The Phono Project

Exploring the history of the groove

“Mambo Italiano” by Rosemary Clooney

“Mambo Italiano” is a hit novelty song released in 1954. Sung by Rosemary Clooney and written by Bob Merrill, the song parodies Italian and Spanish music with completely nonsense lyrics in each language. It was written by Merrill under a tight deadline, who allegedly scrambled lyrics onto a napkin while eating at an Italian restaurant. He then ran right outside to a pay phone and hummed the song to one of Clooney’s producers. After its release, the WABC radio station of New York banned the song, blaming its “suggestive” lyrics. Clooney’s label was confused by the ban, because none of the song’s lyrics were meant to be vulgar. The radio station later admitted that they only banned because they didn’t understand the Italian lyrics, and assumed that they translated into something offensive. Clooney’s label consulted multiple language experts to back the song’s innocence, and WABC lifted the ban shortly after.

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