i’ve heard “You Don’t Have to Know The Language” done by several different performers, but i like Lena Horne’s version best.
The premise of the song – on the off chance that you’ve never heard it – is that a man travels to Brazil and falls in love with a local resident, even though he doesn’t speak Portuguese. Of the versions I’ve heard, most play it in this fashion. A nice and breezy, albeit improbable, love song.
But Lena is much smarter than to believe that this is the true meaning the songwriter was hoping to express, so she cuts to the chase. In her version she has a way of almost “growling” through certain verses, with a tone that reminds you what the song is really all about. So while you hear innocent phrases like “the girl in your arms”, you know from her tone that Ms. Horne is decidedly not thinking about mere snuggling.
If the real story line of the song is to be believed, it would seem odd that two people could meet and exchange “pleasantries” without ever being able to understand a word that either one is saying. Engaging in almost any task where the sole means of communication are facial expression and finger pointing must be difficult – never mind one wherein the fingers will be otherwise occupied and the facial expressions, well, a tad difficult to control at times.
As an idea, you’d be tempted to say that these types of unions don’t happen – but as a former member of the military who went overseas, i must report that it does occur quite more often than you’d think. Its surprising to see how humans can overcome almost any obstacle in the pursuit of sex. If nothing else, the lack of verbal communcation negates the need to exchange numbers, and it provides a great “out” should the “pleasantries” start showing signs of becoming less than pleasant.
i don’t know that much about Lena Horne – but the way she sings this song – i have a strong feeling that she too knows that these “improbable” hook-ups can and do happen. i have an even stronger feeling that this knowledge may very well have come to her first-hand, much like it did me.