So Nice

Many mornings, I wake up with a song running through my head. I am never sure where the song comes from. Something I have been dreaming about, I guess, or perhaps something that pops into my head during those moments between sleep and wakefulness, when the brain looses all sorts of odd imagery. I have, on more than one occasion, written a song in a dream, only to be unable to remember any of it upon waking. Blog posts, too.

The other morning I woke up with “Summer Samba (So Nice)” by Walter Wanderley playing on the cranial radio. Don’t know it? Click here.

I suspect that “Summer Samba” is one of the earliest records I can remember hearing on the terrestrial radio when it was a hit. It first appears on a survey at ARSA in late August, and it peaked at Number 26 in Billboard during the week of October 15, 1966. The next week it fell to Number 39 and then off the Hot 100 entirely, although it continues to appear on radio surveys at ARSA for a couple of weeks after that. But I suspect that if “Summer Samba” couldn’t outperform the likes of “Cherish,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Yellow Submarine,” or “Eleanor Rigby” on the pop charts, it was far more popular on radio stations catering to adults, as our hometown radio station did.

“Summer Samba” was an offshoot of the popularity of the Brazilian bossa-nova style. Guitarist Charlie Byrd is the genre’s forgotten pioneer—it was Byrd who released the first bossa-nova album made by American musicians, Jazz Samba, in 1962. It contains the hit single “Desafinado,” a collaboration with saxophonist Stan Getz, and a song you will most likely recognize. Getz often receives credit for pioneering bossa-nova thanks to his 1964 album with Astrid Gilberto, Joao Gilberto, and Antonio-Carlos Jobim, Getz/Gilberto, featuring “The Girl From Ipanema,” but Byrd was there first.

The marketplace was flooded with bossa-nova records after that. Unlike a lot of bossa-nova wannabes, Walter Wanderley was the real thing—a Brazilian musician who studied music theory as a student and played the clubs of Sao Paolo starting in the late 50s. He recorded, arranged, and/or produced dozens of albums in Brazil for himself and others before jazz singer Tony Bennett heard him perform and brought him to the attention of an American label. “Summer Samba” was the very first thing he cut for the label in 1966, and it would be his only charting single. Wanderley continued to record and perform until his death in 1986 at age 54, although he was always a bigger deal in his home country than anywhere else.

The bossa-nova craze hung on longer than we remember now. Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 would score iconic, Latin-tinged hits as late as 1968 and would chart into 1970; Frank Sinatra released a collaboration with Jobim in 1969. And if it feels as though the stuff hasn’t aged well, we’re more to blame than the artists are. A close listen to Wanderley’s music (and there is a ton of it at YouTube) reveals him as a guy who could swing the Hammond organ with the romantic and playful touch the bossa-nova was famed for. Over the last 25 years or so, we’ve often associated his bright-n-bubbly sound with bachelor pads and tiki-bar kitsch, but that’s not the way Wanderley would have thought of himself. Neither is it way adult radio listeners heard him in the 60s, when “Summer Samba” was on the radio over and over and over again.