Caterina Caselli was the most successful of Italy’s female beat singers. She found fame in the 1966 San Remo song contest with Nessuno mi può giudicare and went on to become a big star in 1960s Italy.
She was born on 10 April 1946 in Sassuolo, near Modena. She quit school at 13 and got a job in the accounts department of a local firm.
However, music was her main love. She took singing lessons and at the age of 14, she joined the group Gli Amici as both singer and, more unusually, bassist. Together they performed in local dance halls and nightclubs, earning a name for themselves in the area.
After taking part in the Castrocaro song contest, the young brunette was offered a recording contract with the Milan-based MRC label. However, despite TV promotion, her debut single, Ti telefono tutte le sere, issued in 1964, didn’t sell. (She might have done better to flip the record, to make Sciocca, a take on Lesley Gore’s She’s a fool, the A-side.)
Italian singers were proving popular in Spain with translated versions of their domestic hits, and despite her lack of success, Caterina re-cut her single for an EP issued in Spain. Perhaps realising the earlier mistake, the Lesley Gore song – retitled No está bien – became the lead track on the release.
At home, a switch of record label in 1965, to CGD, and hair colour, to blond, saw her release Sono qui con voi, a version of Baby please don’t go, a hit for Northern Irish group Them. Thanks to her participation in the Cantagiro contest, the song attracted radio attention, but failed to provide a breakthrough hit.
However, it prompted the label to enter the singer in the 1966 San Remo song festival, the Italian competition that had served as inspiration for the Europe-wide Eurovision song contest. When established star Adriano Celentano turned down the energetic Nessuno mi può giudicare, Caterina was offered it instead. The practice at the time was to have two singers perform each entry and both Caterina and US star Gene Pitney came to sing the song at the final.
It didn’t win, but no matter – it went to number one in the Italian charts in February 1966 and remained on the top spot for nine weeks, outselling Pitney’s version and also the winning song from the contest, Domenico Modugno/Gigliola Cinquetti’s Dio come ti amo.
The song established Caterina as a star and for the remainder of the year she could do little wrong. She won the Festivalbar contest in the summer with Perdono, which reached number five in the charts in July 1966 and was backed with the equally popular L’uomo d’oro, which Caterina had performed at the Un disco per l’estate contest, finishing fourth.
She also re-recorded her San Remo song for release in France (as La vérité je la vois dans tes yeux) and in Spain (as Ninguno me puede juzgar).
Meanwhile, in Italy, she was teamed up with American group We Five for her first album, the imaginatively entitled Caterina meets the We Five. In reality, the artists didn’t perform together – the album was little more than an attempt to satisfy demand while recognising that Caterina didn’t have enough material in the can for a whole LP. Instead, her CGD singles and B-sides were merely compiled along with some of We Five’s best tracks. Although collectors are now happy to shell out generous sums for it, the album offered fans poor value at the time.
Further hits followed, in the form of the emotionally charged Cento giorni and even its B-side, Tutto nero, a version of the Rolling Stones’ Paint it black.
Caterina’s first proper LP, Casco d’oro (a humorous reference to her helmet of blond hair), rounded off the year. In addition to the singles, highlights of the album included È la pioggia che va (originally Bob Lind’s Remember the rain), Puoi farmi piangere (the Alan Price Set’s I put a spell on you) and the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil-penned Kicks.
The choice of Il cammino di ogni speranza for the 1967 San Remo contest proved disappointing. The song wasn’t as strong as Caterina’s previous entry and was eliminated before the final. However, it gave her another top 20 hit all the same. (Fans often prefer to flip the record for its B-side, the stonking Le biciclette bianche, an ode to a Dutch bike-sharing scheme.)
Sono bugiarda, a cover of The Monkees’ I'm a believer, proved a return to form. Issued that spring, the song reached number six in the charts and remains one of her best-known hits.
A further single, Sole spento, made number 12 that autumn.
A second LP, Diamoci del tu, named after a TV show she fronted, also hit the shops. It included versions of The Four Tops’ Standing in the shadows of love, L’ombra di nessuno (see our Motown males tribute special), and Donovan’s Mellow yellow, Cielo giallo.
Seeking to demonstrate her versatility, Caterina also appeared in a couple of musical films, Io non protesto, io amo and Quando dico che ti amo.
In 1968, the newly brunette singer enjoyed huge hits with Il volto della vita, a cover of David McWilliams’ Days of Pearly Spencer, and the beautiful Italian original Insieme a te non ci sto più, both of which made the top five. An appearance in the Canzonissima song contest with Il carnevale stopped just short of giving the singer a second chart topper, while a further film appearance, this time in Enzo Battaglia’s Non ti scordar di me, consolidated her success.
Although still at the top of her game in Italy, Caterina’s occasional forays into foreign markets had failed to translate into significant sales so far. However, it was decided that she should have a stab at the lucrative German market too. Il carnevale was translated into German as Wie all’ die Ander’n, but surprisingly, the song was consigned to the B-side of the distinctly less remarkable Si si signorina. It wasn’t a hit and only one further German-language single was issued, 1970’s Schlager-styled Und wenn die Welt vom Himmel fällt.
Back at home, a return to the San Remo contest in 1969, performing Il gioco dell’amore, provided her with a further top 20 hit. The singles Tutto da rifare and Emanuel rounded off the decade, but neither was as big a hit as hoped for. Similarly, a further entry to the San Remo contest in 1970, with Re di cuori, proved less successful than her earlier attempts.
However, by this time, her mind was elsewhere. She had married the head of the Sugar record label and her recording career began to take a back seat to her new interests. Although she continued to record, by the mid-1970s she was all too ready to swap her place in front of the microphone for one behind the production controls. Indeed, she is credited with discovering Andrea Bocelli in 1992.
She released a few further singles in the 1980s and returned to San Remo for a one-off appearance in 1990.
She continues to work as a manager and record producer.