Sep 03


Popular44 comments • 5,154 views

#20, 2nd July 1954

The other day I went out to buy some clothes. I am useless at buying clothes and have little confidence in my own tastes, so in Marks And Spencers hunting for a jumper I found myself drifting to the rack with the reassuring sign ‘ITALIAN’. Isabel took one look at the shapeless thing I held up for her and shook her head emphatically.

Blame the Emperor Claudius, or Lord Byron, or the bloke who started Pizza Express, but Britain has a history of occasional cringing envy when it comes to Italy and its culture that generally leads to further embarrassment. My impulse when buying a jumper was to go for the supposedly Italian one because Italians know about clothes and I don’t. I assume that the exact same impulse was what motivated David Whitfield to record “Cara Mia” and anyone at all to buy it. Because, after all, the Italians know about sophistication and romance and the best way to access a bit of Meditteranean class is to stick a cushion up your shirt and pretend you’re an opera singer. Either that or Whitfield was troubled by prophetic visions of the 70s Cornetto adverts and had to exorcise them on record.

“Cara Mia” is the first British song by a British artist to top the charts, according to my well-thumbed Guinness book of pop facts. It is entirely awful, except for the twinking backing vocals, but this minor claim to fame is a suitable one: clodhopping nods to the continent have been an occasional feature of the Top 10 ever since.



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  1. 1
    rosie on 29 Sep 2006 #

    This is where I came in.

  2. 2
    wichita lineman on 25 May 2008 #

    The week Cara Mia made number 1 was the week rationing finally ended. Meat and bacon were last to go. Does this explain a rash leap into the arms of David? A feeble promise of spag bol washed down with milky coffee?

    Better (well, at least you can dance to it) is Jay & The Americans’ US Top 5 revival of Cara Mia in 1965 which started a craze in harmonised soft pop revivals of other old chestnuts by The Happenings (See You In September, I Got Rhythm), The Tokens (Portrait Of My Love) etc

  3. 3
    John Roberts on 7 Oct 2008 #

    I feel sorry for people who go through life just trying to find something to criticize. No matter what you say about David Whitfield he had a magnificent voice which got him to the top 10 in the US charts with ‘Cara Mia’. He also stayed at number 1 in the UK charts for 10 consecutive weeks with this platter. Mantovani who wrote this song especially for David knew what he was doing. David never tried to imitate anyone and was always himself, a real nice guy. But the fact that this recording sold 3.5 million copies speaks for itself. David became the first UK male singer to receive a gold disc with Vera Lynn being the first UK vocalist to receive this honour. Long may David’s music continue.

  4. 4
    DJ Punctum on 7 Oct 2008 #

    I feel sorry for people who go through life just trying to find something to criticise in people who go through life just trying to find something to criticise.

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 7 Oct 2008 #

    I don’t think anyone here is looking for something to criticise. David Whitfield’s voice sounds embarrassingly amateurish these days, no matter how many records he sold. The British public has had plenty of high profile operatics, whether classical or pop, to weigh up since 1953 and I think there’s a good reason why you don’t hear Cara Mia as often as Nessun Dorma these days – same reason people don’t boil their pasta for 20 minutes anymore.

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    DJ Punctum on 7 Oct 2008 #

    I always give my pasta half an hour.

  7. 7
    Moggyman on 5 Dec 2008 #

    It is definitely unfair to try and compare a 1953 recording of cara mia with a much later recording of nessun dorma, of course the later recording will sound better the equipment has come on a bit in the last fifty years!
    David was a very talented singer in his day and didnt benefit from the electronic enhancements available today that can make any artist sound far better than they really are.

  8. 8
    Matthew on 10 Jan 2009 #

    I think it’s sweet. I wouldn’t leave the dancefloor if it came on, metaphorically speaking.

  9. 9
    AndyPandy on 13 Jan 2009 #

    The sound of (early ’50s) young Hull…or David Whitfield 4 the Housemartins 0
    I agree with No7 the primitive production doesn’t do David Whitfield’s voice any favours when in reality he was universally known as a very accomplished light operatic singer. This even hit the Top Ten in the USA when Vera Lynn excepted Britons didn’t get a sniff of the upper regions of the American charts.

    Having criticised certain sonic limitations of the production I’d also paradoxically praise it for the ghostly angelic choir which I should imagine was always haunting but which now coming down across the years from a vanished England still mired in the sepia tones of austerity (and which in some ways seems as distant as Dickens’ London) makes for a very atmospheric verging on surreal listening experience.

    I’m sure there’s plenty of interesting things you could do with some dubstep beats and a deftly used sample of this…

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    intothefireuk on 4 Sep 2009 #

    A quick reality check after the last entry – no this is Britain and austerity is still in. A somewhat backward looking recording with strings and choirs to the fore. Sitting atop it is Whitfields powerful but slightly uneven vocal take – no doubt hampered by poor technology. However the over-wrought last line where he almost breaks into a yodel is a bridge too far.

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    Armarius on 25 Sep 2009 #

    TO: Wichita Lineman…too bad that there is a sense of envy in your critique of David Whitfield’s, ‘Cara Mia’ classic.
    After all, David has performed before KINGS & the world knows & has heard David Whitfield…but, who in the hell is ‘Wichita Lineman’?
    David Whitfield’s classic ‘Cara Mia’ still brings the listener to a standstill! Keep that phrase in mind…”to a standstill”!

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    lonepilgrim on 25 Sep 2009 #

    I am wichita lineman

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    Tom on 26 Sep 2009 #

    David has performed for Kings, yes. But Wichita Lineman – Wichita Lineman has been undressed by them.

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    Sam on 10 Sep 2010 #

    By cracky! I recall having this in a bag of utterly random 45s my album-loving parents passed down to me. This would have been about 1981. It was baffling. Seriously baffling. Not quite as baffling as ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Out Looking For A Hand In The Snow)’ from the same bag, but baffling nonetheless. In retrospect it might have helped prepare me for ‘Party Fears Two’ though.

  15. 15
    rosie on 30 Sep 2010 #


    I don’t have a 1953 recording of Nessun dorma but I do have a 1953 recording of E lucevan le stelle and I’ll take Giuseppe di Stefano every time.

    It amazes me how he doubled up his operatic career with being a star fro Real Madrid…

  16. 16
    Eli on 19 Dec 2010 #

    I’m not a massive fan of the kind of light operatic pop music so prevalent in 1950s Britain, but I really like Cara Mia. On the whole, this blog is rather too cynical for my liking, so I’m chipping in with my naive and innocent love of sentimental ’50s pop.

    The reason Cara Mia is never heard nowadays is because it’s been buried, like most other blockbuster hits of the pre-rock era.

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    Pauline Wright on 12 Feb 2011 #

    Cara mia was top of the charts for 10 weeks!!! David was the first to get a gold disc in the States for Cara Mia and if you don’t like it don’t listen to it, but I still think it’s wonderful, as are all his other songs. Can’t suit all of the people all of the time!!!

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    Martyn Whitfield on 15 Feb 2011 #

    That people are still commenting on this recording must prove something. David was a big star of the time when T.V.s and telephones were not in everyones home so compared with 2011 communication was primitive.Very few British artists cracked the U.S.A. and David had many appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. In 60 years time who will remember The Small Faces, David Bowie, 50 Cent, Amy Winehouse etc.? Meanwhile, music is a wide spectrum and there is room for all tastes.

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    Mark G on 15 Feb 2011 #

    Indeed, but then again in a thousand years even the Beatles will be forgotten. I do think those four artists you named will still be remembered in sixty(Amy Winehouse is dependant on actually making more records of course), but unfortunately had it not been for the fact that David Whitfield (no relation?) has the number 20 slot in the “artists that got to number one”, he’d be forgotten already.

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    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 15 Feb 2011 #

    In 60 years the only artists anyone will remember are Starcastle and Canibus

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    wichita lineman on 15 Feb 2011 #

    Not wanting to kick an easy target, but David Whitfield was largely forgotten by the time I started buying records from the 50s, and that was less than 30 years after Cara Mia.

    An indicator of how well loved/remembered/respected pop stars are is the cold financial world of ebay. I love Lou Christie and the Small Faces, but it’s pretty obvious the world doesn’t love Lou Christie as much as I do, and many love the Small Faces much more than I do.

    I have grown to like the backing on Cara Mia, but really that’s Mantovani’s doing. For me David Whitfield sounds like he’s trying REALLY HARD, which is something in pop I find hugely off-putting.

    David Whitfield seems to have more fans today than Dickie Valentine.

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    punctum on 15 Feb 2011 #

    Yes, a shame about Lou Christie in particular; Paint America Love – what an album (and in belated answer to your TPL query, “we”’ll be getting back to both Mr Christie and Barry Ryan in greater depth when Lena reaches both on her #2 blog)!

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    wichita lineman on 15 Feb 2011 #

    Paint America Love – the missing link between Sesame Street and What’s Going On.

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    Mutley on 16 Feb 2011 #

    One of the problems with discussing David Whitfield’s hits is that they lack any context other than neighbouring number ones for most readers or correspondents on Popular. I have no difficulty in understanding why his type of singing – borderlands of Hollywood musicals and light opera – was popular – but why did David have the UK hits rather than others such as Josef Locke who, in my view, does a much better version of Cara Mia? Perhaps Josef didn’t do singles? It would be nice to hear from fans of David Whitfield (such as Pauline @ #17 or Martyn @ #18) how they think he compares with contemporaries such as Josef Locke, Gordon MacRae, Mario Lanza (who also had hit singles) or John Hanson or any others.

    One reason for his success may be that DW seems to have had an appealingly self-deprecating stage/TV presence. For example, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3y-ej9GHe0 which features not only DW, but also a bed, a bubble car, a prosthetic hand and Freddy Frinton – how’s that for value for money?

  25. 25
    punctum on 16 Feb 2011 #

    DW paid his taxes innit.

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    Mutley on 16 Feb 2011 #

    But wasn’t Josef Locke’s tax exile well after 1954? Such tax problems didn’t stop Ken Dodd performing (I should add that Ken was acquitted of tax evasion).

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    punctum on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Virtually all of Locke’s big songs were “hits” before the chart was invented. Anyway he turned up on TOTP in 1992 so probably had the last laugh.

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    wichita lineman on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Nice bit of trouser-related slapstick. Thanks Mutley, that’s a great link and makes me warm to DW considerably.

    Listening to the British Hit Parade cds, which put him in context, he still seems like an aberration – only Mario Lanza (much easier on the ear for me) and Harry Secombe’s horrid On With The Motley are comparable.

    Also he seemed to ease off the operatics pretty early on – something like My September Love is much less rubbery and bulging eyed than Answer Me.

  29. 29
    Vernon Brand on 25 May 2011 #

    David Whitfield is still remembered today by many fans worldwide. I know this because I run the David Whitfield Commemorative Society and have done so for over twenty years. To say that David sounds embarrassingly amateurish #5 is ridiculous, because David had singing lessons from a professor of music. His diction was second to none.Just to let everyone know that David is NOT forgotten and will never be for a long time to come. We sell a lot of material on David and the requests for more is unending. Long may it continue.

  30. 30
    Mark G on 25 May 2011 #

    We sell a lot of material on David

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