100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 3: The 1960s

As the bossa nova movement evolves in the early 1960s, Brazil’s original aestheticism gives way to the introduction of political themes. The politicization of popular music would take shape under Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964 leading to the so-called “protest song“, of which one of the most emblematic is Caminhando (“Walking”) by Geraldo Vandré. It is the time of great musical festivals, when a “university” generation of composers and singers appeared. Artists such as Chico Buarque and Edu Lobo would be idolized by intellectuals and were instrumental in the creation of Música Popular Brasileira (Brazilian Popular Music) or MPB, a movement initially linked to political engagement against dictatorship.

The Tropicália movement was also a form of protest song that appeared during the same period; it was characterized by the eclectic blend of pop culture elements -such as rock- with the elite culture -the modernist and concretist schools of visual arts- having a more erudite and experimental character. The Bahians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were the main exponents of this movement.

The Iê-iê-iê style (Brazil’s rock’n’roll of the 60s, the equivalent of France’s yé-yé) was “softer” in Brazil than in the USA or UK, adopting a more romantic style. This movement came to be known as Jovem Guarda (Young Guard) and had huge commercial success. Its more representative artists were Roberto Carlos, Erasmo Carlos, Tim Maia and Wanderléa, among others.

These are some of the greatest songs of this period:


11) João Gilberto – “Corcovado” (1960) 

Corcovado” was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1960 and refers to Rio de Janeiro’s iconic  Corcovado mountain. An English version was later released with the title “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars“.

This song was included in the album Brazil’s Brilliant João Gilberto, which was released in the United States in 1960. It was the record that introduced João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and bossa nova to the American audience, before Stan Getz scored a hit with “Desafinado”.

 

12) Carlos Lyra – “Minha Enamorada” (1960) 

This song (“My beloved”) is the most successful fruit of Carlos Lyra’s partnership with “El poetinha” Vinicius de Moraes.

“Minha Namorada” was released during the bossa nova boom, but in terms of rhythm and melody it does not have much to do with it. It is a romantic, tender and sincere ballad; Lyra and Vinicius wrote other emblematic songs, but few were as perennial as this one.

 

13) Maysa – “O Barquinho” (1961) 

One of Brazil’s most charismatic divas, known as “the Janis Joplin of Bossa Nova” due to her tumultuous personal life, Maysa would become influential for a whole generation of Brazilian artists.

This song (the title means “Little boat”) was reportedly composed by Roberto Menescal and Ronaldo Bôscoli while being with friends on a boat; suddenly the engine broke down, and the sound of the motor when they were trying to restart the boat made the tune for “O Barquinho”. It was re-recorded many times, but this is one of the most successful and beautiful versions.

 

14) João Gilberto and Stan Getz – “So Danço Samba” (1962)

“Só Danço Samba” was composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes; it was suggested that the song was part of a failed movement to invent a bossa nova dance.

Só Danço Samba became in instant classic with hundreds recordings over the decades. With English lyrics provided by Norman Gimbel, it gained immediate international popularity under the titles Jazz Samba, Jazz ‘n’ Samba or occasionally I Only Dance Samba (literal translation of the original Portuguese title).

 

15) Antônio Carlos Jobim – “Água De Beber” (1963)

“Drinking-Water” was composed by Brazil’s towering figure of bossa nova and one of the great songwriters of the century Antônio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by another fundamental figure in Brazilian music, the co-father of bossa nova, Vinicius de Moraes.

This was reportedly the first song composed in the new Brazil capital, Brasilia, while it was still being constructed. It has had many re-recordings; some great versions are those by Astrud Gilberto, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

 

16) Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto and Stan Getz – “The Girl from Ipanema” (1964)

This is arguably Brazil’s most iconic song; the sound of an era in which bossa nova was the lingua franca of the country and this song its anthem.

Summer 1962, Rio de Janeiro. The story goes that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes were sitting at a bar near Ipanema Beach in Rio, when they saw the most beautiful woman walking by, and they immediately wrote this song down on a bar napkin! (not quite exactly the truth, though, read more here). The original version, Garota de Ipanema was released in 1962. Nevertheless, while an Ipanema girl named Heloísa inspired the song, it was another Carioca who made it famous worldwide.

Astrud Gilberto was the wife of singing star João Gilberto, when she entered a New York studio in March 1963. João and Jobim were making a record of the song with tenor saxman Stan Getz. The idea of a verse in English came up, and Astrud was the only one of the Brazilians who spoke English. The song with the name “The Girl from Ipanema” was released and it rapidly became a huge worldwide hit. Indeed, it is the second most re-recorded song in history after The Beatles’ “Yesterday”.

 

17) Demônios da Garoa – “Trem das onze” (1964)

This song (English: “The 11 P.M. Train”) was composed by São Paulo singer and composer Adoniran Barbosa; it portrays, in a tragicomical way, the drama of a lover who lives in a distant suburb of São Paulo, and who cannot stay longer with his beloved woman because the last train will be departing soon, at 11 p.m, and his mother won’t sleep until he gets home. “Trem das Onze” is an example of both samba paulista  (samba developed in São Paulo) and samba-de-breque (here).

It was released in 1964 and made famous that same year by the samba group Demônios da Garoa. It is one of the best known Brazilian popular songs and considered of the most representative cultural symbols of the city of São Paulo.

 

18) Moacir Santos – “Nanã – Coisa Número 5” (1965)

“Coisas” (“Things”) is the debut album by composer, maestro and multi-instrumentalist Moacir Santos. It was released in 1965; the ten tracks of the album were named as “Things” – numbered from 1 to 10. The LP was chosen by the Brazilian Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 best Brazilian records of all time.

 

19) Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 – “Mas que nada ” (1966)

If you want to hear good, uplifting samba, this is the song! Mas que nada (the English translation would be “come on” or “yeah! Right”) was the first hit of an artist who would became a real school within Brazil’s popular music, Jorge Ben (later, Jorge Ben Jor). It was an impressive hit in 1963, and the beginning of Jorge Ben’s career.

But I have to say I love this version by another great artist, Sergio Mendes. With this song he managed to go beyond Brazil’s borders in 1966, and then again in 2006 when he re-recorded with The Black Eyed Peas

 

20) Walter Wanderley Trio – “Samba de Verão” (1966)

“Summer Samba” (also known as “So Nice”) was first popularized by Walter Wanderley Trio in 1966 — the album Rain Forest on which it was issued reached platinum status in 1970. The song became an instant success, with radio stations playing it constantly. Also in 1966 the trio accompanied Astrud Gilberto on her A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness album, which features a beautiful, sung version of this song.

Although immortalized as an “easy listening” or “lounge music” artist, Wanderley music was at that time innovative and revolutionary. The percussive rhythms reminiscent of a Brazilian black tradition were not dear to many Brazilians; in fact most of his successful career took place in the United States.

 

21) Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes – “Canto de Ossanha” (1967)

In candomblé (an Afro-American religious tradition), there is no ceremony without the presence of Ossanha,  the entity that holds the magic force – the axé – necessary in every ritual. Perhaps this is the reason why “Canto de Ossanha” is the opening track of Os Afro-Sambas, the third album emerged from the partnership between the music of Baden Powell and the lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes.

This syncretism of Brazil with Africa via Bahia, now so natural, was not taken for granted in the 60s. “Canto de Ossanha” helped the sound of Afro-Brazilian religions, systematically persecuted until two decades before, become an inextricable part of Brazil’s music and culture.

A great cover of this song was released in 2006 by Jurassic 5.

 

22) Caetano Veloso – “Alegria, Alegria” (1967)

“Happiness, Happiness” is a song written and performed by Caetano Veloso. Often referred to as “the Brazilian anthem of 1967”, it later appeared on his influential eponymous 1968 album.

This was the song that introduced the Tropicália movement to Brazil. The ideal exposed by the song lyrics was first presented at a memorable live performance in 1967, reinforced by the Argentine group Beat Boys, who added visual aesthetics. It was a hit at the time, and was often sung during public manifestations in favor of impeachment.

 

23) Wilson Simonal – “Nem Vem Que Não Tem” (1967)

An emblematic figure of Brazil’s popular music, Wilson Simonal was a singer with great success in the 1960s and 1970s, although he was relatively unknown outside of South America.

This is his biggest international hit (the title would be translated as “Don’t even think about it!”); it was adapted and recorded by French singer Zanini, who made a hit with the song “Tu veux ou tu veux pas”.

 

24) Edú Lobo and Marília Medalha – “Ponteio” (1967)

A singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer, Edú Lobo is one of the driving forces behind the MPB movement. He has worked with the most important Brazilian artists and his songs were covered by big names of international music such as Sarah Vaughan and Earth, Wind & Fire.

This is one of his most famous songs, performed here with Marília Medalha; with this song they were the winners of the  III Festival de Música Popular Brasileira/FMPB in 1967.

 

25) Chico Buarque and Mpb4- “Roda Viva” (1967)

Arguably one of Brazil’s most renowned songwriters and singers, Chico Buarque is an iconoclastic figure in post-bossa nova Brazilian music.  With his distinctive voice, elegant phrasing, and considerable skill at lyric writing, Buarque  became extremely popular in the 1960s –particularly among women, as he was very handsome. However, Buarque resented the role of pop star and chose to be seen as a serious artist.

Roda Viva (“The wheel of life”) is a song that Buarque wrote for the eponymous play; it was a criticism to the obsessive fan culture. During the play, the pop star protagonist was literally torn apart and his flesh consumed by his fans; the performers would also offer the audience pieces of the dead pop star’s flesh to eat (it was chicken meat). Needless to say, the military dictatorship in charge those years did not like the idea of the play and soldiers were sent out to disrupt the performances, destroy sets and assault performers; Chico Buarque himself was briefly jailed.

 

26) Os Mutantes – “Panis Et Circenses” (1968)

Os Mutantes (“The Mutants”) are one of the most talented and influential Brazilian psychedelic rock bands that were linked with the Tropicália movement. Their unique blend of psychedelic rock, bossa nova, tropicália and samba has inspired many contemporary American and European artists, who cite Os Mutantes as a major influence. With many changes from the original line-up featuring Rita LeeArnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias, the band has been active since then, with their last album being released in 2013.

The title  of this song means “Bread and Circuses”, and it is an allusion to the classical poet Juvenal, who scorned ancient Romans for their easy and predictable manipulation through bread and circus.  The song, in turn, is a satire of bourgeois conventions. In the lyrics, a first-person poetic voice tries desperately to alarm the family, to snap them out of their mental and physical stagnation; the attempt is futile.  During these early years of military rule in Brazil, when economic liberalization brought quick financial boons to the complaisant and complicit upper middle class, expressions of rejection of these mores were frequent in Brazilian music.

 

27) Caetano Veloso – “Tropicália” (1968)

The opening track of the first tropicalista album by Caetano Veloso, “Alegria, Alegria. It was very popular upon its release in Brazil, and the Brazilian press used the song title “Tropicália” to christen the larger artistic movement it represented “Tropicalismo”, to the disdain of Caetano himself. Later it was re-recorded by Gal Costa and inspired a homonymous song, released by the American Beck, declared lover of the movement.

Although Caetano has expressed displeasure with the album, it often shows up on lists of greatest Brazilian albums, and was inducted into the Latin Grammy Award Hall of Fame in 2001.

 

28) Geraldo Vandré – “Pra não dizer que não falei das flores” (1968)

Also known as “Caminhando” (“Walking”; or “Not to say that I haven’t spoken about the flowers”), it was composed by Geraldo Vandré and was presented at the III International Festival of Song of TV Globo in 1968 where it ranked second (the winner was “Sabiá”). It caused a great controversy at that time because the public, mostly students thirsting for protest songs, booed the jury’s decision and made the explosive “Pra Não Dizer…” a sort of anthem of a generation.

The song was considered by the dictatorship a mockery of the armed forces; public playing of the song was forbidden, all the registers of Vandré’s presentation at the festival were deleted, and Vandré became one of the most hunted persons in the country, forced eventually to flee the country. The song was finally released 11 years later, with the end of dictatorship.

Walking is still used to remember the situation the country was going through at the time and to keep alive the memories of those who were victims of the hard times of dictatorship. It has been re-recorded many times, of which one of the most iconic is the one by Simone; the latter was lately sampled by Reboot and Federico Scavo.

 

29) Gilberto Gil – “Domingo No Parque” (1968)

With this song (“Sunday at the park”) Gilberto Gil got the second place at the 1967 III Festival of Popular Music, accompanied by Os Mutantes; it was later released in the album Gilberto Gil (1968). Gil, together with Caetano Veloso, became the leader of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement. His musical style provided a more universal sound to the music played at that time, mixing electric guitar with traditional Bahian elements, such as the sound of the berimbau. He is undoubtedly one of Brazil’s, and the world’s most celebrated singer/songwriters, with a musical career that has successfully spanned six decades and hits in each one.

 

30) Noriel Vilela – “Dezesseis Toneladas” (1969)

With his signature deep bass voice, Noriel Vilela made a career first as a member of the samba vocal group Cantores de Ebano. His 1969 solo album “Eis o Ôme” is a succession of sambalanço songs with strong afro influence. This was Vilela’s greatest hits, which is a Portuguese version of the American classic “Sixteen Tons” by Ernie Ford and Merle Travis.

The latest years Vilela enjoys a cult revival among fans of sambalanço. In 2014 “Dezesseis Toneladas” was used for a famous beer commercial, and since then it has been re-recorded several times.

 

31) Erasmo Carlos – “Sentado à Beira do Caminho” (1969)

“Sitting at the Edge of the Road” was composed by the legendary duo Roberto Carlos & Erasmo Carlos and released by Erasmo Carlos.

The song describes the despair and hopelessness of a lover waiting for his beloved; it became an instant hit and was adapted in many languages, the most famous version being the Italian by Ornella Vanoni with title “L’appuntamento”. Vanoni’s version was included in the musical score of the film Ocean’s Twelve.

 

YouTube playlist here

 

Coming soon:

  • The 1970s
  • The 1980s 
  • The 1990s
  • The 2000s – 2010s

 

100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 2: The 1930s, 40s & 50s


In my previous post I presented an overview of Brazil’s music history and styles. This article will focus on the music of the first half of the twentieth century.

During this period, Brazil’s Teatro de Revista became a very popular genre, inspired by European operetta. It reached its peak in the 30s and revealed talents like Carmen Miranda, Wilza Carla, Dercy Gonçalves and Elvira Pagan, who had immense success.

Also in the late 1930s, the so-called Radio Era began in Brazil. As the process of recording discs was still primitive with poor quality results, the radio became the preferred circulation channel for new productions. This communication medium played an important role on the diffusion of popular music until well into the 1950s, but it quickly lost space when television became popular. Some performers that conquered the national audience were Dolores Duran, Dalva de Oliveira, Cauby Peixoto, Nora Ney, Emilinha Borba, Marlene, Vicente Celestino and Ângela Maria.

During this period the popularity of samba intensifies, and by the end of the 50’s bossa nova starts making its appearance.

These are 10 representative songs of the 30s – 40s – 50s:


1) Francisco Alves – “Aquarela do Brasil” (1939) 

Known in the English-speaking world simply as “Brazil“, it’s one of the most famous Brazilian songs, written by Ary Barroso. With this song, he created the genre known as samba exaltation for speaking of Brazil’s great qualities. “Aquarela do Brasil” became successful after being included in Walt Disney’s animated film Saludos Amigos. Since then, it has been recorded numerous times throughout the years, and was featured prominently in Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil.

After “Garota de Ipanema”, it is the most recorded Brazilian song in the four corners of the planet. This wonderful original version was performed by Francisco Alves; other great covers are those by Elis Regina and João Gilberto.

 

2) Dorival Caymmi – “O Mar” (1940) 

No other composer of Brazilian music portrayed the sea as well as Dorival Caymmi. Among all his songs this one is certainly one of the greatest classics and has been recorded in other languages by interpreters from all over the world. The vastness of the sea of his native Bahia was Caymmi’s greatest inspiration for this song.

 

3) Carmen Miranda – “Tico-Tico No Fubá” (1947)

Although first presented in 1917, it reached the peak of popularity in the 40s. One of its most successful versions is the one by Ademilde Fonseca in 1942. This is one of the songs that contributed to the internationalization of Brazilian music, mostly since it featured in several American films, such as Copacabana (1947), in which it was eternalized by the iconic fruit-basket head-dressed Carmen Miranda.

 

4) Luiz Gonzaga – “Asa Branca” (1947)

Written by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, asa branca (“white wing”) refers to a bird of the parched sertão (the semi-arid region in Northeastern Brazil ). The picazuro pigeon symbolizes peace, longing and exile. But the evocative lyrics of the song speak of the difficult conditions of sertanejo’s life. The bird flaps wings to find a better life and the protagonist of the song does the same. But he promises to his love that someday he will return, when the rain falls again. There are more than 300 versions of this song, but no interpretation beats the one by Gonzaga.

 

5) Waldir Azevedo – “Brasileirinho” (1947)

Waldir Azevedo is one of the most famous cavaquinho players of Brazil. This song, representative of the choro genre, would become a reference for all the instrumentalists of Brazil and was a huge success from the moment it was released.

 

6) Noel Rosa – “Conversa de Botequim ” (1950)

Launched in 1935, this samba perpetuates one of the lightest and most relaxed lyrics of that time. It was written, however, in a tense time – marked by the 1930 Revolution in Brazil and by the crack of the New York Stock Exchange. The most acclaimed versions are by Aracy de Almeida, Chico Buarque and by Noel himself, one of its authors.

 

7) João Gilberto – “Chega de Saudade ” (1958)

This song is often considered to be the first recorded bossa nova song. The music was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and the lyrics were written by Vinícius de MoraesJoão Gilberto‘s version is the most famous, although the original one was recorded one year later.

The title can be translated roughly as “enough longing,” though the Portuguese word saudade carries a far more complex meaning. The word implies an intensity of heartfelt connection that is yearned for passionately. Chega means no moreenough.

 

8) João Gilberto – “Desafinado” (1958)

There are countless recordings of this classic bossa nova song, but this one arguably surpasses all the others. Composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, it was released in João Gilberto‘s seminal album Chega de Saudade. Its strange melody, its deliberate debauchery and the incomparable guitar sound had never been heard before. Although  Brazil had already exported some songs before this one, nothing compared to the impact that “Desafinado” had when it was recorded in 1962 by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd for the album Jazz Samba. It was the music that definitively put bossa nova in the international scene and took Brazilian music to an era of modernity.

“Desafinado” means “out of tune” and was a response to critics who claimed that bossa nova was a new genre for singers who can’t sing.

 

9) Dolores Duran – “A Noite do Meu Bem” (1959)

This samba-canção is the most famous song of carioca Dolores Duran and the one that best defines her particular style. A successful singer in a country that, at that time, had no tradition of women composers, Dolores gained more popularity after her death at age 29, one month after releasing this song.

 

10) Luiz Bonfá – “Manhã De Carnaval ” (1959)

The most notorious composition of carioca violinist Luis Bonfá was used in the soundtrack of the film Orfeu do Carnaval (Black Orpheus) directed by Marcel Camus. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1960,  after which this beautiful song conquered the entire world.

 

Coming soon:

  • The 1960s
  • The 1970s
  • The 1980s 
  • The 1990s
  • The 2000s – 2010s