“Wave,” Antonio Carlos Jobim //
One can’t help thinking of sapphire water under a blazing summer sun when hearing this breezy bossa-nova instrumental. The title tune, from the 1967 album of the same name, benefits from Claus Ogerman’s lush orchestrations. There’s a vocal version, but the original instrumental is nonpareil.
“Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este,” Alfred Brendel //
Translated as “The Fountains of the Villa d’Este,” it’s a shimmering work by Franz Liszt, from Years of Pilgrimage. With rippling arpeggios and rapid-fire trills, Liszt makes the piano mimic the shooting sprays of water at the fountains in Tivoli, Italy. Brendel’s glittering performance achieves a crystalline sonority, almost as if you’re feeling a fountain’s mist.
“Ebb Tide,” The Righteous Brothers //
Robert Maxwell and Carl Sigman’s moody standard, which is suggestive of the rise and fall of the ocean’s tide (First the tide rushes in/Plants a kiss on the shore/Then rolls out to sea) is in the repertoire of most cocktail pianists. But the Righteous Brothers gave it a fresh spin with the aid of producer Phil Spector. While respecting the song’s melodic course, tenor Bobby Hatfield is like a bird freed from its cage, embracing the tune’s operatic proportions as it builds and builds, shooting up to a climactic B natural.
“The Rain Song,” Led Zeppelin //
Vocalist Robert Plant’s usual primal wailing takes a holiday in one of the band’s few mellow tunes. Guitarist Jimmy Page’s delicate playing, drifting into bluesy digressions, is supported by the downy texture of orchestral strings. Supposedly, “The Rain Song” was inspired by George Harrison, who carped to Zeppelin drummer John Bonham that the group had no love ballads. Some have even noted that the song’s beginning is eerily similar to Harrison’s “Something.”
“Sur la Plage,” from the soundtrack to The Boy Friend //
This bouncy ditty (translation: “On the Beach”) opens the second act of Sandy Wilson’s 1954 musical The Boy Friend, a homage to the music of the 1920s and set on the French Riviera during that carefree decade of flappers, dance crazes, and economic prosperity. The musical features one infectious tune after another, including “A Room in Bloomsbury,” “Won’t You Charleston with Me,” and, of course, the title tune.
“By the Sea,” from the movie soundtrack to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street //
For such a macabre work, Todd has many moments of melodic charm. In this selection from the second act, Mrs. Lovett fantasizes about a blissful future with Todd spent by the English seaside, although he shows little enthusiasm for such a life. Helena Bonham Carter takes the lion’s share of the vocals in this 2007 soundtrack cut, but Johnny Depp (as Sweeney Todd) squeezes in a few lines.
“Walking in the Rain,” The Ronettes //
Phil Spector, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil joined forces in this 1964 number, and Spector’s titanic “Wall of Sound” is positively Wagnerian, punctuated by thunderclaps and the sound of falling rain. Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett’s (she’d later become Ronnie Spector) soaring lead vocals add to the theatrical flair of this tune, which, despite its huge scale, is a simple love song.