Not only was Italy one of the founding participants of the Eurovision Song Contest, taking part in the first ever edition in 1956, the country is responsible for the entire Eurovision format! Today we look at the Top 10 entries from Italy.
Italy's history in the Eurovision Song Contest is an intriguing one; they won the competition twice and ranked mostly inside the top 10 before taking a long break after 1997. When Italy came back in 2011 it caused a commotion and they resumed a string good placings, as you can see in our Top 10 entries from Italy:
The Sanremo Connection
Let’s start from the beginning and that is the very first Eurovision Song Contest, held in Lugano, a city in Switzerland’s Italian canton of Ticino. The competition was modelled on the popular Festival di Sanremo which began in 1951. Seven countries participated there sending two songs each, and Italy established the first relation between Sanremo and Eurovision, by sending the top two songs from the Italian contest of 1956.
One year after, in 1957, we already had one entry per country, and Italy was represented by Corde Della Mia Chitarra (Strings of my guitar), the Sanremo winner of that year, nowadays remembered as the longest song in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest, at 5 minutes and 27 seconds. After this there was a change in the rules; songs could be no longer than three and a half minutes. This was later amended to the current limit of three minutes.
Moving on to 1958 we find the first entry in our Top 10, “In the blue that is painted in blue”, or as most people know it, Volare. As a shock for most, Domenico Modugno didn’t win, despite performing the song twice because of “technical difficulties” during his first performance. He had to content himself with a victory at the 1st Annual Grammy Awards, winning both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu became a #1 US hit for five weeks, and Billboard’s number one single of 1958. It’s also the biggest selling song ever to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest, with combined sales exceeding 25 million copies. Not bad for a song that finished third!
In 1959 Domenico returned with another Sanremo winner, another international hit, another song with "two titles": Piove or Ciao Ciao Bambina, this time placing 6th in the contest held in Cannes. Modugno returned to the competition once more in 1966 with that year's winner of the Italian Festival, Dio Come Ti Amo, infamously not scoring a single point. It ranks as Italy's only last place in Eurovision, and even then it was shared (with Monaco, for the record). This was the last time that he participated in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The swinging Sanremo sixties
Throughout the 1960s Italy kept sending their Sanremo winning songs to the Eurovision Song Contest without troubling the ranking, until 1963 when Emilio Pericoli was close to winning with Uno Per Tutte which placed third. It would just take one more year for them to lift the trophy. In 1964 Gigliola Cinquetti stormed the scoreboard for Italy, getting almost three times as many votes as the runner-up. She ends up as the runner-up in our list with Non Ho L'età, which became a big international hit for Cinquetti.
In 1965 the contest moved to Italy for the first time, and the chosen host city was Naples. Italy sent Sanremo winner Bobby Solo.
In the years that followed Italy tried several formulas, some related to Sanremo, but since 1967 the winning song of the Italian festival would not be the Eurovision entry, with the exception of 1972. The winning artist would go to Eurovision though, with a different entry, in the years 1967-1969.
From 1970 it was another song competition of the Italian broadcaster RAI which would determine the Eurovision act, Canzonissima. The winning artist of Canzonissima would go to Eurovision the year after so, after winning in 1973, Gigliola Cinquetti returned to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, 10 years after her victory. Winning again in Brighton would not be an easy task, as she faced competition from the likes of Olivia Newton-John and ABBA. As everyone remembers ABBA won with Waterloo for Sweden, but what about Italy? Gigliola took them to the 2nd place with the dreamy ballad Si, which lands at #5 in our chart. The song was temporarily banned from the Italian airwaves in case it influenced the outcome of a referendum on divorce that was taking place in the country at the time!
Age of the duets
The last Canzonissima competition took place also in 1974, and the winners were Wess and Dori Ghezzi. Their adventures as a musical duo started when they covered a song from future Eurovision winners Brotherhood of Man, but the Italians ended up going to the contest before the British band. Wess & Dori represented Italy in 1975 managing a Top 3 finish with their soul-infected song Era, a stand-out song in the history of the competition that is making our Top 10, at #7.
The rest of the 1970s were not as successful in rankings even though they kept on sending some of their top acts like Albano & Romina Power, Mia Martini, Ricchi e Poveri or Matia Bazar. After 1980 they took a first break from the competition, to return only in 1983.
Their 1984 entry put them back in the Eurovision map, I Treni Di Tozeur performed by Alice and Franco Battiato, a firm fan favorite which finished in 5th place in Luxembourg and narrowly misses a spot in our Top 10.
What followed after this? Another Albano & Romina Power participation in 1985, another break in 1986 and another return to form. As we mentioned recently in our 1987 retrospective, that year Italy was back with two internationally-known stars: Umberto Tozzi (Gloria) & Raf (Self Control). In Brussels they placed 3rd with the song Gente Di Mare, which became a continental hit entering the Top 10 in several European countries:
Fresh from winning Sanremo in 1989 yet another duo would represent Italy before winning Eurovision again; Anna Oxa & Fausto Leali with the song Avrei Voluto.
Victory and Addio Italia
In the the period 1980-1990, singer-songwriter Toto Cutugno succeeded in Sanremo several times, winning it once and coming second on no less than five occasions while scoring an international hit with his 1983 entry L’Italiano. It was after his second place in 1990 that Cutugno said yes to RAI’s proposal to represent Italy in Eurovision. He wrote and performed an Italian ballad in anthemic style about bringing Europe together, which proved irresistible for the juries, and won the competition in Zagreb in a year when the unification of Europe was the top theme. It’s also leading our chart.
RAI hosted a memorable Eurovision Song Contest in Rome in 1991. The two Italian winners, Toto Cutugno and Gigliola Cinquetti took on the role of presenting. After 1993 the country withdrew from the contest.
The Successful Comebacks
Italy’s comeback in 1997 proved to be an ephemeral one, as it was a one-off. Representing the country in Dublin was the duo Jalisse, fresh from winning Sanremo with the song Fiumi di Parole which also became their Eurovision entry. It was well favoured and placed fourth but, despite the good ranking, RAI withdrew Italy from the competition again, this time for a longer time. In our list, the dramatic ballad sits at #9.
Fourteen years later, in 2011 Italy made its ultimate comeback to the Eurovision Song Contest and, as part of the Big Five, they were welcomed with an impressive second place for the jazz-influenced Madness Of Love. The stride piece that had resulted triumphant in the newcomers section of Sanremo earlier that year and which launched its performer, Raphael Gualazzi, places at #3 in our list:
Getting Europe's grande amore
The Sanremo connection with the Italian Eurovision entry has continued since their much awaited return to the competition and so their 2013 winner L’Essenziale participated in Malmö where Marco Mengoni finished seventh. It was the biggest selling Italian song of the year:
Two years later, the winner of Sanremo went on as Italy’s Eurovision entry in Vienna. Grande Amore was performed in Italian by the operatic pop trio Il Volo, winning the hearts of the televoters, and placed third at the 60th Eurovision Song Contest. It also won the Marcel Bezençon Press Award and, after the contest, entered the charts in more than 10 countries.
Italy’s latest participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, earlier in May, was also directly related to the Festival di Sanremo. The winner of the Italian Song Contest, Francesco Gabbani, went on to represent his country in Kyiv with the same song, Occidentali’s Karma. It was considered the favourite to win the competition but ultimately finished in sixth place. It also won the Marcel Bezençon Press Award, peaked at number 10 at the Euro Digital Songs chart and, with more than 175 million views, it is the biggest watched Eurovision song on Youtube of all time. It makes our Top 10, at #8:
Not only has Italy's return to the Eurovision Song Contest been celebrated by fans, it has also seen a successful run in the competition for the country. With their current track record, it looks like it's only a matter of time before we see another strong placing for Italy in the contest again.