You’ll find more than a few references to Dean Martin in The Sopranos. If Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) isn’t watching Dino in the film Rio Bravo, he’s making a joke about Matt Helm, the spy character Martin played in a number of ’60s comedy films.
But Martin also turned up on multiple occasions on Sopranos soundtracks. He sings “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” from Rio Bravo on the screen and during the end credits in two season 4 episodes. And you hear Dino do his lounge act from the deck of “The Stugots” as Tony torments a nemesis in the season 4 final
Late in season 3, the audience heard Martin croon “Return to Me,” a classic he first recorded in 1958. And at the end of the episode you hear Bob Dylan deliver his own version, based on Martin’s classic recording. Dylan recorded it especially for The Sopranos soundtrack.
Carmen Lombardo (music) and Danny Di Minno (lyrics) composed “Return to Me” in the late ’50s. While many artists have recorded the track over the decades, Martin’s take on the words and music remain the definitive interpretation. (He recorded it for two different albums.)
So when you hear it in the background as Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) tells mafia war stories to Jackie Aprile Jr. (Jason Cerbone) and his buddy in “Amour Fou” (season 3 episode 12), you don’t think twice about it. If that song is playing, you expect it to be the Dean Martin version.
After a run through the lyrics in English, Martin closes the track with an Italian translation of the words. “Ritorna a me,” he croons. “Cara mia, ti amo.” At the end of the episode, you hear another take on this material. And it’s Dylan following Martin’s lead.
In the Dylan version, the guitar takes the lead in a jazzy arrangement that also features an accordion part. If you were wondering whether Dylan would tackle the Italian lyrics, well, you have your answer in the back half of the track. (Enjoy.)
Over the years, The Sopranos managed to get one classic track after another for episode soundtracks. (Producers even got a Led Zeppelin song for a scene in the crews’ local pizza parlor.) But not everyone would allow their songs to be featured on the show.
Bobby McFerrin, for example, would not let the Big Mouth Billy Bass toy fish sing his hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on The Sopranos. Prince also rejected a request by Sopranos producers to use his music on the show. But Dylan didn’t have a problem with the mob series featuring his music.
In season 2 (“House Arrest”), you hear Dylan singing his own song, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” And you catch him in the Sopranos series finale (“Made in America”) performing his classic “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). Dylan’s most Sopranos moment, though, has to be him doing “Return to Me.”
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