Sanremo ’67: death, international stars and revolution

Music StoriesPress and police – more than usual – gather outside Sanremo’s Casinò Municipale in the late days of January 1967. The ’67 edition of Sanremo Festival had been promoted as the most spectacular and richest of international guests, but a death probably is not what host Mike Bongiorno, RAI television and the Festival board were thinking to when promising spectacle.
Dalida and Luigi Tenco sign autographs in Sanremo

A shot to the head, interrupting the life of one of the most interesting and gifted Italian songwriters, Luigi Tenco. Dark, fascinating and with a doomed air, Tenco is the black sheep of Italian late ‘50s/ mid-‘60s pop. A thorny character with unconventional love songs and critics to contemporary society.

Alleged suicide is the coroner’s verdict. A final and extreme protest act against the exclusion of his song Ciao Amore Ciao from the Festival final stage. A pop music Yukio Mishima. The letter left in his hotel room is a vibrant accuse to 1960s Italian pop music environment, where average unchallenging songs reach the Festival finals.

Other theories lead to think the singer was victim of a conspiracy which aimed to get rid of a thorny figure who went too often against the tide in a still heavily Church-influenced democratic-christian pre-’68 Italy.

A heart-broken Dalida after the news of Luigi tenco’s alleged suicide in the early hours of January 27th, 1967

Dalida- the French singer partner with Tenco both in life and in the competition- leaves the mortuary in dark shades. Just a few hours early the two were smoking a fag and sharing a shy laugh in front of photographers and fans after rehearsals – which apparently left Tenco quite unsatisfied and anxious.

Dalida and Luigi Tenco have a cigarette close to their fans after rehearsing on January 26th, 1967

Disaronno liquor, an entire bottle, helped Tenco to calm the anxiety, but pushing from host Mike Bongiorno was needed to move Tenco on stage. Alcohol, though, didn’t do the singer a favour and witnesses recall a poor performance, of which just a recording re-surfaced not long ago exists.

Both Tenco and Dalida versions of Ciao Amore Ciao are two of the finest 7” from ‘60s Italian pop. Flanked by the jurors, but resulting in Tenco’s most famous and successful song. Similar fate had rock’nroller and songwriter Adriano Celentano’s song Il Ragazzo della Via Gluck, excluded from 1966 edition of the Festival. An ahead-of-its-time ecologist ballad against exaggerate building construction.

The morning of 27th January some kids leave flowers by Luigi Tenco’s promotional giant posters, just outside Sanremo Casinò. Days before, just by those posters – Dalida’s one to be precise –  mop-topped singer Riki Maiocchi, with his mod-beat outfit, greets the press.

Riki Maiocchi greets the press outside Sanremo Casinò Municipale

His C’è Chi Spera is a wonderful ballad in the style of Scott Walker, possibly something too British and too youth-friendly for Sanremo. No wonder is English star Marianne Faithfull – fresh of some singles on Decca and notorious for her romance with Mick Jagger – to pair with Maiocchi in the competition.

Marianne Faithfull opens fans’ mail in the backstage

Not only Marianne Faithfull – From the US Sonny & Cher make their appearance in Sanremo. Arriving with never-seen-before in Sanremo satin hippy round collar shirt matching with trousers, the American duo performs Caterina Caselli song Il Cammino di Ogni Speranza. The song, an orchestral and solemn ballad, fits the couple as rarely a Sanremo single has fitted an international guest. No wonder Sonny & Cher share a laugh of happiness while rehearsing in their faltering Italian, before turning Caterina Caselli‘s song into a West Coast nugget.

Sonny & Cher in their satin outfits

Dalida sits lost in thoughts in the theatre of Sanremo Casinò holding a cigarette in her left hand. Next to her, looking dapper in a leather jacket, is newcomer Mario Zelinotti. Zelinotti, deep and warm voice, has always suffered from being the second choice. Due to commercial reasons, two of his most promising singles were given to record to more prominent mainstream singers leaving Zelinotti behind. It’s the case of Sanremo ’67, where Zelinotti’s brilliant version of Tom Jones-like pop stomper Cuore Matto failed to peak the charts as Italian answer to Elvis and pop idol Little Tony performed the same song to the Festival.

From left to right- front row: Dalida, Mario Zelinotti; back row: Little Tony, Shel Shapiro and Mike Shepston (The Rokes)

Little Tony is sitting in the seats row just behind Zelinotti, wearing a mod-ish white denim jacket. Next to him is Cyprus-born and English-naturalised singer Shel Shapiro, leader of Italy’s hottest imported British act, The Rokes. With a beard anticipating ’68 trend, Shel Shapiro sits close to Rokes’ drummer Mike Shepston, also sporting a quite late-‘60s look with moustache and round eyeglasses.

The band went on Sanremo Festival stage with Bisogna Saper Perdere, also performed by Lucio Dalla. The bearded Bolognese beatnik – introduced on stage as ‘a young jazzman’ – pairs for the second consecutive year with a beat group, after taking part to 1966 Sanremo Festival with The Yardbirds.

Lucio Dalla strikes a fed-up pose for photographers in Sanremo.

Bisogna Saper Perdere is a song about accepting the girl loved chooses another man, but more generally about being able to loose in life. Dalla, dear friend of Tenco, delivers an emotional and vigorous performance of the song on the day after the alleged suicide. In a rare footage of the finals – considered lost as RAI (Italy PSB) didn’t record live broadcastings, but just recently found in Malta – Dalla seems to keep a certain anger inside him, before parting from the audience with a mechanical reverence, as to criticise the Festival board’s decision to carry on with the show after Tenco’s death. A last greeting to the friend or, maybe, a hidden message left us to investigate.

A certain revolutionary attitude ran through the Festival. Beat band I Giganti in white suits and all around the mic as the Beach Boys performed Proposta, a half-spoken word flower-power hymn against war. Its highlight was the verse ‘Put some flowers in your guns’.

Teen-friendly pop singer Gianni Pettenati anticipated 1968 with the song . What Pettenati didn’t consider, though, was that late ’60s/ ’70s street protests would have been far from non-violent. The single was one of the most-sold singles from Sanremo Festival. Don’t be deceived by the A-side, as on the flip side there is an interesting cover of soul classic Respect, Ciao Ragazza Ciao.

Claudio Villa and Iva Zanicchi celebrate their victory

Despite, musically-talking, 1967 has been one of the best years for the Festival, as usual to Sanremo the winner resulted in a song suiting the national-popular public, Non Pensare a Me by Italian song traditionalist Claudio Villa together with Iva Zanicchi.  Don’t be surprised if many music connoisseurs can’t cope anymore with Sanremo Festival, but there’s always some good B-side to dig at flea markets.


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