Little Pal: 'The Only True Mob Song'

Jimmy Roselli, RIP
Former mobster Sonny Girard describes it as "the only true mob song."

I am talking about Jimmy Roselli's version of "Little Pal." Click here to listen to a live version of the haunting melody.

"There was in the recent past a real mob culture that was rarely, if ever, seen by outsiders and little known today. Yes, there’s the obvious dress, like in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” for the older generation and the Sergio Tacchini athletic suits and multiple oversized gold chains for the new wave of wannabes, or the Southern Italian fare that is served at the highly publicized restaurants of Mulberry Street or South Philly, and the songs of Sinatra that anyone who’s ever turned on a radio or television knows. But there is a deeper culture, a very private inside one, that is more specific and goes to habits, foods, superstitions, and songs that have particular meaning to guys who have lived their lives on the edge – the last great generation of the mob, if you will.

“Little Pal” is the most inside of all those songs. I don’t know what the lyricist intended when he wrote it, or what Al Jolson thought when he popularized it early in the Twentieth Century, but Jimmy Roselli’s version has been adopted by mob guys and adapted to their way of life, to the constant threat of leaving their loved ones, especially their children, for prison. Roselli’s “Little Pal” is, in fact, the only real mob song.

"My heart broke one night, when I sat alongside a dear friend as he sang “Little Pal” to his child, who was propped on his knee, as his own body was being ravaged by cancer. I sang it to my three year old the night before I left for prison the first time. “Little Pal” will always be special."

"This obscurity... was brought about through the combined efforts of Sinatra... and local underworld figures, who, when they weren’t weeping along to his sentimental Italian hits, were, he often said, threatening him with a hit of another kind."

Italian-American singer Jimmy Roselli died at 85 years of age last July. From the NY Times obit, we learn some interesting things about the crooner who lived in Sinatra's shadow.

"He was a skinny Italian-American kid from Hoboken, N.J., who could croon like an angel. Before long, his singing made women swoon and grown men cry. For decades, he sang standards to adoring crowds worldwide, including, notably, “My Way.” 

"Jimmy Roselli, a pop singer widely known as the other crooner from Hoboken, spent his life in the long, slim shadow of Francis Albert Sinatra. But in many traditional Italian-American communities in the Eastern United States he was as fiercely venerated as Sinatra, if not more so. 

"Mr. Roselli, who continued performing until he was nearly 80, died on June 30, at 85. The cause of his death, at his home in Clearwater, Fla., was complications of a longtime heart ailment, his agent, Alan Salomon, said.

"Almost entirely self-taught, Mr. Roselli had a lush, quasi-operatic tenor and impeccable diction. He belonged to the generation of Italian-American pop singers that besides Sinatra included Perry Como, Dean Martin (né Dino Crocetti) and Tony Bennett (Anthony Benedetto).

"But though he sang in storied nightclubs like the Copacabana in New York, appeared on television and made dozens of recordings, Mr. Roselli was far less well known than they.

"This obscurity, he long maintained, was brought about through the combined efforts of Sinatra, with whom he had an enduring feud, and local underworld figures, who, when they weren’t weeping along to his sentimental Italian hits, were, he often said, threatening him with a hit of another kind.

"But in the end, the single greatest impediment to Mr. Roselli’s career appears to have been Mr. Roselli himself. Through a combination of constitutional abrasiveness, Old World suspicion of the entertainment business and a deep-seated fear of success, people who knew him have said, he managed to torpedo nearly every opportunity that came his way."

Read the full story here.