I was trying to come up with my personal list of Top 10 Best Songs Ever. And you know… I failed! A lot of names, melodies, the lyrics… What are the criteria that should be taken into consideration when choosing the best song?
Pondering over it for a while I appealed to Google’s help. And it did show some patience and interest in my request. The usual 100500 links totally dazzled me. I looked through a few pages and got stunned. None of the charts were the same. In some of them I could find same names and same songs, in others – same names and different songs. Some of them appeared to be mysterious — the names I’ve never heard, the music I’ve never listened to.
As a result I decided to gather the in-my-humble-opinion-best of the best list according to my personal preferences. Here goes the most biased best baker’s dozen of songs ever:
1. Stairway to Heaven — Led Zeppelin
2. Wish You Were Here — Pink Floyd
3. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
4. Hey Jude — The Beatles
5. What a Wonderful World — Louis Armstrong
6. Imagine — John Lennon
7. One – Metallica
8. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
9. The Winner Takes It All – ABBA
10. My Way — Frank Sinatra
11. I Just Want You — Ozzy Osbourne
12. Sweet Child of Mine – Guns’n’Roses
13. If Today Was Your Last Day — Nickelback
If you ask me why I was so desperate to get this info, I will definitely answer and my answer won’t surprise you. Of course, I needed the list for an academic purpose! A funny thing — since I have become a teacher of English, everything I watch, listen to or read through makes me think of how to apply it to my classes.
However, I do hate singing songs! I have never made my students sing them, unless they really wanted to. And guess what? Apparently most of them enjoy it! Well, good for me…
What I usually do with songs is definitely listening and enjoying, but I get greater pleasure if the enjoyment adds up to a new word remembered, a difficult sound well pronounced, an intonation pattern picked up or a discussion provoked.
1. Sure thing Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is a great song, but unfortunately a bit too long to listen to during a class. And being a worthy song, it cannot be disregarded because of its length. Let’s try to come up with an idea of how to use it.
Why not make it a reading task? Jigsaw reading never hurts as it allows students to speak using hints. Hints are saviors for those who are neither very communicative nor creative. When the puzzle is back together, students will be more than happy to come up with the answer to the most difficult question of all times which is “Why?” Why was this song written? What for? Let me not give ideas here. I’m planning to use the song in one of my upcoming classesJ And while they are looking for a never-easy-to-find answer, the song will be playing as a background.
2. Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd is my everlasting favourite. I have used it so many times for different purposes that every time I play it, I am scared to death that somebody will say “not again!” I don’t usually use it with the same guys twice, but it seems to me that every single English teacher knows the song and uses it as well!
Apart from the obvious grammar patterns the song offers easy and useful lexical items: to tell sth from sth, to get sb to do sth, not to mention the whole lot of laconic nouns and examples of how nouns serve as adjectives. Hmmm… apparently it is a totally great song in terms of grammar, too! That is on top of being really thought-provoking. I hope my students love it as well as I do.
3. With all due respect and love to Freddie and his team, I rarely use their awesome contribution to art during my classes. They are too good to be used for filling in the gaps and this is the best thing I discovered I could do with their songs. And every time I put down the list of words to fill in and students take their pens to find the appropriate context for them, I feel ashamed…
4. I totally love The Beatles! If it was my choice only, I’d choose Let It Be as their best. However, the world says “Hey Jude”, I reply “Hey”! The activity this song is perfect for is by no means matching halves. “Halves” can be as long as you want them to as the song is pretty slow. I have never tried another thing with it – placing lines in order. To be honest, I am not a big fan of exercises like those. Yeah, I know what you think – they are not productive. Anyways, why not relax and do a merely listening task. Especially if the song is this good!
5. Louis Armstrong and his [What a] Wonderful World is a unique piece of material for studies. It can be used for elementary classes as well as for advanced students. The former will be able to revise their “colourful” vocabulary as well as train the listening and fill in the gaps with simple verbs, like see, think, hear etc. As for the “bigger” students, make them draw, paint, imagine, act out “I see friends shaking hands”, “I hear babies cryin’” and “I see them bloom”, “I watch them grow” and elicit the difference between the meaning expressed by gerunds and infinitives.
6. John Lennon. John Lennon is a legend himself and whenever comes to his music, the first thing students (“adult enough”) discuss is his personality, his family life and his death. If you happen to have several particularly knowledgeable people, you might not even come to the song itselfJ If you do, he is the example of how the song can be used. Obviously “Imagine” is an ideal source of topicS for debates. “Imagine there’s no heaven… And no religion too” – this is one of the eternally up-to-date topics as well as for instance “Imagine there’s no countries… Imagine all the people sharing all the world”. The song reflects the current problems existing in Europe and is relevant whenever you are tired of showing the episodes from news programmes. And finally, “Imagine no possessions” is another idea that may provoke a substantial and rich debate.
7. The best thing to do with Metallica during classes is not to overcomplicate. James Hatfield has never though that he would be listened to at some English classes, he definitely wasn’t doing his best to be comprehensibleJ The activity that I offer requires cards depicting one (maximum two) things that are mentioned in each verse. In our case, as we are talking about “One”, we can choose something simple – “I feel to scream”, “I’m waking up” etc. The cards are given in a pile and while students are listening to the song, their task is to arrange the pictures in the order the phrase describing one of them is caught. It is not as simple as it looks like. The funniest stage is when they get the lyrics and compare they version of song with the original. The activity can be moved to a productive stage if someone has made a mistake ordering… Storytelling is our best bet here!
8. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan is a very sad song and may set the mood of your class respectively. However, it can serve as a good tool to check the grammar you’ve studied. For instance, the instruction can be focused on imperatives, -ing forms or modals. While listening to the song students are noting the necessary forms. The feedback of the activity is the revision of grammar based on the full text.
9. ABBA. I adore ABBA! Actually, I would use any of their songs for the classes. Possibly the fact that they are not native speakers influenced the grammar and choice of vocabulary positively, IMO. Their songs are full of grammar structures and students are happy to spot them, note down and start believing that they ARE used in speech. And the latter is a really important fact. I hear them say that they are understood without grammar and they don’t care how many mistakes they make… Geez! What a misconception… Anyways, “The Winner Takes It All” cannot be called the best choice for drilling or revising sth. That’s why I would go for the jugular! I would sing along with ABBA and students! This is one of those rare song that make me want to sing despite my anti-singing strategy. Nevertheless, we all know that singing is a way of improving both the listening skills and pronunciation.
10. Thanks to Frank Sinatra we have a fantastic exercise to practice Present Perfect vs Present Continuous. We can use the lyrics of “My Way” providing infinitives offering students to choose between two forms. After the listening and discussing mistakes in pairs, it is a good idea to arrange a round table in order to summarize our knowledge and move on to the description of our own ways in small groups.
11. Crazy Ozzy can be a terrific source of different tasks. My favourite is based on another fine song, which is “I Just Want You”. The worksheet for the song has gaps with the prefixes in them. Before you start playing the recording, give students a chance to anticipate the words. Younger students are unlikely to know the song and they will use their imagination with great pleasure. If they are stuck, give them a chance to listen to the first verse and then work on the second, and so on. I believe the song can be used as a fantastic means of introducing the topic of word formation!
12. Guns’n’Roses are loved by all generations. Let’s use it! “Sweet Child of Mine” contains plenty of adjectives to work with. Make it a task! Ask student to note down all the adjectives they hear, discuss the forms (degrees of comparison) and remind them that a great number of appropriately chosen adjectives will make their speech affluent and entertaining. That’s why do not forget to use the ones from the song in your next activity. E.g. stick the post-its with the adjectives around the classroom and ask students to connect the adjective with the thing they are glued to.
13. Finally! We are through! The very best thing to do is to talk about life. And here comes Nickelback with their last day and Conditional II. “If Today Was Your Last Day” always works. They do remember the form and how to use it, but the thing they are so reluctant to discuss is… if today were their last day… At least I know that they love life even after they’ve encountered Conditionals 🙂