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Roberto Carlos portrait

Although he ultimately became Brazil's answer to Julio Iglesias -- a super-cheesy pop ballad singer -- Roberto Carlos was first famous as a rock'n'roll firebrand. Carlos hosted the popular '60s TV show, Jovem Guarda -- Brazil's version of American Bandstand -- where the would-be rockstars of the Portuguese-speaking world flocked in hopes of future fame. Along with his co-host, Erasmo Carlos, Roberto co-wrote many songs that became standards in the MPB canon. Eventually, he shifted into a more sedate pop style, and lost what rocker edge he once had.... Yet as a pioneer in the early Brazilian rock scene, Roberto Carlos' contributions are not to be underestimated. Here's a quick look at his work...


Roberto Carlos "Louco Por Voce" (CBS, 1961)
(Arrangements by Astor Silva)

His debut album is pretty cute, with Roberto only barely grazing the world of teen-rock, being cast here as more of a Frankie Avalon pop singer or bolero crooner. Still, it's fun stuff if you're a fan of his later work, and has some charmingly kitschy arrangements. Many of the main players in the jovem guarda scene are working on this album: Carlos Imperial and Julio Nagib write Brazilian-ized adaptations of several North American pop tunes, including a mildly uptempo version of "Mr. Sandman" and one of "Cry Me A River." The orchestral backup from Astor Silva's band is a little square but, hey, whatever: it's RC at the start of his career, and a real treat for fans. Definitely worth a spin!

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos - Splish Splash" (CBS, 1963)

Roberto Carlos "E Proibido Fumar" (Columbia/CBS, 1964)
The stuff that legends are made of... sort of. Light teen-pop with a strong '50s bent, but pretty rad for the time. Includes surfy/Shadows-y guitars and a great Philly-sounding saxophone. The title track ("No Smoking") is bouncy and exuberant, and has the same sort of inconsequential rebelliousness to it as Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues". The big hit here was Erasmo Carlos' adaptation of the John D. Loudermilk chestnut, "Road Hog," which has been a staple of Brazil's pre-tropicalia rock nostalgia ever since. Charming, and fun.

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos Canta Para A Juventude" (CBS, 1964)
Released the same year as the Jovem Guarda program first aired, this album perfectly reflects pre-Beatles American and British teenpop, with material that nods back at the old generation (a version of "Old Man Mose") to novelty tunes in the "Alley Oop" and "Tequila" frat rock range. A little sleepy, as many JG albums were, but not bad.

Roberto Carlos "Jovem Guarda" (Columbia/CBS, 1965)
A swell set of early stuff from his days as host of the Jovem Guarda television show. As a roqueiro, Carlos was pretty cool -- the straight rock numbers aren't bad, and are often rather cute (as with his cover of Del Shannon's "Wanderer"). Some sappy ballads, but nothing anywhere near as bad as his later Julio Iglesias-style pop crooning. It would have been great if they could have also included some of his later soft-psychedelic material, like "Sua Estupidez" and the like... But as it is, this is an interesting, if un-earthshaking disc. If you wanted to look into his early career, this is definitely the place to start.

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos (Eu Te Darei O Ceu)" (CBS, 1966)
Includes the song "Eu Te Darei O Ceu."

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos Em Ritmo De Aventura" (CBS, 1967)
A sort-of soundtrack to a goofy teen film by the same name, this is actually one of Roberto's most swingin' albums. The opening track, "Eu Sou Terrivel," has a fun R&B beat, propelled by a punchy horn section and strong, catchy rhythm. Apparently at the time, jazz trumpeter Raul Da Souza was in the RC-7, adding his punchy melodic senisbility to the mix. Compared to other jovem guarda discs, this one has a really high hit ratio, including another funky, upbeat number, "E Tempo De Amar," written by Renato Barros of Renato e Seus Blue Caps. If you can track it down, this is a Roberto Carlos album to own; the film (which is reviewed below) is pretty fun, too.

Roberto Carlos "San Remo 1968" (CBS, 1968)

Roberto Carlos "O Inimitavel" (Columbia, 1968)
Tons of heartfelt power ballads on here... Roberto is slowing things down a bit and sounding less teenybopped-out and more soulful and bluesy, with more horn-based, bluesy arrangements... And you know what? It doesn't sound half bad! Some interesting orchestration, including plenty of Byrds-y electric guitars, and soul-drenched meanderings... Worth checking out!

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos (As Flores)" (Columbia, 1969)
Roberto looks so cool with those love beads hanging out from his black velour jacket, that I figured this just had to be one of his better, earlier albums. Sure enough, his "rocker" side is represented here, in several soft rock numbers which bring to mind, perhaps, Gilbert O'Sullivan, or Bobby Hebb, backed by a sedate Brazilian version of Tower of Power. Pretty lightweight by North American standards, although this does include several of Carlos' most famous tunes, including "Oh! Meu Imenso Amor" and "Sua Estupidez" (a longtime favorite of Gal Costa's). Also includes an early Tim Maia song which is mildly "funky". On the other hand, the straight-up weepy ballads bite -- and bite hard -- but least at this point Carlos is still singing in Portuguese.

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos" (Columbia, 1970)

Roberto Carlos "Roberto Carlos Canta En Espanol - Un Gato En La Oscuridad" (CBS, 1980)
A collection of his early stabs at the spanish-speaking market, recorded in the late 1960s. A few rockers, with the same general feel as his similar material sung in Portuguese. And plenty of clunky, lethargic romantic ballads -- not as cheesy as his stuff in the '70s and '80s, but getting there.

Roberto Carlos & Caetano Veloso "...E A Musica De Tom Jobim" (Sony-BMG, 2008)

Related Records

Renato De Oliveira "Eu Te Darei O Ceu - E Outros Sucessos De Roberto Carlos" (CBS, 1967)
An all-instrumental album with the occasional swelling backup chorus; Oliveira and his "Orquestra Brasileira de Espectaculos" cover a repertoire mainly consisting of Carlos/Carlos compositions... all recorded during Carlos' heyday as a gen-u-ine rocknroller! EZ listening fans would love this, with its brittle, Steps-like guitar, torpid string arrangements and roller-rink organ work... it's deliciously cheesy!

Maria Bethania "As Cancoes Que Voce Fez Pra Mim" (Philips, 1994)
A Roberto Carlos tribute album, sung in Portuguese with dreadfully cheesy synths-and-strings. As usual, Bethania's voice is nice, but the arrangements leave a lot to be desired.

Maria Bethania "Los Canciones Que Tu Hisiste Para Mi" (Philips, 1994)
The same cheesy Roberto Carlos tribute, but sung in Spanish. Still not my cup of tea, though close in style to Carlos' own schlocky later work.

Teresa Cristina "Teresa Cristina + Os Outros = Roberto Carlos" (Microservice, 2012)
An homage by Grupo Os Outros and samba diva Teresa Cristina...

Nara Leao "Debaixo Dos Caracois Dos Seus Cabelos" (Philips, 1978)
A stellar tribute to the songwriting of Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos, with poppy torchsong arrangements by Roberto Menescal that are very similar to Maria Bethania's classic "Alibi" album of the same year. In my opinion, however, Leao could clean up the floor with Bethania -- her voice is so much more gorgeous and compelling. HIGHLY recommended.

Caetano Veloso "Caetano Veloso" (Philips, 1968)
The first solo album by this fabulous pioneer of Brazilian psychedelia. Great songs, including the often-covered and often-anthologized "Superbacana" and the ridiculously poppy spanish-language roller-rink lovefest, "Soy Loco Por Ti, America". Backed up by the crazed rock band, Os Mutantes, as well as by Roberto Carlos' RC-7, Veloso sends off a powerful opening salvo for the tropicalia movement. (Veloso, by the way, has nothing but praise for Roberto Carlos. Writing in his autobiography, Tropical Truth, Veloso says that when the artistically rigid bossa nova community shunned the experimental efforts of the tropicalistas, Carlos welcomed them with open arms, and invited them to play on his television shows. This disc shows how he put his band where his heart was, and helped Caetano to articulate his vision of a new, indigenous Brazilian rock music.) Highly recommended!

Roberto Carlos On Film

"Roberto Carlos Em Ritmo De Aventura" (1967)
This frivolous, goofy teenybopper film is a little bit dull, but fun to watch anyway, if nothing else, for the fab '60s clothing, the Pop Art design, swinging bachelor pad decor, and also, of course, for a glimpse at Roberto Carlos during the height of his Jovem Guarda fame. The plot is pretty thin, a palpable pastiche of Hard Day's Night, Help! and the Monkees' similarly goofy TV show, with a bit of surrealist absurdism ala Luigi Pirandello thrown in for good measure. Roberto is repeatedly kidnapped, shot at and chased across Brazil's urban landscape; he even gets flown to New York, and returns via a NASA space launch... But the winsome pop idol takes it all in his stride, smiling and walking through each scenario with a good-natured grin. The music is great, if a bit repetitive... The opening track, "Eu Sou Terrivel," has a fun R&B beat, propelled by a punchy horn section and strong, catchy rhythm. (Apparently at the time, jazz trumpeter Raul Da Souza was in the RC-7, adding his punchy melodic senisbility to the mix.) Compared to other jovem guarda discs, this one has a really high hit ratio, including another funky, upbeat number, "E Tempo De Amar," written by Renato Barros of Renato e Seus Blue Caps. Best of all, though, are the shots of mid-1960s Rio and Sao Paulo, and of the screaming teenage audiences, as well as Roberto's inner cadre of go-go dancer-ish fans, a priceless glimpse at the pre-tropicalia rock scene. I'm sure there must also be video reels of old Jovem Guarda shows, but this fluffy escapist flick has got to be pretty similar in tone and style. The only weird note is how Establishment the film is, with the gratuitous inclusion of various arms of the Brazilian military (notably, the Army and Air Force...) in numerous "action" sequences. I'm sure that the sight of Roberto Carlos exclaiming, "that's groovy!" as he watches paratroopers floating to earth did little to endear him to the left-leaning militants of the anti-rock'n'roll bossa nova scene, who were at that time grappling with the fierce censorship of the newly-installed military regime. Still... that was then, this is now, and really, this is just a gloriously dumb pop culture toss-off... Hardly something to be taken too seriously, one way or the other. Roberto sure was cute, though!

"Roberto Carlos E O Diamante Cor Da Rosa" (1970)
Fast-fading jovem guarda idols Roberto Carlos, Wanderlea and the Erasmo Carlos star in this paper-thin action comedy, wherein a hunt for long-lost Phonecian treasures lead our heros across the globe, and then back home to Brazil. Musically, this is disapointing -- the film starts with a sizzling soul number (an early Tim Maia song), but that is the only staged "live" performance in the film, the other numbers are either brought in as incidental music or in cheesy playback lip-synchs that have nothing to do with the plotline. Some kooky early '70s fashion (lots of big gold chains, leather vests, skintight jerseys and flared bell-bottoms) but less of a glimpse of the world itself. The film pingpongs from Tokyo to Jerusalem and then back to Rio, but most of the camera time is spent on our heroes, and they are stuck, frankly, a rather dull script... If you wanted to be charitable, you could see this as an absurdist romp, much like the Hong Kong films we know and love... or, alternately, you could just skip it. Other than the song at the start, there's little to recommend this film.

Roberto Carlos & Caetano Veloso "...E A Musica De Tom Jobim" (Sony-Brazil, 2008) (DVD)


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