“Vecchio frac” (literally “Old tailcoat”, or better “White tie”) is a song written by Domenico Modugno, considered the first of the great Italian singer-songwriters, who wrote and recorded many hits throughout the 1960s.
It is a poignant ballad that tells the last hours of a mysterious character: an elegant man dressed in white tie suit, who is walking at midnight through the deserted streets and takes his own life at dawn.
This song was inspired by the story of prince Raimondo Lanza di Trabia, (*) a lover of sports cars and soccer, nicknamed the “great dandy”, or the “last Sicilian prince”, who, at the age of 39, committed suicide by jumping from the window of a hotel in Rome.
This piece gave Modugno some problems with censorship, which abhorred any mention of physical relationships that at the time were considered immoral. He was made to turn the final verse ” a moment of love that never will return”, into a chaste “a wedding dress. his first and last love”.
In later interpretations Modugno always sang the original version. Also the lines that said “who will it be that man in a tailcoat”, had to be transformed into ” who will it be that old tailcoat “ to disguise suicide, avoiding to underline the contrast between the man and the old coat floating in the river at the end of the song.
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The Italian word “frac”( which in most of the records is erroneously written with a final “k”) is translated into “white tie”, the most formal evening dress for men consisting of white bow tie and tailcoat .At the turn of the 20th century white became the only colour of waistcoats and ties worn with full evening dress, contrasting with black ties and waistcoats with the dinner jacket (known as black tie)
(*) I’m going to talk about him in my next post