Celebrating the history of San Remo!

We are celebrating the best of San Remo this week on ESCBubble, with our Song Of The Day featuring our Editor’s favourite entries. What better time than this then, to take a quick look back through the history books, and some things you may not know about Italy’s premier song competition!

Festival di SanRemo has been around since 1951 and is seen by many to be the precursor for the creation of the Eurovision Song Contest. 

In its long rich history, it has been used as the selection method for Italian Eurovision contestants (but not necessarily the songs), however San Remo is much much more …

The Festival was always seen as a competition for composers rather than the artists who performed the compositions.  In the early days, each song was sung twice, with different orchestral arrangements to prove the quality of the song – but it was in 1964 when things started to get really interesting, and this forms the start of our lesson!

The organiser, Gianni Ravera tweaked the rules so that the second incarnation of the song should be sung by an “International Artist” who could interpret the song in any language they wanted, and this threw up some amazing collaborations:

Stevie Wonder – San Remo 1969

Yes, this one floored me too! He was eliminated in the first round, but could you imagine if Italy had been represented at Eurovision by Stevie Wonder? In reality, the ticket to Eurovision was offered to both performing artists, and so Gabriella Ferri’s version may well have gone to Madrid, but we will never know!

Cher – San Remo 1967

Sadly the live performance hasn’t been uploaded, but Cher’s Italian pronunciation is not half bad! Unfortunately, neither her rendition, nor that of Italian singer Nico Fidenco, could bring this ballad out of the first round.

Ben E. King – San Remo 1964

Ben E. took full advantage of the “whatever language you want” rule and mixed it up by singing in English for his stint.  It clearly paid off as he made the finals along with Tony Dallara. 

Between 1967-1971, the composers did not have to find international artists (although many still did) and by 1972, the song was only required to be performed once.

The Sanremo Music Festival is about more than just the winners though, with many of the songs which didn’t quite make the cut finding some traction, either in their original form, or when covered by other artists.

Vado Via – Drupi – San Remo 1973

Coming in dead last in the 1973 edition of the contest, you would have expected this gentle ballad with Drupi’s raspy vocals to die a quick death, but somehow this became an international hit, even reaching No 17 in the UK charts which was unheard of for a non-English language song.

Dino – Gli Occhi Miei – San Remo 1968

Although this song was an absolute bop, Dino could only manage 11th in the final.  Somehow, this ended up in the hands of Sir Tom Jones, one quick re-brand to “Help Yourself” and you’ve got yourself a Top 5 UK single.

Emilio Pericoli – Quando Quando Quando – San Remo 1962

This bossa nova style banger managed a 4th place in 1962, yet became one of the biggest sellers of all time, with various international cover versions racking up 50 million in sales. The artists who covered this included Englebert Humperdinck (UK 2012) which brings us on to …

The Sandpipers – Quando M’innamoro – San Remo 1968

Only managing 6th place in the hard-fought 1968 version of the contest, this beautiful ballad  ended up being translated into French, Spanish, Japanese, Estonian, Finnish, Swedish and Russian – but possibly the most successful incarnation was when Englebert Humperdinck (yes, him again) recorded his version in English as “A Man Without Love” which reached No 2 in the UK charts and became the title track of his 3rd album in 1968.

The San Remo Music Festival is now bigger than ever, held over 5 evenings, with separate contests for Established Artists and Newcomers.  Since Italy’s return to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011, more often than not, the winner of the Established Artists section has gone on to represent Italy at Eurovision with great success. Seven  out of the 9 songs entered since 2011 have reached the Top 10.   

The incredible history of San Remo is something to behold, and it’s held close to the heart of every Italian, in a way that Eurovision never will be. Researching this article has given me a new respect for this uniquely Italian institution and I can’t wait for 2021!

1 Comment
  1. David Lowe says

    I do know that my favourite artist Dionne Warwick sang Il Silezio at San Remo. Can’t remember the year.
    Also my favourite Male artist Gene Pitney sang.

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