Desafinado: A clever composition based on a clever concept


It is a rarity for a musician to highlight a lack of musical ability as a source of inspiration. Ironically, this was the inspiration for one of the most popular bossa nova songs of all time, “Desafinado” (Off Key).  Remarkably, the background story behind the song is just as ridiculous as the subject matter.




Written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendonça, the song was actually written as a form of revenge against musicians that the pair deemed as lacking in vocal prowess.  Both had their vocations in  music and both were in financial situations which forced them to play in the nightclubs of Rio. To their dismay this situation also made them have to perform alongside singers who they found to be musically unimpressive. As a result they would often encounter vocalists who were off key when they performed.

Using their experience they composed and wrote the song together. They crafted the song in way that would make it very difficult for amateur vocalist to perform and so would cause them to go off key. The actual song is not a complaint about the poor standard of the vocalists they once performed alongside though. Instead, the song is an acceptance of these vocal shortcomings and a desperate plea by the persona of the song to his lover for her to pay more attention to the message of the song – which is “my dear one I love you,” than to his vocal ability, or lack thereof.

Upon completion, Jobim and Mendonça offered the song to a number of musicians but it was Joao Gilberto who would claim the song first declaring it “his” after listening to it once. His version would be the first one recorded for a studio album when it was featured in the seminal “Chega de Saudade.”

Since then, it has been performed a number of times by different artists. The English translation was done by Jon Hendricks and Jessie Cavanaugh and has been performed by a number of English speaking musicians. Notably, Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd did a version that was a commercial success. Other big names in jazz and pop such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Kenny G all performed on their own unique version of the song. Fortunately all of them performed it on key.

[learn_more caption=”Lyrics”]

[tabcontainer] [tabtext]English [/tabtext] [tabtext]Portuguese [/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent]

When I try to sing you say I'm off key
Why can't you see how much this hurts me
With your perfect beauty and your perfect pitch
You're a perfect terror
When I come around must you always put me down
If you say my singing is off key my love
You will hurt my feelings don't you see my love
I wish I had an ear like yours
A voice that would behave
But all I have is feelings and a voice gone deaf
You insist my music goes against the rules
But rules were never meant for lovesick fools
I wrote this little song for you but you don't care
Its a crooked song oh but all my love is there
The thing that you would see if you would play your part
Is even if I'm out of tune I have a gentle heart
I took your picture with my trusty rollaflex
And now all I have developed is a complex
Possibly in vain I hope you weaken oh my love
And forget these rigid rules that undermine my dream of
A life of love and music with someone who'll understand
That even though I may be out of tune
When I attempt to say how much I love you
All that matters is the message that I bring
Which is my dear one I love you
Se você disser que eu desafino amor
Saiba que isso em mim provoca imensa dor
Só privilegiados tem ouvido igual ao seu
Eu possuo apenas o que Deus me deu
E se você insiste em classificar
Com o meu comportamento de anti-musical
Não lhes vou mentir até vou comentar
Que isso é bossa-nova
Que isso é muito natural
Que voce não sabe nem sequer pressente
É que os desafinados também tem um coração
Fotografei você na minha role-flix
Revelou-se a sua enorme ingratidão
Só não poderá falar assim do meu amor
Que é bem maior que você pode encontrar
Você passou a música e esqueceu o principal
Que no peito dos desafinados
No fundo do peito bate calado
No peito dos desafinados também bate um coração