A Cover from another Mother (tongue) Part 3

Songs translated into English from Portuguese

Just why is it that there are so many versions of Portuguese songs?

“Ensinando A Bossa Nova”(1963) by Trio Esperança, translation by Almeida Rêgo

Aficionados of the Brazilian art will not doubt catch me out on using this song. It was originally in English and written by the Brill Building couple of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. It was first recorded by Eydie Gorme and released in 1962 and was meant to jump on board with the Bossa Nova craze. It hit #7 on Billboard and #32 in the UK. The English translation of Bossa Nova is “new style” and it is a variation on the traditional Afro-Brazilian Samba. While it is both a dance and a genre of music, it is really an amalgam of styles with origins in areas throughout Brazil.

Today I am talking about songs that went the other way, from Portuguese to English. On the strength of these songs from Brazil, Portuguese becomes the second most performed language for cover songs, after English of course. As I noted in the post on French there is no other language with more translations by song titles, but Portuguese leads the way over all languages for the number of versions.

We can primarily credit two names for the Bossa Nova. João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim who are also the creators of the songs with so many cover versions. Just so we understand the scale, the most covered (non Christmas) song is “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess currently with 2619 renditions and at #200 is Cole Porter’s “So in Love” with 434 versions. As there are over 136,500 original songs in the database at Secondhandsongs.com, being in the top 200 puts any title in rarified air. Ok, since there are so many versions I guess “rare” is a poor word to use but I think you get my meaning! So, at eight songs in the top 200 most covered songs of all time, Portuguese has more titles and versions in this ranking than all other foreign language songs, combined.

Garota de Ipanema” is the 18th most covered song of all time with 859 versions, placing it #1 for songs from 1962. The music was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim to be referred to as ACJ and lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes (VdM). It was first performed the two songwriters and João Gilberto to save some keystrokes that will be JG. While there are many covers in Portuguese the lion’s share of the versions are instrumentals. I didn’t count them all but there are at least 300 covers since the first English version (March 1963). Translation was provided by Norman Gimbel and the song was officially credited as “The Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz & João Gilberto featuring Antônio Carlos Jobim. Remarkable yet typical, the woman, Astrud Gilberto who sang half the song in English had her name left out. History remembers better, if you ask who sang the song?…

Manhã de Carnaval” is the 41st most covered song with 732 versions putting it at #1 from 1959. The music is by Luiz Bonfá and the lyrics by Antônio Maria. First performed in the movie Orfeu Negro by Agostinho dos Santos. The first record release was by JG (João Gilberto) and that’s the last hint on the intitails. The English version was written by the oft to translate trio of Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss and Hugo Peretti. “Carnival” was first recorded by The Ames Brothers in 1960. The melody was used in the Carl Sigman song “A Day in the Life of a Fool”.

Corcovado” is the 61st most covered song with 662 versions and #2 from 1960. It was written by ACJ (Antônio Carlos Jobim) and the last hint there as well. You may be surprised to learn the first release was by JG. The English lyrics were written by Gene Lees who was a Canadian Composer that translated many more Portuguese songs as well as French and Spanish. Sarah Vaughn was the first to release it in 1964 as “Quiet Nights” it is also known as “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”. There is another well known English adaptation “Quiet Nights (Corcovado)” written by Buddy Kay and recorded by Tony Bennett in 1962. A beautiful rendition of “Corcovado” in English released by Getz and JG with vocals, once again from an officially uncredited Astrud Gilberto.

Insensatez” is at #107 with 561 versions and at #2 for 1961. It was written by ACJ and VdM (Vinícius de Moraes). First released by JG in 1961. Norman Gimbel is not only the English translator on many of these tunes but the person behind the inspiration to bring many of these songs to the American market. First released as “How Insensitive” in 1964 by Peggy Lee with the Orchestra conducted by Max Bennett.

Wave” is at #141 with 505 versions and it was written in both Portuguese (Vou te Contar) and English this time, again by ACJ. First released in English by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 in 1967, so they were a little late.

Samba de uma nota só” is at #145 with 479 versions, lyrics by Newton Mendonça and music by you guessed it ACJ. And another surprise, first released in 1960 by JG. Known as “One Note Samba” released in 1962 by Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan, translation by Jon Hendricks.

Aquarela do Brasil” is at #187 with 450 versions, first released in 1939 by Francisco Alves com Radamés Gnattali e sua Orquestr, this very popular song was written by Ary Barroso who also wrote “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” which was a big hit for the great Carmen Miranda. The English translation was by Bob Russell who was a fine lyrist that wrote songs for Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and even The Monkees! “Brazil” was a big hit in 1942 for Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Vocal Choruses by Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell.

Desafinado” is at #199 has 425 versions and the #1 most covered song from 1958. Music by ACJ and lyrics by Newton Mendonça. And his sixth song on this list, it is JG who released it in 1958. The english translation is a bit loose but we see Jon Hendricks again, this time with Jessie Cavanaugh. It was first released by Pat Thomas, arranged and conducted by Lalo Schifrin in 1962. It is better know for the next version that same year and titled “Desafinado (Slightly out of Tune)” by Ella Fitzgerald.

So this is by far the end of the story for the likes of ACJ who’s next most covered song “Chega de Saudade” has 410 versions and is #2 for 1958. He has another 24 songs with over 200 versions each and a total of 107 covered works. As to his collaborator JG he has another two original songs with over 400 versions and many more covered songs. He is also one of the most popular and prolific artists from Brazil and was very well known internationally. The were both frequent collaborators with the great American Jazz tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. He kinda out collaborated João Gilberto to have a relationship with Astrud (Gilberto) after their divorce of course. But hey apparently they all stayed friends!

References: 1, 2, 3

12 thoughts on “A Cover from another Mother (tongue) Part 3

  1. I would have thought there’d be more songs translated from Spanish to English than Portuguese, but as you note, it’s likely due to the immense popularity of Brazilian music from the 50s and 60s.


    • Having looked at the lists so much I had an inkling Portuguese would be high on the list but not to the extent it is. I too would have thought Spanish would be higher, that post is coming but I think there is only one in the top 100

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the really classic bossa nova albums is “Getz/Gilberto,” featuring Stan Getz, João and Astrud Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim (whose nickname is Tom). Astrud couldn’t speak English yet; she learned “Girl From Ipanema” and “Corcovado” phonetically. Doesn’t matter, her voice is almost as gorgeous as she is…

    Do you remember the movie “Brazil,” which Terry Gilliam directed (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1)? Pretty funny stuff. Your mentioning the song reminded me of it…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wouldn’t have guessed there’d be so many going from Portuguese to English. But I’m embarrassed to admit, that until I met my current love, from Texas and with some Mexican roots a few generations back, that I realized that Portuguese was a whole different language. I honestly just kind of thought it was some sort of Spanish dialect they spoke in Portugal and Brazil before that.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s