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Adriano Celentano and the origins of rock and roll in Italy

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This article examines the way in which American rock and roll was translated into Italian culture. It argues that Italian versions of rock and roll were not just ‘watered down' or ‘domesticated' versions of the original. Rather, Italian rock emerged from a context that was different in musical, ethnic, political, linguistic and religious terms. By focussing on Adriano Celentano (the most prominent ‘Italian Elvis' of the 1950s), it is shown that Italian rock singers evolved from mere imitation to cultural forms that were more related to the Italian environment. Musically, this meant a relationship with the domestic melodic tradition, jazz and American rock and roll rather than the blues. The rebellious attitude of early singers was a function of the hostility demonstrated towards them by political and religious authorities. Once this attitude was replaced by one of co-optation, opposition was replaced by modernizing integration. A figure like Celentano managed to be simultaneously defiant and conservative, pagan and religious, conformist and non-conformist. The resulting contradictions were concealed beneath a personal magnetism partly based on an established ‘cool' style that appealed to the new categories thrown up by social and economic changes. Celentano's fame was confined to Italy not because he merely imitated American rock but because he developed an original synthesis that was specifically adapted to Italian tastes.
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Keywords: American influences; Popular music; economic boom; youth culture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Royal Holloway, University of London

Publication date: 01 September 2006

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