Corcovado

Lyrics from “Corcovado” by Antônio Carlos Jobim (1960)



Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

A little nook, a guitar
This love, a song
To make the loved one happy
Plenty of calm to think, and to have time to dream
Through the window I see Corcovado, Redentor, how lovely

I want life like this always, with you near me,
Until the old flame dies out
And I who was sad, disbelieving in this world,
Upon finding you I found out what happiness is, my love.

The apartment where Tom Jobim wrote Corcovado, and a picture of him inside. Photos via culturabrasil.com.br.
The apartment where Tom Jobim wrote Corcovado, and a picture of him inside. Photos via culturabrasil.com.br.

This song is an icon of the bossa nova genre, which was both adored and derided for its focus on superficialities of life in Rio: beaches, breezes, beers, beautiful views, music and love.

Tom Jobim wrote both the melody and the lyrics. Initially the song began, “A cigarette, a guitar,” but the mention of a cigarette made João Gilberto uncomfortable when he was recording the song for the album O amor, o sorriso e a flor. He told Tom a cigarette was something rotten, and convinced him to change the verse to “A little nook, a guitar”; it became one of the best known and most sung verses of bossa nova.

View of Corcovado similar to the view from Tom Jobim's window in Ipanema in 1960.
View of Corcovado similar to the view from Tom Jobim’s window in Ipanema in 1960.

Corcovado, the mountain where Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue stands, could be seen from the window of Tom Jobim’s apartment at Rua Nascimento Silva 107, where he lived with his wife Tereza from 1953 – 1962. The line in Portuguese about the window would translate more literally to, “From the window one sees Corcovado – Redentor …” Shortly after Tom wrote the song a new building blocked the view.

The first English version of the song was written by Buddy Kaye, who said he based the first lines on Tom Jobim’s suggested English version (“Quiet nights of quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar”). Gene Lees ended up modifying and taking credit for the English version, which he left as “Quiet nights of quiet stars” (sung here by Frank Sinatra). Many artists still sang Buddy Kaye’s earlier version, however, and now Lees and Kaye are often credited together for “Quiet nights of quiet stars.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Um cantinho um violão
Este amor, uma canção
Pra fazer feliz a quem se ama

Muita calma pra pensar
E ter tempo pra sonhar

Da janela vê-se o Corcovado
O Redentor que lindo

Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim
Até o apagar da velha chama

E eu que era triste
Descrente deste mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade meu amor

Main sources for this post: Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias de Bossa Nova, by Ruy Castro; Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim by Wagner Homem; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

Meus vinte anos

Lyrics from “Meus vinte anos” by Wilson Batista and Silvio Caldas (1942)



Good Audio Version (Silvio Caldas)

In women’s eyes, in the mirror in my room
Is where I see my age
The portrait in the living room makes me remember achingly my youth
Life for me has been so wretched, only bitter disenchantment
Ay, I’d give everything to be able to go back to being twenty (repeat)

You left in my life the vivid shadow of tremendous yearning
Leaving me, you ended up showing me the counterpoint, killing my faith
And today disillusioned – I’ve suffered a lot –
Full of bitter disenchantment
Ay, I’d give everything to be able to go back to being twenty

— Interpretation —

Wilson-Batista
Wilson Batista, looking dapper c. 1933.

In this samba, Wilson Batista aches over getting older, lamenting that his appearance continues to diverge from that of the portrait in the living room, and that women’s eyes perhaps don’t shine as brightly when they see him.

Batista was a malandrostyle samba composer — an unapologetic scoundrel sort, known for his impassioned defense of waywardness in a battle he fought in samba songs with the more refined bohemian Noel Rosa. (Rosa contended that malandro sambistas should  toss out their razor blades, stop dragging their wood-soled shoes, and basically get over themselves. You can read about the feud here.)

Batista wrote this song when he was twenty-nine — an age when most would scoff at someone for pining for their youthful days of yore. But maybe he knew his lifestyle did not promote longevity; he died at 58.

The theme of fleeting youth is a universal one, and the song was one of Wilson Batista’s greatest successes as a lyricist. Silvio Caldas wrote the melody and recorded the samba in 1942, and the song was a hit throughout the following year.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Nos olhos das mulheres
No espelho do meu quarto
É que eu vejo a minha idade
O retrato na sala
Faz lembrar com saudade
A minha mocidade

A vida para mim tem sido tão ruim
Só desenganos
Ai, eu daria tudo
Para poder voltar
Aos meus vinte anos.

Deixaste em minha vida
A sombra colorida
De uma saudade imensa
Deixando-me ficaste
Mostrando-me o contraste
Matando a minha crença
E hoje desiludido
Muito tenho sofrido
Cheio de desenganos
Ai, eu daria tudo
Para poder voltar
Aos meus vinte anos.

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 1, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello