Written by: Domenico Modugno, Franco Migliacci
Producers: David Bowie, Erdal Kızılçay
Released: 7 April 1986
Loving The Alien (1983–1988)
Erdal Kızılçay: guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, marimba, drums, bongos, handclaps
David Bowie recorded a version of ‘Volare’ for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack.
The song was originally recorded in 1958 as ‘Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu’ by Italian singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno, who also composed the music. The lyrics were written by Modugno and Franco Migliacci.
The song won the eighth Sanremo Music Festival in 1958, and Modugno sang it later that year at the Eurovision Song Contest, representing Italy, and was placed third.
Modugno’s single was released on 1 February 1958, selling over 20,000 copies in Italy within two weeks. After the Eurovision success it became an international hit, spending five non-consecutive weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1958, and was the publication’s Song of the Year.
‘Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu’ sold two million copies in the USA in 1958, and at the first Annual Grammy Awards the following year it won Record of the Year and Song of the Year. In the UK it peaked at number 10 on the singles chart.
The song became commonly known as ‘Volare’, and was translated into several languages and recorded by a number of performers. Worldwide it was the most played Italian song of the 20th Century, with combined sales of all the versions exceeding 22 million.
Colin MacInnes’s 1959 novel Absolute Beginners documented the youth culture of London in the late Fifties, with themes including young love, jazz, multiculturalism, and racial tensions, set against the backdrop of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots.
Julien Temple’s 1986 musical film adaptation featured David Bowie as advertising agency worker Vendice Partners. Bowie recorded three songs for the soundtrack: ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘That’s Motivation’, and ‘Volare’.
In the studio
Sung in Italian, David Bowie recorded ‘Volare’ in 1985 at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. It was his first collaboration to give a credit to Erdal Kızılçay, the multi-instrumentalist who had worked on the Let’s Dance demos and would record and perform with Bowie until 1995’s 1.Outside.
Bowie occasionally sang snippets of ‘Volare’ during performances of ‘Heaven’s In Here’ while touring with Tin Machine.
Absolute Beginners: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on 7 April 1986, to coincide with Temple’s film. Bowie’s title track was released as a single, as was Ray Davies’s ‘Quiet Life’ and the Style Council’s ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue?’.
The double album featured Bowie’s recordings of ‘Absolute Beginners’, ‘That’s Motivation’, and ‘Volare’, as well as Gil Evans’s recordings ‘Absolute Beginners’ (Slight Refrain), and ‘Absolute Beginners’ (Refrain).
An abridged single-disc version of the album was also released, which omitted ‘Volare’ and Evans’s two Bowie recordings.
On 28 May 2007 a digital download EP was released which collated the full and edited versions of ‘Absolute Beginners’, a Dub Mix, and ‘That’s Motivation’, and ‘Volare’.
The Bowie box set Loving The Alien (1983–1988) was released on 12 October 2018. It included Re:Call 4 a compilation of non-album singles, remixes, b-sides and extras, including Bowie’s three songs from Absolute Beginners.
The film’s soundtrack was reissued on double CD and double vinyl on 17 July 2020.