The Best of Sanremo Music Festival: Italy's All-Time Favorite Songs

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 00:00
The Ariston Theater sign where the Sanremo Music Festival takes place

The 69th edition of the Festival di Sanremo, Italy’s most popular and beloved music festival, is under way. Broadcast live on Rai Uno (Rai International for those abroad) from the famed Ariston Theater in the Ligurian seaside town of Sanremo, this year’s festival ends on Saturday with the announcement of the winner among 24 contestants. competition amongst previously unreleased songs

[Read the story of the festival in our dual-language article.] 

We’ve picked ten of the most successful songs from the festival since its beginning in 1951 – not necessarily the songs that won, but those that stood the test of time. Some of these songs have become icons of Italian music, and continue to be played on the radio years after their first release.

Watch the videos and sing along – it’s also a great way to practice your Italian!

- Nel blu dipinto di blu, Domenico Modugno. Popularly known as ‘Volare,’ Modugno's super popular song won the eighth Sanremo Music Festival in 1958, and became the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1st Annual Grammy Awards in the same year.

- Le mille bolle blu, MinaHailed as one of the greatest Italian female singers, Mina placed only 5th with this song in 1961, which made her decide not to ever compete at Sanremo again. She went on to become the most famous Italian pop singer of all time, thanks to her distinctive timbre and great voice power.

- Un'avventura, Lucio BattistiThis song was presented at the festival in 1969 and it didn’t win. It then became one of the most famous love songs of Italian music. And Battisti was among the greatest, most influential and innovative Italian musicians of all time.

- 4/3/1943, Lucio Dalla. A masterpiece by masterful singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla, it placed third at the Festival in 1971. It was in part censored to be able to compete at the Festival because of some references to 'Gesù bambino' (Jesus) deemed inadequate. It remains one of Dalla's most famous song.

- Gianna, Rino GaetanoGaetano’s performance in 1978 has remained in the Sanremo history books for its playful and irreverent spirit, and many years later, it’s still super catchy.

- Vita spericolata, Vasco Rossi. This is one of the best-known songs in Italian music, and a favorite especially among young people. It was performed at the Festival in 1983 and placed second to last. He caused a sensation when he left the stage before the end of the song to reveal that singers were actually performing in playback. 

- Terra promessa, Eros RamazzottiThis song was Eros Ramazzotti’s debut. It also inaugurated the Newcomers section of Sanremo, which it won, in 1984. Ramazzotti went on to become one of Italy’s most famous singers, even abroad. He has released many albums in Italian and Spanish.

- Se m'innamoro, Ricchi e Poveri. A very 1980s song by pop music group Ricchi e Poveri, who have sold a whopping 20 million records in their career. This song won the festival in 1985.

- E poi, Giorgia. Giorgia didn't win with this song in 1994, but it launched her career and remains one of her best known songs. Giorgia won the following year with Come saprei. She's one of the most iconic Italian singers, praised for her soulful voice, compared even to Whitney Houston. 

- Luce, ElisaLuce (Tramonti a nord est) is Elisa's most famous song, the first she sang in Italian (she usually sings in English), and winner of the Festival in 2001. She's one of Italy's most successful singer-songerwriters. Her collaboration with Ennio Morricone, Ancora qui, was featured on Quentin Tarantino's film, Django Unchained and its soundtrack album. 

What is your favorite Italian song?