With the end of Brazil’s dictatorship, a renewed feeling of freedom invaded the youth of the 80s. This generation of artists, free to openly portray their feelings and desires, gives rise to what would be called BRock, or Brazilian rock. Emblematic bands of this decade are Blitz, Paralamas do Sucesso, Titãs, Ultraje a Rigor and Legião Urbana. Irreverent and uncompromised, they would be frequently accused of being superficial, banal and alienated; their songs though demonstrated they were nothing like that: they would often criticize the 80s social reality, particularly consumerism and the influence of television.
The year 1985 is certainly engraved in the memory of rock lovers: the colossal festival Rock in Rio takes place. Rock in Rio counted with the presence of the world’s greatest rock artists such as Queen, Rod Stewart, AC/DC and Yes; it remains in history as the largest Rock Festival of all time, with an audience of nearly 1.5 million people.
Although rock and pop were the predominant genres in Brazil during the 80s, other musical styles would gain increasing popularity by the end of the decade, such as sertanejo, pagode, afro and axé music.
This is my list of great Brazilian songs of the 1980s:
63) Rita Lee – “Lança Perfume” (1980)
For the Brazilians, Rita Lee is one of their dearest artists. With an impressive record of 55 million albums sold –Brazil’s highest grossing female artist of all time- the “Queen of Brazilian Rock” is a not only a singer, but also a talented songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, writer and activist.
Former member of the influential group Os Mutantes, Lee has participated in major revolutions in the world of music and society. Her songs, often with an acid or feminist tone, have become ubiquitous in the charts throughout the latest 50 years.
Lança perfume is one of her most popular songs; it makes reference to an aromatic spray often used as a recreational drug, very popular in Brazil.
64) Gal Costa – “Festa do Interior” (1981)
Essential Brazilian artist, one of the most amazing voices, Gal Costa is known for her perfect pitch and incredibly high notes. Timeless and always relevant, Gal is constantly reinventing herself: she went from a Tropicalia icon in the 60s, a hippie muse in the 70s to a more pop repertoire in the 80s and nowadays, in her latest albums, she has been even exploring electronic music.
This song (English “Countryside Party”) from her 1981 double album Fantasia became her biggest ever hit, going multi-platinum by the end of the year.
65) Djavan – “Samurai” (1982)
Djavan is a singer, songwriter, producer and guitarist, highly praised not only in Brazil, but internationally: his songs have been recorded by Al Jarreau, Carmen McRae, the Manhattan Transfer, and many other fundamental Brazilian artists.
Djavan combines traditional Brazilian rhythms with popular music drawn from the Americas, Europe and Africa; his songs are known for their “colors”: refined and poetic, but utterly simple at the same time.
In 1982, he recorded the universally acclaimed album Luz, which has been described as a “pop explosion (…) a succession of hits with exquisite use of the technological resources of the time”. From this album comes the song Samurai, in which Stevie Wonder is a guest star.
66) Gonzaguinha – “O que é, O que é?” (1982)
A major pop star in Brazil in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gonzaguinha was the son of the famous baião artist Luiz Gonzaga. Although he decided to follow his father’s footsteps, he was a great singer in his own right, adopting a completely different style. Being born and raised in a poor Rio de Janeiro favela (shanty town) made him quite adept at writing about the social and political conditions of Brazil’s poor; his aggressive and unappealing lyrics in the eyes of the media earned him the nickname “Cantor rancor” (Grudge singer). With the beginning of the political opening in the second half of the 1970s, he began to modify the discourse and composed songs of more pleasant tone; his fame skyrocketed. He was at the peak of this popularity when, in 1991 he died in a car crash.
This is one of his most recognizable songs, it was released in the album Caminhos do Coração.
67) Lulu Santos – “Como Uma Onda (Zen Surfismo)” (1983)
Brazilian superstar with high-selling discography, Lulu Santos is one of the most emblematic figures of the 80s, a synonym with Brazilian pop music.
This song (English “Like a wave”) was created by Lulu himself together with journalist and writer Nelson Motta, especially for the soundtrack of the movie Garota Dourada. Its lyrics describe the pleasures of an idealized beach culture, ultimately becoming a reflection on the contradictions of a youth oscillating between grandiose delusions and bohemian escapism. It was a smash hit. According to Rolling Stone Brazil, this song is the proof … “of Lulu’s indisputable dominance in the art of creating the Perfect pop”.
68) Lobão e os Ronaldos – “Me Chama” (1984)
Multi-talented Lobão (“Big Wolf“, in reference to the Disney’s Big Bad Wolf character), is a singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, writer, publisher, television host and media personality. Aside from his talent as musician, he has a reputation for having little inhibition in expressing his opinions and for publicly criticising fellow musicians, which led to a notable number of controversies and enmities.
With the album Ronaldo Foi pra Guerra, the only album he released accompanied by the band Os Ronaldos, Lobão had the biggest success of his career, the super hit “Me Chama” (“Call Me”).
69) Ultraje a Rigor – “Inútil” (1985)
Ultraje a Rigor is one of the most important Brazilian rock bands. With their simple and danceable melodies, and the irreverent tone Roger Moreira’s voice gave to the ironic lyrics, the band had all the ingredients to reach the Brazilian youth of the 80s.
Their first LP, Nós Vamos Invadir sua Praia (We’re going to invade his beach) was a massive success: it was the first Brazilian rock LP to receive gold and platinum status. From this album comes Inútil (“Useless”), one of the most important protest songs of Brazilian rock, a compendium of the frustrations common to all Brazilian at the time.
70) Paralamas do Sucesso – “Alagados” (1986)
Paralamas do Sucesso is the most successful Brazilian rock band, with a long-lasting career since 1977, always with the same line-up: Herbert Vianna, Bi Ribeiro and João Barone. Their success has surpassed the Brazilian borders, making then a recognizable band in Latin America and Europe; furthermore, they have been many times awarded at the Latin Grammy, MTV Brasil and Multishow awards.
Alagados (“Flooded”) gives an account of the harsh life in Brazilian favelas during the period of intense socioeconomic crisis that hit the country in the 1980s. The song make particularly reference to Rio de Janeiro: “…the city with open arms in the postcards, but closed fists in real life”
71) Titãs – “Comida” (1987)
Another emblematic Brazilian rock band that blossomed in the ’80s, Titãs (“The Titans”) became known for their intelligent lyrics, with poetic references and social criticism. The group eventually became mainstream, adopting a more pop approach and enjoying massive recognition.
Jesus não Tem Dentes no País dos Banguelas (“Jesus has no teeth in the land of the toothless”) is Titãs’ most important album; it was a huge commercial success (double platinum certified), but also highly acclaimed by the critics. One of the best tracks of this album is Comida (“Food”). Its lyrics affirm that people’s needs go beyond their own material existence -represented by food- requiring cultural and existential necessities, such as fun and art. Comida frequently served as the motto for student protests, which increased even more the band’s reputation.
72) Legião Urbana – “Que país é esse? ” (1987)
Legião Urbana was formed during Brazil’s economic crisis of the ’80s, when corruption became deeply rooted in the country’s politics. This was Renato Russo’s motivation to create his band “Urban Legion”. Russo’s incandescent lyrics, portraying the frustrations of an entire generation, gave voice to a multitude of desperate people and became a phenomenon of popularity throughout Brazil.
The band’s success was cemented in 1987, with Que País É Este (“What Country Is This”). They developed a devoted following, and the band came to carry the nickname “Religião Urbana” (meaning “Urban Religion”).
While they disbanded officially in 1996 after Russo’s death due to AIDS complications, Legião Urbana is still one of Brazil’s most famous rock bands.
73) Cazuza – “Ideologia” (1988)
Vocalist of the first Brazilian rock band Barão Vermelho and highly popular as a solo artist, Cazuza left his personal mark on Brazilian music through his songs, which continue to be constantly recorded by other artists, in spite of his early death in 1992 due to AIDS complications, at 32 years old.
Ideologia (“Ideology”) is the title track of Cazuza’s third album, which was composed in partnership with Roberto Frejat. It is one of the singer’s most successful songs; its beautiful, compelling lyrics were written by Cazuza after discovering he was HIV positive: “…My pleasure now is life-threatening, my sex and drugs have not rock ’n’ roll…”