Sunday, March 20, 2011

Song lesson - 'A Boy Named Sue' by Johnny Cash

"A Boy Named Sue" was first recorded live at California's San Quentin State Prison at a concert on 24 February 1969. The song became Cash's biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only Top 10 single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969. (Wikipedia)
  1. Pre-listening vocabulary exercise
  2. Pre-listening grammar exercise
  3. Find the 'non-standard' grammar
  4. Vocabulary exercise - different meanings of mean
  5. Grammar exercise - different uses of would

Before you listen

Exercise 1. Vocabulary - The words and expressions on the left are marked in the lyrics in red. Look at them in context then match them with their definitions on the right. Click and Drop ? (mouse over for instructions)

1. ma and paa)laugh in a silly way
2. boozeb)your parents
3. gigglec)a type of card game with gambling
4. mean (adj)d)wet earth that is soft and sticky
5. shamee)small stones, often used on paths and roads
6. vowf)slang for alcohol
7. honky-tonkg)a cheap, noisy bar or dance hall
8. fisth)a bar where alcoholic drinks were sold in the western US and Canada in the past
9. throati)a cross between a horse and a donkey
10. saloonj)feelings of sadness, embarrassment or guilt
11. mudk)nasty, likely to become angry or violent
12. studl)front part of the neck
13. scarm)solemn promise
14. mulen)a hand when it is tightly closed
15. gravelo)mark left on the skin after a wound has healed

Exercise 2. Grammar - some uses of would.

    A. First look at these instructions

  1. If there is a 'd, decide if it stands for had or would. If it stands for had, select had
    We'd just started lunch.
  2. If the 'd stands for would, or there is a would or wouldn't, match them to the following meanings, using the selector:
    1. like used to for repeated or habitual actions in the past
      When we were younger, we would always get home by 7.00
    2. past tense of will in reported speech
      He told me he would phone, but he didn't
  3. B. Now look at the song and where there is a select, choose the appropriate answer, and then check.

    NB I have changed my mind about the last would, so have altered this exercise slightly.

What other uses for would can you think of? (more about this later)

The song lyrics

1Well, my daddy left home when I was three
And he didn't leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don't blame him cause he run and hid
5But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me 'Sue.'
Well, he must of thought that was quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a' lots of folks,
It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
10Some gal would (=) giggle and I'd (=) get red
And some guy'd (=) laugh and I'd (=) bust his head,
I tell ya, life ain't easy for a boy named 'Sue.'
Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
My fist got hard and my wits got keen,
15I'd (=) roam from town to town to hide my shame.
But I made me a vow to the moon and stars
That I'd (=) search the honky-tonks and bars
And kill that man who gave me that awful name.
Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July
20And I'd (=) just hit town and my throat was dry,
I thought I'd (=) stop and have myself a brew.
At an old saloon on a street of mud,
There at a table, dealing stud,
Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me 'Sue.'
25Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
From a worn-out picture that my mother'd (=) had,
And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye.
He was big and bent and gray and old,
And I looked at him and my blood ran cold
30And I said: 'My name is 'Sue! How do you do!
Now your gonna die!!'
Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes
And he went down, but to my surprise,
He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear.
35But I busted a chair right across his teeth
And we crashed through the wall and into the street
Kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.
I tell ya, I've fought tougher men
But I really can't remember when,
40He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile.
I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss,
He went for his gun and I pulled mine first,
He stood there lookin' at me and I saw him smile.
And he said: 'Son, this world is rough
45And if a man's gonna make it, he's gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn't (=) be there to help ya along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you'd (=) have to get tough or die
And it's that name that helped to make you strong.'
50He said: 'Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn't (=) blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
55Cause I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you 'Sue.'
I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came away with a different point of view.
And I think about him, now and then,
60Every time I try and every time I win,
And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him
Bill or George! Any damn thing but Sue! I still hate that name!

Now listen to the song with the lyrics

This will probably redirect you to YouTube. It will then start in a new tab, and you can come back to this one to see the lyrics.
If you have any problems, the video is here. Or if you prefer, there's a version with lyrics here

After you listen

Exercise 3

  1. What 'non-standard' grammar do you notice? Have a look at the lyrics then see my comments - Show comments

  2. Find words meaning:
    1. girl
    2. drink (one more word)
    3. dirty and in bad condition (esp. of a dog)
    4. swear (ie use bad language)

Exercise 4 - Vocabulary - the word mean can be a noun, a verb or an adjective. Match its use in these sentences to to its definitions below. Click and Drop ?

1. He's too mean to buy her a ring.
2. And just what do you mean by that remark, may I ask?
3. I want you home by midnight. And when I say midnight, I mean midnight.
4. I'm sorry if I offended you - I didn't mean any harm.
5. The mean of 5, 4, 10 and 15 is 8.5.
6. She's a mean piano player ( or 'She plays a mean piano').
7. It wasn't a particularly valuable picture but it meant a lot to me.
8. A mean and angry mob gathered outside the embassy.
9. Recent advances in electronics mean that the technology is now available.
10. Stop being so mean to me!
a)to have a particular result
b)intend, do something deliberately
c)have importance or important emotional effect on someone
d)average value
e)very good
f)frightening and likely to become violent
g)express or represent something such as an idea, thought, or fact
h)unkind, unpleasant
i)opposite of generous
j)used to add emphasis to what you are saying

Exercise 5 - Grammar - the modal verb would can be used in many ways. Match the example use in these sentences to their functions below. Click and Drop ?

1. Would you mind if I opened a window.
2. Every day we would walk along the canal path to school.
3. Having fled his country, he would live the rest of his life in exile.
4. He would say that, wouldn't he?
5. She would be almost home by now, I imagine.
6. I would have lent him my car, but last time I did, he crashed it.
7. They promised they would finish it by Friday at the latest.
8. As a young child she would always do everything she was told.
9. David is very naughty! He wouldn't eat his vegetables yesterday.
10. He would do better if he looked for another job.
11. Would you like some more coffee?
12. I'd rather have tea, please.
a)polite request
b)polite offer
c)second conditional
d)reported speech
e)disapproval of behaviour you think typical of somebody
f)expressing a preference
g)presumption or expectation
h)implied third conditional (without if)
i)habitual action in the past
j)future in the past
k)general willingness in the past
l)refusal in the past

Answers - click on the relevant button and return to the exercise

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You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you probably won't want to print every page.



rachel atwood said...

excellent activity! I just did a lesson about "what's in a name?" with upper-int/advanced teens, and thought of this song. For the print out version, is it better to write down the multiple choice options separately? Thanks!

Warsaw Will said...

Thanks for your kind comment and sorry for the delay in answering; I've been offline for the last few months. I see what you mean about the printout version. Yes, you'd need to add the options. It wouldn't be hard for me to add them to the print out version, so I'll add it to the to-do list.