“Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)” by Domenico Modugno
Of all the colors we have come across utilized by popular musicians in song, none have been as used as commonly as the color blue. And whereas in the popular lexicon blue may connote depression, as generally presented in music – for instance by artists such as Lana Del Rey or the late Louis Armstrong – it is something more positive. And such is also the case with Volare.
At the onset, this song revolves around a metaphor of the singer ‘flying in the blueness”, i.e. an “endless sky” that is “painted in blue”. And if it sounds like he’s tripping (to some degree) such may actually be the case, as the person who conceptualized these lyrics did so while he was drunk, dreaming and admiring some deep paintings.
But more to the point is that him undergoing this experience appears to be an euphoric undertaking on his behalf.
But by the time all is said and done, Modugno flips the blue metaphor into a romantic context. That is to say that later on in the song an addressee is introduced into the mix. And she just so happens to have “blue eyes”. Her eyes are the types of which make the vocalist just as “happy to be down here” as he when he is “fly(ing) happily” up in the “blue… star-studded sky”.
Thesis Sentiment of “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)”
So there may be a thesis sentiment to this piece, which is this euphoric feeling that the singer is experiencing. But said sensation is actually dual-sourced, as in being able to be derived on his behalf from two different sources.
First is being swept away by his own imaginings if you will, in combination with the beauty of nature. And second is the type of euphoria one feels when in company of someone you are deeply in love with.
So Volare really is a, shall we say tender song through and through. And with such a sweet, loving and peaceful sentiment permeating throughout, we have to believe such is one of the reasons why this song has proven to be timelessly popular.
Domenico Modugno (1928-1994) was an Italian musician who also acted. And after retiring from music in 1993, being active for a solid 40 years prior, he actually went on to become a prominent politician in his homeland.
Modugno took up singing way back in the early-1950s, and as such there isn’t as much information available on his hits as there may be with more-modern artists. But what we do know is that “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)” was globally one of the most-successful songs of its day.
Achievements of “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)”
It topped the Billboard Hot 100 and held down that position for 5 weeks. Outside of the US it reached number 10 on the UK Singles Chart. It even fared more impressively in a few other European nations.
And even though it didn’t chart in Italy, it did win the most-popular song contest in the country in 1958. The said contest is known as the Sanremo Music Festival. FYI, Italy’s FIMI (the organization responsible for compiling their charts) didn’t exist back then.
Also prior to becoming an international hit, it finished in third place at the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest. In fact all things considered this tune was received more favorably stateside than anywhere else. There, it also won Song of the Year as well as Record of the Year in 1959, at the first Grammy Awards ever conducted. And receiving both of those accolades is even more exceptional than usual in this case, considering that the lyrics aren’t even in English.
In fact even as of the onset of the 2020s, it is the only track in Grammy history that isn’t in English to have won those awards.
Below are the other nominees for 1959’s Grammys for the “Song of the Year” award:
- Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star”
- Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “Gigi”
- Peggy Lee’s “Fever”
- Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft”
And even as recently as 2004 the SIAE (aka Italian Society of Authors and Publishers) concluded that “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)” is actually the most popular song originating from Italy in the world.
Also even though it did not actually win the Eurovision Song Contest in which it was entered, at the 50th anniversary of Eurovision in 2005 this tune was named the second “all-time favorite song” in the event’s history. It was bested only by ABBA’s 1974 outing “Waterloo“.
And at the said anniversary, ABBA’s own Benny Andersson stated that he himself preferred “Nel Blue, Dipinto di Blu”. And also interesting to note while we’re at it, as of the writing of this post, this also happens to be the only song that was ever sung in Eurovision which went on to win a Grammy.
Many people, such as the aforementioned Benny Andersson, simply refer to this song as Volare for short.
Domenico Modugno actually won the Sanremo Festival prior to 1958. That was in 1956 with a song entitled “Musetto”. And he also won a couple of times afterwards. He won in 1959 with “Piove (Ciao, Ciao Bambina)”. He also won in 1966 via “Dio, Come Ti Amo”. And in all he participated in the event a dozen times between 1956 and 1974.
Who wrote “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)”?
Domenico Modugno wrote this song in conjunction with one of his countrymen, Franco Migliacci. Migliacci, who was born in 1930, is actually still around as of the writing of this post in 2021. And in addition to being involved in music he was also more notably active in film.
In fact it was Migliacci, being a lyricist, who commenced the composition of “Nel Blue, Dipinto di Blu”. And to make a long story short, he was inspired by a couple of paintings by a European artist named Marc Chagall (1887-1985). And this was while he was heavily under the influence of alcohol.
It should also be noted that back in those days, it wasn’t that common for popular musicians to write their own songs. As such Modugno doing so on this track made him the first singer to have actually contributed to the writing of a track that reached number 1 in America.
More Interesting Facts about “Nel blu, dipinto di blu (Volare)”
When this song first came out, it was shrouded in a little bit of controversy. This was after another musician named Antonio De Marco, apparently being an Italian himself, formally accused both Modugno and Migliacci of “theft”. He accused the pair of biting a song he composed in 1956, entitled “Il Castello dei Sogni”, in the creation of “Volare”.
But ultimately the attempt backfired. And why? This is because not only were they found not guilty, but also Modugno successfully sued De Macro afterwards. He sued him on the grounds of defamation.
The lyrics of this song have been translated into English on a couple of occasions. One of such notable translations was done by an American lyricist named Mitchell Parish (1900-1993). It is Parish’s translation for instance which the late, great Dean Martin (1917-1995) utilized in his rendering of “Nel Blue, Dipinto di Blu” in 1958.
Other musical greats who have covered this song include Louis Armstrong and the following:
- David Bowie
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Luciano Pavarotti
- Frank Sinatra
- Barry White
- Laura Pausini
- Andrea Bocelli
- Gipsy Kings
Fans of the popular English soccer teams Manchester United and Arsenal are also on record as having modified to lyrics of this song to use as a football chant.