Mambo Italiano (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"Mambo Italiano"
Single by Rosemary Clooney and the Mellomen
B-side "We'll Be Together Again"
Released October 11, 1954 (October 11, 1954)
Format 7"
Genre Traditional pop
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Bob Merrill, Frankie Laine, William S. Fischer
Producer(s) Buddy Cole, Paul Weston

"Mambo Italiano" is a popular song written by Bob Merrill in 1954 for the American singer Rosemary Clooney. Merrill wrote it under a recording deadline, scribbling hastily on a paper napkin in an Italian restaurant in New York City, and then using the wall pay-phone to dictate the melody, rhythm and lyrics to the studio pianist, under the aegis of the conductor Mitch Miller, who produced the original record.[1] Merrill's song provides an obvious parody of genuine mambo music, cashing in on the 1954 mambo craze in New York while at the same time allowing Miller to set up a brilliant vehicle for Clooney's vocal talents.[2] It is also a late example of an American novelty song in a tradition started during World War II by the Italian-American jazz singer Louis Prima, in which nonsense lyrics with an Italian-American sound are used in such a way as to present a benignly stereotyped caricature of Italian-American people (who had been classed with "enemy alien" status and discouraged from speaking Italian) as likable, slightly brash, pleasure-loving folk.[3] Although Clooney's own family background was Irish-American (while Merrill's was Jewish),[4] she could perform such "Italianized" material with an entirely convincing accent, which she had readily picked up from Italian-American musicians and their families.[3]

The song became a hit for Clooney, reaching number 10 in the Billboard Hot 100 and number one in the UK Singles Chart early in 1955.[5] It was also successfully covered by the popular Italian-American star Dean Martin.[6] In the 1955 Italian comedy film Scandal in Sorrento (Pane, amore e...), Sophia Loren dances voluptuously opposite Vittorio de Sica to an instrumental arrangement of the tune made by Merrill, in a simplified, local imitation of mambo dancing[7] (she was also required to dance to the song in the 1960 Hollywood comedy It Started in Naples[6]). The song itself became popular in Italy when Carla Boni scored a major hit with her version of 1956.[6][8] Also in 1956,[9] Renato Carosone, a well-known singer and band leader from Naples, recorded a successful version that weaves in several fragments of Neapolitan song, of which he was a leading exponent.[10] Versions made in other languages include a French translation made by the Turkish polyglot singer Darío Moreno.[6] More recent cover versions have been made by Shaft (2000), Dean Martin's daughter, Deana Martin (2006) and Lady Gaga (2011).


The nonsense lyrics[2] were originally couched in English, mixed together with a comic jumble of Italian, Spanish, Neapolitan dialect and gibberish (invented) words, including:

  • Italian: italiano (Italian), Napoli (Naples), siciliano (Sicilian), calabrese (Calabrian), tarantella (tarantella), mozzarella (mozzarella), pizza, baccalà (salted codfish), bambino (child), vino (wine)[11]
  • Spanish: mambo, enchilada, rumba,[11] (the Spanish words mambo and rumba are used in Italian as well with the same meaning)
  • Neapolitan: paisa' (in Italian paesano; in English peasant).[11]
  • A number of Italian words are deliberately misspelled ("Giovanno" instead of "Giovanni", and "e lo che se dice" which is a cross between the Italian "e quello che si dice" and the Spanish "y lo que se dice" with the same nonsense meaning: "and what it is said"). Other words are in Italo-English slang: (goombah, literally godson/godfather but more broadly fellow countryman, and 'jadrool', a stupid person, closely related to cetriolo, Italian for "cucumber", but in Sicilian dialect meaning jackass. The word tiavanna is invented.


  1. ^ Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  2. ^ a b Crossland, Ken; Macfarlane, Malcolm (2013). Late Life Jazz: The Life and Career of Rosemary Clooney. Oxford University Press USA. pp. 28, 62–63. ISBN 0-19-979857-5. 
  3. ^ a b Carnevale, Nancy C. (2003). ""No Italian Spoken for the Duration of the War": Language, Italian-American Identity, and Cultural Pluralism in the World War II Years". Journal of American Ethnic History. 22 (3): 3–33. JSTOR 27501314. 
  4. ^ "Bob Merrill". The Notable Names Database. 
  5. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 39–40. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  6. ^ a b c d Guaitamacchi, Ezio (2011). "Rosemary Clooney – Mambo italiano". 1000 canzoni che ci hanno cambiato la vita (in Italian). Rizzoli. p. 31. ISBN 978-88-586-1742-7. 
  7. ^ Uffreduzzi, Elisa (2017). "Mambo and Maggiorate: Italian Female Stardom in the 1950s". In Virginia Picchietti, Laura A. Salsini. Writing and Performing Female Identity in Italian Culture. Springer. p. 71. ISBN 978-3-319-40835-4. 
  8. ^ "Addio Carla Boni, regina del Mambo italiano (obituary)". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). 17 October 2009. Retrieved 22 March 2017. 
  9. ^ Deregibus, Enrico (2010). "Renato Carosone". Dizionario completo della Canzone Italiana (in Italian). Giunti Editore. p. 97. ISBN 978-88-09-75625-0. Retrieved 23 March 2017. 
  10. ^ Scuderi, Antonio (2010). "Okay Napulitan!: Social Change and Cultural Identity in the Songs of Renato Carosone". Italica. 87 (4): 619–636. JSTOR 23070816. the American song, "Mambo Italiano," [Carosone] inserts fragments of various Neapolitan standards, including "Simmo a Napoli paisà" (Siamo a Napoli paesano), "Dicitencello vuje" (Diteglielo voi), "Marechiaro," and "O sole mio." 
  11. ^ a b c [1]

External links[edit]