To describe the popularity of Roberto Carlos in Brazil, let’s just say that in a customer-for-customer ranking, he would be the GOAT of the music industry, miles ahead the likes Beatles, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Johnny Hallyday, Julio Iglesias or Luis Miguel.
Breaking sales records with new recordings during 50 years, his unreal domination in his homeland was backed with the biggest ever overseas impact by a Portuguese language artist. Today, we review the discography of the one who shares the nickname O Rei (“The King“) in Brazil with football legend Pelé.
A few words about Roberto Carlos
Born April 19, 1941 in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, Roberto Carlos wasn’t destined to superstardom. The last of 4 sons in a middle-class family, he lost the lower part of his right leg when he was 6 after being hit by a locomotive. But this tragic event didn’t slow down his enthusiasm. At 9, he was already singing on local radio shows, while learning to play multiple instruments.
Starting as the iê-iê-iê flagship
A fan of Elvis Presley, he released his first LP in 1961, Louco por você. History tells it was a commercial disaster. In all fairness, it went Top 10. But the tiny market of the time and the fact the singer removed this record from the market very quickly mean its sales are irrelevant compared to his later works.
From 1962 and the LP Splish Splash, Roberto Carlos was already smashing. He started to release one album per year, with each one outdoing its immediate predecessor.
After the Beatles‘ impact on national airwaves, most notably with She Loves You, the iê-iê-iê musical genre was born, with Carlos being its flagship.
Along with fellow artist Erasmo Carlos, who would quickly become his writing partner, Roberto Carlos created the Jovem Guarda band. It wasn’t a proper group, but instead a tag name for everyone willing to embark into the iê-iê-iê movement.
By 1965, the hype was already big enough to bring the concept on TV. Aired every Sunday on TV Record, the show was presented by the Carlos pair completed by Wanderléa. They welcomed various artists and groups and effectively kicked their careers, while promoting their own material too.
While the genre wasn’t critically acclaimed the same way Bossa Nova was, the program’s popularity went through the roof. Soon, every young Brazilian was dressing and chatting the way Jovem Guarda presentors were.
Setting up the perfect sales receipe
Roberto Carlos‘ 5th album was titled Jovem Guarda too. It sold over 150,000 units in its first year. From that point, the singer had already no challenger anymore in Brazil.
The next album was his first self-titled (more on that below). It outsold its precessor in 2 months, and soon became the first album ever to reach the 200,000 units milestone in the country.
Follow up 1967 soundtrack Roberto Carlos em Ritmo de Aventura had moved over half a million by the end of the decade, the first album to do so.
One album a year
The artist got into a never-ending roll, matching or topping his own records year after year. 1968’s O Inimitável was another sales beast, so was his 2nd self-titled album from 1969.
This was only the start. From then on, every year at the start of December, a new Roberto Carlos album was going to come out. This continued all the way up to 1996, when he changed the title of his new release to Canciones Que Amo to highlight the Spanish-language of recordings.
In-between, Carlos, the son of a watchmaker, tweaked all the details of the unstoppable machinery that he was gearing up.
While he started as a pioneer of Brazilian rock, from the end of the 60s he leaned towards a more romantic sound. One could expect his fame to vanish along with the Jovem Guarda movement, instead, he got even bigger.
His albums refined their own traditions, from 1970 they started to include one religious song, then one environmental song, etc. All songs were apolitical, as the singer always claimed to be, too.
Singles were also held off until the release of the album. Yet, all of them got monster hits like Dethales, Amada Amante, A Montanha, and many more.
Promotion through Christmas TV shows
From 1974, one more element would send his albums to new heights if that was even possible. On December 24, 1974, the main national channel TV Globo aired a special show of the singer which got crazy ratings. It became another tradition. For more than 20 years, TV Globo’s prime time program on Christmas Eve was a Roberto Carlos special.
Every year, the singer would typically fly to the US from September to November to record his new album, drop the LP at the start of December, prepare meticulously his TV special until its airing during that month, and then embark into a tour and promotion duties in the first semester of the following year.
It goes on to show that success isn’t only about talent, but also professionalism and dedication. And on that matter, nobody does it better than Roberto Carlos.
After 18 months in the market, the 1975 effort topped the million mark. Here again, it was an all-time first on this market.
By 1980, his new releases were cracking the 2 million threshold. No need to say that nobody else was getting even close to these numbers.
Success abroads as well as in a changing home market
During this period, his success in Portugal, Spain and Latin America kept increasing, with an impressive range of hits. Inside the CBS roster, he was seen as one half of the “big 2”, the other being Julio Iglesias.
He also dented the Italian market after his win at San Remo 1968. His attempt at an English LP came in 1981. However, it failed to convert as well as his Portuguese and Spanish albums.
From 1986, after more than 20 years of undisputed domination, another TV Globo phenomenon managed to top his sales both in Brazil and in Latin America: Xuxa was here.
Soon, Sertanejo music, the Brazilian version of Country, claimed most of the top-selling artists. Roberto Carlos had been for long a leader among MPB (acronym of Popular Brazilian Music). He maintained his status of incredible selling force, while being awarded his first Grammy for the best Latin album in 1989.