Mambo Italiano (song)

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"Mambo Italiano"
Single by Rosemary Clooney and the Mellomen
B-side"We'll Be Together Again"
ReleasedOctober 11, 1954 (October 11, 1954)
GenreNovelty song
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. 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.[1]

Writing and original Rosemary Clooney version[edit]

Merrill reportedly 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.[2] Alongside Merrill, 'Lidianni' and 'Gabba' are also listed as writers of the song,[3][4] corresponding to the pseudonyms of the Italian lyricists Gian Carlo Testoni and Gaspare Abbate, respectively.

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.[5] 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.[6] Although Clooney's own family background was Irish-American, she could perform such "Italianized" material with an entirely convincing accent, which she had readily picked up from Italian-American musicians and their families.[6]

The nonsense lyrics[5][7] 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).
  • Spanish: mambo, enchilada, rumba, (the Spanish words mambo and rumba are commonly used in Italian with the same meaning).
  • Neapolitan: paisa' (in Italian paesano; in English villager or fellow countryman).
  • A number of Italian words are deliberately misspelled ("Giovanno" instead of "Giovanni", and "hello, che se dice" which is Italian slang for "hello, what's up?". Other words are in Italo-English slang: (goombah, from cumpà, literally godson/godfather but more broadly fellow countryman, and 'jadrool' or 'cidrule", a stupid person, closely related to cetriolo, Italian for "cucumber", but in Sicilian dialect meaning jackass. The word tiavanna is invented.

Cover versions[edit]

Dean Martin version[edit]

It was successfully covered by the popular Italian-American star Dean Martin.[8]

In 2006, the German Nu jazz and Lounge music act Club des Belugas (see German Wikipedia) officially released a remix of the Dean Martin version on their album Apricoo Soul, with official authorization on behalf of Capitol Records/EMI and Martin's estate.

Carla Boni version[edit]

Mambo Italiano became popular in Italy when Carla Boni scored a major hit with her version of 1956.[8][9] Also in 1956,[10] Renato Carosone, a 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.[3]

Other cover versions[edit]

Cover versions of the song made in other languages include a French translation made by the Turkish polyglot singer Darío Moreno.[8] Other covers in various genres from around the world include a salsa setting by the Italian musician Massimo Scalici; a V-pop version by the Vietnamese group Hồ Quang Hiếu; an instrumental by the Swedish electric guitarist Mattias Eklundh; a Latin ska number by Federico Fosati and Dinamo from Mallorca; and a version by the British electronica duo Shaft.[11] Bette Midler remade "Mambo Italiano" for her 2002 album Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook. Dean Martin's daughter, Deana Martin released a cover on her 2006 album Memories Are Made of This.[12] The Mambo Italiano tune features at the start of Lady Gaga's 2011 song Americano.[11]

Use in films[edit]

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[13] (she was also required to dance to the song in the 1960 Hollywood comedy It Started in Naples[8]). The original Rosemary Clooney recording has become a prominent soundtrack item, serving as the opening theme for the 1988 film Married to the Mob and also being heard in the films Mermaids (1990), A Man of No Importance (1994), Big Night (1996), Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), and School for Seduction (2004).


  1. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-1-904994-10-7.
  2. ^ Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-85112-250-2.
  3. ^ a b 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."
  4. ^ "Search results for: 'mambo italiano merrill lidianna gabba'". Portale della canzone italiana. Archived from the original on 18 July 2019.
  5. ^ 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 978-0-19-979857-5.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Rosemary Clooney - Mambo Italiano lyrics". Archived from the original on 18 July 2019.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Addio Carla Boni, regina del Mambo italiano (obituary)". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). 17 October 2009. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b Wright, Joseph (15 July 2015). "Five Good Covers: Mambo Italiano (Rosemary Clooney)". Cover Me.
  12. ^ "Deana Martin – Mambo Italiano". Discogs. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  13. ^ Uffreduzzi, Elisa (2017). "Mambo and Maggiorate: Italian Female Stardom in the 1950s". In Virginia Picchietti, Laura A. Salsini (ed.). Writing and Performing Female Identity in Italian Culture. Springer. p. 71. ISBN 978-3-319-40835-4.

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