Elio e le Storie Tese ("Elio and the Troubled Stories"), often shortened to EelST or "Elii", are (to make a long story short) Italy's answer to Frank Zappa, and also were one of the most succesful and long-lived Italian bands (1980-2018).
Their history began in the second half of The '70s, when the founder Elio (Stefano Belisari) created a small band with some of his High School mates in Milan. After various changes, the early Eighties saw the arrival of a couple members that still play with Elio to this day: Cesareo (Davide Civaschi), Rocco Tanica (Sergio Conforti) and Faso (Nicola Fasani). EelST began touring Northern Italy since about 1985, and their songs began circulating among the youth in the form of bootleg tapes; the first commercially published songs came only a couple years later. They also started appearing on Italian television in the late 80s, and 1987 brought about another member, the multi-instrumentalist Feiez (Paolo Panigada), who raised the already high technical level of EelST's musical proficiency.
The '90s were arguably the peak of their popularity, since EelST recorded in this period some of their best-selling and most successful albums, and went on to make numerous appearances on cult classic TV programmes, radio programmes and so on. In 1995 their official fan club, "Fave Club", was born, and the next year they were contestants at the Sanremo Music Festival, Italy's most important music competition, getting second prize (even though a never-confirmed Urban Legend states that they actually won first prize but the host refused to give them the prize and gave the victory to another singer). Sadly, amidst all the fame and successes, tragedy stroke when Feiez suddenly died on the spot during a concert in December 1998. As they commented, he died exactly as a musician would have.
After Feiez's demise, they reduced their appearances on TV and the live concerts, only restarting in about the mid-2000s. Since then Elio and the others made such things as sport and commercial jingles, hosted TV programmes, played in classical concerts and more. The band has also been the first one, in 2004, to sell instant CDs of their live performances immediately after their end. Oh, and they went again to Sanremo in 2013 and won second prize. Again. For real this time. 2016 saw their third Sanremo participation but they only got to 12th place this time.
In 2017, after almost four decades of career, they announced their retirement and the date of their last live concert ever: December 19, 2017. However, they said it wasn't really true and that they wanted to do one last tour in 2018. They also went to Sanremo in 2018 one last time but their song was voted dead last; they took this in stride because they used to say half-jokingly they always wanted to get the last place in that competition.
The style: Their lyrics are largely nonsense mixed with puns, references, allusions to popular sayings and to facets of their youth, with generous heapings of Toilet Humour (especially in the early days), dark humour and even social/political Satire; the weirdness of their humour, however, belies their extreme technical proficiency (again, just like Frank Zappa, who can be considered one of their sources of inspiration). EelST have dabbled in almost every possible genre from hard rock to disco, from reggae to blues and even latin and opera, often mixing them to an extent or spoofing their rules and conventions.
Please do not mix up EelST and Eels.
- Stefano Belisari "Elio" - lead vocals, transverse flute, guitar, bass, percussions
- Sergio Conforti "Rocco Tanica - keyboards, backing vocals, vocoder, drum machine, melodica
- Davide Luca Civaschi "Cesareo" - lead guitar, backing vocals, bass
- Nicola Fasani "Faso" - bass, backing vocals, drums, ukulele
- Christian Meyer - drums, percussions
- Antonello Aguzzi "Jantoman" - keyboards, backing vocals, acustic guitar
Discography - studio albums
- Elio Samaga Hukapan Kariyana Turu (1989)
- The Los Sri Lanka Parakramabahu Brothers Featuring Elio e le Storie Tese (1990)
- Italyan, Rum Casusu Çikti (1992)
- Esco Dal Mio Corpo E Ho Molta Paura: Gli Inediti 1979-1986note (1993)
- Eat The Phikis(1996)
- Peerlanote (1998)
- Craccracriccrecr (1999)
- Cicciput (2003)
- Studentessinote (2008)
- L'Album Biangonote (2013)
- Figgatta De Blancnote (2016)
The band and their discography provides examples of:
- A Cappella: the album version of "Unanimi".
- Accidental Misnaming: The song "Il congresso delle parti molli" mentions Johnny Depp and states that many people mistakenly call him "Johnny Deep". Near the end Elio himself calls him "Johnny Deep" and other variants such as "Johnny Dype".
- Animated Music Video: A curious example. They never used this trope until the 2010s, when suddenly almost every other video they made was animated. A few examples:
- "Dannati Forever" (animated cutouts quite obviously inspired by Monty Python)
- "Il primo giorno di scuola"
- "Luigi il pugilista" (this and the former one were made by Italian cartoonist and animator Sio)
- "Il mistero dei bulli" (inspired by pictograms on signals)
- "I delfini nuotano" (made by an Ascended Fanboy and a homage to The White Stripes' most famous clip, Seven Nation Army).
- Anti-Humor: One song was entirely based on this kind of humour. First of all, the jokes were more than deadpan, since they were told by a vocal synthesizer. Then, among the "normal" jokes, it featured gems such as: "An Englishman, a Frenchman and a German are on a plane. The plane crashes and they die".
- Arch-Enemy: in a sense, Roberto "Freak" Antoni, late leader of Italian punk band Skiantos. He never forgave Elio for having borrowed the name of his band from a lyric in one of his songs (which was "storie pese" by the way), and always disparaged EelST's songs and attitude since he felt that they owed him a huge debt they never acknowledged.
- Artistic License Biology: The very first words of "Tenia" ("Tapeworm"; incidentally it is a Cover Version of Michael Sembello's "Maniac", back when they weren't famous and dabbled in this kind of stuff) state that the titular animal is an annelid. It actually is a Platyhelminth. Of course the song is not accurate in any way and it's all just for fun...
- Ass Shove: The end of the spoken part at the end of "Servi della gleba", translated: "Do you want me to shove a broom up my ass, so that I can sweep your room?". The music video ends with exactly that image, first of the band members sporting a broom up there, and then of the incredulous guy (another band member) reading their adventures on the toilet and getting understandably horrified. The broom up one's ass is their symbol of being an Extreme Doormat, what "Servi della gleba" is all about. Hilariously, in a video made about ten years after that one, the same band member plays a character that still has a broom lodged in there!
- Back to Front: "Mio cuggino" ("My coussin") and "Nella vecchia azienda agricola" ("In the old farming business") They even acknowledge this in the beginning of the former video, by saying it was filmed in "IndietroScope" (indietro means "backwards" in Italian). It is also lip-synched backwards.
- Badass Mustache: Faso's spectacular facial hair◊ and equally spectacular bass guitar lines.
- Biggus Dickus:
I'm a proud and happy puppet,with my new and shiny piece of wood.I'm the new Italian Stallion,'coz my daddy made it good.
- Early in their career, they wrote a song about (and sung from the perspective of) John Holmes. Enough said.
- "Burattino senza fichi", and its international English version "Puppet On A Swing", is all about a carpenter who crafts a big wooden dick for his son, an unnamed liar wooden puppet.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: Elio's unibrow is legendary, and the man himself makes fun of it every now and then.
- Bilingual Bonus: the title of their first album means "Let's happily fart and cum with Elio" in Sinhala (see also Getting Crap Past the Radar). The title of their 1992 album means "The Greek spy, an Italian, has been expelled" in Turkish and was Ripped from the Headlines of a Cyprus newspaper.
- Black Comedy Rape: The ultimate fate of the calf with balsa feet in the eponymous song."Let me introduce myself, I'm the gay teddy bear, and as you might have sensed I'm going to sodomize you."
- Book-Ends: a possible example. They started their career with wacky, comical cover versions of popular songs, and their last single ever, 2017's "Licantropo vegano" ("Vegan Werewolf"), is a cover of Warren Zevon's "Werevolves of London".
- Broken Record: a few songs are little more than the title repeated over and over, such as "Tonza patonza". "Raccomando", from their sucky 1990 album (see Stylistic Suck below), just says "Buon Natale e... mi raccomando" ("Merry Christmas and... take care") over and over again.
- Call-and-Response Song: "Cara ti amo" ("I love you my dear"). Elio is a mean and irrational young woman and keyboardist Rocco Tanica is her hopeless fiance.
- Confusing Multiple Negatives: parodied. A very rare cassette◊ from 1992 was called "Not Unpreviously Unreleased'nt".
- Copycat Cover: the cover of their first live album, Made in Japan◊ is almost identical to the much more famous Made in Japan◊ by Deep Purple. Although they mantain that their album is called Made in JUH-pan.
- The cover of L'album biango is a Shout-Out to The Beatles' "White Album". The title, indeed, can be translated more or less as "The Whyte Album".
- The proposed cover of the orchestral remix album "Gattini" was "inspired" by the releases of Deutsche Grammophon, it was changed probably in fear of a lawsuit. Here's the original version◊.
- Corpsing: Every time they perform "Alfieri" live, Elio and Faso try to make Cesareo laugh while he's singing his stanza. It's not a particularly difficult task.
- Cosplay: in their video for "Servi della gleba", they briefly appear dressed as the fictional band Bee Hive from the shojo manga Ai Shite Night. The reason: Italy had in the late 80s a quite popular Live-Action Adaptation of Ai Shite Night, called "Kiss me Licia".
- Sanremo 1996 saw them one time dressed as French space rock band Rockets, silver body painting and all (Elio actually even shaved his head). They repeated this at Sanremo 2013, by being dressed first as choir boys, then wearing fat suits that made them all look like Mr. Creosote. And again at Sanremo 2016 they one day went dressed as Kiss, black-and-white makeup and all.
- Cluster F-Bomb: EELST have no problems with profanity and swear words, but it gets particularly dense in "Bis", even if it's not an "angry" song.
- In contrast, the very last line of "Parco Sempione" comes out as a Precision F-Strike. The language is particularly strong, the insults are directed to a very specific real-life target and the drums underline every syllable of the last line, making it almost a music version of Punctuated! For! Emphasis!
- The refrain of Faro is just that. Literally.
- Credits Gag: From the song "Il vitello dai piedi di balsa" ("The Calf with Balsa Feet"). One of the calves is credited in the album's booklet as Sting. You know, the one who doesn't say anything.
- Dance Sensation: parodied with "Pipppero®", allegedly 1992's hottest Bulgarian dance song (yes, the Trade Snark is actually part of the title). A translated excerpt:Rotate your fingers, get your phalanxes togetherThis is the famous Pipppero dance
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Implied with Cesareo's part in "I Delfini Nuotano". It's difficult to understand it, though, since he sings one word every four, the other three being words from other bandmembers' parts.
- Extreme Doormat: this is what "Servi della gleba" ("Serfs") is all about. Sung in the first person, at that!
- Famed in Story: Feiez is remembered in several songs and his name always receives a rousing applause from the audience.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: the narrator from "Tapparella" is all but stated to be this among his circle of Middle School friends, who leave him alone and never care for him. In the video he gets his revenge by spiking their drinks during a party (complete with humorous Do Not Try This at Home disclaimer) and make them all trip balls!
- Fun with Acronyms: they released an English language live album comprised of the songs from their USA 1998 tour. It was called "E.L.I.O. - The Artists Formerly Known As Elio e le Storie Tese". In this case, E.L.I.O. stood for Enema Lovers Italian Orchestra.
- Genre Roulette: almost always, but "Craccraccricrecr" is perhaps the most blatant example, even with songs titled "Il rock and roll", "Discomusic" and so on.
- Their Sanremo 2016 song "Vincere l'odio" ("Winning Hate" or "Winning against Hate") is pretty much seven songs in one, with every refrain ending with the word that starts the next one.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: other than the examples already mentioned under Bilingual Bonus and Something Something Leonard Bernstein, there's also the example of "Supergiovane". The titular "superhero" (voiced by Mangoni) who goes against "The Government" at one point says a minced oath, but immediately after he actually blasphemes pretty heavily! The swears are said while he's running away on his moped, so they're heavily muffled by the distance and the noise, but they're definitely there.
- The most egregious example may be their version of "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. By the means of a strategically placed pause after the second syllable of "Figaro" (the name of the Barber himself) Elio managed to sing a very common slang word for a lady's private parts on stage during the most popular music Festival in Italy, which is broadcasted live in prime time. Repeatedly.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: a few examples. The most blatant (and random) is probably chin chin ga ue wo muiteiru from "Fossi figo".
- Hidden Depths: and not just musically speaking. Just two examples: Elio, besides having a conservatory degree in transverse flute, is an electronic engineer. Mangoni is a famed and respected (when he's not singing and acting buffoonishly, that is...) architect in Milan.
- Homage: Their official video for "Vincere l'odio" is a homage to Fatboy Slim's well-known video for "Weapon of Choice", with Mangoni in place of Christopher Walken (even if he, probably as a joke, says he's "Christopher Lambert"...).
- Hurricane of Puns: the best example is probably "Nella vecchia azienda agricola" ("In the old farming business", a parody of "Old Macdonald Had A Farm"'s Italian version). Sadly, these puns can't really be translated in other languages.
- I Have Many Names: Until recently, Elio didn't want to let his real name to be known, so he used a lot of pseudonyms such as Steve, Papalli, Bulci, Roberto Moroni and many others; the other members of the band have had lots of nicknames as well.
- Impractical Musical Instrument Skills: sometimes, Elio plays Faso's bass guitar while standing behind him when the latter is busy performing the fake phone call at the end of "Servi della gleba" ("Serfs"). It looks like this◊ or this. ◊
- Intentional Engrish for Funny: a couple songs like "First me, second me" are sung in a completely broken English, lampshaded by Elio when he says to have learned it in "medium school" (Middle School). The funniest thing is, they got James Taylor to sing a part of it! Here's an excerpt:Not see the my love for yourself?For force, not is visible.Not hear the sound of the my guitar?Is play from me;is play for you, is play for we.
- Also, the very title "Eat the phikis", which doesn't really mean anythingnote .
- Intercourse with You: "Piattaforma di trivellazione", a wacky, absurdist parody of Serge Gainsbourg's Je t'aime... moi non plus. Among all the allusions and weird sound effects, the singer duets with a lover with a suspiciously young-sounding voice... The ending reveals that it's his son.
- List Song: "Silos", which is about... well, a silo used to keep all of the excretions of the human body, lovingly listed in the lyrics. The song also ends with the voice of a stereotypical Prospector for no reason at all.
- Lyrical Dissonance: many times.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: Cicciput's cover is just a pair of cartoony eyes on a monochrome blue background. Here.
- Mistaken for Pedophile: the subject of the still comedic but very dark and satirical song "Gimmi I.". The eponymous Gimmi is a man who is beaten to death by a mob of angry parents, and whose only fault is to be named Gimmi Ilpedofilo ("Gimmi Thepedophile"). The song becomes funny again (or just more disturbing) when Gimmi himself speaks of his new life in Heaven, having met several people who suffered the same fate. Among them, Roberto Ammazzaneonatinote and Fabiana Inculamortinote .Ike Willis: Oh, poor Fabiana Inculamorti, another innocent victim in this stupid misunderstanding.She was not a necrophiliac, she was just a, just a girl.
- Mix-and-Match Critters: the cover art of Italyan features a cow with two hairy human legs, allegedly inspired by a scene from Top Secret!.
- Mondegreen: The reason for the existence of "Pipppero®": Elio was listening to "Dilmano, dilbero" ("My beautiful Dilmano") by Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares and misheard the title as "più umano, più vero" ("more human, more truthful").
- Musical Pastiche / In the Style of...: One of their signature moves. "Born to be Abramo" has a church song reworked into Patrick Hernandez' "Born to be alive". "Pipppero®" is Bulgarian traditional music meets dance.
- National Stereotypes:
If a Swiss man tells you: Italian, pizza, spaghetti, mandolin, mama...
- they often play along with them and mock them. One example: the entire band in wifebeaters at the 1999 MTV Music Awards in Dublin, speaking about pizza and pasta with a heavy Italian accent! Also invoked in "La vendetta del fantasma formaggino" ("The revenge of the cheese spread ghost").
- "Pilipino Rock" mocks the stereotype of Filipino people being seen as an entire nation of butlers and caretakers. It is sung from the perspective of one of these caretakers, who in the end successfully sues his master for being underpaid and goes back home with lots of money.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: It helps that they're all very skilled musicians. Sometimes, the genres are switched during the song, like in "Il vitello dai piedi di balsa''.
- Non-Appearing Title: several examples such as "Cateto".
- Refuge in Audacity: Really, the lyrics of their songs take this trope Up to Eleven. It's like the trademark style of the band.
- At their second partecipation at the Sanremo Music Festival in 2013, they performed "Un Bacio Piccolissimo" ("The Smallest Kiss", originally sung in 1964 by Robertino) during the cover-with-special guest evening... inviting famed pornstar Rocco Siffredi on the stage along them. They proceeded to halt the song at the half-point and ask Rocco how to blow "the smallest kiss", which he then did right in front of the camera.
- Sampling: Their songs have several little snippets of famous and less famous artists hidden in them. Nobody is safe, not even The Beatles and Queen. The most random sample of all is a sound effect from Metal Slug (to be precise, a soundbite from Hyakutaro), barely heard at the beginning and end of "Indiani".
- Shout-Out: In the coda of "Pipppero®" Elio quotes several '70s dance music stars, such as Carl Douglas, The Trammps, Boney M, in addition to "Ramaya" by Afric Simone.
- Soccer-Hating Americans: "Nessuno allo stadio" ("Nobody at the stadium"), released just before the 1994 USA World Cup, pictures empty stadia, no flags, no crackers, no hooligans and so on."Soccer is a rite that must be respected, Europe gets crazy about it and wants it to be popular in the USA, tooBasically, Americans don't care about the World Cup in America"
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Done deliberately in "Unanimi" ("Unanimously"). The second stanza has each component of the band singing different lyrics at the same time but ends with "Unanimi" sung in unison. It is the only intelligible word of the stanza. Inverted in the first stanza (same lyrics for everyone apart from the last word). Bonus point for invoking Getting Crap Past the Radar, as the unintelligible last word is everyone singing a different swear word. It Makes Sense in Context :" We agree almost on every subject, but sometimes we disagreefor example on swear words, everyone says what he likes: *** "
- Stealth Parody: maybe not so stealthy, but "La terra dei cachi" ("Persimmon Land"), the song that almost made them win the Sanremo music festival, was this. It takes balls to bring to the temple of Italian music a song which mocks almost all the conventions of popular Italian music, bel canto and famous singers/songwriters, as well as making several pointed jabs to the Italian society of the time. But it still was a huge success and better remembered than the actual winner!
- Stealth Insult: the "Persimmon Land" of the title is clearly Italy. Persimmons are noted for their laxative properties, plus their name in italian, cachi, sounds almost like "cacare", meaning "to take a shit". The message becomes clear: Persimmon Land = Italy = shit.
- Stylistic Suck: the Los Sri Lanka... album. It was a Christmas Album made only to fulfill certain contractual obligations, so EelST recorded a few terrible songs on purpose, sung with a pretend famous Sri Lankan band, the titular "Parakramabahu Brothers"... which were a couple of friends of the guy who cleaned up the studio and couldn't even speak Italian!
"Singing this bad song, unpleasant to sing... It may be bad, but I like it.
- Also, the last verse of "Vincere l'odio" (which has five stanzas with very different melodic lines and completely unrelated lyrics) goes like this:
Bad song. I bet you too have had a bad song in your head"
- "Il vitello dai piedi di balsa (Reprise)" ends with a short salsa-style coda... then, after some seconds of silence, all the instruments give way to the most cacophonous chord possible.
- Subliminal Seduction: spoofed in a "song" of their 1990 album, aptly named "Messaggio satanico" ("Satanic Message"): the backwards message is... just the lyrics for the Italian version of "Happy Birthday to You" in reverse.
- Surprisingly Sudden Death: sadly, this was Feiez's fate: he died of a brain aneurysm during a concert in December 1998. The following album "Craccraccricrecr" and also the miniseries "Vite bruciacchiate" (see "Keep Circulating the Tapes") were dedicated to him.
- Toilet Humour: there already are some examples... but what about "Shpalman" (a song from Cicciput), about a superhero who smears shit on the faces of bad guys with a trowel? Or the woman from "Cateto" who secreted shit instead of sweat from her pores?
- Trade Snark: "Pipppero®".
- True Companions: The core members of the group have been playing together since the Eighties. Especially evident and moving when they talk about the late Feiez.
- Uncommon Time: "Pagano" ("Pagan") has 5/4 + 5/4 + 3/4. "Pipppero®" inherits the difficult time signatures of the original Bulgarian song.
- The Un-Reveal: The parody country song "Indiani" ("Indians", as in Native Americans) is sung by a well-meaning cowboy who wants to give a present to several native tribes, but every single one of them rejects his offering. It's never stated what this present is, although there's a mention of a "Brokeback Mountain Bar" so probably the "present" is his love...
- Urban Legends: "Mio cuggino" ("My cousssin") is built on this. A translated example:My cousin told me he once met a chick at the club and then he can't remember anything but in the end he woke up drenched in a ditch and one of his kidneys was missing.
- Visual Pun: In the video for "Pipppero®" Elio ends the exchange with the Bulgarian official by saying "Certo che voi bulgari siete proprio delle sagome!" ("You Bulgars are all such characters!", where "sagoma" literally means "cutout"). Earlier, the Bulgarian choir accompanying the performance is entirely made of life-sized cutouts (of the same woman, to boot)!
- Word Purée Title: Craccraccricrecr (Word of God states that it is meant to be "the sound of your body changing"note ), Cicciput (the name of an angel according to some "medium" on the radio) and Studentessi (a misspelled Italian word).
- Word Salad Title: One of their songs is named "Abate cruento" ("Cruel / Bloody Abbot") and repeats in the lyrics "Abate cruento esaminatore" ("examiner"). They stated those are just three words picked randomly from a dictionary.
- You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses?: "Luigi il pugilista" ("Luigi the Pugilist") is about a boxer who wears glasses and becomes a champion, since nobody would hit him. The one time he removes the glasses, to impress a pit girl holding the card, he is promptly trounced by the opponent. To top it off, the girl was actually a man. But Luigi doesn't really care.