A Belgian born in Italy who mainly sung in French, but also in English, Spanish, German, Italian and Turkish. No wonder Salvatore Adamo has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, making him Belgium’s biggest musician by miles. Or perhaps kilometres would be more appropriate. His first album came out in 1962 and since then he’s released well over 30 studio albums, more than a dozen live albums and plenty of compilations. With so many copies of so many releases out there, it’s only natural that his records should turn up in dollar bins from time to time.
Huge though he is, I’d never heard of him before coming across one of albums in a thrift store back in the 90s. That album was simply titled ‘Adamo’ , a lovely Spanish pressing in a laminated sleeve. The cover featured an image of him looking perfectly 1968 in a paisley neck scarf. On the reverse was the same image trippily rendered in pink monochrome. There was no way I wasn’t going to buy it.
Now, let’s get this totally straight: Adamo is a ‘popular’ musician. Think of him as the continental Cliff Richard. I learnt this pretty quickly after dropping the needle on ‘Adamo’. Very well-produced pop, but pop nonetheless. I was hoping for something a little more adventurous based on that neck scarf and back cover. And then the third song kicked in and I got it. The title of the track was of Welsh train station naming proportions: ‘Oui La Mer…A Verse Tant D’Amour Dans Le Creux De Ses Vagues Le Temps D’Un Été’ (which google translate unhelpfully translates as ‘Yes Sea … A Verse Both D’Amour Dans Le Creux From Her On The Waves A Summer Time’). A plucked bass sound mere mortals could only hope to capture on tape is quickly followed by organ stabs which would do Stereolab proud. Monsieur Adamo then starts singing in that cool laid back way only French people can, accompanied by a female voice in such perfect sync it takes a moment or two to realize it’s even there. A fluid drum pattern is poured on, and we’re off. The song grows and swirls into a mass of lush strings and reverb, and gradually becomes so massive you feel like a tiny speck lost in a universe of sound. Epic. ‘Oui La Mer…’ became an instant fave and it’s a track I continue to reach for when the party ends up back at mine, never failing to have the desired effect.
The next song isn’t very good unfortunately. But the one after that, ‘Mon Cinema’, is back up there. Starting out like a spy movie theme (which is a nice way of saying it’s kind of ripping off the James Bond music) more of that delectable bass sound is added along with some wonderfully reverbed drums. You can almost smell the Gauloises smoke in the Parisian studio air around the snare hits. Again, it’s another production masterpiece with all the bells and whistles. Indeed there’s even what sounds like bells in the run-in to the grandiose choruses, but I can’t discern any whistles. At it’s climax ‘Mon Cinema’ reminds me of French band Air and their excellent 90s recordings. The track has become another in my arsenal for when playing vinyl show and tell.
So now I had a taste for Adamo and was on the lookout for more of his bountiful output. Not to the point where I was putting them in my followed searches on eBay. That’s reserved for costly UK psych 45s. But by keeping my eyes peeled when flipping through the dollar bins I have found many more of his LPs. Most, alas, haven’t tickled the same parts of my auditory cortex as ‘Adamo’ and have been off-loaded almost as soon as being procured. But confusingly enough I have unearthed two more keepers, both also titled ‘Adamo’, and both from the same 1968 period give or take 6 months. Again, they’re patchy affairs when viewed from the direction I’m coming from. But that’s why they end up in dollar bins in the first place I suppose, so no complaining.
On the French release ‘Adamo’ (the one where he’s sitting in his dressing room trying to figure out who stole his guitar) we’re treated to ‘La Carrosse D’Or’ (The Golden Coach). Another epic production (a recurrent theme with Adamo obviously), it starts out with a off-kilter drum lick / acoustic guitar pattern. Some strings and organ pad it out in typical French 60s fashion, and just when you think you’ve got a handle on what’s going on the gnarliest fuzz guitar sound ever suddenly comes out of nowhere for a few bars, paving the way for the epic chorus. All the parts having now been established, we cycle through them again until the triumphant ending spirals upwards like a reverse cyclone.
The Italian LP ‘Adamo’ (the one where he’s showing off his perfect pearly whites on the cover) starts strong, but that’s about it. The first song on the first side ‘J’ai Tant Des Réves Dans Mes Bagages’ (‘I have long dreams in my luggage’, according to google translate) is the most sophisticated take on garage music I can think of. A standard I-IV-V riff is bashed out on an acoustic guitar with tambourine and hand claps added on top. Instead of the fuzztone being kicked on for the chorus the sound is thickened out by strings. The structure is a very basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-modulated chorus. It’s like the French aristo version of snotty kids in a Cleveland basement, and in true garage style it’s all done and dusted in less than 3 minutes.
And so far that’s all I’ve got for Salvatore Adamo. There’s plenty more albums out there and I will continue to pick them up when I chance across them. Most won’t be my tasse de thé, but I would be very surprised if I don’t feel the need to write an addendum to this piece in the future.