Some songs become popular because of their melodies and rhythms, some because of the universality or profundity of their lyrics, and some because they're simply fun. But there's another category: songs which may or may not be very noteworthy in themselves, but lend themselves to extraordinary performances. (If Pavarotti sang "The ABC Song," it would be worth listening to.) "Uno Dei Tanti" ("One of Many"), which you're likely to recognize immediately, is such a song. Written by Carlo Donida and Giulio "Mogol" Rapetti, it was released in Italy in 1961, performed by Joe Sentieri - - - but that was just the beginning. So, we begin with Sentieri's original:
That was the Italian original, and, without even knowing the lyrics, one is struck by its dramatic nature. Which is a good thing, because, when adapted to English by legendary tunesmiths Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the song became hopelessly melodramatic. In America, the song largely appealed to teenagers, who, if I recall correctly, are melodramatic by nature. It was first recorded in English by Ben E. King, and was an immediate Top 40 hit in 1963; but, gifted as King was, his was not the greatest recording, with a syrupy arrangement which robbed the song of its basic appeal. But it was covered by many other artists, including the Righteous Brothers, whose unearthly counterpoint was well-suited to drama. Here, then, is "I Who Have Nothing:"
Well, that was the Top 40 version, or one of them, and it's fine by me. But it wasn't written to be a teen anthem, as evidenced by this rendition by Italian pop star Milva, with a uniquely dramatic arrangement and orchestration. By the way, Milva was a devotee of the great Ennio Morricone, and did an album dedicated to him; the orchestration for this cover would not be out of place in a Spaghetti Western:
Very nice indeed. And the song continued to be popular in both languages. Tom Jones had the highest-charting American version, in 1970; but even this modest ditty deserves better than an Elvis manqué from Wales. So, here's a more respectable version, by another Brit:
A song this dramatic, however, should be heard, at least once, in a live performance. Studio orchestras are fine, but how does the song play to a living, breathing crowd? We'll see. First, before an audience that looks like a Grand Old Opry crowd, is Nicola "Niko" Congiu:
Yes, sir! That's the way! Niko knows how to sell a song! But so does Shirley Bassey, of "Goldfinger" fame, in this performance, which was arranged by the great studio producer George Martin. Dame Shirley, as it happens, had charted in England with the song, before Tom Jones recorded it, and was apparently as unimpressed with his performance as I was:
As we said at the beginning, the strength of this ballad is its potential for drama. And, as we've seen in numerous other posts, few American pop stars can create a dramatic rendition better than the mature Neil Diamond. It's not a great song; but, in the hands of the right singer, it can sound like one. I hope you've enjoyed it.