Monday Notes

Franco Califano, Un tempo piccolo. A popular poet out of the mainstream

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[Monday Notes no. 162] Franco Califano was a singer-songwriter and poet and wrote dozens of songs, often for other singers. Among those interpreted by him personally, we analyse Un tempo piccolo, a song very refined both in its lyrics and music.

Un tempo piccolo has also been recorded by Tiromancino and Mina, but Franco Califano’s version is particularly charming. It is nice to hear a poet interpreting his own verses, plus the song is arranged very effectively, with a beautiful chromatic harmonica solo.

The first part of the piece is based on a few minor chords; the harmony is derived entirely from the natural minor scale. The chords Em7, Am7, Bm7 and Cmaj7 are respectively the I, IV, V, VI degree of the natural minor E scale. In the sequence Am7 Bm7 Cmaj7 that concludes part [A] of the song, we can thus recognise a typical V VI deceptive cadence.

Un tempo piccolo - parte A

The second part of the song is harmonically more varied and takes up a typical progression in fourths: Am7 D7 Gmaj7 Cmaj7 F#m7 B7 Em7 is in fact a sequence IV VII III VI II V I. The same harmonic progression is used in the classic jazz song Autumn Leaves, but also in many Italian songs, the most famous being Mi sono innamorato di te by Luigi Tenco.

Un tempo piccolo - parte B

Like many successful songs, the piece thus consists of verse (part A) and refrain (part B). The verse is simpler, based on a few chords, while the refrain explores all the chords of the tonality, E minor.

The strength of Franco Califano’s songs, however, often lies in the lyrics rather than the music. Un tempo piccolo has very original lyrics and is clearly autobiographical. Through his songs, Franco Califano expresses his way of seeing life, his outlook is often disenchanted, sometimes almost cynical. From this point of view, his song Tutto il resto รจ noia (Everything else is boredom) is well known, a song that talks about love but only shows its bleakest aspects.

Franco Califano was an over-the-top character, seductive and sometimes blustery, charming but also raw. Among his songs, Un tempo piccolo is definitely my favourite. I hope that readers of my Monday Notes will also like this song!

Until next Monday!

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