Publishers Weekly review editor Rotella (Stolen Figs and Other Adventures in Calabria, 2003) presents an affectionate survey of the Italian songs and singers that have distinguished American popular music, with a particular focus on the period bracketed by World War II and the rock ’n’ roll revolution.
Frank Sinatra looms large in the narrative, along with contemporaries such as Dean Martin and Vic Damone, but the author devotes equal attention to largely forgotten stars, including Russ Columbo, a heartthrob to rival the great Sinatra; Nick Lucas, the first populizer of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”; and Julius La Rosa, who was infamously fired, on the air, from patron Arthur Godfrey’s program. Rotella offers a brief biographical sketch of each performer, along with insightful analyses of their varying styles, descriptions of their biggest hits and breakdowns of their particular constituencies. Along the way, he reminisces about his own experiences as the son of Italian immigrants and discourses on the traditional Italian values that informed the singers’ heady combination of macho swagger and gooey romanticism. Contemporary music fans may have trouble engaging with many of the Italian songs as described here, however, as the relentless lyrical focus on moon/spoon/June infatuation and heartbreak tends to blur the individual compositions into an undifferentiated mush. Chapters on such easy-listening stalwarts as the terminally laid-back Perry Como and vanilla crooner Jerry Vale are as bland as their subjects, and the reader longs for more material on the wild antics of Louis Prima, or fabled bad boys like Sinatra, Martin and Dion DiMucci. These cavils aside, Amore is a breezy, useful reference for those interested in exploring the subject. Rotella conducted interviews with many of the surviving subjects of the book, and his encounters with the likes of falsetto-wielding Lou Christie and doo-wop titan Johnny Maestro are full of charming anecdotes and period flavor.
A fine general overview of one of the richest veins in American popular music.