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.
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