- 1 – Ti amo d’Umberto Tozzi, a hit all around the world
- 2 – Con te partirò d’Andrea Bocelli, An Italian Anthem
- Song Break: What Music Should I Listen to to Learn Italian?
- 3 – Sara perche ti amo de Ricchi et Poveri, An Ageless Song
- 4 – L’italiano de Toto Cutugno, The Italian Anthem Put In Music
- 5 – La solitudine de Laura Pausini, An Italian Hit That Crosses Generations
- 6 – Bella Ciao, A Cult Hit
- Intermission: How to Memorise Italian Songs
- 7 – Vivo per lei de O.R.O, An Italian Hit In Multiple Languages
- 8 – Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu) de Domenico Modugno, A Classic Italian song
- 9 – Cosa della vita, d’Eros Ramazzotti et Tina Turner, An Explosive Duo
- Putting the Player on Pause: Can I learn Italian With Music?
- 10 – O sole mio de Luciano Pavarotti
Of all the world's music, there is some that moves us, touches us and upsets us more than others. Between violin, tenor, funk and Italian language, Italian songs are is often part of them. Because of its diversity, but also because of its hits, which make everyone want to get as close to music as possible.
Italian music is the most beautiful incarnation of this art, with hits that have toured the world and are sung at the top of voices whenever the opportunity arises.
What are the most beautiful songs of Italian heritage? Well, here's our top 10!
1 – Ti amo d’Umberto Tozzi, a hit all around the world
If you live on another world, you probably don't know this song, or rather this hit, known all over this world. Released in 1977, Ti Amo is a hymn that all generations have taken up over the years. Umberto Tozzi gives us a masterful interpretation of a typically Italian song whose lyrics are an ode to love.
Indeed, while Ti Amo literally means "I love you", there is no doubt about the lyrical nature of these words and music, which makes everyone's heart beat faster. While French singer Dalida covered it, Umberto Tozzi himself did a version mixed with Molière's language in 2002, with the singer Lena Ka. It is the title Ti Amo (just those words, not the song itself), which is now used from time to time in the cinema.
And for those that remember the music from the 1980’s and the cheese that dripped from its notes can remember Laura Branigan covering two of Umberto Tozzi’s songs, Gloria and Ti Amo…
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2 – Con te partirò d’Andrea Bocelli, An Italian Anthem
The same goes for this monument of a song, created by Francesco Sartoriet and performed by Andrea Bocelli in the 1990s. Originally sung at the San Remo festival, this song did not win the competition, but the global success it has met is worth that little defeat.
Translated into several languages, including English or Spanish, Con te partiro ("With You I'll Go", in English) is the embodiment of an Italian success, which then leads to multiple covers. One could mention Donna Summer's, who in 1999 brought her a pop-dance touch with I Will Go with You.
Here too, many films and series take ownership of the message, musicality and rhythm, to match their stories as closely as possible. If this Italian singer is known today, it is thanks to this track, a mixture of slow, vocal power, and Italian culture. So that's nothing to envy to English pop song!
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Song Break: What Music Should I Listen to to Learn Italian?
Short answer: the song just mentioned is a prime example of Italian pop music suitable for learning this lovely language.
Con Te Partirò does not contain any complex vocabulary or grammatical structures and its tempo is ideal for any Italian language learner to clearly hear every word being sung.
Naturally, Mr Bocelli’s crisp diction and powerful vocals make his delivery of this ballad especially helpful.
For reference, you might compare the simple elegance of this song’s lyrics to the more elaborate language and phrasing used in his Perfect duet with Ed Sheeran – a tune that would be more fitting for someone with advanced Italian language skills to learn from.
That comparison demonstrates that, in choosing music to help you learn Italian, you must consider a couple of factors.
Your Language Level
As we’ve just touched on this aspect of music as a learning tool, let’s examine the point more in-depth.
Your ability to speak and understand Italian is critical in determining which songs you add to your playlist.
As so often happens in music, a singer will run words together or contract words to make them fit within the music’s arrangement. This practice leads to such oft-hilarious misundertandings as:
- The girl with colitis goes by (the girl with kaleidoscope eyes – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds)
- Thump her oily hairpins when it’s raining (Thunder only happens… - Dreams)
- Here we are now, in containers (Here we are now, entertain us – Smells Like Teen Spirit)
- Saving his life from this warm sausage tea (Spare him his life from this monstrosity – Bohemian Rhapsody)
- All the lonely Starbucks lovers (got a long list of ex-lovers – Blank Space)
- I guess he’s an expert and I’m more an attorney (I guess he’s an Xbox and I’m more Atari – Forget You)
- Mushrooms are nasty (Must wanna get nasty – Blurred Lines)
- Excuse me while I kiss this guy (Excuse me while I kiss the sky – Purple Haze)
Such mondegreens – the word that defines this phenomenon are common in English and, fortunately, (mostly) only result in laughter.
Now imagine misinterpreting a song lyric in the language you are studying. At the very least, such an error would cause you to not understand what that word means and, at worst, could result in your misusing it.
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Your Preferred Style of Music
The second critical component of Italian music selection for learning is what type of music you most relate to.
If rap music is your go-to for enjoyment and self-expression, you may turn away from Italian opera and even Italian pop music.
Here, your Superprof inserts a note of caution.
You might think that rap, poetry spoken to a beat as opposed to sung, would be easier to understand precisely because it is spoken. However, the songs, not raps, are better for learning the language.
Hallmarks of rap music include heavy use of slang, often rapped very fast – sometimes incoherently, with words running together and with hardly a nod to proper grammar.
Note that this is not a condemnation of the genre as a whole, only as a resource for learning how to speak Italian.
Another type of music to be selective about is opera.
Some of the genre’s lighter arias have crossed over into popular media; Nessun Dorma, from Turandot, is a prime example of such.
You might remember the Burger King advert wherein Luciano Pavarotti sang that song while anticipating his flame-broiled whopper, for instance.
Nessun Dorma would be an excellent example of opera music to learn Italian from, as would Ave Maria and O Sole Mio. You might want to stay away from Figaro and Caruso until you advance your language skills a bit, though.
Likewise, if you are a near-native speaker or bilingual, you may find benefit in exploring Italy’s rap culture through its music. Until you reach that level, you should save your Shade, Capo Plaza and Rocco Hunt.
3 – Sara perche ti amo de Ricchi et Poveri, An Ageless Song
Ricchi e Poverti is an Italian popular music group that you probably have never heard of. And yet, this is the same band that performed the great song Sara perche ti amo in 1981 which, chances are you've heard countless times in Italian TV shows and on Italian radios.
Presented at the 31st edition of the San Remo Festival, this song is now a hit but then it had only finished fifth in the competition. Today, more than a million copies of this title have been sold in France alone, and various versions (including one in Spanish, or another cover in French by Karen Cheryl) exist. Italian folk songs, that's all there is to it!
4 – L’italiano de Toto Cutugno, The Italian Anthem Put In Music
Does Lasciatemi cantare mean anything to you? These very famous lyrics are the work of Toto Cutugno, who, in Italiano, shows an image of popular and beautiful Italian music at the same time. First presented in 1983 at the San Remi Festival, this song was a resounding success that spread around the world.
And for good reason, a true Italian anthem, this ode to the land of the Vespas is repeated everywhere, all the time, by everyone. Viva Italia!
5 – La solitudine de Laura Pausini, An Italian Hit That Crosses Generations
If there is one mythical song that rocked and punctuated the 1990s, it is this one! Indeed, La Solitudine by Laura Pausini is undoubtedly the song of a generation, but also of a state of mind. This is the story of a separation between two teenagers. Love, the founding theme of music, resonates here with the voice of the beautiful Italian woman so that it is not soon forgotten.
First presented in 1993 at the San Remo Festival, this hit was a huge success, so Laura Pausini decided to adapt it into Spanish a year later, under the title "La Soledad". This gives the song lyrics a completely different perspective, just like his country of origin!
6 – Bella Ciao, A Cult Hit
In recent months, Bella Ciao has become a true symbol, taken up by all generations, and sung by the most current French stars. At the origin of this success, the Spanish series La Casa de Papel, which used it as a theme song, and spread it around the world, in fact. But the genesis of this title is quite different.
Indeed, it was originally an Italian revolt song, which celebrated the commitment of partisans and resistance fighters during the Second World War. Since then, this song has been performed all over the world, and has become a true international anthem, which we all know and recognise, even more so today. Artists like Manu Chao have delivered their version, to our great delight!
Intermission: How to Memorise Italian Songs
For many music lovers, memorising their favourite songs is both effortless and a labour of love.
For some, learning those lyrics is effortless while others may ‘rewind’ their player over and over to catch a particularly elusive word. Some even hop online to search out those enticing phrases.
How is an Italian language learner to commit to memory the words of his most beloved Italian songs?
If you’re frantic to sing along with your fav ballad from the country shaped like a boot, rest assured that you too can find those lyrics online.
The only note of caution needed is to mind the complexity of the vocabulary… although combing through song lyrics would be a great way to expand your lexicon of Italian words.
Taking that cautionary note further: it would be a good idea not to punch too far above your language level. Unlike Latin, Italian is not declinated; still, there can be substantial changes to individual words when written in the male/female gender and in plural form.
With those caveats in mind, let’s discover the best ways to memorise the songs we love.
If You’re Just Starting Out
If you’ve just started learning Italian, you are at the height of excitement and passion for learning. You might think you are at a disadvantage because you know only a handful of words but, in fact, you are well-positioned to get the most out of Italian music!
Try to distinguish and imitate sounds, even if you can only pick up on ‘o’, ‘a’, ‘nu’ and ‘na’ at your current level. Later, as you learn more vocabulary, you can come back to those songs and fit new words in.
When You’re a Bit More Advanced
Once you have a few hundred Italian words in your lexicon and know a few verb tenses, it will be easier for you to pick out expressions, especially those most-often used, such as ‘mi/mio’ and ‘te/tu/ti’, ‘bello/bella’, ‘caro/cara’ and others.
You should use words you recognise, in conjunction with the music, as anchors; a sort of fill-in-the-blanks puzzle that you will flesh out later, as you master more words.
When You Can Hold a Conversation in Italian
If your studies have progressed to the point that you can speak fairly well in Italian, memorising Italian songs may be as natural as breathing.
Still, there are a few hacks you could use to make it easier to imprint your favourite Italian songs into memory.
Listen for repeating phrases. Such lines can generally be found in the song’s chorus or, if there is no chorus, at the beginning or end of every verse. Getting those down pat will make the other lines much easier to retain.
At this point, you will find real value in reading the songs’ lyrics as you sing along. Seeing the words as you hear them and speak them works like a 1-2-3 punch on your memory, making it more likely that you will cement that song firmly into your memory banks.
Intermission is over; let’s get back to our song list!
7 – Vivo per lei de O.R.O, An Italian Hit In Multiple Languages
If we had to translate the title of this song into English, it would be "I live for her". This is how Hélène Ségara and Andrea Bocelli interpreted this title in 1997. And yet, even though these are the most famous singers, Vivo per lei was first performed by the Italian group ORO in 1995.
Since then, this monument of an Italian song has toured the world and has seen more than one version, from the English Hayley Westenra to the German Judy Weiss, to the Spanish Marta Sanchez. Among the love songs, this one is in a good position in the Italian ranking, showing the role of the composer as well as that of the conductor, between ballad and committed lyrics
8 – Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu) de Domenico Modugno, A Classic Italian song
Here, it is a song full of emotion that Italian music and heritage delivers to us. Translated as "Flying", this title became a monument from its first performance at the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest, when it ranked third. This version of Domenico Modugno has also been awarded a number of world prizes.
Among them, the Grammy Award for Recording of the Year and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1959. This timeless tune, which we all know resolutely, places it as an Italian standard, which makes the country shine with this melody recognisable among thousands.
9 – Cosa della vita, d’Eros Ramazzotti et Tina Turner, An Explosive Duo
This song, dated 1993, is also a duet created in 1997 between two musical monuments in the world: Tina Turner and Eros Ramazzotti. Many claim and affirm that he is the best Italian singer of his generation, and this hit cannot prove the contrary. Because who of us has never heard or even hummed the lyrics of this hit? Not many people it seems to me!
Putting the Player on Pause: Can I learn Italian With Music?
In general, music is beneficial to learning anything, be it maths or language.
Studies show that listening to music as you study helps to reduce stress and create a positive environment. Music also helps build motivation and boosts engagement so that the student more easily grasps the material at hand.
One of the greatest benefits of using music as a learning tool is that it can improve memory – the storage of information and its recall.
For those reasons alone, it would be worth listening to music as you learn, but can you learn Italian simply by listening to Italian music?
We can never say ‘never’ but, practically, the answer to that question is ‘no’.
You might think of songs as soundbites, a tantalising glimpse into a culture, a short narrative detailing a limited experience, situation or emotion.
By contrast, the Italian language is complex and full-bodied with hundreds of thousands of words, most of which you are not likely to hear in any song lyric.
Furthermore, while songs might employ a verb tense or two – ‘you come to me in my dreams’ and ‘I walked in the moonlight’ are two examples, the language itself contains no fewer than 21 verb tenses, five of which are commonly used.
And we haven’t even mentioned the various moods: subjunctive, conditional and infinitive being only three of the total seven.
Because of poetic licence – specifically, the departure of standard language rules often used when writing song lyrics, you cannot expect songs to replicate proper sentence structure or even understand the rules governing word order no matter how many Italian songs you listen to.
You should think of Italian music as a tool to aid your studies rather than as a learning method in itself.
Your Italian language courses and contact that you have with native Italian speakers should be your prime sources for learning how to speak Italian.
Let Italian songs be a delightful treasure that you savour on your way to fluency, occasionally helping but mostly lifting you up.
Now, on to the last song on our list.
10 – O sole mio de Luciano Pavarotti
This Neapolitan song, performed by Luciano Pavarotti, is a superb introduction to Italian culture and its music. This opera singer perfectly interprets the words of a universal title, originally published in 1898. Many other performers have taken over, such as Elvis Presley, Enrico Caruso, or Rachid Taha, in 2013. A piece of traditional music like we don't make any more!
As you will have understood, Italy and the Italian language have more than one trick in their bag, when it comes to making us sway to the sound of their music. Between cult artists and titles with hymn-like accents, a whole section of Italy's culture and identity resonates here, the voices and texts equally powerful.
From classical music to pop music: what if the best songs in the world were Italian?