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It's Gibberish, But Italian Pop Song Still Means Something

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In November 1972, Italian pop star Adriano Celentano released a song that hit No. 1 in his home country, despite the fact it wasn't performed in Italian.

It also wasn't performed in English.

In fact, it wasn't performed in any language at all.

The song, called "Prisencolinensinainciusol," was written to mimic the way English sounds to non-English speakers.

Celentano, now 74 years old, says that he wanted to break down language barriers and inspire people to communicate more.

"Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did," he tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, through interpreter Sim Smiley.

"So at a certain point, because I like American slang — which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian — I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate," he says. "And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn't mean anything."

"Prisencolinensinainciusol" is so nonsensical that Celentano didn't even write down the lyrics, but instead improvised them over a looped beat. When it was first released in 1972, Celentano says no one noticed it. But that didn't stop him from performing it several years later on Italian television. The second time was the charm: it immediately became No. 1 in Italy, as well as France, Germany and Belgium.

The song has been characterized as everything from Euro-pop, funk, house and even the world's first rap song — none of which were Celentano's intention.

"From what I know, 10 years later, rap music exploded in the States," he says. "I sang it with an angry tone because the theme was important. It was an anger born out of resignation. I brought to light the fact that people don't communicate."

But is that really what American English sounds like?

"Yes," he says. "Exactly like that."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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