Italian singer Carmen Villani made some great records throughout the 1960s, changing her sound to match the mood as the decade moved on. She also appeared in a number of films before turning to acting full-time – albeit in some rather dubious roles – in the 1970s.
She was born on 21 May 1944 in Ravarino in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy.
Her singing career began at the age of 15, when she took part in a number of contests. Most notably, she won the 1959 Castrocaro with Quando una ragazza – and was offered a contract with the Bluebell label as a result.
She began performing with Fred Buscaglione’s orchestra, and issued her first solo 45, Sul banco di scuola, in 1960. It wasn’t a hit, and the follow up, Espada, stalled just outside the Italian top 40 later the same year.
In 1962, Carmen made her debut film appearance, in the critically acclaimed Un uomo da bruciare. Her record label published the soundtrack to the film and used the opportunity to promote the singer heavily. The move paid off, and she scored her first hit that year, with Brucia, a version of Come and get it, which included Potrai fidarti di me, a version of Brenda Lee’s You can depend on me, on the flip.
Building on her success, she took part in 1963’s Cantagiro contest, performing Io sono così, a cover of the Burt Bacharach-penned The love of a boy, originally recorded by Timi Yuro. (Anna Marchetti also issued a version of the song the following year.) The song prompted an offer to record a translation of Anyone who had a heart, a huge US hit for Dionne Warwick, but her label turned it down, and it was left to British star Petula Clark to enjoy the Italian hit version of the song.
Over the course of her career, Carmen proved adept at changing with the times, and 1964 saw her adopt the new beat sound. The terrific Congratulazioni a te became her first 45 in the new style. However, the disc stalled outside the top 50. Imparerò a nuotare, also issued in 1964, fared no better.
1965 kicked off with the release of the powerful ballad Amerai solo me, but it is the flip, Come fai, a version of US singer Betty Everett’s Getting mighty crowded, that has become the more popular side.
It was decided that a makeover was needed to go with her new sound. The girl-next-door brunette was put on a diet and given a new blond hairdo. However, her clothes styling missed the mark, and the result was more office secretary than Carnaby Street dolly bird.
The new-look Carmen was due to be unveiled at the San Remo song festival but fate once again dealt her a bad hand. The practice at the time was to have two singers perform each entry, and both Carmen and Paul Anka were scheduled to perform La verità. However, the Canadian star’s label withdrew from the contest, leaving Carmen without a place in the line-up. Adding insult to injury, Anka went on to enjoy a top-five hit with his version. Nevertheless, Carmen’s recording is generally considered one of her finest – and the 45 included her cracking take on The Supremes’ Baby love on the reverse.
Carmen then roped in beat group the Avengers to record the theme to the Agent speciale TV programme, and she went on to take part in Naples festival with Io ca te voglio bene and appear in another film, Per una valigia piena di donne (known internationally as The kinky darlings).
Her beat gem Passo il tempo was used to open the Questo e quello TV programme, but in a surprise move, it was relegated to the B-side of her first release of 1966. Admittedly, the A-side, Anche se mi vuoi, was a highly credible cover of the Ivy League’s Tossing and turning, but the decision proved something of a missed opportunity, though it did give the singer her only top 30 hit to date.
The excellent Bada Caterina, from the soundtrack to the film Adulterio all’italiana, was issued as the follow up, and later that year, Carmen also took part in the Rose festival, performing Chitarre contro la guerra, alongside a version by its author, Umberto Napolitano. (There is some confusion over the title of Carmen’s recording: the record sleeve gives it as Mille chitarre contro la guerra, while the record omits the first word.)
One final single, Non c’è bisogno di camminare, and an album comprising mostly recent A- and B-sides were released on the Bluebell label before Carmen switched to Fonit Cetra, marking the end of her flirtation with the beat sound.
Bosses at the new label had great plans for Carmen. First off, they enrolled her in the 1967 San Remo song festival. Both Carmen and established star Pino Donaggio performed the classy Io per amore, which Donaggio had co-written. The song made it through to the final, but ultimately finished 11th. (Iva Zanicchi and Claudio Villa won that year.) Carmen and Donaggio both issued versions of their entry, though the latter scored the bigger hit.
That summer she performed Ho perduto te at the Disco per l’estate contest.
Mi va di cantare, issued in 1968, proved another surprising choice – ultimately losing out in a sales war to two rival versions, one by Louis Armstrong and another by Lara Saint Paul, both of whom had performed the song at that year’s San Remo festival. The single is now perhaps better known for its flip, Questa sinfonia, a version of a song penned by French singer-songwriter Eric Charden.
Carmen went on to release the theme to another film, this time Il profeta, and the tune has since found favour amongst lovers of lounge music. (The flip, Non prenderla sul serio, was the theme to the Su e giù TV programme.)
That summer she took the pleasing Per dimenticare to the Disco per l’estate contest, while È la vita di una donna and the telephone sound effect-heavy Trenta 0233 became her last Cetra releases of the year – before her old label, Bluebell, cashed in on her renewed popularity by re-issuing her 1966 album with an amended track listing.
1969 kicked off with a return to the San Remo festival, this time sporting a huge hairpiece to perform the somewhat cheesy Piccola piccola (Alessandra Casaccia was the other singer). Again, Carmen finished 11th, and the song proved her last top 30 hit in Italy and a big success in Japan.
Indeed, further releases that year, Viva la vita in campagna (which she performed at the Disco per l’estate contest), Quelli belli come noi and Se, failed to attract much interest amongst record buyers. However, by this time, she had begun supplementing her recording career with additional work as a TV showgirl – hinting at the direction her career would take in the 1970s.
A return to the San Remo stage in 1970 with Hippy (also performed by Fausto Leali) resulted in 12th place, and one further single, L’amore è come un bimbo, was issued before she switched labels again, this time to RCA.
The new label had her compete with the much better-known Domenico Modugno performing Come stai at the 1971 San Remo festival, and the song proved her best result – sixth – but her version lost out to Modugno’s in the charts.
From 1973, thanks initially to her film director husband Mauro Ivaldi, she moved into acting full-time, enjoying a string of starring roles in erotic fare, such as La supplente, L’amica di mia madre and Ecco lingua d’argento.
And in the late 1970s, she was to be found gracing the centrefolds of Playboy and other gentlemen’s one-handed reading material.
She attempted a couple of musical comebacks in the 1980s, though without success. In the 1990s, she starred in the stage musical Roma birbona, and in 2004 she guested on the album Weekend al Funkafè by the group Ridillo.