There are some famous Italian songs everyone knows like “Tu Vuo’ Fa l’Americano,” “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu,” and “Quando, Quando, Quando.” What about “Futtetenne”? Okay, that one is more fun than famous. Although the man who sang it Bud Spencer, is an Italian legend.
Sometimes learning the story behind a song helps your appreciation for and a connection to the lyrics grow. Thus, making the song or the story behind it stick.
Ultimately, this is what lands a famous Italian song on our list. We asked Italians what songs they remember growing up and asked the story behind the song. Our goal is to pair story and song to help anyone working to learn the Italian language or culture, more easily connect to remember.
Learning a language is hard! Music helps. Our list of famous Italian songs focuses on memorable lyrics to make learning Italian more fun. Plus, fun facts about the songs and artists behind them.
While this is not the most popular Italian Song on our list, “Fatti Mandare dalla Mamma a Prendere il Latte” which in English means “Let your mother send you back to get milk” had a rebirth this year. See why below!
Famous Italian Songs That Stick in Your Head
Italian is a “Romance language” with as many irregularities as rules. Pronounces, articles, reflexive verbs, and conjugations… tenses! Despite taking an intensive Italian language class 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, I needed more help.
So I asked Paolo to help me find famous Italian songs. My criteria were simple. Firstly I was looking to identify clear Italian voices. Secondly, lyrics that are downright impossible to forget.
When I asked Paolo for help, I was not expecting a groovy trip back in time. Nor picking up Italian culture tips along the way. Surprisingly, I got one anyway.
The process was so fun I thought I’d share the list of famous Italian songs.
To be sure, the following list is subjective.
However, the songs and artists on the list all play a significant role in Italian culture.
Still, if you have Italian artists or songs you think should be on the list, give them a shoutout in the comments below! I’ll be updating the list to include your suggestions.
“Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” by Domenico Modugno
The first famous Italian song on our list is “Nel blu dipinto di blu” (In the blue painted blue). Also known as “Volare (to fly).”
Written by Franco Migliacci and Domenico Modugno in 1958. Since that time it has been re-recorded by the likes of Elle Fitzgerald (one of my personal favorites), David Bowie, Barry White, Frank Sinatra, and even the Gypsy Kings.
This is the original, written and performed by Domenico Modugno.
“Tu Vuo’ Fa l’Americano”
Jude Law and Matt Damon fans will undoubtedly know this next one! “Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano” (So You Want to Play American) was the song they sang together in the 1999 Anthony Minghella film The Talented Mr. Ripley.
The song was initially written and performed in 1956 by Renato Carosone. You would think since the film version is nearly 45 years younger, it would be the more energetic take. You’d be wrong. Listen to the original version of this addictive up-tempo boogie woogie, meets swing jazz number.
Meaning of “Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano”
One of the fun things about learning a new language like Italian is gaining a new understanding. Case in point, “Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano.”
On first hearing it in The Talented Mr. Ripley, I had no idea what it meant. I loved it for the upbeat tempo and lyrics along.
After learning the language, the lyrics became just as satisfying as the music.
To explain. Naples had one of the largest American naval bases. Hence the references to American culture of whiskey and soda, baseball, and Camel cigarettes.
So when Renato Carosone is singing, “But who gives you the money to buy Camels? Your Mother’s Bag!” He’s making fun of the young Italian men emulating American soldiers.
The chorus translates to “You wanna be like an American, an American, an American, but you were born in Italy, listen to me! There is nothing to do!”
Suddenly the song makes much more sense. So does its use in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. Just like the young Italian men, Jude Law’s character was dependent on his parents for money. In other words, “Tu Vuo’ Fa L’Americano” pokes fun at young Italians, not Americans.
“‘O Sole Mio” by Italian Composers Giovanni Capurro & Alfredo Mazzucchi
A big song fit for big voices, “‘O Sole Mio,” which means “my sunshine,” has been belted out by Italian opera singers Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, and Canadian Actor Jim Carry.
Record scratch moment?
Americans of my generation need your forgiveness. The first thing we think of with the song “‘O Sole Mio” is Jim Carry’s parody of it in the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It’s hard for GenX kids to hear this song and not think of Jim Carry bent over, singing from his rear.
As ridiculously unseeable and unhearable as that connection is for us, it does not ruin the original song. Oddly, the same year Pet Detective came out in 1994, Ryan Adams joined Maestro Pavarotti on his 59th birthday in Modena, Italy in a much more dignified rendition of “‘O Sole Mio” seen here.
“Quando, Quando, Quando” by Tony Reins, Italian Song Famous for Being Translated
Enter Tony Renis and “Quando, Quando, Quando” originally recorded in 1962.
Fun facts about Tony Renis on this list? He is connected to both Mina and Adriano Celetano. Two of Italy’s most famous artists are also featured on this list. Here’s the backstory before we jump into their famous Italian songs.
In the mid-1950s he met with Adriano Celentano and the two became friends performing impressions of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Here they are reuniting at the Sanremo Music Festival 2004.
Before either Tony Renis or Mina became famous, they met backstage at the Sanremo music festival. Struck by the tall beauty, the two became friends. He is recounting the story of their meeting.
Tony credits the height of his artistic creativity to writing the song “Grande, Grande, Grande” number four of the famous Italian songs on our list.
“Grande, Grande, Grande” Performed by Mina
60’s and 70’s Italian icon Mina is one of Italy’s most versatile and controversial voices. Mina favored an anguished love song. Sounding fragile one moment and belting out a soaring soprano voice of strength the next.
Nicknamed “Queen of the Screamers” Mina became the face of an emancipated Italian woman after falling in love with a married (although separated) man.
Their relationship and her subsequent pregnancy made Mina a target of Italian bourgeois morals and the Catholic church. She was banned from Italian TV and radio in 1963.
Mina’s records sales were undaunted by her ban, audience demand brought her back to TV on 10 January 1964. It’s rumored her affair ended shortly thereafter culminating in a move to Switzerland. Mina gave up public appearances in 1978 but has continued to release popular albums including a collaboration with the next artist on the list!
“È l’amore” by MinaCelentano Famous Italian Collaborators
In addition to being Mina’s collaborator, Adriano Celentano is a prolific Italian singer-songwriter in his own right.
“Svalutation” by Adriano Celetano
Adriano Celetano has released a new album practically every year since 1960. Of course, that made it tricky to select just one for this list. In the end, I wanted a song that would stick. Hence “Svalutation” takes the sixth spot on the list.
Fun fact, molle means springs in Italian. Thus Adriano’s nickname “il Molleggiato.” To illustrate, a quick video of Adriano dancing. Indeed the man bounces like he’s on springs!
The Late Toto Cutugno Famous Smash hit Single, “L’Italiano”
On August 22, 2023, we lost an icon in Italy when Toto Cutugno passed. Paolo and I learned about his passing in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica when they reported, “Toto Cutugno, the singer of ‘L’Italiano’, has died. Celentano: “You are unforgettable.”
The article went on to say,
“A little more than a month after his eightieth birthday, one of the most famous Italian artists of all time leaves us. Singer-songwriter with over 100 million copies, the most well-known exponent of Italian music throughout the world, he has been able to bring the simplicity and tradition of Italian song abroad, an artist with an extraordinary career who will continue to inspire and unite us.”— Chiara Ugolini, La Republicca
The article quotes one famous Italian singer after another. Each noting what a good person and true Italian Toto Cutugno was.
As you no doubt figured out from this article already, when it comes to famous Italian songs, many of the artists behind them are connected. Much the same way as many Italians are connected through their songs.
So it seemed fitting to list Toto Cutugno’s “L’Italiano” on our list next to his good friend, Adriano Celetano. The man Toto actually wrote the song “L’Italiano” for, and who ultimately rejected recording it!
In the end, it was fate as that single would go on to become a beloved part of Toto Cutugno’s legacy around the world. As evidenced by the fact that even in America where Toto was not a household name, CNN still reported his death. “Toto Cutugno, Italian singer famous for smash-hit single ‘L’Italiano,’ dies.”
“Non ho l’età” by Gigliola Cinquetti
You’ll notice a theme on this list of famous Italian songs. Many come from Eurovision contest winners. “Non ho l’eta” by Gigliola Cinquetti is no exception.
In 1964, at only 16 years of age, Gigliola Cinquetti became the youngest Eurovision winner with the sweeping emotional ballad, “Non ho l’età.” Fitting given “Non ho l’età” translates to “I’m not old enough (to love you)” in English.
Even if you don’t speak Italian yet, the lyrics to this famous Italian song are easy to remember when you understand they come from a young woman with a crush and all the feels.
After winning, Gigliola toured Europe, selling millions of records before becoming a famous TV personality in Italy.
“Buona Sera, Signoria” in Italian by Fred Buscaglione
An Italian singer and actor popular in the late 1950s, Fred Buscaglione, was as well known in Italy for chasing whisky and women on screen as he was for singing “Buona Sera, Signoria.”
I’m adding this song to our famous Italian songs that will stick in your head list because Louis Prima likely has already landed it on your radar. After all, he was the one who sent this song into the international pop culture stratospher in 1956. Only his version is in English.
Still, for those looking to learn Italian, here is the version of “Buona Sera, Signoria” as Sung in Italian by Fred Buscaglione.
“Diavolo Rosso” by Paolo Conte Famous Italian Cantautore Paolo Conte
Paolo Conte is to Italy, what Bob Dylan is to America. One of Italy’s great cantautore. Cantaurtore is derived from da cantante (the singer) + autore (author). In other words, Paolo Conte is one of Italy’s great singer-songwriters.
People outside of Italy familiar with Paolo Conte know one of his most famous Italian songs, “It’s Wonderful” because of its use in film soundtracks.
If you’re learning Italian, Paolo Conte in fact is your new best friend. As an illustration of why, here’s one more famous Italian song by Paolo Conte with lyrics that will stick “Diavolo Rosso.”
To be sure having two songs by Paolo Conte on the list could be considered cheating. However, I bet you’ve heard of both even if you don’t speak Italian.
“El Diablo” by Litfiba, One of Italy’s Most Famous Rock Bands
According to Paolo, Litfiba is one of the “greatest Italian rock bands of all time!” He’s not alone on this one. Their sold-out 1999 Monza Rock Festival performance included 60,000 people who would agree with him.
Litfiba has rocked Italy since the early 80s. What’s more, “Heroes in the Wind,” “Istanbul,” and “Apapaia” brought the Italian language of rock throughout Europe.
“El Diablo” is undoubtedly their most famous song. Its provocative title and lyrics are Italian rock symbols that still get airtime on Italian radios today. Take a listen.
Our Night With Litfiba
On May 25, 2022, the lead signer of Litfiba Piero Pelù stood on the edge of the Alcatraz stage in Milan. It was the last song of the night.
Lifelong fans like Paolo had been going nuts all night. Dancing, singing along at the top of their lungs, loving it. Keep in mind this is Italy. Thus no AC.
By the end of the night, the place was a sweatbox.
The floor where we stood was slick with humidity. So was the stage.
Piero Pelù slipped.
One minute he was there, then he was gone. Surprisingly, the music didn’t stop. Neither did Piero. He got back up and finished the show without missing a note.
The next day Piero posted on Instagram that he had slipped, fallen backward, and hit his head on the stage. The man had carried out the show with a hernial protrusion between C3 and C4, one between C5 and C6, and one between C6 and C7.
That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“Discolabirinto” by Subsonica Famous Italian 90s Song
Another one of Italy’s favorite Italian bands is Subsonica. They were hugely popular in the late 90s in Torino, where the band formed.
Like many of the songs on this list, the band behind it broke through at the Sanremo Music Festival.
While many of their songs could be on the list, “Discolabirinto” is my pick because the video includes English subtitles! Very helpful for anyone learning to speak Italian if you ask me.
“Zitti E Buonin” by Måneskin
Most Italian songs that have become famous beyond Italy are older like “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” and “Quando, Quando, Quando.”
After winning Eurovision in 2021, Italian rock band Måneskin went global. In fact, their song “Beggin,” is now one of the top 20 most popular songs in the world.
While “Beggin” is in English, the song that won them Eurovision, “Zitti E Buoni” is the perfect rock anthem to get hooked on when learning Italian.
“Musica Leggerissima” by Colapesce and Dimartino
This was the first Italian song I started memorizing lyrics to because it’s so catchy! In fact, I bet you watch this video more than once. Hence “Musica Leggerissima” has over 90M views on YouTube. Surely it will go down in the history books as a famous Italian song.
“Fatti Mandare dalla Mamma a Prendere il Latte” by Gianni Morandi
Originally released in 1963, “Fatti Mandare dalla Mamma a Prendere il Latte” became an instant hit. Now 60 years later in 2023, it’s still considered a timeless hit, making it a truly famous Italian song.
In celebration, Epic/Sony Music released a new collaboration version of this famous Italian song with Sangiovanni right before the 2023 Sanremo festival. Thus closing the generation gap between GenZ and the 60s with a famous Italian song.
I love this video of “Fatti Mandare dalla Mamma a Prendere il Latte” because you get to see the original video morph into a modern take. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a singer in his 60s keep up with one in his 20s.
As with many of the famous Italian songs on our list, all roads lead to Sanremo. This brings us one more new famous Italian song to add to our list.
“Apri Tutte le Porte” by Gianni Morandi
Despite placing third in the 72nd Sanremo Music Festival “Apri Tutte le Porte” by Gianni Morandi went platinum, selling over 100,000 copies and 15 million views on YouTube in a single year.
So if you’re not familiar with this famous Italian song yet, it’s a safe bet you will be soon! Take a listen.
While it feels like a fun frivolity, the meaning of the song comes at an important time for many. of us after a couple of really difficult years globally.
The song “Apri Tutte le Porte” or “Open all the Doors” in English, is an open invitation to all of us to look inside to find the sun. A reminder not to let life’s adversities defeat us. The strength we need to carry on, no matter what happens, is always inside us.
Pretty powerful stuff.
Famous Italian Songs Video Playlist
I created the video playlist because sometimes, all you need is good music! On the other hand, sometimes it’s the history behind these famous Italian songs and artists that’s fun.
Final Thoughts on Famous Italian Songs
In the end, learning Italian can sometimes feel like solving a puzzle with missing pieces. For that reason, I love finding famous Italian songs with lyrics that stick. That is to say, if you have a recommendation, drop it below!
If you are trying to learn Italian, here are a few other articles that might help.
- Learn to Speak Italian, 5 Tips
- How to Sing Happy Birthday in Italian
- How to Pronounce Gnocchi Properly
- Why Language Immersion Doesn’t Work Alone
Famous Italian Song References
- The Story & Legacy of Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu Volare — AussieVision
- How the Italian song “Volare” was inspired by wine (and Chagall) — Wine and Other Stories
- Tu vuò fa’ l’Americano, Renato Carosone — ItalianHeritage.com
- Litfiba, the 10 most significant songs of the Italian rock band – Luca Ferri for Indiemusic.it
- Gianni Morandi tries again: for “Make your mother send you back to get milk” this time he is paired with Sangiovanni — Republica.it