Cardinal sin: Time management

I completely underestimated how long it would take to edit and upload videos of my international students’ presentations and to watch them often enough to give appropriate and useful feedback. I’m guilty of atrocious time management. Promising written feedback you just can’t provide in the time they expect is a cardinal sin.

When asking students to do something in the future, I mustn’t encourage them to do a task that requires feedback and not leave enough time for that feedback in class. Any deferred written feedback can cause problems and has to be ancillary. I used to know this. But I am challenged by the quality standards I am setting myself.

In this case, I had great difficulty understanding the students’ presentations. Their accents are both my problem and theirs, and in fact I’m there to help them make their English more intelligible, and am challenged to become a better listener and teacher myself.

When we work on their written expression, I’ll need to factor in a first round of reading and feedback in class. I’ll also need to set aside a very clear window of time for the feedback, and not spend more time on each one than I have alotted. In my wish to do well by each individual student, I’ve neglected about a third. That musn’t happen again.

Now I’ve been chasing deadlines that keep me from providing it before December. This is a source of great embarassment, as I am deeply committed to teaching this group well, especially when we meet again in mid-December.

Chuck Berry: Sweet Little Sixteen/ The Beach Boys: Surfing USA

My third and final double take is a blatant rip-off by the Beach Boys of Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit, which was in fact the first Top 10 hit by a black performer. Not acknowledging copyright was both an artistic and a political issue:

“The Beach Boys stole Berry’s entire tune. Surfin’ USA went on to become The Beach Boys first hit single, reaching the Top 10 in the US, Canada, Australia and Sweden. In 1963, the band made no attempt to credit Chuck Berry for any aspect of Surfin’ USA, and Brian Wilson was listed as the sole composer. It was a controversial time in American history and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. For this reason, many record executives looked past The Beach Boys obvious infringement. However, Chuck Berry confronted the group and Murry Wilson gave him the copyrighted rights for writing Surfin’ USA. This is a right that Chuck Berry still holds today.”
Listverse: Top 10 Popular Music Rip-Offs.

Do you have a song where you recognize a connection to an older song? Is the connection intended? If so, is it attributed? And do you think it’s artistically legitimate?

Sweet Little Sixteen

They’re really rockin in Boston
In Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the ‘Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Sweet Little Sixteen
She’s just got to have
About half a million
Framed autographs
Her wallet’s filled with pictures
She gets ’em one by one
She gets so excited
Watch her, look at her run

Oh mommy mommy
Please may I go
It’s such a sight to see
Somebody steal the show
Oh daddy daddy
I beg of you
Whisper to mommy
It’s all right with you

Cause they’ll be rockin’ on Bandstand
Philadelphia, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the ‘Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way Down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Sweet Little Sixteen
She’s got the grow-up blues
Tight dresses and lipstick
She’s sportin’ high heal shoes
Oh, but tomorrow morning
She’ll have to change her trend
And be sweet sixteen
And back in class again

Beach Boys: Surfin USA
If everybody had an ocean
Across the USA
Then everybody’d be surfin’
Like Californ-i-a
You’d see ’em wearing their baggies
Huarache sandals, too
A bushy bushy blonde hairdo
Surfin’ USA
You’d catch ’em surfin’ at Del Mar
Ventura County line
Santa Cruz and Trestle
Australia’s Narabine
All over Manhattan
And down Doheny Way
Everybody’s gone surfin’
Surfin’ USA
We’ll all be planning that route
We’re gonna take real soon
We’re waxing down our surfboards
We can’t wait for June
We’ll all be gone for the summer
We’re on surfari to stay
Tell the teacher we’re surfin’
Surfin’ U.S.A.
Haggerties and Swamies
Pacific Palisades
San Anofree and Sunset
Redondo Beach L.A.
All over La Jolla
At Waimia Bay
Everybody’s gone surfin’
Surfin’ USA

double take 🙂 englisch lernen mit liedern

Led Zepplin: Going to California / Pearl Jam: Given to Fly

Sometimes you hear a song and do a double take and say “wait, I know that riff”. Led Zepplin wrote “Going to California” in 1971 about Joni Mitchell; Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder said “Given to Fly” of 1998, which sounds pretty similar, was about “rising above anybody’s comments about what you do and still giving your love away”. Guitarist Mike McCready has readily admitted: “It’s probably some sort of rip off of it I’m sure… Zeppelin was definitely an influence on that.” This sort of thing could end angrily, in court; but in this case, Pearl Jam actually performed “Given to Fly” in concert in 2005 with Robert Plant there, who then joined them to play “Going to California” together. References: See Wikipedia

to do a double take: the moment you’re surprized by something, and you have to look or listen twice – to “take two” – to run it by yourself again, to make sure you saw or heard it right the first time.

Led Zepplin: Going to California

Spent my days with a woman unkind,
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start,
Going to California with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me there’s a girl out there
With love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.

Took my chances on a big jet plane,
Never let them tell you that we’re all the same.
The sea was red and the sky was grey;
I wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today.
The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake
as the children of the sun began to awake.

Seems that the wrath of the Gods
Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow;
I think I might be sinking.
Throw me a line if I reach it in time
I’ll meet you up there where the path
Runs straight and high.

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
Tryin’ to find a woman who’s never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.

Pearl Jam: Given to Fly

He could’ve tuned in, tuned in
But he tuned out
A bad time, nothing could save him
Alone in a corridor, waiting, locked out
He got up outta there, ran for hundreds of miles
He made it to the ocean, had a smoke in a tree
The wind rose up, set him down on his knee

A wave came crashing like a fist to the jaw
Delivered him wings, “Hey, look at me now”
Arms wide open with the sea as his floor
Oh, power, oh – He’s flying high

He floated back down ’cause he wanted to share
His key to the locks on the chains he saw everywhere
But first he was stripped and then he was stabbed
By faceless men, well, fuckers, he still stands

And he still gives his love, he just gives it away
The love he receives is the love that is saved
And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky
A human being that was given to fly

double take 🙂 englisch lernen mit liedern

Bon Iver: Woods / Kayne West: Lost in the World

Oh, to howl with the wolves! Here is Bon Iver’s magical 4-line song “Woods” to howl together in harmony, friends, as November deepens.

I’m up in the woods
I’m down on my mind
I’m building a still
to slow down the time

It was sampled on “Lost in the World”, a collaboration with Kayne West on the remarkable “My Dark Twisted Fantasy”, telling the urban side of the story:

I’m lost in the world,
I’m down on my mind
I’m new in the city,
and I’m down for the night

double take 🙂 english lernen mit liedern

Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire

At the end of this “song week” on my blog, I’m considering our strong opinions about music. We’re a discriminating lot, we like this and dislike that. I wonder: Are there any objective quality criteria we could agree on for pop music? With classical music it seems easier. Who would dare say that Beethoven wrote “bad” music, even if he doesn’t happen to be your favorite composer? So could we agree on any criteria for good pop?

For me it comes down to integrity. That, however, is not always easy to define. Compare these two interpretations:

Ashes & Fire (album version)

So, this is my take: At first, when I heard the unplugged version online I thought, wow, this is really nice! So I went and bought the album.

But listening, song by song, I found that Adams seems to be “doing Dylan”. Sometimes he “does” James Taylor. He just doesn’t seem to “do” Ryan Adams! It became clear that his lyrics are predictable (indeed, “a river she cried” is cribbed from “Cry Me a River”), so they aren’t original or fresh. Ian Cohen in Pitchfork slams much of the album as “trite”, and quips that there’s more ashes here than fire. I agree. It’s OK for a hotel lobby, perhaps. But not for me.

Ashes & Fire (Ryan Adams, 2011)

As he stared past the fire
His hunger to leave, well, it gnawed his poor heart alive
Her skin smelled like black cherry blossom perfume
The sail boats they all sailed by
And a river she cried

And the wind was suddenly sweeter than Roosevelt Pine
The windows broke out and the cigarette smoke was drifting by
The bums on the bowery were swallowed in the lights
As cars rumbled by in the night
Screaming: Run for your life.

With cool and silvery eyes
And a heart that was fit for desire,
Drowned in a river of tears
Oh a river she cried
Left her with a heart
Made of ashes and fire.

One day there was a silence and it washed through the town
And there was no reason to speak so nobody made a sound
Her eyes were indigo
And the cats was all calico
And the sail boats they all sailed by
And a river she cried.

With cool and silvery eyes
And a heart that was fit for desire
Drowned in a river of tears
Oh a river she cried left her with a heart
Made of ashes and fire.
Ashes and fire, ashes and fire, ashes and fire.

song week 🙂 learning english with songwriters

Bill Withers: Lean On Me

Universally popular songlines: We say a phrase, eyes flicker recognition and – boom! – we’re sharing the whole soundtrack. Like “Don’t worry, be happy,” by Bobby McFerrin, from 1988. Or “Lean on me,” by Bill Withers, from 1972. asked Withers about his signature song, and this is what he said:

“A lot of time you go back and fill in the blanks. This was my second album, so I could afford to buy myself a little Wurlitzer electric piano. So I bought a little piano and I was sitting there just running my fingers up and down the piano. That’s often the first song that children learn to play because they don’t have to change fingers – you just put your fingers in one position and go up and down the keyboard. In the course of doing the music, that phrase crossed my mind, so then you go back and say, “OK, I like the way this phrase, Lean On Me, sounds with this song.” So you go back and say, “How do I arrive at this as a conclusion to a statement? What would I say that would cause me to say Lean On Me?” Then at that point, it’s between you and your actual feelings, you and your morals and what you’re really like. You probably do more thinking about it after it’s done.

Being from a rural, West Virginia setting, that kind of circumstance would be more accessible to me than it would be to a guy living in New York where people step over you if you’re passed out on the sidewalk, or Los Angeles, where you could die on the side of the freeway and it would probably be 8 days before anyone noticed you were dead. Coming from a place where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid, that would cue me to have those considerations than somebody from a different place. I think what we say is influenced by how we are, what’s been our life experiences. Now, I notice young guys writing about shooting each other in the city and stuff like that, well that was not my experience, so I would never have said anything like that because it was not my experience. I’m not from a big city. I think circumstance dictates what people think.”

From the Songfacts interview with Bill Withers

Lean on Me – Bill Withers (1971)

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow

But if we are wise
We know that there’s
Always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things
You need to borrow

For no one can fill
Those of your needs
That you won’t let show

You just call on me brother
When you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem
That you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

You just call on me brother
When you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem
That you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load
You have to bear
That you can’t carry

I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

song week 🙂 learning english with songwriters

BOY: Small numbers

I have a bit of a soft spot for non-native speakers who use English to express themselves in their lyrics. Even when they are not particularly sophisticated, it’s the word choice and imagery referencing different languages that engages me.

BOY, a young duo comprized of Valeska Steiner from Zurich and Sonja Glass from Hamburg, have a boyant music video for “Little Numbers” that was made in beautiful Barcelona. The English geek in me picks up here on the difference between “small numbers” (those close to zero; a small number of …) and “little numbers” (little is used endearingly). And in German, to be “(nur) eine kleine Nummer” is to be of little importance. This song might become a “eine große Nummer” for BOY here: It has over a million hits on YouTube.

This came in my birthday mail from Christof. Thank you so much!

Waited for your call, for the moon
To release me from the longest afternoon
I’ve re-arranged parts of my living room
But time is hard to kill since I met you

Looking at the cars that drive on by
While spring is making promises outside
Red cars are quite rare I realize
Then I wonder which colour you like

Seven little numbers
Baby, they could be a start
Seven little numbers
Baby, I know yours by heart

Chorus: Oh, all the pretty things that we could be
Oh, I feel you in every heart beat
Oh, were you ever in a dream that could come true
These numbers could be lucky for you

Watch the sky change to a darkened blue
I can’t think of another thing to do
And every song just makes me think of you
Because the singer sounds as if she was longing,
As if she was longing, too

Seven little numbers
Baby, they could be a start
Seven little numbers
Baby, I know yours by heart
Seven little numbers
They could make a change
Seven little numbers
Make a fire out of this flame


I read your name on every wall, on every wall – tell me
Is there a cure for me at all, for me at all – tell me


song week 🙂 learning english with songwriters