John Lennon versus Steely Dan

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan

A lesson plan for comparing songs in the EFL/ESL classroom

As my last post showed, I’m a fan of working with songs which respond to each other in some way. I’ve not yet devised a much-needed Lynyrd Skynyrd vs. Neil Young face-off, but this should do in its place. I am going to lay my cards on the table and say I am not a fan of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I have nothing against Lennon or his music; I adore Revolver and Abbey Road, not to mention “Jealous Guy”. “Imagine”, though, is rather vacuous ditty, with Lennon asking us to contemplate the disappearance of war and religion from what could easily be described as his ivory tower, the spacious white mansion where he and a curiously joyless Yoko Ono appear in the accompanying video (see below). Continue reading

Murder ballads

Lesson idea for the EFL/ESL classrom based around Johnny Cash’s Delia’s Gone and a contemporary riposte

One of my favourite bands of recent years is New Orleans’ improbably-named Hurray for the Riff Raff, centred around the singular talents of singer Alynda Segarra, who was brought up in the Bronx of Puerto Rican heritage. The band has expanded beyond its Americana roots but my favourite track of theirs is The Body Electric, a country-folk number that seems to tell the story of a woman’s murder, and the recovery of the body by a female friend, relative or same-sex lover. The timing of this post is also apposite as today is International Women’s Day. Continue reading

Tar and Cement

“Nail house” in Shanghai: Lucas Schifres/Getty Images

Film, music and photography-based ESL/EFL lesson about urbanization and nostalgia

My last post featuring Frank Sinatra’s It Was A Very Good Year reminded me of a grammatical structure I have seldom had cause to teach. Twice in the song we see the modal “would” used not in the conditional context that most students will encounter first, but rather to express habits in the past (“We’d hide from the lights / On the village green”, “We’d ride in limousines / Their chauffeurs would drive”). To build on this, as well as the structure “used to + verb”, to talk about our past routines, there is fantastic song which is also a rich basis for discussion about our relationship to the past, particularly as concerns urbanization and the irrevocable transformation of the natural environment into the built one. The song is Tar & Cement, a one-hit country-soul wonder by Verdelle Smith, written by Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance. Continue reading

Stages of Life

Louis Faurer, Accident New York City, 1952

Film, music and photography-based ESL/EFL class about the stages of life

After my last – rather academic – post about Bladerunner and optical illusions, I thought a more lighthearted approach was in order today. Saying that, it begins with a corollary to that discussion, namely the photo above, Louis Faurer’s Accident New York City (1952), which is anything but lighthearted. As with in the scene featuring Deckard’s Esper machine, it is a photograph that keeps on giving, the reflection of what might be a storefront window affording a near panorama of simultaneous activity that seems to tell two or more stories. Continue reading