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|O SOLE MIO: FROM NEAPOLITAN BALLAD TO FOOTBALL CHANT VIA ELVIS
April 10, 2017 - The Financial Times / Elvis Express Radio
A Neapolitan ballad, “O sole mio” has enjoyed more than one life. Its lilting melody been reincarnated and renamed several times since it first appeared in 1898.
“O sole mio” (“My Sunshine”) was composed by Eduardo Di Capua. Its lyric, comparing a lover’s face with the sun, was written by a poet, Giovanni Capurro. In 1916 the celebrated
tenor Enrico Caruso recorded it for a 78rpm single on the Victor label, a version that has been repackaged more than 90 times. Mario Lanza was another celebrity tenor to pick up
the song, recording it in 1950. But there was more to “O sole mio” than a list of acclaimed operatic recordings.
In 1915, it was given its first English translation by Charles W Harrison, an American tenor, and in 1921 its melody was adapted into a popular hymn, “Down From His Glory”.
A year earlier, “O sole mio” had become a surrogate national anthem at the Antwerp Olympics when the music for the Italian anthem was mislaid.
Tony Martin, an American crooner and actor, enjoyed a hit single with an English-language version called “There’s No Tomorrow” in 1950. Eight years later, Martin was attending a
cabaret event for show business figures in Hollywood when one of the comedians, Harry Einstein, suffered a heart attack on stage.
In a grim scene, a surgeon in the house operated on the victim using a penknife, while another used bare electric wires as a defibrillator. In the spirit of “the show must go on”,
Martin was called to the stage to sing “There’s No Tomorrow”. For the unfortunate Einstein, it proved true: he died that night.
Elvis Presley loved Martin’s record. He taped his own version in 1959 while stationed in Germany with the US Army, a performance that went unreleased until 1997. Presley also
asked his music publisher to create a new song around the melody, who gave the job to composers Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold.
It took them two hours to complete the lyrics for “It’s Now or Never”, and Presley’s sensitive and elegant 1960 recording became the second biggest-selling single of his career.
Reggae vocalist Jimmy London covered it in 1972, one of several Presley hits he tackled. Country singer John Schneider chose the song for his debut single in 1981.
Paul McCartney paid homage to it in 1990 on The Last Temptation of Elvis, an album made for the music magazine NME.“O sole mio” was not finished, however. Elvis often
explained the origins of “It’s Now or Never” on stage, and his 1977 album Elvis In Concert (released six weeks after Elvis’s death) featured the tenor Sherrill Nielsen singing it before
Elvis delivered his own hit version.
“O sole mio” earned Pavarotti a Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo in 1980, and there was even a formulaic electronic house mix, credited to Operatix, in 1992, which
sampled Caruso’s 1916 version.
The song won fresh fame in the 1980s when it was used to advertise ice cream in a UK TV campaign that ran (or dribbled) for a decade. The lyrics (“Just one Cornetto, give it to me
. . .”) were supposedly sung by the Italian-born, Sutton Coldfield-resident tenor Renato Pagliari, who had a hit with “Save Your Love” in 1982 as half of the novelty pop act Renée &
After Renato died, his son revealed that he had not actually sung on the commercial. Whoever was responsible, it kept the ditty in the public consciousness and certainly prompted
the football chant: “Just one Capello, give him to me, delicious manager, from Italy,” sung about the England manager Fabio Capello in 2008.
The melody had another period of popularity in the UK when Elvis’s version made number one again in 2005. “It’s Now or Never”? It’s Now and Forever would be more accurate.