"Nel blu dipinto di blu" (English: In the blue, painted blue), popularly known as "Volare" (To fly), is a song recorded by Italian singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno. Written by Franco Migliacci and Domenico Modugno, it was released as a single on 1 February 1958.
Winning the 8th Sanremo Music Festival, the song was chosen as the Italian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1958, where it won third place out of ten songs in total. The combined sales of all the versions of the song exceed 22 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most popular Eurovision songs of all time and the most successful Sanremo Music Festival song ever.
It spent five non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in August and September 1958 and was Billboard's number-one single for the year. Modugno's recording subsequently became the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1958.
The song was later translated in several languages and it was recorded by a wide range of performers, including Dean Martin, Al Martino, David Bowie, Gipsy Kings and Barry White.
Franco Migliacci started working on the lyrics of the song in June 1957, inspired by two paintings by Marc Chagall. He had planned to go to the sea with Domenico Modugno, but after waiting for him in vain, Migliacci got drunk with wine and he fell asleep. Then he had nightmares, and when he woke up, he looked at the copies of the printings he had on the wall. In "Le coq rouge" he noted a yellow man suspended in midair, while in "Le peintre et la modelle", a half of the painter's face was coloured of blue, so he started writing about a man who dreams of painting himself blue, before starting to fly. During the same night, despite being angry with him, Migliacci talked about his lyrics with his friend Modugno, and for several days they continued to work together on the song, tentatively titled "Sogno in blu" (Dream in blue).
In 2008, Franca Gandolfi recounted that her husband, Domenico Modugno, was still unsatisfied with the lyrics of the song, when a storm suddenly opened his window, and then he got the inspiration to modify the chorus of the song, introducing the word "Volare" which is commonly known as the title of the song itself.
Modugno's "Volare" was the Billboard Hot 100 single of the year 1958.
The song is a ballad in a dramatic chanson style, in which Modugno describes the feeling he has, which resembles flying when with his lover. The song opens with a surreal prelude which the cover versions often left out: "Penso che un sogno così non ritorni mai più. Mi dipingevo le mani e la faccia di blu; poi d'improvviso venivo dal vento rapito, e incominciavo a volare nel cielo infinito." ("I think that a dream like that will never return; I painted my hands and my face blue, then was suddenly swept up by the wind and started to fly in the infinite sky.")
The English lyrics were written by Mitchell Parish. Alternative English lyrics were written in 1958 by Dame Gracie Fields, and they were used in most concerts she performed in from then until her death in 1979. She often changed the words to suit her performance and age.
In 1958, the song participated in the selection process for the eighth Sanremo Music Festival, held in 1958. The jury charged with selecting the entries to the competition was going to reject "Nel blu dipinto di blu", but in the end it was one of the 20 admitted songs.
On 31 January 1958, the song was performed for the first time, during the second night of the eighth Sanremo Music Festival, by Domenico Modugno and Johnny Dorelli. It was Dorelli's first appearance on the Sanremo Music Festival. According to his team-partner, Dorelli was so nervous that he had to be punched by Modugno to be persuaded to perform on the stage.
After being admitted to the final, held at the Sanremo Casino on 1 February 1958, the song was performed again, and it won the contest, beating the song "L'edera" by Nilla Pizzi and Tonina Torrielli, which came in second place.
Dorelli's performance didn't have a big impact on the audience, while Modugno's is now considered to be the event which changed the history of Italian music. During his performance, Modugno opened his arms, as if he was going to fly. This contributed to making it the most successful Sanremo Music Festival song, and marked a change in the way of performing, since Italian singers were used to standing with their arms on their chest, without moving on the stage.
Following the first place at the Sanremo Music Festival, the song was chosen to represent Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest 1958, which took place on 12 March in Hilversum, Netherlands. Domenico Modugno was chosen as the interpreter.
At the end of the voting, it had received 13 points, placing 3rd in a field of 10. Despite this, it became one of the most successful songs ever performed in Eurovision Song Contest history.