A brief history of Pop Music

by Piero Scaruffi
A chapter of my History of Popular Music

See also John Kenrick's History of the Musical | Melody Lane

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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Popular Music")

European Beginnings


Musical entertainment for the masses

Musical entertainment was born as a reflection of the relationship between humans and nature. The first disconnects between these two entities occurred with courtly music and religious music, that reflected not humans in their natural environment but humans in artificial environments such as the court and the monastery. This branch of music eventually evolved into what we call "classical music".

It is likely that, instead, musical entertainment for the poor masses remained roughly the same over many centuries, because their lifestyle did not change all that much.

But the second major disconnect affected precisely these classes of people. It took place after the industrial revolution, when reckless urbanization and factory life dramatically altered the soundscape of the lower classes. Musical entertainment for the masses became a completely different phenomenon, although still derived from the market fair and the itinerant circus. It also merged with the renewed vogue for the theater and with the booming capitalist attitude. In the USA it was further affected by the melting pot of immigrants (including slaves), by the vast linguistically-uniform territory and by the process of colonization of new lands. Musical entertainment for the masses in the industrial society was to be quite different from anything that had come before.

First of all, it became a commodity, just like many other things (from long-distance transportation to newspapers) were becoming commodities. An entire industry was born to profit from it and to fuel its growth. The tension between its social roots and the industry that turned it into a mass product was going to remain the fundamental theme of its history.

Secondly, it introduced a new way to experience musical entertainment by separating the stage and the audience in a way that did not exist in folk music (although it already existed in courtly music). Indirectly this led to the birth of the "auteur" also in popular music, not only in classical music.

Thirdly, it became the soundtrack of the middle class. As the middle class was being created in the big cities of Europe and the USA, musical entertainment reflected its hedonistic, social, political, economic urges.

Finally, it created a whole new spectrum of professions (the owner of the theater, the performer, the publisher, etc).

Napoli: the Aria

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Pop music was born in Napoli, Italy, in 1679, when Alessandro Scarlatti composed his first opera, or even earlier, when Francesco Provenzale coined the musical language that Scarlatti popularized: light, lively and catchy. They placed the emphasis on arias, clearly separated from the "recitativo", and grounded the arias on a strong sense of rhythm and melody. The Neapolitan passion for melodic singing, as defined by Alessandro Scarlatti's Griselda (1721), Giovanni Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona (1733), Giovannni Paisiello's Nina pazza per amore (1789), Domenico Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792), dominated Western Europe for at least a century. Thanks to them, the opera became a simpler, funny, popular form of entertainment, and the style of singing evolved into a refined art of its own, the "bel canto". The Italian audience loved to sing the arias of Gioacchino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816), Vincenzo Bellini's Norma (1831), Gaetano Doninzetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835). Few people could afford to go to the opera, but many people would hum and whistle and mimick the great opera singers. Even Giuseppe Verdi, not exactly the lightest of composers, was sung at barber shops and wedding parties. More arias were added to the repertory by Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (1890), Ruggero Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" (1892), Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly (1904). The opera was a complex work of art, but their catchy arias served the less "sophisticated" taste of the masses as well as any folk dance.

An early example of how the aria of the opera transferred to popular music is Eduardo Di Capua's O Sole Mio (1898), one of the most recorded songs of all times.

Vienna: the Waltz

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Following the social upheavals caused by the industrial revolution and by the American and French revolutions, the 19th century witnessed two major revolutions that were both social and cultural in nature: the rise of the bourgeoisie and romanticism. They both emphasized the "popular" element, a fact that did not take long to affect instrumental music.

The social dance of the Western aristocracy (since 1650) had been the minuet. The new social order required a new social dance, a "popular" one. The waltz, derived around 1800 from an Austrian folk dance (the laendler), as well as the mazurka from Poland and the polka from Bohemia, served proved to be a good match for the new social mood. The first dance hall for waltzing opened in Germany in 1754, but the waltz came into its own when it took Vienna by storm at the turn of the century thanks to dance halls such as "Zum Sperl" (1807) and "Apollo" (1808). These dances were much more vibrant than the old minuet. They allowed for more creativity. And they were more "erotic" because they were "couple-oriented" dances and the dancers were facing each other and embracing each other. Where the minuet emphasized the collective pattern, the waltz emphasized the man-woman interaction, and left the couple free to interact or not interact with the other couples on the dance floor. From the Middle Ages on, the Church had discouraged this kind of "pagan" folk dance, considering it too suggestive and too disorderly. The age of romanticism rediscovered the jovial spirit of the folk dance, although it recast it into the cold, disciplined realm of uniformed officials and long lady dresses. Replacing the peasant combo with an orchestra helped make the folk dance palatable to the aristocracy. The An der Schoenen Blauen Donau (1867), composed by Austrian composer Johann Strauss Junior, marked the apogee of the phenomenon.

Paris, Vienna, London: the Operetta

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"Opera-Comique", the theater founded in Paris in 1715 to stage popular forms of entertainment such as comedy, dance and music shows, descendants of the light entertainment provided by itinerant troupes at medieval fairs, eventually gave the name to a musical genre, the "opera-comique". They were related to the opera only insomuch as they borrowed the new styles made popular in Napoli, but their fragmented structure betrayed their origin as, basically, a "variety show".

Jacques Offenbach created the "opera bouffe", such as Orphee Aux Enfers (1858), as an extension of the same concept. The songs were meant to be simple and catchy, the rhythm engaging, the tone light and humurous, the theme farcical.

The Viennese operetta, pioneered by Franz von Suppe in the 1860s and popularized, once again, by Johann Strauss Junior's Die Fledermaus (1874) and Franz Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe/ The Merry Widow (1905), did something similar with the "singspiel".

The English operetta was significantly different from the operetta of Paris and Vienna. It descended from the "ballad opera" a` la John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), a cycle of songs to accompany a an operatic parody. It was, generally speaking, far less provocative. The prototype was Henry Bishop's Clari or the Maid of Milan (1823), which contained one of the most popular songs of the century, Home Sweet Home. The genre peaked with the works of composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist William Gilbert: The Sorcerer (1877), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), one of the most popular (Farewell My Own), The Pirates of Penzance (1880), premiered simultaneously in London and New York, Iolanthe (1882), the first operetta staged at D'Oyly Carte's super-modern "Savoy" theatre (the first "electrical" theater in the world), Princess Ida (1884), and The Mikado (1885), influenced by the Japanese craze of the time and probably their masterpiece (Tit Willow, Three Little Maids), one of the first to be recorded (with a cast that included the most famous pop stars of Britain, such as Peter Dawson and Stanley Kirkby). Sullivan proved to be one of the most versatile composers of his age, running the gamut from waltzes to quotations from Wagner's operas, from military marches to medieval madrigals. His style was, de facto, an exuberant parody of the entire body of western music. Gilbert, meanwhile, painted a social universe of declining aristocracy, revered royalty and proud imperial ambitions that "satirized" but did not "criticize". In fact, it was largely devoid of the social and political anxieties of those decades.

So popular were Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas that impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte built two theaters for them, the "Savoy" (1881) and the "Royal English Opera House" (1891).

His rival impresario George Edwardes, headquartered at the "Gaiety" theater, responded with Alfred Cellier's Dorothy (1886), including the hit Queen of My Heart, and Sidney Jones' The Gaiety Girl (1893), featuring the "Gaiety Girls", by far the greatest attraction of the decade.

While mostly ignored (or despised) in the Continent, the English operetta with its brisk pace, delirious wit and popular melodies was highly successful in the USA.

Leslie Stuart's Floradora (1899), instead, belonged to the genre of the musical comedy.

Paris: the Cabaret

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After the Terror and the Napoleonic wars, the cafes that sprouted all over Paris became a symbol of a more relaxed (public as well as private) life. After the last major crisis, the German invasion of 1870, was over, an event immortalized by Pierre Degeyter's "L'Internationale" (1888), Paris began craving for entertainment after decades of intolerance and wars. The cafes served alcohol, food and fun. One particular kind was the cafe-concert.

The theater was where the operas were performed with solemn pomp, but the "cafe-concert" was the place that offered a more casual environment for the bourgeoisie to listen to the same arias while drinking a liqueur and chatting with a friend at a table. Its performers were often amateurs, but devoted ones, who could approximate the styles of the opera. Most cafe-concert would also offer other forms of entertainment, such as comedians. Eventually, the singers of the cafe-concert began to write their own material, and sing it in more regular tones (not the tenors and the baritones of the operas). Since their audience was the bourgeoisie, they addressed issues that their audience could identify with, such as satirical accounts of celebrated events. The success of the operettas influenced a parallel evolution in the music, that became more lively, hummable and rhythmic, with an emphasis on a refrain that people could easily memorize. The "chanson" was born. The genre and the locale helped each other: people went to the cafe-concert to listen to the chansonniers, but they also listened to the chansonniers because they were meeting friends at the cafe-concert. The cafe-concert was also one of the few places where the politically-motivated intellectuals could hear political talk. It was the ideal place for the artists to meet and exchanged ideas. The cafe-concert soon became a reference point for the entire cultural life of Paris. The cafe-concert was the place where the social classes mingled: for the first time in French history, the aristocracy and the lower classes shared the same venue.

During those years, the star of theater was Sarah Bernhardt, an actress who became a myth, an "immoral" woman who was one of the first feminists, jealous of her independence and indifferent to traditional family roles. Public opinion was against her when she ended her tenure at the "Odeon" in 1872, but her cult was just starting.

Around the same time, the circus was becoming more than just trained animals and pretty riders. Following the British example, each French circus was adding acrobats, clowns and singers to its parade of sensations. The result was a more exhilarating experience that drew bigger and bigger crowds.

The cabaret (originally the term for liquor stores) was born in 1881 in Paris when Rudolphe Salis opened "Le Chat Noir" in the Monmartre district, catering to that colorful crowd of writers, artists and musicians. It was the natural evolution of the cafe-concert, away from the opera and towards the young decadents. The cabaret was born for the artists to exhibit themselves: poets, comedians, musicians shared the stage. The satirical element (both of the politics and the customs of the day, and sometimes of the intellectuals themselves) was much stronger. It soon began to copy the format of the circus, adding acrobats and clowns to its program.

The renaissance of the French song began in the mid 1880s with composers and singers such as Jules Jouy and Xavier Privas. Jouy was influential in establishing "Le Chat Noir" as the main venue for the new chansonniers. He even pioneered the concept of the "video clip" because he used "shadow shows" to accompany his songs (silhouettes projected onto a transparent screen). This "shadow show" became one of Paris' main attractions until the end of 1895, when Auguste and Louis Lumiere debuted their "Cinematographe" at the "Salon du Grand Cafe". In 1897 Jouy wrote La Soularde for Yvette Guilbert, one of the most famous songs of the "Belle Epoque".

Two of the early chansonniers created the two archetypical styles. Aristide Bruant borrowed from folk music a plain tone that fit his stories of the lower classes and his contempt for the bourgeoisie. He was the founding father of the realist song (Saint Lazare, Saint Ouen, A La Villette). Yvette Guilbert, instead, the prototype of the "chanteuse", adopted a melodramatic, half-spoken style that was more influenced by Sarah Bernhardt than by folk singing (Ma Tete, 1904). The former and his disciples were much more successful among the general audience.

The first music hall of Paris had been opened by Joseph Oller in 1875 (the "Fantasies Oller"), who also opened the most famous, the "Olympia", in 1888, on Boulevard des Capucines. In the following decade many more opened, mostly in Montmartre, including the "Folies-Bergere", mostly in the area around Boulevard de Strasbourg and the Porte St Denis.

Jeanne Bourgeois, better known as "Mistinguette", ruled the stage of the Parisian music halls when recordings made its stars famous world-wide: "Mon Homme," "La Rumba d'Amour", "Ca C'est Paris" and especially "Mon Homme" (1920) were her "hits". She is credited with pioneering the entrance from the top of a spectacular staircase and the fanciful exotic costumes that would become novelties around the world.

During her legendary tenure at the "Folies Bergere" in 1909, Mistinguette discovered Maurice Chevalier, a young singer (13 years younger than her) who went on to become the most popular French entertainer between the two wars, and the quintessence of the French seducer for the rest of the world, with songs such as Mimi, Louise, Dans la Vie Faut Pas s'en Faire (1921), Valentine (1924), Prosper (1935), Ma Pomme (1936), Ca Fait d'Excellents Francais (1939). After the "Great War" (in which he served and was wounded), he became the star of the "Casino de Paris", where he entertained a crowd of American soldiers. Thanks to that connection, Chevalier became instrumental in bridging the world of the French cabaret and the world of African-American music (jazz, ragtime). He staged his first Broadway musical in 1922 and became the first foreign singer to star in a Hollywood musical in 1929.

The first dance halls, such as the "Moulin de la Galette", were simply venues for people to enjoy the music and also dance to it. But dancing soon took on a life of its own, and a lifestyle of its own. The "Moulin Rouge", opened in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, was a dance hall that offered a wild and sumptuous environment for the wealthy male audience to forget their families and their work. There prevailed an explicit erotic element, both in the attire of the singers/dancers and in the themes of their songs. Fundamentally, it was a bigger and more ambitious (and more dissolute) form of cabaret, mixing music (played by a full orchestra) and dance (choreographed like a ballet) in elaborate shows. The rhythm was frantic, as epitomized by the "can can" that became the soundtrack of this era.

The prostitutes that used to hang out at the "brasseries" (sort of restaurant-brothels) became the stars of the cabarets. In fact, one could claim that the cabaret turned prostitution into a form of art. Their fans ranged from aristocrats to working-class students. The cabaret provided the first public arena for social and sexual promiscuity.

All in all, la "belle epoque" (Paris between 1890 and World War I) created the modern idea of entertainment. Those were also the years of the first films, of the Art Noveau, of the Impressionism, of Debussy, of the "Tour Eiffel" (1889). The cabaret was where people celebrated the "belle epoque". But the celebration ended in a massacre: World War I.

Nonetheless, the "Olympia" continued to dominate the night life till 1928 (when it turned into a movie theater). The main show was now starring the sexy and exotic African-American entertainer Josephine Baker, who had arrived in Paris with the "Revue Negre" in 1925 and became famous wearing only a costume of bananas.

Berlin: the Cabaret

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The French cabaret spread to Berlin. While it already produced influential songs, such as Ernst von Wolzogen's Madame Adele (1901), the prototype of the prostitute song, cabaret music became a musical genre in its own only during the 1920s, at the times of the Weimar Republic, closely related to the decadent atmosphere of night clubs as well as to expressionist culture (Frank Wedekind's "Lulu" or Josef von Sternberg's Der Blaue Engel). Unlike Paris, where Bruant's mellow, melodious style was always more popular, Berlin's cabaret music tended to follow the melodramatic style of Yvette Guilbert.

Cabaret music helped a repressed generation vent their frustration into erotic themes and political satire. The stars were almost always women, such as Marlene Dietrich, Margo Lion, Zarah Leander, Fritzi Massary, Kate Kuhl, Lotte Lenya, Lore Lorentz, Gisela May, Tatjana Sais, Helen Vita, Voli Geiler, Ursula Herking, Trude Hesterberg, Greta Keller, Hildegard Knef, Grete Weiser, Hanne Wieder, etc. The figure of the fatalist "chanteuse" came into its own in Berlin, not Paris.

In 1927 the classical composer Kurt Weill began a collaboration with the playwright Bertold Brecht, incorporating jazz, folk and pop elements (probably the first time that the three genres had been merged) in the satirical-didactic musical dramas Die Dreigroschenoper/ The Three-Penny Opera (1928), based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), containing the swinging theme of Mack The Knife, and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny/ Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929).

German cabaret died in 1933 with the advent of Hitler: the nazi party did not like its display of German decadence.

Ironically, the most typical song of the German cabaret will be Norbert Schultze's Lili Marlene (1939), sung in German by Danish cabaret chanteuse Lale Andersen, a tune that many interpreted as an anti-war song.

Britain: the Music Hall

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The equestrian circus (which had nothing in common with the original "circus" of the Romans) was invented in London in 1768 by Philip Astley. It later came to included other trained animals besides horses. In 1859 it added the flying trapeze. Soon, it also listed jugglers, acrobats, magicians and clowns among its acts. Popular music was for taverns. Comic plays were for the theaters. During the second half of the 19th century these three worlds started catering to the same audience. It was inevitable that they merged.

British "music hall" was a genre, not a place. Charles Morton is credited with being the first enterpreneur who, in 1840, added a saloon for entertainment next to his restaurant, "St George's Tavern", in Pimlico. The idea quickly spread to other parts of London, as the lower classes liked the combination of food, beer and performers. Unlike the French music hall, that catered to all social classes and whose main patrons were from the aristocracy, the British music hall was very much a rowdy, lewd, unsophisticated low-class form of mass entertainment. A respectable gentleman would not set foot in a music hall, and a respectable performer would not perform on the stage of a music hall. So a new kind of performer was born, that harked back to the medieval fairs and to the circus, and a new kind of audience was born, one that appreciated a quick laugh and detested the pomp of literature and classical music. Morton admitted women to his new "Canterbury Hall" (1852), and soon other music halls sprouted all over London. By the end of the century, there were literally hundreds of them. The demand for songs grew exponentially and fueled a boom in songwriters. These songwriters were in charge of producing songs that were catchy, rhythmic, worked in loud environments and invited audience participation. The main inspiration came from the popular dances, whether jigs or polkas, but the melodies often mimicked folk ballads. The song had to be easy to learn, because the audience was expecting to sing along. The most famous song of the beginnings was probably Champagne Charlie (1854), but the first notable songwriter of the music hall was George LeBrunn, who wrote Oh Mr Porter (1893), It's a Great Big Shame (1894) The Houses in Between (1894). Stars of the music hall included Marie Lloyd (1890s), Gus Elen (1890s), Larry Lauder (1900s), and Harry Champion (1900s), the author of I'm Henry the Eighth I Am (1911), each of them identified with a routine of sketches and songs.

A law meant to protect theaters forbade music halls from presenting theatrical plays, so they had to limit themselves to musical sketches (mainly sing-along routines). In 1907 the law was relaxed and the music halls began to stage comic sketches as well. It still kept its identity, though: the audience sat at tables, eating and drinking, while the shows were performed on stage. The popularity of these venues was such that in 1912 a revue took place in front of the king himself at the "Palace" theater. The music hall became more respectable (especially after the prohibition of alcohol in 1909 and of food in 1914) and found a new market: the middle class. It also expanded its horizons, becoming more similar to French-style variety shows that mixed acrobats, comedians, singers and clowns.

The music hall had survived the competition of the cinema, but did not survive the competition of the "British Broadcasting Company" (BBC) that began broadcasting in 1922.

Just a few months earlier, the French cabaret had taken London by storm.

Roma: the Canzonetta

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The cafe-concert arrived in Italy already in 1890, when the "Salone Margherita" opened in Napoli, the capital of Italian pop music. It displayed the two elements that would remain typical of Italian variety shows: foreign singers marketed as "world stars" (although often totally unknown in their country of origin) and Neapolitan melody. The cafe-concert attracted classical composers and poets, but never truly represented the spirit of the Italian people.

Both in the north and in the south, Italian pop music of the beginning of the century was a music of poverty, not a music of entertainment. Bandiera Rossa (189#), the communist anthem of the workers, Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire, the lament of the emigrant, Leggenda del Piave (1918), a song of soldiers, Stamattina mi Sono Alzata (1918), which became famous during the following world war as the partisan anthem Bella Ciao, were the real soundtrack of ordinary lives. Mussolini erased the collective unconscious of these poor emigrants and replaced it with triumphal songs like Giovinezza (1926), the fascist anthem, and Mario Ruccione's Faccetta Nera (1935), composed to celebrate Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. Italian songwriters were only free to sing romantic love. Thus it is not surprising that the 1930s were the years of romantic songs such as Andrea Bixio's Parlami d'Amore Mariu` (1932), sung by one of Italy's most famous entertainers, Vittorio DeSica. No matter what the purpose was, the Italian song remained fundamentally anchored to the format of Napoli's "canzone", in turn derived from the arias of the opera.

Even Mussolini could not fend the American influence. In the age of Swing Jazz, the rhythm of many Italian hits betrayed the African-American roots: Pippo Barzizza's Quel Motivetto che mi Piace Tanto, Carlo Innocenzi and Alessandro Sopranzi's Mille Lire al Mese (1939), sung by Gilberto Mazzi, Luigi Astore and Riccardo Morbelli's Ba-ba-baciami Piccina (1940), sung by Alberto Rabagliati, Gorni Kramer's Ho un Sassolino nella Scarpa (1943), sung by Natalino Otto. The Trio Lescano (three ordinary-looking young Dutch women in long skirts) were the main hit makers of the fascist era: Signorine Grandi Firme, Ma le Gambe (1938), Tulipan (1938), Gorni Kramer's Pippo Non lo Sa (1939), Mario Panzeri's Maramao Perche' Sei Morto (1939). Eugenio De Curtis' Non Ti Scordar di Me (1935) and Odoardo Spadaro's Porta Un Bacione a Firenze (1938) were in the traditional melodic style. The fascist era was symbolically closed by Eros Sciorilli's melancholy In Cerca di Te (1945), sung by Nella Colombo.

Roma: the Canzonetta After the War

After the war, liberated Italy lived its own "belle epoque". Not only was the nation free to sing about their poverty, but Italian television, inaugurated in 1954, created a whole new landscape for entertainment, one that was viewed as a second liberation by a people long gagged by fascist censorship. The fervor of the reconstruction and the international victories of epic bicycle riders Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali signaled a new national mood. There was still a powerful force restricting free expression in Italy, though: the Catholic Church, that retained its grip on Italian politics and dominated moral issues, and made it virtually impossible for Italians to adopt the "amoral" stance of the French chansonniers. The new vehicle for the romantic song was Sanremo's "Festival Della Canzone Italiana", that debuted in 1951. Nilla Pizzi was its first star, thanks to Panzeri's Grazie dei Fior (1951), Bixio Cherubini's Vola Colomba Vola (1952) Panzeri's Papaveri e Papere (1952) and Panzeri's Casetta in Canada (1957). Domenico Modugno's and Franco Migliacci's Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (1958) was, by far, the greatest success of Italian pop music, but Fred Buscaglione's Eri Piccola Cosi` (1959) and Panzeri's Come Prima (1958) also scored abroad.

The Sixties were the age of the economic boom. The "canzonetta" absorbed the influence of American pop music (whether the twist or the ballad) while retaining the emphasis on simple melodies: Franco Migliacci's and Bruno Defilippi's Tintarella di Luna (1960), sung by Mina, Nico Fidenco's Legata a un Granello di Sabbia (1961), Adriano Celentano's 24 Mila Baci (1961) and Il Ragazzo della Via Gluck (1966) Alberto Testa's Quando Quando Quando (1962), sung by Tony Renis, Bobby Solo (Satti)'s Una Lacrima sul Viso (1964), Mario Panzeri's Non Ho l'Eta` (1964), sung by Gigliola Cinquetti, Bruno Zambrini's In Ginocchio da Te (1964) and Non Son Degno di Te (1964), both sung by Gianni Morandi, Pino Donaggio's Io Che non Vivo (1965), Renato 'Calibi' Angiolini's Le Colline Sono in Fiore (1965), sung by Wilma Goich, Don Backy's Casa Bianca, sung by Marisa Sannia, Giancarlo Bigazzi's Lisa dagli Occhi Blu (1969), sung by Mario Tessuto Franco Migliacci's and Claudio Mattone's Ma Che Freddo Fa (1969), sung by Nada.

The "underground" of the Italian canzone was represented by the "cantautori", Italy's version of the French "chansonniers", often headquartered in the northern city of Genova. Luigi Tenco's Mi Sono Innamorato di Te (1962), Ho Capito Che ti Amo (1965), Vedrai Vedrai (1965) and Un Giorno dopo l'Altro (1966); Gino Paoli's Il Cielo in una Stanza (1960), Senza Fine (1961), Sapore di Sale (1963); and especially Fabrizio DeAndre`'s La Guerra di Piero (1963) and La Canzone di Marinella (1964), and Paolo Conte's Insieme a Te Non Ci Sto Piu` (1968) and Azzurro (1968), the most memorable melody of the era.

Rock music landed in Italy as the "beat", which most Italians believed was an American/British genre when in fact it was a native Italian version of the canzone adapted to whatever dance craze was around. It was a movement of renovation and rejuvenation, in which young people took control of their music (or so they thought). The songs of the Italian beat were mildly irreverent and sexually provocative. The first club for the beat was the "Piper" in Rome, which opened in 1965, the same year in which Gianni Boncompagni and Renzo Arbore debuted "Bandiera Gialla" on national radio, whose eponymous theme was an Italian version of Crispian St Peters' The Pied Piper. Basically, the musica of the "beat" singers amounted to the traditional melodic canzone performed with the instruments of rock music (electric guitar, drums) instead of the orchestra, and with a free spirit inspired by the hippie revolution. The best of them all, Patty Pravo, debuted with Ragazzo Triste (1966), a cover of Sonny Bono's But You Are Mine, and Paul Korda's Se Perdo Te (1967), and sang Franco Migliacci's and Bruno Zambrini's La Bambola (1968) and Lucio Battisti's Il Paradiso (1968). The beat also boasted the first Italian rock bands, but Rokes, Equipe 84, Camaleonti, Corvi, Nomadi, Giganti, Dik Dik were still very much in the melodic tradition.

Throughout the beat era, the Italian charts were still ruled by traditional singers. The apogee of Italian romantic pop will be Claudio Baglioni's and Antonio Coggio's Questo Piccolo Grande Amore (1972), but Italian music in the 1970s was to be dominated by a new generation of "cantautori".


  • History of Pop Music
  • The USA up to World War II
  • Post-war USA
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