Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Legendary Raffaella Carrà

Raffaella Carrà can probably bend steel with the sheer power of her fabulousness. One nod of that beautiful blond bob and the Eiffel tower would melt to the ground like an ice cream on a hot summer's day. There's just no way to adequately convey the depth of Raffaella's brilliance without spending hours watching her amazing clips on youtube but I'll do my very best. In my opinion, the Italian diva is the ultimate showgirl - the epitome of all things camp, flamboyant and glamorous. Her ability to belt out a tune, while performing complicated dance routines in costumes that would paralyse most drag queens, is simply unparalleled. If you mixed Kylie's DNA with Cher's and then threw in a little Amanda Lear for good measure, you still wouldn't come close to replicating La Carrà.

I'm ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Raffaella until I visited Spain last year. Despite being a superstar in her native Italy and most of the Spanish speaking world, La Carrà remains an underground gay icon in Australia. It's our loss. I don't know how I survived all those years without her! Anyway, back to Spain. On one of my all too frequent visits to FNAC, I came across a Raffaella CD and asked my friends about her. They insisted she would be right up my alley and they were right. It was love at first listen. After that I spent many an hour digging through second hand music stores to satisfy my Carrà addiction but I only became a true disciple after seeing a documentary about her life when I was shacked up with some loser in Jaén. The footage was magical. Seeing Raffaella in action gave me a whole new appreciation for her amazing gift.

Since returning home, I've spent a lot of time researching Raffaella's career but it hasn't been easy. It's almost impossible to find her studio albums (I've had to make do with about 15 different "Best Of" compilations) and the information about her online is almost exclusively in Italian or Spanish. From what I have been able to ascertain, La Carrà entered the entertainment industry way back in the 1950s as a nine year old. She appeared in several Italian films before trying her luck in Hollywood in the mid-60s. Tinseltown obviously couldn't cope with Raffaella's fabulousness because she returned home a couple of years later. It turned out to be a fortuitous move because things really exploded for her in the early 70s. Raffaella finally found her niche hosting variety TV shows - a medium that allowed her to showcase her singing, dancing and acting abilities. In true Carrà style, she revolutionised proceedings with extravagant sets and sexy costumes. The diva even drew criticism from the Vatican for exposing her navel on national TV! How times have changed.

The 70s were very kind to Raffaella. She scored her first big hit in 1970 with "Tuca Tuca" (it even had an accompanying dance - kind of like the Macarena but less shit) and followed that up with many others, the most notable being "Chissà se Va", "Tanti Auguri", "Rumore" and "I Thank You Life". In the later part of the decade, La Carrà embraced a more modern style (namely disco) and really hit her stride. 1977's fabulous "A Far L'Amore" was translated into English as "Do It, Do It Again" and became a top 10 hit in the UK in 1978. Unfortunately, lightning didn't strike twice and Raffaella turned her focus to the Spanish market, which was much more receptive to her unique talent. Confusingly, Raffaella then re-released many of her Italian hits in Spanish. "Fiesta", "Lucas", "Soy Negra", "Male" and "California" are some of her better known tracks from this period.

Having conquered Spain, La Carrà set her sights on South America and moved to Argentina in 1979 at the height of the Dirty War. It's hard to imagine Raffaella as the puppet of a right wing military dictatorship but that's exactly what appears to have happened! She became a regular entertainer on Argentine television and her popularity spread across most of South America. She even starred in her own movie musical (1980's "Bárbara"), a film I would desperately love to see. I find the whole situation incredibly fascinating. It must have been very controversial but Raffaella seems to have emerged from her Argentine exile completely unscathed. I wonder if she has ever expressed regrets for associating with such a corrupt regime. There's next to no information written about the topic in English, so I'm hoping a Spanish or Italian fan will fill me in on the details.

Raffaella packed her bags and returned to Italy in 1982, picking up exactly where she left off - by hosting extremely popular variety programs and churning out fabulous pop hits. While La Carrà's 1970s musical output is generally considered to be her best by fans, most of my favourite songs were released in the mid-80s. I'm obsessed with tracks like "Dolce Far Niente", "Amigo", "Bolero" and "Stupida Gelosia". I love the synthesizers and upbeat pop melodies. The hits kept coming well into the late 1980s. Raffaella channelled the Stock Aitken Waterman sound on her 1988 album, which produced catchy Eurodance tracks like "1,2,3,4 Dancing" and "Chicos, Chicos". By that stage, Raffaella was well into her mid-40s but still kicked up her heels like a diva half her age. Check out her amazing duet with Donna Summer (above). I love how Raffaella totally steals Donna's thunder, making her American guest look like a novice in comparison. The bitter look on Donna's face says it all!

The 90s signalled the end of Raffaella's career as a chart force but she remains a regular on European television and continues to release a new compilation album every couple of years. Kind of like Tina Turner, only more shameless. Last year Raffaella started hosting her very own talk show in Italy, which I'm told is a great success. Now in her mid-60s, La Carrà can look back on an amazing career that spans over half a century. She is in a league of her own, a true living legend.

For a bit of fun, I've listed my ten favourite Carrà classics. As you can see - I really, really love her 80s material!

1. Dolce Far Niente (1984)

I think the title literally means "It's Nice Doing Nothing". I couldn't agree more! This track is just so camp and synth-tastic. The production is pure 80s magic, while the chorus will have you coming back for more. I think "Dolce Far Niente" was used in one of Raffaella's TV shows if the amazing clip (above) is any indication. The part where she dances with the boy in the orange lycra shorts is just surreal!

2. Amigo (1984)

"Amigo" was also released in Italian but I'm more familiar with the fabulous Spanish version. This is another dose of high camp 80s pop - complete with barking dogs! A trashtastic delight.

3. Fuerte, Fuerte, Fuerte (1978)

This gorgeous ballad is a Spanish version of an Italian hit but they're both equally superb and perfectly showcase the loveliness of La Carrà's voice.

4. Fatalità (1983)

Raffaella jumps on the Italo disco bandwagon with truly spectacular results. "Fatalità" is a soaring slice of 80s dance music that boasts some truly sublime production.

5. A Far L'Amore

Raffaella's biggest international hit is a winning disco anthem. I prefer the Italian version to the English re-make ("Do It, Do It Again") and the Spanish version ("En El Amor Todo Es Empezar").

6. 1,2,3,4 Dancing (1988)

This 80s gem is so Stock Aitken Waterman it hurts. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Kylie or Sinitta album, which is a very good thing indeed! The video is stunning. I can't believe La Carrà was in her mid-40s! Check it out above.

7. I Thank You Life (1977)

This adorable ballad could just be the campest thing ever captured on record. What a diva moment!

8. Chicos, Chicos (1988)

Ok, forget what I said about "I Thank You Life", this Hi-NRG treat takes things to a whole new level of camp. I seriously need to track down these amazing 80s albums.

9. Soñando Contigo

"Soñando Contigo" or "Dreaming Of You" is a sleek disco triumph. I love the brass and the strings. This is a classy affair all around.

10. Bolero (1984)

Welcome to 80s synthesizer heaven! "Bolero" is one of Raffaella's best English pop hits. It's hard to believe this didn't take off internationally. It captures the zeitgeist of 1984 so perfectly. Check it out above.


Petra said...

I think this is my first post here, but I have to say, what a brilliant review! I used to do her dance routine when I was 5 or 6, way before I knew I was gay. Thanks for the poptrashtastic review! It was fun to go down memory lane!

tommie said...

I'm obsessed with 1, 2, 3 Dancing!

Jeroen said...

We have Rai Uno (Italy's state television) on cable in Amsterdam, so I've been aware of Raffaella for many years (mainly as the presenter of Mister Italy...). If you're looking for a greatest hits compilation, go for 'Tutto Carra' (1999). Thanks Mike, for reminding me of my second favorite Italian singer (right after Sabrina).

Johnny D said...

Well I think its absolutely clear where Lady Gaga stole her act from.

Mike, I just can figure out where you find these amazing artists from! Keep it cumming!

Daniel said...

Raffa forever! Thanks for the FABULOUS write up X

Cristián said...

Magnificent and impeccable post, Mike!!!
You had me at Hello with your blog, still you have just outdone yourself like never before, and hit my Achilles tendon.
I owe you a longer personal email with some more info, but feel free to contact me for any additional references on her. I'm bilingual (Spanish/English), and you can consider me a Doctorate PhD in Raffaella Carra Sciences. Lol!
Tanti Auguri!!!

For all the readers, Mike's right on spot when states that: "Raffaella finally found her niche hosting variety TV shows - a medium that allowed her to showcase her singing, dancing and acting abilities. In true Carrà style, she revolutionised proceedings with extravagant sets and sexy costumes."
Raffaella's explosion as a media & pop cultural icon has a lot do with what has happening in Italian television back in that time, which was a pivotal, ground-breaking, and radical moment for "la RAI" (Italy's main TV network) that has hardly ever been replicated anywhere else. For those interested, this issue is addressed and documented also impeccably - and perfectly complements Mike's post - by Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, in this guest-blog post he wrote for NYT's The Moment:
(Get ready to watch a series of hyper-surreal campy TV and glamour extravaganzas! Amanda Lear and Grace Jones included!)
(Disclaimer: any similarities you may notice to anything Madonna, Britney et al, could have ever done at any point in their careers, is purely coincidental)

If you're still hungry for some more, I'd like to also add to Mike's "Her ability to belt out a tune, while performing complicated dance routines in costumes that would paralyse most drag queens, is simply unparalleled." Raffaella's actual unparalleled ability - and practically her "trademark"- were her laws-of-physics-defying skills to control her hair's movement to perfection. From the hours of clips available on You Tube that testify this, here's one of my favorites (not her best musical as a whole, but certainly one with an unbelievable "hair and grace" moment): Taken from one of her TV shows' legendary opening titles. Check by 2'35". Her male-dancers holding her, actually "drop her to the floor", literally, as required by the choreographer she needs to "slip through" from their arms, she falls down onto the floor with all the weight of her (tiny) body, lands visibly a bit rough, but sill, defying gravity (move over, Idina!), she goes on as if nothing with her perfect lip-synch, and of course, in pose, and her hair all in place framing her smiling face to perfection.


Mike said...

Wow, Cristian! Thanks for the amazing comment. I feel like I've got some much needed Raffaella education and really enjoyed checking out those links.

Her in defiance of the laws of gravity hair control really blows my mind. I swear that's got to be a wig or Raffaella is truly a supernatural being. Actually, I think the latter is more likely!

Please send me an e-mail. I'd love to dig for more Carrà information and hear about her South American stay. Raffaella is indeed an icon of the highest order.

Tommy said...

Awesome post, Mike! Rafaella's name is one that I've seen bandied about in disco circles, but I never really knew anything about her until now. Love those clips! Those Italian variety shows (especially what I've seen of Stryx) look like the height of camp genius. Those clips from Stryx in Cristián links are essential viewing, IMO!

Toni said...

More informations at

Biography, Discography and many many other.

The best and large site of the Raffaella's Universe.

Fernando said...

Hello. You REALLY need to track down her song "Luca" (Italian) / "Lucas" (Spanish). It's thematically her gayest ever. The lyrics tell of her puzzlement at how her boyfriend Luca(s) never returned. He was handsome with curly blond hair and she loved him with devotion. Then one day she saw him embracing a stanger. She didn't know who he (the stranger) was (she wonders whether it might have been an old friend) but she's never seen Luca(s) since. I.e. Her boyfriend was gay and ran off with a man. I can't think of many songs with this theme... other than Olivia's video for Physical!

Anonymous said...

Guys, im trying to find a copy of "Fantastico 3" from 1982. Have any of you guys got any idea where i could find it?

Anonymous said...

Guys, I love you all, I'm so glad you appreciate Raffa down-under! Just a little inaccuracy: Raffa came back to Italian TV last year with her famous show 'Carramba'. She hasn't done any talk-shows in the recent years in Italy.

K said...

Hi there, I'm a huge Italian fan of the gorgeous Raffaella Carrà. All what you have written is extremely accurate. I would only question Raffaella's role as "(unaware) puppet" during the Argentinian Dictatorship. I guess it was more down the line that her huge success might have been supported/used by the politicians to distract the Argentinian population during those hard times. Or perhaps as she was working for the National Argentinian TV, that alone implied she supported the regime? I wonder which was your source for that piece of information. As a matter of fact Raffa is known to have left wings ideas, and in the past she also declared that she did not vote for Berlusconi. I would not believe Raffaella as supporter of any dictatorship. She is a fervent pacifist and often condamned violence and wars during her tv shows. In 1984, according to a popularity contest in Italy Raffa shared the podium with Pope John Paul II and the President of the Italian Republic Sandro Pertini. She recently won 2 golden discs for the sales of a double compilation of her best videos (Raffica 1 & 2). Last trivia: Raffaella career in Hollywood led to a 2-year contract with 20th Century Fox for a movie with Frank Sinatra "Von Ryan Express" and an episode of "I spy" with Bill Cosby. After that she felt homesick and came back to Italy. If you have any question about the magic Raffa do not hesitate to email me!

Mike said...

K - Thanks for the amazing information! I'd love to ask you more but I can't see your email address on your profile. Please get in touch with me at:

I can't believe Raffaella was as popular as the pope! LOL

Chiaroscuro said...

Great post!!! I'd say Raffaella's most famous song in the world is the spanish version of "Tanti Aguri", "Para hacer bien el amor hay que venir al sur" (To make love real good you gotta come to the south). It is the motherload of high camp! With lyrics such as "Everybody says love is friends with madness, but since I'm nuts, love is the only thing that makes me sane" or "I've been experienced and I've come to the conclusion that once you've lost the innocence, in the south you have the best time. To make love real good you gotta come to the south, to make love real good I'll go where you're at, without lovers who can console themselves, without lovers this life is living hell. To make love real good you gotta come to the south, but what truly matters is doing it with the one you really want, and if he leaves don't think it twice, find a hotter one and fall in love again".

Maluqui said...

Hey, fabulous post! Really liked it
What about "Caliente Caliente" and "Rumore"?
Greetings from Ecuador

WENARTO said...

I am an addict

WENARTO said...

Anonymous said...

Loved Rafaella Carra. She was and is so "Fabulous"!!! Yes, agreed that I believe Lady Gaga wants to be the new "Rafaella Carra". My favorite song as a little girl was "Lucas".

Also, that is a wig, she I believe had red hair.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anybody posted this or not but a definite fantastic "must see" from her performance at "Vina del Mar" Chile in 1982.

Just fabulous!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with last comment, Rafaella changed everything in our lives here in CHile

Sebastian said...

Hi! I'M ARGENTINIAN, musician and real fan of Raffaella.
Can we talk 'bout the things you want to know?
Write me:

Anonymous said...