Sad news today as word came through from Montreux, Switzerland that one of the giants of Italian music, Lucio Dalla, had died of a heart attack just days before his 69th birthday. The news all the more shocking for most Italians as he had been seen performing at the annual San Remo music festival just weeks ago, and was in the middle of touring for his latest album.
Anyone who has been in Italy around New Year’s eve will have heard Dalla’s anthemic L’anno che verra which has become the unofficial theme tune for the 31st of December with its whimsical piano and vocal delivery – a song that perfectly mixes optimism with a well-founded cynicism.
Born and raised in Bologna (though after the death of his father at the age of 7 he was sent to school in the Northern town of Treviso), Dalla in the 50s started his musical career in a jazz band – Bologna was and is famous for its jazz clubs and musical culture; while his career spanned virtually all the musical genres, a constant was his improvisational use of his own magnificent voice – he was a gifted musician, but he played his voice like an instrument as well.
in 1963 he was ‘discovered’ (used advisedly, because he had already had some success with various collaborations) by the legendary Gino Paoli, who convinced him to leave his then group the Flippers and embark on a solo career. He had a certain amount of success in the 60s collaborating with artists like Paoli, Gianni Morandi, and Ron, but it was in the early 70s over a period of three albums collaborating with Bolognese Poet Roberto Roversi that he really started to make a mark as an iconic artist.
The duo split over artistic differences in 1976, at which point Dalla took on the task of writing both lyrics and music for himself (though he would collaborate throughout his career with other artists). His 1977 album Come è profondo il mare was attacked by many fans and polemicists for ‘selling out’ – it was less overtly political than his work with Roversi, but songs like the title track and disperato erotico stomp (what a classic title!) are anything but mainstream pop, and have stood the test of time as true classics; indeed it’s a mark of Dalla’s talent that a song like disperato erotico stomp, full of sexual references (impotence, prostitution, and masturbation), still gets feet tapping, and touches the imagination of thousands of listeners – imagine Joyce’s Leopold Bloom playing along to cod-reggae under Bologna’s stifling summer heat and you come close to it.
In 1979 he recorded Banana Republic with the ‘Italian Bob Dylan’ Francesco de Gregori – a legendary collaboration which in the last couple of years both had returned to.
He recorded over 30 albums in his career, with the last one Questo e’ Amore released just last year, and sold millions of them; amongst his most poignant and moving songs was Caruso, a song taken on by none other than Luciano Pavarotti (from neighbouring Modena), and one which has now become a classic for any Italian singer wanting to show off his range.
His stature as an artist is shown by the tributes that have poured out from artists like Vasco Rossi and Luciano Ligabue (arguably Italy’s biggest rock stars), Paolo Conte, Renzo Arbore and many more – and not just artists; President Giorgio Napolitano paid his respects this evening – a fitting tribute to an artist who, perhaps more than any other in the last thirty years, in Italy at least, struck a true chord with his public.