Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A YouTube tour through Brazil

As they say in Monty Python land, "and now for something completely different." Enough of this silly math and color science stuff, ok? How about something fun for a change?

My wife and I got a Brazilian earworm the other day [1]. An earworm is one of those catchy tunes that gets stuck in your head. Since my wife and I are both susceptible to earworms, and both like to sing, and spend a lot of time together, we generally spend weeks re-infecting each other with earworms. The only way to get rid of an earworm in our household is to introduce another.

The earworm was the song "Brazil".

Here is a version of the song which I would call quintessential. And I say that not as a real expert, but as a guy who likes the song, and who once had a collection of over twenty eight track tapes, so I consider myself an expert musicologist. The music in this video is hot, the tempo is fast, and its got lots of instrumental things going on. You know, like a piano and stuff. Maybe strings and those things that you shake to make shikka-shikka sounds.

This version was from the movie The Eddy Duchin Story, which was about a band leader from the 30's and 40's. I forget the band leader's name, but the movie is his story. You can buy the soundtrack of the movie from Amazon.

This is not the original version of the song, of course. That would have been back in 1939, when it was written one stormy night by Ary Barrosa. The first recording of it was by Francisco Alves, which I have painstakingly cut and pasted from YouTube below. Comparing this to the version from the Eddy Duchin movie, you will note two things. First, it's slower - still a reasonable tempo, but not frenetic. The second thing is that there are words! The cool thing is that the words are in Portuguese, which (in my opinion) is an absolutely gorgeous, sensual language. I am sure if I knew how to speak Portuguese, I would have better luck with the women, if I were single. And, of course, if I chose to use that secret weapon.

As lovely as this version is (in it's tinny kind of 1939 recording quality way, and with its 1939 kind of vocal stylings), the version that put Brazil on the map [2] was an animated version by Disney. Donald Duck is in the cartoon, but the singer is a parrot by the name of Joe Carioca [3], as sung by the real life human Jose Oliveria.

Donald and Joe

Here is the YouTube video. I recommend watching it from one end to the other. The idea of animating the painting of the scenes with a paintbrush was truly inspired. The inspiration actually comes from the full title of the song, "Aqualera do Brasil", which means "Watercolor of Brazil". Barrosa came up with the name when he looked at a watercolor painting by that name.

There are 2^n (cos (zillion) + exp (umpti-leven/2)) versions of this song on YouTube. I listened to quite a few, but I must admit, my research was not exhaustive. Still, here are some that stuck out in my mind.

I start off with one of the absolute worst versions, as performed by the Ray Conniff Singers. Sorry, Ray, this version just leaves me flat. They slowed it down and turned it into a 1970's fashion statement. I am the singer on the far left, by the way. I still have the bow tie, but my barber left town.

Contrast this against the Lawrence Welk version from 1959. Now, I grew up being indoctrinated in the belief that Lawrence Welk was totally unhip "Gramma music". If you were indoctrinated the same way, this clip might change your mind. Electric guitar, muted horns playing a crisp staccato, joined by flutes and clarinets... all at an electrifying tempo. And what would a Lawrence Welk song be without the accordion of Myron Floren? Seriously, this rocks.

Just to be clear about my own tastes, the song doesn't have to be performed fast to make me long for the sandy beach and skimpy bikinis of Rio. Here is a version from old Blue Eyes that pops my cork. Note that he never bothered with the Portuguese lyrics [4]. I guess he figgered he was sexy enough already.

And here is another laid back version that I can't help dooby-do-wopping along to.

Finally, I provide a version by the Slovenian vocal group Perpetuum Jazzile. (See if you can find me in the second row.) I can't watch this video without wondering what kind of volume discount [5] they get on the Shure SM58 mics. And the volume discount on Prozac.

[1] I know what you are thinking. Not that kind of Brazilian! An earworm, silly.

[2] "Put Brazil on the map" Isn't that a cute little pun?

[3] This last name sounded to me a lot like "karaoke", so I had to dig around a bit. Is there any connection? Well, of course not. "Carioca" is a Brazilian word referring to people from Rio de Janeiro. The word "karaoke" is a Japanese word meaning, literally "empty orchestra". No connection other than the serendipitity of two words sounding similar and relating to singing.

[4] Here are the English lyrics that Sinatra sings:

Brazil, where hearts were entertaining June
We stood beneath an amber moon
And softly murmured someday soon
We kissed and clung together

Then, tomorrow was another day
Morning found me miles away
With still a million things to say
Now, when twilight dims the sky above
Recalling thrills of our love
There's one thing I'm certain of
Return I will to old Brazil


Then, tomorrow was another day
Morning found me miles away
With still a million things to say
Now, when twilight dims the sky above
Recalling thrills of our love
There's one thing that I'm certain of
Return I will to old Brazil
That old Brazil
Man, it's old in Brazil
Brazil, Brazil

[5] "Volume discount" - another incredibly subtle pun.

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