Gianna Nannini: America (1979)
(By Sabrina Ovan, Scripps College)
“America” is the hit that sparked the success of songwriter Gianna Nannini in Italy, and the first of her singles to reach third place in the Italian top 10 (the “hit parade”). The controversial lyrics, a suggestive celebration of male and female masturbation, contributed greatly to the single’s success. To add to the provocation, the single cover, designed by famed illustrator Mauro Convertino, showed a picture of the Statue of Liberty holding a stars-and-stripes dildo in her hand. The single embodied the “Sex, drugs and Rock and roll” philosophy, but the fact that the hit was sung by a woman (Italy’s first female rock singer) stirred a scandal. In the changing, but still conservatively traditional Italy of the late 1970s, scandal greatly helped the album skyrocket to the top of the charts.
The song was written in collaboration with singer and writer Roberto Vecchioni, who was called by the recording team behind Nannini (the Italian label Ricordi) after the singer’s first two albums Gianna Nannini (1976) and Una Radura (1977) flopped. Gianna started changing her style to embrace simpler rock arrangements and lyrics that could better fit her particular voice. America stood out thanks to the provocative originality of the lyrics: the scandalous “anthem of autoeroticism” is actually a very poetic composition, that, while retaining its full suggestive power, is never vulgar and it’s stylistically well organized.
Like America The songs in this album, California are also perfectly adapted to the singer’s personality and her singular voice: husky and raucous and with a specific erotic character. In an extensive 1980 interview with the feminist publication Effe (where she claims she was one of the first subscribers) Nannini explains how she reached intimate and intense style in the album: a style that breaks stereotypes of gender and sexuality. The singer insists on show she was working on new sounds but mostly on language. California is her third album, but the first that works in terms of language, while in the first two albums the language was not expressive enough. What she aims to do, she claims, is “to talk about stereotypes, but more importantly about the hidden sides of our sexuality that go against the ruling ideology, and are difficult to accept for everybody”.
America was reinterpreted in many versions. Among the best known are the 1994 cover by Fratelli di Soledad, included in their album Salviamo il Salvabile. The singer Dolcenera included a version of “America” in her album Il popolo dei sogni (2006), while another singer, Annalisa, performed a version of Nannini’s “America” during the 2016 edition of Festival di Sanremo.