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.