In the 1960s, English had yet to become the lingua franca of Europe. Nevertheless, as Britain’s beat boom swept across the continent, demand proved high for all things inglese. Which explains why some international artists re-cut their material for overseas markets. Here, we salute 15 British female singers of the 1960s who recorded in Italian.
At the time, few Italians spoke English well. Italy had more in common culturally with its Mediterranean neighbours than with Britain. As a result, French and Spanish were more popular as foreign languages in Italy than English – with 90% of school children studying French in the 1960s. (By the 1990s, this had dropped to 35%. Today, it stands even lower.)
All this meant that your average Italian teenager struggled to understand Britain’s wave of new singers and groups. Throw in that many British artists of the day opted to sing using their regional accents, it is little wonder that Italian record buyers were left bemused.
This helped create a demand for British singers to re-record their records in Italian. However, the language is not an easy one for native English speakers to master, and its phonetic subtleties left many a Brit with their tongue in a twist. Most learned the lyrics to the Italian versions of their songs phonetically – and the results are not always convincing.
Inevitably, some of our chosen cantante scored better with the fruits of their labours than others. Here, though, we present the singers in strictly alphabetical order.
Andee Silver: L’amore dice ciao
Some British artists found greater popularity abroad than at home. Male beat combo The Rokes, for example, were big in Italy but remained steadfastly below the public radar at home. Londoner Andee Silver was another such artist. She never cracked the UK charts and ended up focusing more of her energies on the Italian and, particularly, the Spanish markets. Her 45 L’amore dice ciao was taken from the soundtrack to the 1968 film La matriarca.
Anita Harris: L’amore è partito
The San Remo song festival was Italy’s most popular music show of the 1960s – indeed, it is still going today. The contest provided a springboard to the Italian charts for a host of British stars, not least because each entry had to be performed by two singers – one Italian and one international. In 1965, Britain’s Anita Harris headed off to take part in the contest. Both she and Italy’s Beppe Cardile sang L’amore è partito. However, the song didn’t make it to the final and neither singer scored a hit with their respective recording of it. It proved Anita’s one and only release in Italian.
Cilla Black: M’innamoro
Cilla Black’s career owes more to Italian music than any other British singer’s. She excelled at the heartfelt ballads that were so popular in Italy. Many of her biggest UK hits were translations of Italian songs – among them You’re my world (Umberto Bindi’s Il mio mondo), Don’t answer me (Donatella Moretti’s Ti vedo uscire), A fool am I (Fabrizio Ferretti’s Dimmelo parlami), I only live to love you (Tony Dallava’s Cosa si fa stasera) and Where is tomorrow (Umberto Bindi’s Non c’è domani). John Lennon and Paul McCartney also penned several hits for the singer, and McCartney also wrote 1968’s Step inside love as the theme tune to her new TV series. Translated as M’innamoro, the song became the A-side of her only Italian-language single.
Clodagh Rodgers: Il cuore nella rete
Northern Ireland’s Clodagh Rodgers had been in the music business for many years before she scored a hit with Come back and shake me, in 1969. By that time, the fashion for singers to re-record their songs in other languages had largely passed. This explains why her debut hit became the A-side of one of just two Italian-language singles she released. Retitled Il cuore nella rete, it failed to repeat its UK success. The other 45, of course, was a version of Clodagh’s 1971 Eurovision entry, Jack in the box, renamed Pupazzo.
Dusty Springfield: Di fronte all’amore
After Dusty hit big in the UK, her record label, Philips, encouraged her into the studio to cut a number of songs in French, German and Italian. From these recordings came the single Tanto so che poi mi passa, a version of Every day I have to cry. On the flip was Stupido stupido, a take on Bacharach and David’s Wishin’ and hopin’, which, sadly, was spoilt by second-rate lyrics. Within months, Dusty took part in the 1965 San Remo song festival, where she performed two songs. Tu che ne sai made it through to the semi-finals before being eliminated. Surprisingly, the other, Di fronte all’amore, was knocked out in the first round. However, the singer didn’t leave the contest empty-handed. Instead, she came away with a song called Io che no vivo (senza te), which had been written and performed by Pino Donaggio. A year later, in April 1966, her English-language version, You don’t have to say you love me, gave Dusty her only UK chart topper.
The Honeybeats: Dicci come fini
If The Honeybeats had remained a foursome, they wouldn’t have qualified for this Brit girl special. The group was the brainchild of Italian-born Marta Cion. After finishing her studies at Vienna’s music conservatory, she took a trip to Munich, where she persuaded the members of a female folk trio to join her in a band. All she needed then was a singer to front the group – and she found one in England, busking outside the university in Birmingham (or so the PR story went at the time). Two days later, she brought Daisy Winters back to Germany with her and set about securing a recording contract. The group cut Frag’ nicht soviel for Germany’s Metronome label in 1966, but it is their Italian 45s that command the most attention. The first was Dicci come fini, a terrific take on US girl group The Ikettes’ Peaches ‘n’ cream. Di più, di più, di più, a version of Otis Redding’s I love you more than words can say, was issued as the follow up – though by the time of its release, Daisy had been replaced at the mic by Norma Green.
Jackie Trent: Il mondo degli altri
By 1967, artists such as Cilla and Dusty had scored any number of big hits with songs of Italian origin. Tony Hatch and his girlfriend, Jackie Trent, wanted a piece of the action. Jackie had struggled to follow up her chart-topping Where are you now (my love) and the pair felt that an Italian tune might break her run of flops. However, rather than simply write English lyrics for an Italian song, they penned their own composition in an Italian style, Open your heart. Sensing that the song might sell in Italy too, Jackie also cut it as Il mondo degli altri. It remains her only recording in the language.
Kathy Kirby: Non piangerò per un’altra
The Eurovision song contest also provided British entrants the chance to record their entries in other languages. Britain was better at promoting its entries throughout the rest of Europe than some other countries, so the originals were often already known. Their popularity was helped by the fact that, at the time, the UK selected established stars to represent it. In 1965, Kathy Kirby performed her I belong at the contest, which took place in Naples that year, following Gigliola Cinquetti’s win a year earlier. (She was beaten by France Gall singing for Luxembourg.) Kathy re-recorded her entry as Tu sei con me, though here we present one of the songs from the British final, I’ll try not to cry, in its Italian version, Non piangerò per un’altra.
Kiki Dee: Senza te
In 1965, serious efforts were made to boost Kiki Dee’s profile. In January she appeared at the San Remo song festival, performing Aspetta domani, which had been written by Italian singer Fred Bongusto. The song made the final, though it didn’t win. Nevertheless, it gained a release in Italy, and Senza te, a version of the superior Baby I don’t care, was included on the B-side. It was one of two Italian singles she recorded – the other, issued later the same year, was a version of her (You don’t know) How glad I am, retitled Come ti amo, with Favole (originally, Miracles) on the flip.
Lulu: Povera me (oh me oh my)
Scottish singer Lulu recorded less prolifically in other languages than many of her contemporaries. However, during a couple of low points in her career, she cut some songs in German. Nevertheless, when she became one of four singers to win the Eurovision song contest in 1969, it was inevitable that she would re-record her entry, Boom bang-a-bang, in other languages. These included French, German and Italian. More surprisingly, when she switched record labels shortly after her contest win, she cut her debut 45 for the new label, Atlantic Records’ Atco subsidiary, in Italian too. Thus Oh me oh my (I’m a fool for you baby) became Povera me (oh me oh my) for the Italian market.
Marianne Faithfull: Un piccolo cuore
In 1964, Marianne scored with her debut release, the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards composition As tears go by. Though Marianne didn’t care much for the song, the British record-buying public lapped it up. A year later, This little bird gave the singer her third top ten UK hit. The song was also re-recorded and issued in Italian as Un piccolo cuore as the B-side to Quando ballai con lui, a version of Morning sun. Much to her frustration, the singer became better known for her relationship with Jagger than for her music. Indeed, even the suicide of Italian singer Luigi Tenco at the 1967 San Remo song festival – at which Marianne performed C'è chi spera – came second to the couple’s affair, at least in the British press.
Mary Hopkin: Lontano dagli occhi
TV programme Opportunity knocks propelled Welsh singer Mary Hopkin from obscurity to international stardom in 1968. Her debut single, Those were the days, topped the charts in the UK and around the world, selling ten million copies. So when organisers of the San Remo festival were looking for international singers to appear at the contest in January 1969, Mary’s name was one of the first to be suggested. She performed the charming Lontano dagli occhi. Although she didn’t win, the song became a hit in Italy, reaching number 18 in the national charts.
Petula Clark: Un giorno mi hai sorriso
Such was Petula Clark’s popularity in mainland Europe – particularly in France – that she had been on the verge of giving up recording for the British market. When Harry Wright scored a top five hit with an Italian take on Petula’s Romeo, in September 1962, the decision was taken to have Petula record translated versions of her material for the Italian market. One of the highlights of her Italian songbook is the original Italian composition Un giorno mi hai sorriso. The song turned up on the B-side of Gocce de mare – a translation of Round every corner – in 1966, and again on the flip of her next single, L’amore è il vento, a version of her US chart topper My love.
Samantha Jones: Perchè adesso ti amo
Former Vernons Girl Samantha Jones cut her first record in Italian in 1964. Her debut British release was 1964’s It’s all because of you and she recorded a version in Italian, which was released through United Artists’ arm in Italy. In translation, the song became Una goccia d’amore. In Britain, she’d been scheduled to release As long as you’re happy, until Sandie Shaw pipped her to the post. Instead, she released the song in Italian, as Io non lo dico mai. She made several visits to Italy to promote her records and appeared at the Venice song festival. She released one further Italian song, in 1970, Perchè adesso ti amo, a version of Best of both worlds, a song she’d released in English and which Scottish singer Lulu had also recorded.
Sandie Shaw: Guardo te che te ne vai
Like her Pye label mate Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw re-recorded much of her material for the mainland European markets. In Italy, after scoring a top ten hit with Domani, a version of Tomorrow, Sandie took part in the International song festival in Venice in 1966. She also headed into the recording studios to cut songs for an Italian album. One of the highlights of the LP was the exquisite Italian original Guardo te che te ne vai, a song that suited her beautifully. She recorded an English-language version too, though it remained unreleased for many years.