The Italian Almanac
The biggest worldwide hit ever for an Italian singer turns 50 and there are plans to celebrate the song right where it all began - the Sanremo song festival. Il Blu Dipinto di Blu (The Blue Painted Blue), containing the irresistible 'Volare...oh-oh-oh-oh!' refrain, was performed by Domenico Modugno at the popular Italian song contest on January 31, 1958. It won and Modugno soon became the most famous Italian singer in the world.
The song, which was renamed Volare (Fly) on its release in the US, rapidly became the most hummed Italian song in the world after the Neapolitan love lament O Sole Mio. It even won a Grammy. According to experts, the song and its 30-year-old performer also revolutionised popular music in Italy, where Rock'n'Roll was still far from being socially acceptable.
At the time straight-laced singers limited themselves to executing highly traditional compositions, supported by an orchestra. They tended not to move. Modugno, a young actor from Puglia with a hint of a swagger, arranged the music as a piece for a swing ensemble. What was more, he raised his arms wide as he sang the chorus of his song. The audience at Sanremo went wild. But RAI state television refused to transmit Modugno's performance to the rest of the nation because it judged the lyrics to be incomprehensible.
After his success at Sanremo, Modugno recorded the song for general release and sold an unprecedented 800,000 discs in Italy within the year. He went on to conquer America, where Volare stayed at number 1 in the billboard charts for 13 weeks. In the same year the 45 disc sold 22 million copies around the world. It sold 30 million copies in the end and was also turned into a chart-stopping record by Bratpack crooner Dean Martin.