Italian premier hits music scene

— Long before his days as billionaire head of state, Silvio Berlusconi used to croon on a cruise ship. Now, Italy's premier has co-written an album of love songs.

Despite governmental duties, Berlusconi found time to write half the tunes on the album "Better With a Song" ("Meglio Una Canzone"), 14 ballads in the romantic Neapolitan style. A sunset graces the album cover; inside there is a picture of the Italian leader grinning.

Berlusconi does not sing on the CD. The songs are performed by Mariano Apicella, who earned his keep singing at restaurant tables before being adopted as Berlusconi's favored musical ally.

The two met in December 2001 at a restaurant in Naples and began to work together soon after.

The premier demanded a sample song first, Apicella said.

"He didn't like the lyrics, but he liked the music very much. So he asked me if he could make some changes. It was our first song. The second, the third and fourth songs followed, and then the idea of making a record, too," Apicella said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

Since their 2001 meeting, Apicella has often joined Berlusconi at his villa in Sardinia, where the Italian leader spends summer holidays, entertains visiting dignitaries -- and sings.

In one song called "With My Heart in My Throat" ("Col Cuore in Gola"), the premier says:

"With my heart in my throat

"Because your love is everything to me

"I know you may make me suffer

"But I'll never let you go

"Even if I have to fight

"I will love you until the end."

Berlusconi's office had no comment on the album. However, he has often said he liked to stay up at night to compose Neapolitan love songs.

Berlusconi, now 67, has changed much since his early singing days: He became a media mogul -- Italy's richest man -- not to mention winning the top job in government twice.

Yet producing an album is perfectly in line with the image Berlusconi cultivates: that of a leader who is not stuffy, distant or overly bureaucratic. The premier casts himself as a good-time man of the people, who owns a successful soccer team, whose TV channels produce slick, popular shows, and who isn't afraid to speak his mind.

This style helped win him support, particularly when he launched his political career in the early 1990s as an entire generation of political leaders fell from grace amid a corruption scandal.

"Berlusconi is not a politician," Apicella said. "He's just in politics. In private, he's a very social person with a good sense of humor. He's an extremely normal person."

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