Learning a language is hard! Music helps. Thirteen famous Italian songs with memorable lyrics to make learning Italian more fun. Plus fun facts about the songs and artists behind them.
Famous Italian Songs
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.
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.
To that end, below are fun facts for each of the songs. Plus, additional videos from the artists I found entertaining. I hope you do too!
1. “Nel Blu Dipinto” di Blu by Domenico Modugno
This 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 and 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.
2. “Tu Vuo’ Fa l’Americano”
Jude Law and Matt Damon fans will undoubtably 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 originally written and performed in 1956 by Renato Carosone. You’d think the films version being nearly 45 years younger would be the more energetic take. You’d be wrong. Take a 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 new understandings. 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.
3. “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 Italians most famous artists 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 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 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.
4. “Grande, Grande, Grande” Performed by Mina
60’s and 70’s Italian icon Mina is one of Italy most versatile and controversial voices. Mina favored anguished love song. Sounding fragile one moment and belting out a soaring soprano voice of strength the next.
Nickname “Queen of the Screamers” Mina became the face of 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 there after 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!
5. “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.
6. “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!
7. “Futtetenne” Famous Italian Song by Bud Spencer
Many Italians still name Bud Spencer as the “first Italian to swim the 100-meter freestyle in less than a minute” including my husband. However, Bud was born Carlo Pedersoli on October 31, 1929 in Naples. Furthermore, Bud was quick to correct reporters who called him Italian to Napoletano.
In fact the Neapolitan dialect is what you hear in his song Futtetenne.
So What does Futtetenne mean?
In spirit, futtetenne is about living carefree by not dwelling on the bad. For example, in his iconic song, Bud sings, “If you look in the mirror and see you got old, blow a raspberry and laugh, laugh, laugh.” That is futtetenne.
Another example is if you’re cut off in traffic, Bud would say, “Who cares!” That is Futtetenne.
In other words, think of Futtetenne as the one-word mantra for finding balance in letting go. When things go wrong, remember they also go right. Of course, that’s just me rephrasing it politely. In reality, Italians translate futtetenne as “to hell with it” or “fuck it.”
8. “It’s Wonderful” by 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 it’s use in film soundtracks.
If you’re learning Italian, Paolo Conte in fact is your new best friend. As an illustration why, here’s one more famous Italian song by Paolo Conte with lyrics that will stick.
9. “Diavolo Rosso” by Paolo Conte
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.
10. “El Diablo” by Famous Italian Rock Band Litfiba
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 that 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.
11. “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.
12. “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. They went on to perform “Beggin,” 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.
13. “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.
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!
- 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
Quando Quando Quando sticks with me too!