Top Ten Worst Ambassadors of Italian Culture Via Song
n the 20th century, 27 million Italians left their home country. This is no surprise, ever since the days of Amerigo Vespucci Italians have been hopping on the boat and trying to go somewhere, anywhere else. But the end result of this is that 50 million people outside of the boot now identify themselves as “Italian,” “Italian-American,” “Anglo-Italian,” “Italo-Argentinian,” or a million other “Italianate Hyphens.”
And whilst most of us have been happy to eke out a living either fixing your car or working as hired muscle for loan sharks, some of us have been making moves in the entertainment industry. On the big and little screen, we’ve delivered The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos, Scarface, A Bronx Tale, Once Upon A Time In America, and absolutely no films that aren’t about the gangsters. And we do pop as well. Those who’ve represented for their Italian ancestry whilst adding to the rich tapestry of popular music include: Toni Basil (real name: Antonia Basilotta), Tony Bennett, Jon Bon Jovi, Sonny Bono, Jim Croce, Ronnie James Dio, Dion, Connie Francis, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Henry Mancini, Tim McGraw, Bruce Springsteen Gwen Stefani and, ummm, Joe C; with Prince and Alicia Keys on team for the Afro-Italian-American side of things. But, unfortunately, there’s always a few who have to ruin it for the rest of us, be it through wilful guineadom or just plain lack of talent. Here’s ten of them.
Renee and Renato- Save My Love
Five word executive summary? “The worst song ever recorded.” Renato was a violently obese restaurant owner with a moustache like a chimney brush and an accent so appallingly guido as to make him sound like the star turn on the Olive-Skinned and White Minstrel Show. Renee was a horse faced woman with the dress sense of your least favourite aunt, and wasn’t even Italian. Together, they spent four weeks at the top of the UK charts with this song, apparently helped to a record deal by that well-known broker of positive relationships between ethnic communities, Ron Atkinson.
It’s hard to know where to start with this song. No, actually, it’s the accent. Chico Marx perpetuated fewer stereotypes than this. Then there’s the breathy spoken word bit that Renee comes up with at the end, which sounds like “I’m Not In Love” in hell. Then there’s the bit where Renato goes “Io ti amo caro—I love you.” He can’t even be bothered to finish translating into English properly! Effectively, this song ranks alongside the March on Rome as the two darkest moments in 21st century Italian history.
Lordz of Brooklyn- Out Ta Bomb
The end result of a bored mathematical equation that went “House of Pain minus leprechauns drinking Guinness and bombing hotels plus “You-a touch-a my-a car, I-a slap-a you-a face-a.” And Everlast himself features on nearly as many LoB tracks as tortured references to calzone. But here we hear one of their 1995 tracks, which sounds like a cross between Cypress Hill’s ill-advised nu-metal period, and Limp Bizkit’s ill-advised nu-metal career. Also, for all the pizza parlour imagery, “eating pasta with Romano” lyrics, and referral to themselves as the Verrazano Boys, what were the surnames of this most Italian of rap groups? McLeer and Westerman. Smell the authenticity. It seems somewhat overpowered by the stench of oregano.
FUN FACT: According to Audioscrobbler, the ninth most similar act to Lordz of Brooklyn is the Toy Story OST.
Manifest- Neapolitan Gold
For anyone interested in what it means to be an Italian émigré in the world today, I sincerely suggest you check out Are Italians White?: How Race Is Made In America A truly remarkable book, taking in amongst its many chapters Giancarlo Esposito accurately taking Spike Lee to task for his bigoted portrayal of Italians in many of his movies, the 1945 “race riots” at Benjamin Franklin High School, the Italian-orchestrated beating to death of the African teenager Yusef Hawkins, and how the Italian community failed to react to the endemic racism in itself that caused such a thing to happen, and Louise DeSalvo’s touching investigations of her grandmother’s immigration papers. Then the Italian-American MC Manifest shows up and spends 12 pages talking about his mind-numbingly bad backpacker strain of rap and how he met Eminem before he was famous. It kinda kills the mood somewhat. This song, however, fits in perfectly with the mood of this piece. Nursery rhyme rap with sixth form politics and the revelation that he’s going to “catch the fever like DeNiro.” DeNiro’s three-quarter Irish, anyway.
Lou Monte- Pepino the Italian Mouse/Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey
The Italian Anti-Defamation League spend more of their pointless little time nowadays going after The Sopranos, as it perpetuates the obviously fictitious stereotypes that there are some Italians involved with organized crime, and that as a peoples we are completely racked with Catholic Guilt. They should be going after Lou Monte. I know he’s dead, but they should be demanding compensation from his estate for the simple dago image he wilfully perpetuated on his records. Make no mistake about it; Lou Monte was the Italian Stepin Fetchit. Sure, with “Pepino the Italian Mouse” Lou flipped the chipmunk soul hook when Kanye West was still a twinkle in a madman’s eye, , but innovation is no defence for what is a truly remarkably bad song, somehow simultaneously dull and annoying and rage-inducing, a Jamster ringtone 40 years before there was any “practical” application for them. He later followed this song up with “Pepino's Friend Pasqual (the Italian Pussycat),” which thankfully doesn’t appear on any P2P networks.
Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey, on the other hand, features our Lou pronouncing Brooklyn as “Brook-a-leena”. It may be worth noting at this point that Mr. Monte was born and brought up in New Jersey, a mere 4595 mile dash from Crotone in Calabria.
Joe Dolce Music Theatre- Shaddup You Face
“Shaddup You Face” is the most successful single ever released by an Australia-based recording artist. The country’s current leader, John Howard, is on record as saying that his country takes in too many immigrants. I see a definite cause and effect pattern emerging here.
The song paints Italian caricatures in brushstrokes as wide as the average middle-aged Italian woman’s ass. From the hen-pecked son with low-intelligence and a propensity for small-time crime, through to the overbearing mother, through to the fact that every-a single-a word-a he-a says-a is-a ending-a with-a a-a “a”-a tacked-a on-a, through to the fact that it has an accordion solo. Which is announced with the line “Big accordion solo!” Absolute rubbish.
Dean Martin- That’s Amore
“Food and sex, those are my two passions. It's only natural to combine them,” said one of the two greatest Italian-Americans ever, George Costanza. The other took him at his word and sang a really bad song about it.
Long-time Stylus readers will know I have nothing but love for Dino. However, he got it really wrong on occasions. The “If yhoooo good lhoooookieeeng bat yooo donna wasssa coookeeen” bit from “Mambo Italiano” being one example. And “That’s Amore” being the other.
From the amazingly un-Italian sounding choir that kicks the track off, through to the pizza parlour mandolins, and Dean realising that the track is shit and giving it one of the most disinterested vocals of his career. For the uninitiated, the “Pasta Fazool” is pasta and cannelini beans, sometimes with cheap cuts of meat added. If that makes you drool, or indeed you’re drooling at the stars in the first place, one can only assume you’re in a coma.
The Gaylords- Eh Cumpari
Yes, it is incredibly childish to find the phrase “The Gaylords” funny. And, annoyingly, it technically wasn’t The Gaylords who had a 1976 hit with a cover of Julius LaRosa’s 1953 annoy-o-thon “Eh Cumpari,” but rather a side project from the band called Gaylord and Holiday. Anyway, “Eh Cumpari” is a paisano rewrite of “I Am The Music Man,” except with no attempt to make the noises coming out of the Gaylord’s mouth sound anything like “u saxofona,” and with an end result that sounds like the most boring Italian wedding reception in history.
Frank Zappa- Tengo Na Minchia Tanta
The Italian-American rock community always seemed a lot less keen to play on their ancestry than their rock ‘n’ roll or hip-hop brethren. Frank Zappa unhelpfully provides an exception to the rule here, by roping in Italian music journalist Massimo Bassoli to narrate this mind-numbingly dull (or “typically Zappa-esque”, as it’s also known) track, with a touching tale about how he has a large penis, and that you must use a chicken if you want to touch it. None of the humour is lost in translation, don’t worry: it’s not funny in Italian either.
Fun Lovin’ Criminals- King of New York
The drummer was Italian, and Puerto Rican/Irish frontman Huey Morgan has apparently used the pseudonym Huey DiFontaine on occasions, so it counts. And it needs to be mentioned, because no band has ever misappropriated Italian culture so badly as the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. They’re like an Italian version of Malibu’s Most Wanted. Except funny. A ridiculous take on lounge music, cheap suits, even going as far as to set up an Italian restaurant… the Chairman of the Board should’ve come back from the grave and given them a good slap around the head.
“King of New York” is a slap-bass nightmare, with lyrics detailing how the band respects 14-time murderer and chubby capo di tutti capi, John Gotti. When performing in London, they changed the chorus lyrics from “La di da de, free John Gotti” to “Hey hey hey, free Ronnie Kray.” So it’s good to see they can show disrespect for murder victims in two separate continents, based solely on a hard-on gained whilst watching crime films. NOTE: to date, the Hotti Gotti brothers have not yet released a single. This, sadly, is subject to change.
Chris Rea- Shirley, Do You Own A Ferrari?
Rea’s 1996 album “La Passione” is full of some of the most awful attempts at reminding people of your Italian origins ever. Remembering that Rea is still most famous for his enquiring about the tennis-loving qualities of people in relation to the Holocaust, it takes to call any of his subsequent lyrics “embarrassing.” “Shirley Do You Own A Ferrari?” manages. A duet with Shirley Bassey, the horror of it has to be seen to be believed. “The smile on my face/ Is not sycophantic/ I’m just a true romantic.” Double fault, Chris.
By: Dom Passantino
Published on: 2005-05-27