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On Second Thought
Franco Godi Ensemble - Signor Rossi OST

f music is beautiful and catchy it is not very easy to forget it” Bruno Bozzetto on “Viva La Felicita”

Let me point something out straight off the bat: this article is not about irony. I would not waste your, or my, valuable time and effort pumping out 1000 words on a “Classic Album” just because I think it’s a bit of a giggle, or because it gives me some hipster-cache to have it on my shelves. In recent years, cartoon music has become somewhat of a de rigueur DJing shortcut, a quick way of getting people on the floor because of the cartoon, rather than the quality of the music. This is especially true of those wax-spinners who are trying to rock the student union.

A pox on their houses.

Dear Lord, save us from this. Our father who art in heaven, save my, our, childhood. Show some benevolence, show us that there’s a world without Bagpuss backpacks and He-Man bongs. Show us magic, show us proof that the reason that we liked this stuff as a child, and even know, isn’t because we thought it’d be funny to laugh about how Shaggy and Scooby were obviously on the drugs, but because it was well made! It was good! It was, fuck it, art!

Enter the Franco Godi Ensemble.

Actually, backstory, backtrack, first enter Bruno Bozzetto. Currently seen by both critics and the general public as the king of “fumetto”, a uniquely Italian form of animation that reflects Italian culture in a similar way that anime mirrors the philosophy of the Japanese people, Bozzetto first came to prominence with his 1960 piece, “Un Oscar Per Il Signor Rossi”. Bozzetto constructed this cartoon solely in order to mock a notary Italian film festival commissioner, a man who had long rejected Bozzetto’s earlier work for inclusion in his festival. The piece became Bozzetto’s first piece to be accepted for festival inclusion, and promptly proceeded to be awarded the first prize.

Over the next 15 years, a number of additional shorts, many of which are still (criminally) unavailable on video or DVD, were produced. Rossi became to represent an optimistic, confused, yet amiable everyman figure (Bozzetto admitted he chose the name “Rossi” in the same way an English language director would have chosen “Smith), whom Bozzetto used to gently poke fun at the ways of the adult world (this is some 30 years before South Park, remember). He was soon teamed up with his permanent companion Gastone, a talkative pet dog. Ron Gissori, in his liner notes to CrippledDickHotWax’s 1999 reissue of this album describes Gastone as “the most faithful and most loppy-lugged mixture of dog and wife one could imagine”, and that’s as close to a perfect description of the dog as you’re going to get. The shorts featured the two getting up to all manner of “different location” based wackiness, skiing, safari, camping, etc. They were soundtracked by a number of different composers, Bozzetto never really finding one that perfectly suited the needs of Rossi.

In 1975, when the cartoon was fully entrenched as a favourite in Italy, Germany, and a number of other Central European nations, Bozzetto was approached by the German film company Wagner-Hallig Film, with an offer to make three series of 12 episodes of Rossi antics. Bozzetto again tried to find a composer whose score would suit his art.

Now, enter Franco Godi.

Bozzetto knew Godi from his earlier work in advertising. Indeed, Godi was, and is, long known in Italy as “Signor Jingle”, a man who has knocked up possibly the most impressive back catalogue of advertising jingles in European history (much loved by Italian car manufacturers especially). Says Bozzetto: “Franco has a perfect knowledge of the spirit of animated cartoons and he knows how to join together the musical creation and the humour of the film”. So, Godi went off and put together his ensemble, a collection of musicians, singers, and voice-over artistes who could help him showcase his “perfect knowledge” of cartoons, and thus scored all 36 episodes of Signor Rossi the TV series.

And thus ends the history lesson.

So, how does it sound?

It sounds perfect.

I hesitate to say this… but this album really does have everything. That’s not what makes it classic, though, it isn’t what causes crate diggers to cough up their trust funds on Ebay just to get their grubby mitts on an original vinyl pressing of it (the 1978 issue can easily set you back $1,000). The reason this is such an essential release is because everything that’s done, every single scene attempted or genre explored, is done with a sense of exploration, a sense of fun, and Godi’s aforementioned “perfect knowledge”. The fact that Morricone is more acknowledged as a modern day pop-culture composer than Godi truly does beggar belief.

What is it? Errr… lounge. Maybe. To an extent. Lounge after the fact, perhaps, especially considering the modern issue is on CrippledDickHotWax, the world’s premier porn soundtrack label. But then, you tune your ears into, for instance, “Tutankamen Cha Cha Cha”. So what you have here is a cha cha cha tune for a scene set in Egypt, OK? But then Godi brings back from the deli some Latino rhythms, a slice of sitar, some Gregorian chant vocals at double the normal speed… remember in that post-“Odelay” era everyone suffered from that “let’s do every genre on one album” syndrome? Suckers should have listened to Godi rather than Hansen to get schooled in doing it right.

At a basic level, an obvious parallel can be drawn with Carl Stalling, the man who put the tunes in “Loony Tunes”. And, indeed, like Stalling, Godi can create these amazing aural-scapes for the listener, a picture in sound, so you can imagine the scene that went with “Arabia” without ever having to see the cartoon itself. But, unlike Stalling, and unlike pretty much any of his contemporaries, or anyone that’s working in the field today, Godi knew how to write a song as well. A perfect original song. A perfect pop song. Heck, a perfect song. That song is the show’s theme tune, the song that gets the shout of recognition when someone mentions Rossi. That song is “Viva La Felicita”.

Fans of that tune, ie, the sane, are well served by this album. Six versions of it line up, including the original, an alternate dialogue effort, an acapella, an instrumental, and both the German (“Herr Rossi Sucht Das Gluck”) and English (“Viva Happiness”) langage takes. And, although the acapella is a song so sweet Willy Wonka wishes he’d patented it, allow me to focus on the original version.

Flutes. Bongos. A children’s choir. A white gospel choir. A man doing scat-vocals that are actual words. Said man sounding like he’s having a heart attack whilst singing. Dialogue samples. Some of the most nagging song lyrics ever (“Mr Rossi, what do you want” they translate as, before listing various “finer things” from life, before the orgasm of “Viva happiness!” in the chorus”)… you really do need this song to play a feature role in your life. I honestly can’t think of a single occasion that couldn’t be improved by the inclusion of this song. It sounds like the Archies crossed with Talking Heads, and I mean it sounds *exactly* like that. One webpage I googled called it a “funky choral bliss out”! A funky choral bliss out! Genius! Can you think of a better idea? What else could an album with a funky choral bliss out be other than classic?

The dialogue snippets included here fulfil that great soundtrack obligation to plug the product. Except, even in the English issue, they’re in German and Italian. That would confuse you, if it wasn’t for the fact that already on this album you’ve been hit by “Spooky Twist”, wherein “Thriller” is narrated not by Vincent Price but by Scotty Moore. Or “Gatto Blues”, which has stripper-sax, military funeral piano chords, and a quarter of harmonising cats, before a one man band turns up, hits all his instruments at once, and all of a sudden its Miles Davis soundtracking a Benny Hill chase scene.

The seemingly random nature of the track-listing, rather than raising the heckles of any Playing God writer, instead works in its favourite: as it truly feels like a new joy around every single corner: polka for some, yodelling for others, Klezmer, barbershop… “Signor Rossi OST” is like a box of chocolates, except they’ve slipped dollar bills inside all of the foils as well.

As for the modern day? Bozzetto is now an Oscar nominee and continues to get a retrospective at every animation festival ever. Godi works in TV, making theme tunes for Italy’s never ending reign of light entertainment shows, as well as, bizzarely, turning his hand to the world of hip-hop, getting behind the boards of Italian pop-rappers Articolo 31.

Actually, that isn’t a surprise really. What you have within the confines of this album is, in effect, two years worth of crate digging, what with the number of styles and gimmicks mastered by the man and his “Coro” (originally this was creditied to “Jono & Coro”, “Jono” being Godi’s nickname at the time). Except it’s all on one disk, and by one man. CrippledDickHotWax reissued this in 1999. There is no excuse to not own it. No excuse to not let it raise the quality of your CD collection. And, if enough of us get it, maybe we’ll never have to sit through a DJ ending his set with “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!” and thinking he’s done something original. We can but dream.

By: Dom Passantino

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