Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

The World's Greatest Song Chronicles: Águas de Março
Show Description +

Below are Atlantic notes, from James Fallows with suggestions from many readers, about the lasting effects of the song that Brazilian listeners chose as their country’s greatest musical creation, Águas de Março, by Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim.

Show 4 Newer Notes

Fim do Caminho for The World's Greatest Song

If you read to the end, you’ll learn who these people are.


There’s nothing quite like travel, events, the flu/pellagra, and learning you’re the object of an IRS identity-theft case to keep a guy out of the blogging business. (Nomenclature point: back in the Golden Age of the Blog a few years ago, I avoided using the term blog, prissily referring instead to “my web site” etc. In retrospect, blogging looks like some ideal lost form, akin to essays from the Addison and Steele era. It’s like John Boehner’s transformation, as he has left the Speakership, from one more party warrior to the modern James Madison.)

The bright side of the IRS screwup is that it might provide fodder for an update of this piece on my wife’s Gmail hack. And the bright side of the passing time is that I now have a huge selection of suggested new versions of the World’s Greatest Song, the bossa nova classic Águas de Março, previously discussed here, here, and here.

In this installment, I’ll provide links and videos for the (plausible) nominated versions that come in. Then by tomorrow evening, I will announce the official results of the Best Five Versions ever, as decided by me.

We can’t go wrong by starting with Cassandra Wilson, whose version many readers say they like best.

It has been unexpectedly rewarding to raise the topic of The Greatest Song Ever™, Águas de Março by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The new versions keep coming in. (For previous installments, see “The Greatest Song Ever” and “Question for the Ages.”) Here are three more worth mentioning:

Following an item this week on the world’s greatest song, or one of them, some followup discussion on the song (Águas de Março, “Waters of March”), its composer (the great Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim), and the rich variety of recordings available.  

1) A hypnotically simple version. Somehow I associate one stage of my writing life with having this hypnotically spare guitar version, by João Gilberto, playing in the headsets. It’s the first five minutes of this clip.

2) Susannah McCorkle. I hadn’t heard her version before. It presents the song with an entirely different mood and speed and is wonderful. McCorkle had been a modern languages student at Berkeley, and she translated the lyrics into English in a more elegant and idiomatic form than Jobim’s, plus here she handles the lyrics in Portuguese well. I don’t see any video of her singing the song, but her voice is on the version I’ve found, from closing credits for Jerry Seinfeld’s movie Comedian.

OK, there are lots of great songs. But for me this one has always been in the very first tier, maybe because it became popular, as did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds, when I was in that teen-aged acute-music-registering stage of life.

The video below is the Absolute Classic version of Águas de Março, “Waters of March,” by the song’s composer, Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim, and the deathless (though sadly dead, as is Jobim) Elis Regina. This is just magical:

Tell me you would not like to know these people, or be them.

I think it adds to rather than detracts from the power of this performance that the lyrics are in Portuguese, with the cat-purr-like stream of fricatives (as they sound to the non-Portuguese speaker) and repetitive rhymes, unburdened by literal meanings.