by The Elegants, "Born Too Late" by The Poni-Tails, "For Your Precious Love" by Jerry Butler and the Impressions, "Do You Want To Dance?" by Bobby Freeman, "Rockin' Robin" and "Over And Over" by Bobby Day, "Bird Dog" and "Devoted To You" by The Everly Brothers, "Chantilly Lace" by The Big Bopper, "Susie Darlin'" by Robin Luke, "The Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley and "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran.

So how the heck did this record by Domenico Modugno overtake ALL of them?  How'd it even get played?  Much as we loved it then, it sounds INCREDIBLY dated today.  In fact, nowadays you're far more likely to hear either the Bobby Rydell or the Dean Martin cover version ... but somehow it was THIS version that Decca Records took a chance on ... which paid off in big dividends.  Not only did it top the pop charts for five weeks, but it also won Grammys that year for Best Male Vocal Performance, Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year!

And what exactly was "Volare"?!?!?  What did it all mean?  Was it a love song?  It certainly was delivered with a certain amount of intensity.  According to Wayne Jancik's book "The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders" Modugno was inspired to write the music to some brand new lyrics his buddy Franco Migliacci had been playing around with.  Franco's inspiration reportedly came while staring at the back panel of a pack of cigarettes!  (huh?!?!?)  According to Jancik "At that instant, Franco had the idea to create a dream-like song about a man with hands painted blue, who flies through 'blue painted in blue'". (So technically this guy invented The Blue Man Group, right?!?!  And they say the music / drug craze didn't start until the '60's!)

Wikipedia tells a completely different story.  They say that Migliacci first started working on the lyrics of the song in June of 1957, inspired by two paintings by Marc Chagall.  "He had planned to go to the sea with Domenico Modugno, but after waiting for him in vain, Migliacci got drunk on wine and he fell asleep. Then he had nightmares, and when he woke up, he looked at the copies of the printings he had on the wall.  In 'Le coq rouge' he noted a yellow man suspended in midair, while in 'Le peintre et la modelle' a half of the painter's face was coloured of blue, so he started writing about a man who dreams of painting himself blue, before starting to fly.  During the same night, despite being angry with him, Migliacci talked about his lyrics with his friend Modugno, and for several days they continued to work together on the song, tentatively titled "Sogno in blu" (Dream in blue).  Many years later (in 2008, in fact), Modugno's wife Franca Gandolfi recounted that her husband was still unsatisfied with the lyrics of the song, when a storm suddenly opened his window, and then he got the inspiration to modify the chorus of the song, introducing the word 'Volare' (to fly) which is commonly known as the title of the song itself."

Whatever may have inspired it, there was no denying the impact. Migliacci and Modugno submitted their new song in Italy's San Remo Festival Of Music, where their song about the flying blue man placed amongst the year's top honors.   Soon it was a hit in Italy ... then throughout Europe ... and finally here in The States.  (Hmm ... why do I now feel compelled to play the Betty Johnson hit "Little Blue Man"???  And I'm picturing Blue Meanies ... and even The Smurfs!!! Wow ... who KNEW this little song that nobody could understand could create this kind of mass inspiration!!!)

"Volare" ultimately sold over 20 million copies worldwide.  Scroll back to Wednesday's post to hear Domenico Modugno's original hit version ... or check out the popular Bobby Rydell interpretation below.