23 September 2023

Song without real lyrics with a great story

Piero Umiliani wrote “Mah Nà Mah Nà” as an interlude for a movie early september 1968. The short song was used for a scene in the movie  “Svezia, inferno e paradiso”, translated: “Sweden, hell and paradise”. An erotic movie imaging the sexlife of Sweden. The characteristic singing was performed by Alessandro Alessandroni and his wife Giulia. Singer and composer Alessandroni was a youth friend of componist Ennio Morricone and was known for his unusual combinations of instruments and singing.

The music and structure of the song itself is based on other songs

Piero Umiliani is a master in the use of musical citation and sudden change of musical elements. The ‘hook’, the catchy part of the song, is from a movie called “Duello Del Mondo” from 1966.

Listen to the compilation of Piero Umiliani and the song from the movie Duello Nel Mondo

The song also contains interpolations of Hugo Alfvén – Swedish Rhapsody No. 1: “Midsommarvaka”

Listen to the compilation of Piero Umiliani and Hugo Alfvén – Swedish Rhapsody No.1

the Italian standard “Santa Lucia”

Listen to the compilation of Piero Umiliani and the Italian standard Santa Lucia

and American Assembly’s “Bugle Call”.

Listen to the compilation of Piero Umiliani and the (American) traditional Bugle Call

Songwriter Umiliani nor filmdirector Scattini believed that the song was usable furthermore. Thus this track is not even on the original soundtrack of the movie.

A hit song

The distributor that bought the rights for America did see an opportunity and asked Umiliani for a longer rendition of the song. They released it on a seven inch single with a useful title “Mah Nà Mah Nà” as it was before known as “Viva La Sauna Svesa”.

The song was immediately picked up and musicians in several countries made their version. It was also a hit in the Netherlands, in the performance of Australian David Mackay who renamed himself Mahna Mackay for the occasion.

The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and the Benny Hill Show

Muppet Show- and Sesame Street inventor Jim Henson had his first version of the song performed as ‘Mahna Mahna and the Snowths’, three Muppet-like dolls. He made an appearance at the Ed Sullivanshow in 1969. Years before the Muppet show started.

In 1970 the song was shown with other dolls on tv, this time at Sesame Street in one of its first episodes. The first broadcast, in 1976, of the Muppet Show was opened with the song in a version with the hip character musician Floyd. In this most well known version there is another piece of music added, a small sample of George Shearings “Lullaby of Birdland”. 

The same year in Britain Benny Hill used the original song in his hilarious ‘Benny Hill Show’, after which it also became a hit in the UK.

Giorgio Moroder

A special version is that by electronic music guru Giorgio Moroder. He uses other samples of music in his track. The first two parts are equal. After that Giorgio hums “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”

Listen to the compilation of Giorgio Moroder and the Battle Hymn Of The Republic

followed by the recognizable piece of George Bizet’s “Les Toreadors”

Listen to the compilation of Giorgio Moroder and the March Of The Toreadors

After that you can hear “La Marseillaise”

Listen to the compilation of Giorgio Moroder and the French tradional La Marseillaise

and finally Happy Birthday.

Listen to the compilation of Giorgio Moroder and Happy Birthday

A song with many faces and versions

Started as an interlude in a movie. A beautiful example of how the music industry works.

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