The iconic bossa nova song, which was a worldwide hit in the mid-sixties, turns fifty years old this summer (listen to it here). The Wall Street Journal has a nice write up about the story behind this perfect and breathy summer song, which is the second most recorded tune in pop-music history (surpassed only by “Yesterday” by The Beatles):
Clearly, this is art for the ages. But why?
One reason is the girl of the title. The embodiment of sultry pulchritude, she is also utterly unobtainable: “But each day when she walks to the sea/She looks straight ahead, not at me.”
“It’s the oldest story in the world,” says Norman Gimbel, who wrote the English lyrics. “The beautiful girl goes by, and men pop out of manholes and fall out of trees and are whistling and going nuts, and she just keeps going by. That’s universal.
So reasoned composer Antônio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinícius de Moraes five decades ago. Stalled on a number for a musical called “Blimp,” they sought inspiration at the Veloso, a seaside cafe in the Ipanema neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. There they remembered a local teenager, the 5-foot-8-inch, dark-haired, green-eyed Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, whom they often saw walking to the beach or entering the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother. And so they penned a paean to a vision.
In Revealed: The Real Girl from Ipanema, Moraes called the elusive girl
the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.
She was quite the dark-haired beauty.
The original version of the song was sung by the late Brazilian singer Pery Ribeiro in 1962. But the version that captured the world’s imagination, and won a Grammy in 1965, was an English cover that appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto:
Then the U.S. music publisher Lou Levy asked Mr. Gimbel to devise an English cover. With Mr. Jobim on piano, Stan Getz on sax, João Gilberto on guitar and Portuguese vocals, and Mr. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, handling English vocals, the U.S. version was cut for the album “Getz/Gilberto” in March 1963.
Since then, it has been covered by singers from Frank Sinatra to Dionne Warwick to Amy Winehouse.
Today, the “girl” is sixty-six years old and continues to be a local celebrity in Brazil. Interestingly, she posed as a Brazilian Playboy Playmate in 1987 and 2003.