Rita Pavone was just 16 when she first topped the Italian charts, and went on to become one of Italy’s biggest stars of the 1960s. She also enjoyed a string of hits in Germany with songs at the cheesier end of the market.
She was born on 23 August 1945 in Turin, northern Italy. She enjoyed performing from an early age and made her first public appearance in 1959 singing an Al Johnson song at the Alfieri Theatre in her hometown. As a teenager she took a job ironing in a clothes factory and supplemented her income by singing at various local clubs.
Things didn’t go smoothly for the young singer when she first chose to pursue a career in music in earnest. In 1961, she was turned down by the RCA label after bosses there failed to spot the potential in the small, freckled redhead. However, within a year, she had won the Festa degli sonosciuti talent contest – the first prize for which, ironically, was a contract with RCA.
The contest had been organised by Teddy Reno, a singer in the 1940s and 50s. He became her manager, producer and later, in 1968, her husband.
The catchy La partita di pallone was issued as Rita’s first 45. It topped the charts in February 1963, ultimately selling a million copies globally.
The Turin teenager’s first attempt to woo the German public came in November 1963, when she released her second Italian chart topper, Cuore, in Germany. But the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill-penned international hit failed to set the German charts alight.
Undeterred, the tiny redhead tried again just a month later, this time successfully, with the edgier German original composition Wenn ich ein Junge wär’. The song – complete with her heavily accented delivery – shot to number two in the German charts, spending 12 weeks in the top ten.
Eschewing covers of her Italian material, she issued another German original, the distinctly corny Mein Jack, der ist zwei Meter groß, which made number 11 in the German charts in the spring of 1964. (Interestingly, the flip, Mit 17 soll man nicht weinen, has since become more popular with fans of the genre.)
The follow up, Peppino aus Torino – in which she dismissed a range of famous names in favour of her Italian paramour – fared less well, reaching number 33 in December that year. Admittedly, its release was overshadowed by her duet with American star Paul Anka on Kiddy Kiddy kiss me, which the pair took into the top ten later the same month.
She struggled again with her solo follow up, Ich frage meinen Papa, a reworking of her top five Italian hit Viva la pappa col pomodoro. The song scraped into the German top 40 in April 1965 and the diminutive star returned her attention to her homeland, where she scored hit after hit.
It was another three years before she tried to charm the German record-buying public again, this time with the schlocky Arrivederci Hans. The song proved more popular, and made number six in July 1968. But the follow up, Alle Männer sind nicht so, couldn’t repeat its success, managing only to make the top 30.
An LP issued that year, Komm doch wieder mal nach Rom, failed to sell in any great quantity, though fans now prize the album for the Supremes-esque Ich bin doch kein Dornröschen.
The single Bene, bene, bene gave her her final German hit, reaching number 14 in the spring of 1969. Her final release of the decade, Wenn der Zirkus kommt, missed the charts altogether, as did three further singles in 1970.
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Mit 17 soll man nicht weinen
Wenn ich ein Junge wär’
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Wenn ich ein Junge wär’
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Rita Pavone in Italy
Rita Pavone online
Ich bin doch kein Dornröschen