Astrud Gilberto performs "The Girl From Ipanema" with saxophonist Stan Getz. She had never sung professionally before recording the song.
Amy Winehouse. Ella Fitzgerald. Sammy Davis Jr. The Yale Whiffenpoofs. Mike Tyson.
All of these artists — and non-artists — are members of a big club. They're among many who've crooned the second-most recorded pop song ever, according to a count by Performing Songwriter magazine.
That song is "The Girl From Ipanema." (The first is The Beatles' "Yesterday.")
"It is a seductive song," Thomas Vinciguerra, who wrote about the tune for The Wall Street Journal, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "The sentiment is universal: unattainable beauty."
hide captionHelo Pinheiro, who inspired the song "The Girl From Ipanema," dances during a fashion show in Rio de Janeiro in 1999.
Helo Pinheiro, who inspired the song "The Girl From Ipanema," dances during a fashion show in Rio de Janeiro in 1999.
The song was born five decades ago in Brazil, Vinciguerra says, when Antonio Carlos Jobim and poet Vinicius de Moraes were stalled on a number for a musical called Blimp.
"They needed some sort of inspiration, so they went down to a bar in the Ipanema district of Rio," Vinciguerra says. "And according to myth, a lovely young woman passed by and inspired them to write a whole new song on cocktail napkins."
That woman is a real person: Helo Pinheiro, who is now 66.
Pinheiro didn't sing the tune, of course. That task fell to Astrud Gilberto, whose Portuguese husband, Joao Gilberto, also sings on the famous track, accompanied by Stan Getz on saxophone. She had never sung professionally before.
"It's her very lack of professionalism that makes the song so appealing," Vinciguerra says. "It sounds exotic — out of reach, like the girl herself."
To hear Vinciguerra's full conversation with Raz, as well as a diverse selection of "Ipanema" performances, click the audio link on this page.