Celebrating Europe’s finest Europop diva and uber-kitsch disco pioneer.
All hail Raffaella Carrà, who had been hidden in the Reprobate collective memory until a chance discovery of her utterly splendid single Rumore in a Portobello Road retro shop brought it all flooding back. As Europop icons go, few can compete either musically or culturally.
Carrà’s career includes appearing in Von Ryan’s Express, a bunch of Eurospy films and a quite staggering amount of peplum movies – everything from Mole Men Against the Sons of Hercules to Caesar the Conqueror. It’s a catalogue of low rent European cinema that by itself would be enough to qualify her for cult heroine status, but it’s a small part of a career that has run the gamut of Europop. The Italian performer rose to fame – or possibly infamy – at the start of the 1960s when she was condemned by the Vatican after the cardinal sin of exposing her navel on TV – the first person to do so and thus opening the floodgates to wanton belly button exposure. Catholic countries hated her TV show Canzonissima, and showed their disapproval by tuning in in huge numbers.
Her music career really took off in the 1970s, when she was in her thirties, but finally able to be a more unihibited sexual performer – her dance routines and costumes became ever more extravagant, and her first big hit Tuca Tuca came complete with dance moves that would be frowned upon now by the sort of people that see any sort of physical contact as sexual assault. A song about touching feels more transgressive now that it did then.
Carrà became as big in Spain as she was in Italy, eventually relocating in the early 1970s and recording several songs in Spanish. But her best song of the era – hell, one of the best songs of the era – is the 1975 Italian language proto-disco Rumore, which has a genuinely extraordinary video and should have you dancing around the room immediately. Like a lot of female fronted Euro pop of this era, it feels like Madonna before Madonna was a thing – a cynic might say that her original style was essentially a distillation of all these Seventies performers that were essentially unknown in America, but that’s an argument for another day. But it’s perhaps no surprise that Carrà became a gay icon. Admittedly, every woman who has ever dressed extravagantly and performed disco music with backing dancers who look like rejects from Zardoz is classed as a gay icon by the press, but looking at her performance of Big Spender, which feels like a Broadway musical version of Cruising, there might be a point here…
Her biggest hit was Tanti Auguri, which was also recorded in Spanish as the suggestively titled Para Hacer Bien el Amor Hay Que Venir al Sur, which roughly translates as ‘to make good love you have to go south’ – allegedly a reference to Southern Europe, though the alternative inference was not lost on audiences. Multi langauge versions of her songs, often with completely reworked lyrics rather than direct translations, would become commonplace.
She even had a UK hit, reaching number nine in the charts with Do It, Do It Again, which saw her appear on Top of the Pops in an impressive outfit. The song itself is archetypal holiday resort Europop, the sort of thing you imagine drunken tourists doing conga lines to while holding stuffed donkeys – it was a novelty hit and unsurprisingly did not lead to further English languge success. Not that she cared, I imagine. The song, in various languages, was a hit across Europe.
By 1979, she had abandoned Franco’s Spain for Buenos Aires, then under military control, where she became one of the faces of state television. This penchant for dictatorships might raise eyebrows, but I’m sure it was coincidental. In any case, by 1982, she was back in Italy, and her career became a lot less interesting – appearances in Starlight Express and the Italian version of The Voice were good career moves for a performer wanting to grow old with dignity perhaps, but had little of the zing and fun of her hip swinging, hair flipping glory days.
Still, at her peak, she was a Europop star of the highest calibre, and her magnificent career deserves celebrating.
Special movie bonus: