AGUA DE BEBER is a song from the very earliest days of bossa nova, written by the two men who defined the genre, with music by pianist and composer Tom Jobim and lyrics by musician playwright poet diplomat Vinícius de Moraes.
The story goes that the duo were invited to the then under-construction capital of Brasilia by the president to get some inspiration for the music they were composing for the city’s opening ceremony.
While they were on site, the pair kept hearing the sound of running water in the building they were staying in. A security guard told them that it was an unfinished potable water pipeline. Aqua de Beber was the result.
Their tune for the opening ceremony didn’t make the cut.
The song was first released as a single by de Moraes in 1961 and has become something of a standard, with anyone and everyone with any leanings towards bossa nova having a crack at it since then. If you buy a lot of bossa nova albums, you’ll end up with lots of versions of Agua de Beber. I’ve got about a dozen, all told.
Astrud Gilberto’s version of Agua de Beber, on The Essential Astrud Gilberto (Verve Records) is languid and lovely and lissome, revealing the delicate jazzy swing at the heart of bossa nova. The Girl from Bahia sings the original Portuguese lyric with her customary cool nonchalance, and everything about it is fantastic.
Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66’s take on Agua de Beber, from their Herb Alpert-produced eponymous debut (A&M Records) is, in the words of one particularly astute YouTube commenter “fancy as fuck”.
Some particularly nimble piano from Mendes and a wonderfully louche trumpet complement a sweetly soulful vocal from Lani Hall, singing Norman Gimbel’s English translation. It is minor key perfection. Great sleeve too.
The version of Agua de Beber on the Sinatra & Company album (Reprise Records), finds Sinatra, predictably enough, delivering Agua de Beber like a boss. It gives me chills. Seriously.
This is a masterclass in tone, timing and phrasing. Sinatra respects the song (despite singing it in English and retitling it ‘Drinking Water’- remember who we’re talking about here) but he absolutely makes it his own. He’s accompanied by Tom Jobim, while Eumir Deodato’s arrangement adds some restrained brassy oomph to the mix.
This is a killer tune from a killer album. The album also features arrangements by Don Costa and represents, according to the sleeve notes, “the best popular male singer since the discovery of syncopation” and who am I to argue?
Despite definitively nailing it first time around, Astrud Gilberto decided to have another go at Agua de Beber when she teamed up with James Last in 1986 for the Plus album (Polydor). She should probably have left it alone.
It is very much like the time Missy collaborated with Basement Jaxx. It should have worked – both artists are (or were, in the case of the Jaxx) utterly fantastic in their own right, they’re doing a stone cold global classic, plus it’s 1986 – but it doesn’t work. Somehow, this misfiring version of Agua de Beber ends up being significantly less than the sum of its parts. It’s all a bit mid-eighties chicken-in-a-basket cabaret for me.
Having said all that, the Plus album as a whole is pretty cool – and allegedly one of George Michael’s favourite records. The man has taste.
Happily, the collaboration between bossa nova pioneer Roberto Menescal, and his son Márcio’s band, Bossacucanova on 2001’s Brasilidade album (Zirguiboom/Crammed Discs) is more successful. Their take on Agua de Beber features the band’s trademark ‘bossa meets beats meets electronica’ sound alongside some shit-kicking guitar work from Menescal Senior.
All of this stuff, with the exception of the last one, came from charity shops for a couple of quid each – and I still see copies of all of them from time to time, even the Sinatra album. I’m also pretty sure Zirguiboom/Crammed Discs would be happy to sell you a copy of Brasilidade for cheap. Just mention my name. And you can have this one for free.
My point is, all this stuff is out there. Get involved.