Here’s a candidate for the perfect love song: Bravo Charlie by the Danish group Kliché.
Released in 1982, Bravo Charlie is heartfelt nonsense, profoundly meaningful and totally meaningless.
The first couple of times I heard it, without paying much attention to the lyrics, I thought it was an ode to a woman called Julia.
Then the penny—or the øre, this being Denmark—dropped.
The lyrics are comprised only of words contained in the NATO phonetic alphabet—Alpha, Bravo, Charlie etc. Also known as the NATO spelling alphabet, it’s used by armies, aviators and many others.
The song’s one indulgence is the chorus line, which is made up of two words: “Oh, Julia.” Julia—the presumed object of the singer’s affections—substitutes for the NATO alphabet’s Juliet.
Lyricists might find this limiting. No verbs, for one thing, except the noun/verbs echo, golf, tango and x-ray. But there are also words evoking love (Romeo, Juliet), dancing (tango, foxtrot), and travel (India, Lima, Zulu, hotel). Then there’s Papa, a complication in many narratives of young lovers. And whiskey. We all know where that leads.
Kliché use some but not all of these words. They seem more interested in the sounds of the words, strung together between choruses of plaintive cries of “Julia”.
In its own way, Bravo Charlie makes more sense than most love songs. That’s the brilliance of Kliché’s conceit. Plus, there’s a pleasing undulance to phrases like Echo x-ray papa kilo lima and Mike yankee tango India.
(All the other songs on Kliché’s album Okay Okay Boys are in Danish. Thirty years after it first came out, I still often listen to it, along with the group’s first album, Supertanker—also a post-punk classic.)
Other items in this podcast:
- Writer Lisa Appignanesi on how the English word love covers a absurdly broad range of meanings. Other languages use more than one word for love’s many shades of meaning. Not English.
- Reporter and US Peace Corps veteran Nina Porzucki on the mixed messages that can result when love strikes in the Peace Corps.
- Attempts to expand modern opera beyond the usual emotions: love at first sight, irrational hatred and life after death.
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