Meet a girl from Ipanema: the songs that created tourist hotspots

A couple play with a football at Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro.
A couple play with a football at Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: AFP

When I was a child, I desperately wanted to go to Montego Bay.

I didn’t know anything about it – couldn’t have even told you what country it was in – but I loved the song and thought the place sounded awfully glamorous.

(This was certainly not based on the lyrics, which you may recall are largely oh, oh, oh, oh, oh and a bit more oh, oh, oh, but merely an image painted in my mind.)

Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. The Girl From Ipanema has been covered many times and the woman that inspired the song still lives in the city.
Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. The Girl From Ipanema has been covered many times and the woman that inspired the song still lives in the city. Photo: Bloomberg

I still haven’t been to Montego Bay but it remains on my list; with the benefit of a bit more research it looks like a place worth visiting, with the white beaches, turquoise waters and palm tree scenes that epitomise Jamaica. 

Plus, I still love the song.

Such is the emotional pull of cities and places, there are many songs written about travel destinations; loving them, leaving them and getting lost in them.

I wonder how many travellers have included a city, beach, country or attraction on their itinerary out of nothing more than music-induced curiosity?

I’m certain I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of seeking out America’s Route 66 if it hadn’t been so romanticised by the song (Get your kicks on) Route 66, which has been a hit almost every decade since the 1940s.

The road that once linked Los Angeles with Chicago has a rich history, including featuring in the John Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath and playing a key role in America’s efforts in World War II, but it is the song that really made it famous.

What’s left of the route is not that easy to find these days, but I managed to drive a stretch through Arizona and it was everything I hoped it would be: rocky red outcrops, quaint old petrol stations and movie-set towns complete with wild donkeys.

I also grew up wanting to go to Rio de Janeiro, thanks to Peter Allen making it sound like so much fun.

Rio is in fact a wonderful city, so it’s not surprising it has featured in many a set of lyrics.

Barry Manilow was taken by Copacabana (now there’s a song to get stuck in your head for days on end), while many artists have recorded the song The Girl from Ipanema.

I was curious to discover, when I visited Rio, the real Girl from Ipanema was still around, running a swimwear store.

The owners of the song took legal action over her use of the song title as her store name, but she won out and continued to trade on her fame.

New York would surely take the honour of having the most songs written about it, from Sinatra to U2.

If you include songs written about Harlem, Manhattan, Broadway and other New York locations, there are hundreds of songs about the place.

London has also been popular with lyricists, with The Clash’s London Calling joining countless other songs about the city.

Then there’s Las Vegas, from Elvis in 1964 to Katy Perry Waking Up in Vegas with a hangover and a marriage certificate.

Memphis and Nashville not surprisingly feature heavily in song lyrics, thanks to their music roots, while everyone knows to wearone ni flowers in their hair when they go to San Francisco.

Paris has had decades of free promotion from Ella Fitzgerald and others singing about Paris in April and every other season, while Freddie Mercury gave Barcelona a plug in his single with Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé and Billy Joel had hit songs about Vienna, New York, Saigon and numerous other places.

The Thai tourism authorities, on the other hand, may not have chosen some of the lyrics of One Night in Bangkok as a promotional piece.

While the song is ostensibly about chess of all things, it warns you “can’t be too careful with your company” in a city known for its shady sex tourism.

Then again, there’s apparently no such thing as bad publicity.

Has a song inspired you to travel to a particular destination? Leave a comment below.

jane.fraser@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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