My first teaching job was during the summer holidays when I was at university (see Biodata). I taught a group of eight German sixteen year olds who were all at an intermediate level, and who were perplexed by the issued copies of Present Day English For The Foreign Student Level 2 which were way below their standard. The only other materials supplied by the school were a few dog-eared sets of lists of animals. I was desperate for materials and quickly found out that they would rather be taught from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, or Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. It seemed to work. They all started bringing friends along, and I ended up with a class of fifteen. As you were paid per student (£1 per student per week), this nearly doubled my income. Yes, one of the songs used in the last year I did it was indeed Simon and Garfunkel’s Keep The Customer Satisfied.
When I started teaching English as a Foreign Language as a full time job, I found that songs were still seen as a major source of authentic English input by many students. This seemed quite natural. After all, everyone in the world listens to English-language pop and rock songs. In those far off days of 1971 the language laboratory used to resound to eighteen or twenty voices working their way relentlessly and tunelessly through El Condor Pasa (If I Could) and Nowhere Man. I suppose listening to music through headphones was still a novelty. We only used authentic materials, and I soon worked up Paul Simon’s America into a party piece, complete with vocabulary exercises, follow-up written work and even structural exercises. Paul Simon’s complete works were on tape in the Language Laboratory, because he has extremely precise, clear diction.
The popular authentic songs divided into two groups. There were songs which could be seen as a literary text, i.e. they had good lyrics, such as America, and Blowing in the Wind . Some songs will discuss social issues – at least two textbooks use Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise to initiate discussion on homelessness. Other songs have a storyline, such as Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner, and can act as a different kind of text. Songs have often been used as short pleasant closing phases to lessons, but there’s no reason why they cannot be seen as the central contexts in a lesson.
There were also songs which had some kind of extractable teaching point, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa (would, could), The Beatles’ Nowhere Man (indefinite pronouns), Andy Williams’ Can’t Get Used To Losing You (used to doing) and Elvis Presley’s Return to Sender (simple past – including gave, put, brought, wrote. ) The last is a text on irregular past tenses, that would seem to have crammed in too many examples of the structure if someone had written it especially for a text book. It’s been used several times. We used it in In English. You notice that I don’t quote the actual lyrics. Permission for doing so is (a) hard to get and (b) often expensive.
The material used was primarily pop/rock of the singer / songwriter type, although some teachers – especially those who could play the guitar or the piano – tended to prefer traditional folk songs. One teacher I knew at that time even specialised in Gilbert and Sullivan (that was Gilbert AND Sullivan’s light opera, not Gilbert O’Sullivan) with his advanced classes. Listening to them struggling with The Patter Song was deeply troubling.
The only specially written material available was an EP (for those who remember what an EP or ‘Extended Player’ was) which accompanied the language laboratory course English Fast. I don’t remember any of the songs, but I still recall the excruciatingly out-of-tune guitar solos. Specially written ELT songs could easily be summed up as sounding like Peter, Paul and Mary on a bad day.
The first successful set of ELT songs was Ken Wilson’s Mr Monday (and other songs for the teaching of English) (Longman, 1971). Mr Monday and the subsequent Goodbye Rainbow (Longman, 1974) were both full of catchy songs with a teaching point that shone through loud and clear. Students loved them. Ken Wilson could be seen performing the songs live with The English Teaching Theatre. ELT songs had firmly established themselves as part of the language teachers’ repertoire. He added Same Time Same Place (Longman 1979).
Our boss at Anglo-Continental came back from Mexico with a copy of Jeremy Harmer’s English Tea LP (Macmillan, 1975), with another set of teaching songs on it. By then we were using structured songs heavily and had a session on Fridays in the lecture theatre devoted entirely to structured songs.
Next up were Roy Kingsbury and Patrick O’Shea’s songs, which appeared on Sunday Afternoons (Longman, 1973) and Seasons and People (OUP, 1978). Both collections have long since been deleted by their publishers, but I loved the Elvis spoof If I Were You on the former and the very catchy Where Were You Yesterday? on the latter and can still hum both and recall most of the words. They are worth looking out from your school’s dustier store cupboards if the tape hasn’t printed through. The vinyl version will have survived better. At that time we were doing our own weekly ‘sketches and music’ shows for students at Anglo-Continental in Bournemouth. The shows had been a feature of the school in 1971 when I started teaching there. Roy Kingsbury and Patrick O’Shea joined us a few years later, with Roy joining the trio (or quartet, quintet or sextet, depending on which local musicians were free on Wednesday evening) that backed the shows. Roy played piano, and I think you get a different style when you compose on piano rather than guitar. Interestingly the high point of the musical side of the evening tended to be Patrick O’Shea and Guy Wellman singing Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer. The Simon and Garfunkel factor in ELT songs had not gone away! They didn’t do the ELT songs in the show, opting for Streets of London, Leaving on A Jetplane and Rave On instead. Alan Tankard sang with Guy and Pat on most songs, and also did a solo version of the mildly risque old song Oh, Sir Jasper which was hugely popular. Roy and Pat spoke on Seasons and People when Bernie Hartley and I were doing our first Streamline talks in a joint OUP presentation.
Towards the end of the 1970s songs were beginning to be incorporated in secondary and adult courses. They had always featured in primary materials. Strategies (Longman) had an accompanying set, Skyhigh in 1975, and Starting Strategies added Cloudsongs in 1977. The most ambitious project was Guy Wellman and Tony Lloyd’s Street Life (Evans 1980) which was a course where songs formed the initial context for each unit. Tony played guitar and bass in our shows.
At the end of the 70s / beginning of the 80s, there seemed to be a move back towards using real songs. We were still finding good ones. Escape (The Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes was popular because it had a storyline. Long Black Veil (recorded variously by Lefty Frizell, The Band and Johnny Cash) was another with a strong story. El Paso by Marty Robbins is yet another. Country and Western stories work, even if when you play them backwards, your wife comes back to you, your old car starts and your beloved dog returns from the dead.
English Visa (OUP) somehow managed to obtain permission to incorporate early Beatles songs in the first level, and the Cambridge English Course (CUP) used both specially-written and authentic songs, (with several Woody Guthrie). The choice of Woody Guthrie was apposite as Guthrie believed in writing songs with melodies that everyone could sing.
My first attempt to incorporate authentic songs into my own materials came with Streamline English Directions. I had wanted to use two songs in a unit about prejudices, and spent months trying to get permission to use Randy Newman’s Short People and Paul McCartney’s Ebony and Ivory. We never managed to get any kind of reply from Randy Newman, his record company or his music publishers. Strenuous efforts with Paul McCartney (we were trying to by-pass the blanket refusals from his staff) resulted in a reply by telex which simply said ‘No. No. No. McCartney.’ I was shown it. If only I’d had the sense to keep it.
I wrote the prejudice unit without any songs. I had also wanted to use Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues in a unit on the kind of language used in rock songs (e.g. gonna, gotta, wanna, ain’t). Time went on and we got nearer and nearer to publication without a reply to our permission request. When the reply arrived it was simply an exorbitant demand for huge sums of money and a large percentage of the cassette royalty (for two minutes out of the two hours). I had resigned myself to scrapping the unit – you can’t talk about the language of rock songs without having a song, and we couldn’t afford the sum they wanted – when my editor said ‘Why don’t you just write a song with all the examples in it?’ I got in touch with Guy Wellman; he put my lyrics to music, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Dead finally appeared in Directions. I notice that Summertime Blues has appeared in other ELT courses since, so obviously the owners have become more realistic about what they can ask for.
When Karen and I started work on Grapevine we wanted to have songs throughout the course. We wanted to avoid the ‘Peter, Paul and Mary on a bad day’ syndrome, and we wanted to maintain a little humour by largely making all the songs into pastiches of various styles. It was fun, and we were delighted with the music, performances and arrangements which have been put to the lyrics by Vince Cross, who as well as singing on several of the songs, produced and played all keyboards. Like all of the Grapevine audio recordings, the songs were recorded in stereo, unusual for teaching songs then. Thirteen of the fourteen songs were specially written, and Grapevine 3 also included Julie Gold’s From A Distance, a song which has been recorded by Nanci Griffith, The Byrds, Cliff Richard and Bette Midler. We bought and listened carefully to five different versions of the song. None of us liked the Cliff Richard version, but we did adopt his slight change to the lyrics. He changed It’s the song of every man to It’s the song of everyone, and we preferred the ‘inclusive language’ version. Our fondest hope was that students would go home singing the songs – whether they liked them or loathed them.
Most of the Grapevine songs were adapted for use in the American English course Main Street. Sometimes there were no changes at all. More oftens we had to put on a new vocal track to cope with slight changes of vocabulary or structure. Many of the songs were already sung in ‘Mid-Atlantic.’ The one song we did change altogether was Mickey Can’t Dance – which had been used as an introductory context in Grapevine One. It seemed that not being able to do something is “discouraging” so not politically correct. In Main Street Two (which is equivalent to the second half of Grapevine One ) we replaced it with a new song, You Can Do It.
I’ll finish with some general advice on using songs in the classroom.
• It doesn’t matter whether you can sing or not. Neither of us can sing a note, but we play the CD player very well. Don’t let your own lack of singing ability inhibit you. The students will be doing the singing.
• If singing is really, really a no-no, try Carolyn Graham’s Jazz Chants (OUP). These employ stress, rhythm and intonation combined with memorability. Carolyn Graham’s work almost created the category single-handely way back in the late 70s, though it might be cooler to call it rap nowadays! I was a great fan of Jazz Chants. They were a brilliant short filler in other lessons, and they were so memorable that I could do them off the cuff even without the book :
Do you know Mary?
Well, of course I do …
And that’s from memory twenty odd years since I last used it. Classes loved taking the two parts, and even if you couldn’t hold a note, you could participate without embarrassment. Concern over a poor singing voice is a major stress area for some people. I often thought that Christian churches were not designed for the tone-deaf, and it was unlikely that anyone with a really poor singing voice would ever become devoutly and highly religious. Most religious services would be a huge source of embarrassment, leading to lack of enjoyment, lack of interest. Conversely someone with the voice of an angel would bask in the sound of the service. Whatever, chants get round the classroom problem. I started writing a few very short ones for kids when we did A Grand Day Out video practice book, as we were aiming for younger students. I included a couple of longer adult chants on the Photocopiables for In English. I wouldn’t have had the courage to put them in the main Student Book as some teachers would not touch them, but they make an ideal photocopiable for those who are interested. I recommend Carolyn Graham’s work to anyone wanting to explore chants further.
• There are many reasons for using songs in the classroom. They provide excellent practice in stress, rhythm, intonation, catenation and practice in simply keeping up the pace with natural speed English. They can be used to reinforce structures. They can be regarded as short poetic texts. They can be regarded as part of the variety that students need. Most of all they’re fun.
• You can approach songs in different ways. It’s common nowadays for text books to set up a dull initial listening exercise by dropping out words:
Roses are ___, my love
Violets are ____
Sugar is ____, my love
And so are you.
or by giving alternatives:
I love to see the (moon / loon)
when it shines in (the lagoon / June)
… well, that sort of thing. I’ve used this too, but I sometimes feel it’s a barrier to the true purpose of a song. That is a song should be a fun way to practise stress, rhythm and intonation, which hopefully you’ll go out of the classroom singing. I don’t feel a song always needs the justification of an added exercise, though a pre-listening exercise has its own virtues.
The over-riding factor in choosing songs recently has been ‘Does it have the singalong factor?’ ‘Will students go out singing it?’ There are classic songs which have this. They tend to be the hackneyed, over-used ones, but they are new to that class on that day, and if they already know the tune it helps.
• Don’t use material just because you like it. I often made this mistake in my early years of using songs. I love The Band’s records and Robbie Robertson’s lyrics. I tried to communicate my enthusiasm to advanced classes with negative results. Use a song because it’s got a wonderful melody or lyrics which will give you something to teach. This need not be structure. You can regard a song as a short authentic text, and exploit the lyrics in any of the many ways that you might adopt with other texts. A very good reason for using a song is that it’s in the top 10 this week, it’s sung in English and everyone in the class is humming it.
• This is a piece of advice for would-be textbook authors wishing to use authentic songs. Try, try and try again for permissions – but expect disappointment. Music publishers and record companies will nearly always refuse permission to use the original version. If they do give permission, this may allow you to re-record the song but not to use the original recording. If you can get permission to use songs by Paul Simon, Bob Dylan or any of the solo Beatles, you’ve succeeded where we have failed many times. You will hav to get separate permission to print the lyrics.
I’ve often been asked about authentic songs and why and how text books choose them. The process is more a list of “can’t” than “can.” For example, you do not need permission to make a new cover version of any song, but the publisher will have to pay a fixed mechanical royalty to the composer on every copy of the audio. You DO need specific permission to print the lyrics in a text book, and this is the most important limiting factor. Bob Dylan, to my knowledge, has given permission only once. Jeremy Harmer used If You See Her Say Hello. It’s generally held to be a waste of time asking for Dylan lyrics for textbooks.
AUTHENTIC SONGS in our books
We always re-record them for copyright reasons. If your school has a licence, you probably prefer to play the original, which is why we have notes in the Teacher’s Book on which version’s lyrics we used. The convenience of having it on the class CD is such that our versions will be used most of the time. The In English songs were all produced by Vince Cross, who also played keyboards and sang, bringing in specialist singers and musicians for roles. He used a Beatles tribute band for Hello Goodbye and an Elvis impersonator for Return To Sender.
In the In English series songs were never added gratuitously at the end of units, but always had teacher’s notes showing how they could be an integral part of the unit. We wanted five or six per level, but budget restricted us to three (with four for pre-intermediate as Have You Heard The News? was re-used from Grapevine.)
IN ENGLISH STARTER
Hello Goodbye (Lennon-McCartney, originally by The Beatles) Unit 4, greetings
Baby Please Don’t Go (Big Joe Williams) Unit 13, imperatives
5 x instrumental versions of Scarborough Fair, Unit 24 for discussing likes and dislikes
For copyright reasons we did not use the middle section Canticle which was added by Paul Simon to this traditional folk song. The song was copyrighted by OUP in the 1930s (without the addition) and so we use the OUP version. We’ve used it twice for buskers in videos for the same reason. It belongs to OUP!
IN ENGLISH ELEMENTARY
Walking to New Orleans (Fats Domino) Unit 13, present continuous
Return to Sender (Blackwell-Scott, originally recorded by Elvis Presley) Unit 20, past simple
Leaving On A Jet Plane (John Denver, hit version by Peter, Paul & Mary) Unit 26, will, won’t
This is also used in Headway, but they used the John Denver version lyrics.
IN ENGLISH PRE-INTERMEDIATE
I Want To Stay Here (Carole King & Gerry Goffin, recorded by Steve & Eydie) Unit 7, want to do
This is a great Goffin & King melodic song, which was a major hit in the 60s, but is very hard to find in the original, Vince had to learn it from a vinyl record as it wasn’t on CD.
Stay (Maurice Williams) Unit 13, will & won’t
This was a hit several times for Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, then for The Hollies, then The Four Seasons then Jackson Browne. We used elements of all four versions, and we felt that Vince did a superb job. We used this as play-out music for every IN English talk we did.
Have You Heard The News? (NON-AUTHENTIC) Unit 22, present perfct
Written for Grapevine Two (see below) and re-used due to its popularity
Tower of Strength (Burt Bacharach & Bob Hilliard) Unit 26, Type Two Conditional
This was one of three songs competing for this place. We played them to groups of students and they chose this song overwhelmingly. It’s a very over-the-top power ballad and they found it (a) hilarious (b) very catchy.
STRUCTURED SONGS (mainly by Vince Cross & Peter Viney)
Hello, unit 1
Numbers, Greetings, To Be. A novelty song sung by two Martians who are greeting a petrol pump (!)
Tall Thin Annie Unit 13
Adjectives, To Be – present tense.
A send-up of the early days of rock ‘n’ roll when there were songs about Long Tall Sally, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Short Fat Fannie, Bony Moronie and a host of others with similar names.
Mickey Can’t Dance Unit 21
This goes with a story in the course about a rock group composed of disabled musicians. It’s supposed to be their hit record. The style is AOR – ‘album orientated rock’.
Let’s Go To A Movie Unit 39
will, won’t, shall, let’s.
Cheerful and bouncy – the style influence was Eurovision Song Contest.
Nothing to do Unit 2
This is the first of the mock-rap songs. Rap is great for those who are embarrassed by their own singing voices.
Hot Air Unit 9
The past continuous, indefinite pronouns.
A dreamy relaxed song. We tried hard not make the structure too obvious here.
Have you heard the news? Unit 17
The present perfect.
The style is folk-rock with prominent electric guitars – Peter, Paul and Mary on a good day, if you like. So far this has proved the most popular song of all, and by such a margin that we re-recorded it and used it again in IN English Elementary.
Rules & Regulations Unit 25
must, mustn’t, have to, can’t etc.
A rap song with a melodic chorus.
I used to be a star Unit 37
used to do.
This is a deliberate pastiche of a certain singer/ songwriter style. It is a very definite Elton John pastiche.
Telling each other lies Unit 2
Reflexive & emphatic pronouns.
Vince had a tremendously difficult task here. We had asked for a melody which might be sung as a duet between an imaginary ageing soul singer and a younger female singer. We told him that we wanted the kind of record that would be a number one hit in the USA, but be awful. A romantic dramatic ballad.
Give me Time Unit 12
Rules, warnings let / make someone do.
Rap with a melodic chorus again.
From a distance Unit 18 (AUTHENTIC)
Simple form verbs, quantity.
By Julie Gold. It has a lovely, slightly folky melody.
Ballad of the Outlaws Unit 29
Past tense; would / used to.
We wanted an outlaw song, and listened to a large number of authentic ones. The lyrics always proved too difficult, and we wanted several well-known outlaws to be mentioned. It has a country and western feel.
Sometimes I wish Unit 38
Wishes & regrets.
The style can best be described as ‘like Rod Stewart’ (we wish).
MAIN STREET TWO
You Can Do It Unit 13
We had fun with this. We wanted it to sound like early 1960s surf music complete with a cheap Farfisa organ sound. This is surprisingly hard to re-create on an elaborate modern synthesizer.
STREAMLINE ENGLISH DIRECTIONS
Rock & Roll Is Dead (Peter Viney & Guy Wellman)