Sid Caesar was a master of gibberish. In his words, every language has its own song and if he could listen to people speak in a given language for ten or fifteen minutes, he could recreate that song. What he spoke might not be the same language, but it would sound like it. From there, his expressions, gestures, extraneous noises and the inclusion of famous names would provide an effective comedy routine… so effective, in fact, it would help to make him famous. That well-earned fame brought him movie and television deals, but it never manifested a hit song. That was left to Adriano Celantano.
While not commonly known in America, Celantano is among the most famous of Italian entertainers. In the 1960s and into the 1970s he had a string of #1 hits in his native Italy, regularly beating out both Elvis Presley and the Beatles for the top spot on the charts. He followed that with a series of successful movies, becoming one of the biggest Italian draws with both comedies and dramatic roles.
His success extended into other European countries, but the popularity of English lead vocals in pop songs limited his worldwide musical appeal.
Celantano was bothered by this. He’d developed his singing style in large part due to all of the American and British rock to which he’d listened in his formative years, so he wasn’t resentful of the music. Instead, the focus of his frustration became the inability to communicate. Music was an international language, but the actual words… they were meant to matter. We all needed to be able to get through to each other. As he was wont to do, he addressed the situation publicly… in a song.
Whereas Sting and the Police (and later, Cat on Red Dwarf) would sing about being tongue-tied, Celantano made the concept the driving force behind the entire song. Prisencolinensinainciusol was designed to sound as if it was American English but to have no actual English words involved. To that end, he didn’t even write out lyrics; he simply memorized the title and then ad-libbed noises that sounded like someone speaking American English.
He wrote the song and performed it on a live broadcast, sandwiching it among a few of his hits. The song drew no attention. Months later, during another live broadcast, he played it again… and this time, the song caught fire. It hit #1 in Italy and some other European nations, even getting him onto the British charts.
Other artists have managed to have hit songs in languages they barely understand… A-ha’s “Take On Me” is a famous example… but it’s unique to have a hit song in a language that literally nobody understands. Credit where due to Adriano Celantano.
Question of the night: What’s a song you enjoy which includes gibberish or nonsense words?