It’s San Gennaro Festival time in New York City and Brooklyn’s (and our) own Joe Causi was there Saturday night. To celebrate I’ve got the story of one of the favorite Italian songs of all-time in the NYC area.
And the story is so HUGE that I’ll have to share it with you in four parts. It’s a Behind The Hits feast — mangia!
Mets fans, of course, know this song from the seventh-inning stretch. And many fans of a local Jersey guy remember the song, and him, fondly.
[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Lou Monte[/lastfm] lived from 1917 to 1989, and he was an entertainer for almost all of those years. Lou was raised in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, and even as a child he sang and played guitar for his family and neighbors. Soon he was working in local clubs, and went on to have his own radio and television shows broadcast from Newark. His recording career began in 1953 for RCA Records with “I Know How You Feel”. But it was the flip-side, an Italian style rendition of “(At the) Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” a favorite from his nightclub act, that became the hit. His early records were made with the Hugo Winterhalter orchestra until Lou hooked up with Joe Reisman in 1956. They began a successful collaboration, with Reisman’s orchestra backing Lou on many of his later hits. It was also in 1956 that Lou recorded, at the request of RCA, a novelty song about the label’s newest singing sensation. [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Elvis Presley[/lastfm]. “Elvis for President” was one of the few Lou Monte records with no Italian lyrics. He made up for that oversight with “The Sheik of Araby (The Sheik of Napoli)” and many others.
After Lou left RCA, he recorded the holiday classic “Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Donkey)” for Roulette records, and then joined [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Frank Sinatra[/lastfm] at Frank’s new label, Reprise. It was there that he achieved his greatest fame, and a Top 10 hit in 1963 with “Pepino the Italian Mouse”. Lou is fondly remembered as a great entertainer who brought smiles to the faces of his fans worldwide.
As for his 1958 hit “Lazy Mary (Luna Mezzo Mare)”, it has a long and fascinating history
This is a very risque song. In it a girl tells her mother that the moon over the sea (luna mezz’u mare) makes her want to get married. Her mother asks, who can we give you to? The daughter replies, “Mother, what do you think?” The mother then considers different occupations of men. In various versions of the original longer tune, they are numerous, including the Butcher, the Baker, the Shoemaker, the Farmer, the Carpenter, and the Gardener. Lou’s version features the Fisherman, the Policeman, and the Fireman.
For each type she considers, the mother uses a variation on a theme-for example: If I pick for you the fisherman, he’ll go, he’ll come, he’ll always have his fish in his hand. If he gets an idea in his head he’ll “fish” you. She repeats this theme for each choice, changing the double entendre of what each has in his hand and what he’ll do with it. Although he sings of the policeman with his rifle in his hand, Monte left out the more naughty images of the butcher with his sausage in his hand and the gardener with his cucumber. The English (or as he says,”British”) part of his song has nothing to do with the Italian lyrics. There’s no mention in the original of anyone named Mary, lazy or otherwise, needing the sheets for the table, etc.
Although Lou Monte recorded the most popular version of the song, where did it come from originally?
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