I’ll admit it: the most I’ve been exposed to Italian music is while dining at the Olive Garden…and I wouldn’t even call that Italian music. Much like the Olive Garden itself, the music played within is a watered-down, sanitized version of Italy. It is meant to inspire boisterous conversation, cheers when the food arrives, pseudo-knowledge of Italian wines, and the rumbling of middle class bellies eager to spill more spaghetti sauce on the collars of expensive polo shirts. This is not to say that the food at the Olive Garden isn’t delicious (you would have to be anorexic or allergic not to acknowledge that those breadsticks are straight descendents of manna sent from heaven), but is it actually Italian? Hellllllllllll no. And for proof, just compare the corporate behemoth that is Olive Garden to the fictional Il Paridiso found in the film Big Night.
Il Paridiso is a restaurant which never succeeded: Primo, the head chef, refuses to cave into public opinion of Italian food. He cooks real, glorious creations straight from the heart – and nor does he play that muzak shit, either. The songs featured on the soundtrack for Big Night don’t make the listener want to eat, they make the listener want to cook. The rhythm of Claudio Villa’s “Stornelli Amorist” makes me want to don a giant white chef’s hat and toss pizza dough up in the air; Louis Prima’s “Oh Marie” includes those late 1950’s loving yells, and reminds this reviewer why scatting used to be so fashionable. Prima’s tune also captures the excitement of a meal being prepared by someone who knows how to cook: the steaks are sizzling, the wine is chilled, and all the chef has to do is take off their apron with a flourish. Finally, Keely Smith’s rendition of “Don’t Take Your Love from Me” is as buttery smooth as a scoop of vanilla ice cream, warmed up next to a thick piece of tiramisu.
This album is highly recommended for anyone with a love of old movie soundtracks. Everything builds and swirls around the listener and makes them feel that every action is important – be it a stroke of the keyboard, a nibble of a fruit snack, or a blown nose – because it was written into the script. It can make a willing listener feel as if there are thousands of people watching every action raptly, with popcorn spilled at their feet and eyes wide enough to drink in every flickering black and white image. So the next time you want your life to take on some urgency, as well as some good eats, give the Big Night soundtrack a try.