The biggest-selling Italian artist of all time explains how his global smash hit was inspired by heartbreak and cooking spaghetti
Adelmo Fornaciari – better known by his stage name, Zucchero – is regarded by many as one of the greatest Italian interpreters of the blues, and is the biggest-selling Italian artist of all time. In a career spanning three decades, he has sold over 50 million records and achieved international success, not least through collaborations with artists including Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, BB King, Sting, Jeff Beck and Andrea Bocelli.
Released in 1989, Zucchero’s album Oro Incenso & Birra sold more than eight million copies and was, for a long time, the biggest selling album in the history of Italian pop music. His most successful singles include Diamante, Il Volo/My Love, Baila (Sexy Thing) and most famously of all Senza Una Donna (Without A Woman). The track was first a hit Italy, then became a global smash when he re-sang it as a duet with English singer Paul Young, going to No 1 in Belgium, Italy, Norway and Sweden, and Top 10 in 18 different countries worldwide.
Here, Zucchero explains how, like many of the all-time great pop songs, Senza Una Donna had its roots in a dose of real-life heartbreak…
“In 1987 I recorded an album called Blues that had Senza Una Donna on it. It was a big-selling album – more than 1.4 million copies. So I started to tour and play in arenas, then in ’89 I did another album called Oro Incenso & Birra that sold almost two million copies in Italy, and I started to do stadiums. In the same year, I was in London to finish my recording in Olympic Studios and I had met Paul Young. He had been on holiday in Italy the year before, and had heard the song Senza Una Donna on the radio and asked me if he could cover the song for his album. We did it together and I asked him, ‘Why don’t we do it as a duet?’. He was happy and Senza Una Donna became a big hit all around Europe.
“I can remember exactly how and when the idea of Senza Una Donna had originally come about. At the time, I was almost divorced by my ex-wife and I was living in a small house by myself, trying to save my marriage. I was very sad and upset. I was in the kitchen and I had to cook by myself for the first time! So I started to cook some really terrible spaghetti, and I said, ‘I can’t live without you, because I can’t cook by myself!’ That’s why I say in the song: ‘I’m here cooking by myself.’ The song came out very quickly – music and lyrics in about half an hour, I think.
“I wrote the song on the piano. I had a piano in my bedroom and I started to play this song. Then I got the chords and the melody, and made a simple demo with just a Roland 808 drum machine, a very cheap Korg keyboard and my voice. That was the demo. Then, when we decided to go into the studio, we followed the demo, basically. It was very natural, simple and genuine and it didn’t stress me as other songs do. This song came very easily. So the music was an hour and the lyrics another hour, and in two hours the whole was done!
“I did the Italian lyrics, and then when Paul Young and I decided to do the English version, my assistant at that time knew Frank Muster – he was a Greek guy, living in London, who had spent a lot of time in Italy. So he literally translated the song from Italian to English, which is why he’s credited as a writer on the record.
“I had absolutely no idea the song would be such a big hit, of course. In fact, when I did the Italian version, the one that was a hit in Italy a year before the version with Paul Young, I didn’t even want to put the song on the album! I remember recording at Eel Pie Studios in London and I was walking through Richmond Park, saying to my manager, ‘I’m not going to put this song in the album, it’s too simple,’ and he said, ‘You’re crazy! This song is great.’
“Then the producer said the same thing, so in the end, I did what they suggested. And they were probably right!”