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Selling Italy by the sound: cross-cultural interchanges through cover records

PAOLO PRATOa1

a1 Via Accademia Platonica 6, 00147 Roma, Italy E-mail: prato@unigre.it

Abstract

Since the beginning of modern canzone, cover versions have represented a shortcut to importing and exporting songs across national borders. By breaking language barriers, these records have played the role of ambassadors of Italian music abroad and, vice-versa, of Anglo-American music at home. Although cover records mania boomed especially in the 1960s, the history of Italian popular music is disseminated by such examples, including exchanges with French- and Spanish-speaking countries as well. After reflecting on the nature of ‘cover’ and offering a definition that includes its being a cross-cultural space most typical of Italy and other peripheral countries in the age of early contact with pop modernity, the paper focuses on the economic, aesthetic and sociological paradigms that affect the international circulation of cover records and suggests a few theoretical explanations that refuse the obsolete ‘cultural imperialism’ thesis in favour of a more flexible view hinged upon the notion of ‘deterritorialisation’. In the final section the paper provides a short history of Italian records that were hits abroad, decade by decade, and ends by highlighting those artists that played the role of cultural mediators between Italy and the world.