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410 Topics: Motown Records; Famous Songs – “Mary Had a Little Lamb"; to boycott versus to prohibit; Jane Doe; to catch some z’s

Complete Transcript
You're listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 410.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 410. I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is ESLPod.com. Go there. Become a member and download a Learning Guide for this episode.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about one of the most famous record companies in twentieth-century America: Motown Records. We’re also going to talk about music on the second part of our Café. We’re going to talk about another famous American song, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let's get started.

We begin this Café with a discussion of Motown Records. The word “Motown” (Motown) is actually a combination of two words: “motor” (motor) and “town.” “Motor Town” was the nickname that was given the city of Detroit, Michigan. The reason that people called Detroit “Motor Town” is because many of the most important manufacturers or makers of cars, of automobiles, began in Michigan. Many of them, even today, are still located in the state of Michigan, which is in the eastern central part of the United States. Detroit is the largest city in the state of Michigan.

Motown Records, then, is a record company. That's a company that helps musicians record and sell their music. Motown began in 1959. It was started, or founded we might say, by a man named Berry Gordy Jr. Gordy was a songwriter, a person who writes songs for other people to perform or sing, but he was disappointed that he didn't make more money, or at least as much money as many of the musicians. He realized that making money meant making records – that if he wanted to make more money, he had to be involved in the making of the actual albums, the actual records. He started Motown Records and his company grew, or became bigger, very quickly. In fact, Gordy was able to sell the company, and the company has since been bought and sold many times. It left Detroit, Michigan, and moved to Los Angeles for a while. Today, it is actually based in New York City. It's still around, Motown records. It's part of a larger company called the Universal Music Group.

Motown Records, however, is most famous for its early work, its work in the 1960s in particular. The company produced a lot of hits. A “hit” (hit) is a very successful product – in this case, a very successful song. You could also talk about a hit television show, or a hit movie, or simply describe it as a hit. Motown Records produced a lot of hit records or hit songs. One of the reasons why Motown Records became famous is that it had a certain style of music, what at that time was called “soul” (soul) music.

Soul music is basically a combination of traditional African American gospel songs – songs that were sung and still are sung in Christian churches with a lot of African American members, that's part of what “soul” is – it’s a combination of gospel music and other traditional kinds of African American music, especially rhythm and blues. Not surprisingly, most of the people who recorded records for Motown Records were African American singers and musicians.

The Motown style, the “Motown sound” as it's sometimes called, uses what's called a “call and response” style, where the leader sings something and the other singers respond, typically repeating the same phrase. So, it could be something like:

Well, I love you. (Well, I love you).

You know, this other singer repeats what you say, or answers you. The importance of Motown Records was that it was one of the first times in popular culture where the music of African Americans was not just bought and listened to by African Americans, but was also popular among white Americans. The term that is often used in music to describe when someone is able to go from one style of music, and one traditional audience, to another is “crossover.” “Crossover” (crossover) – one word – can have a lot of different meanings, but here I'm referring to music that was popular in the African American or black community becoming popular in the white community.

Before Motown Records, white audiences usually listened to very different music than black audiences. But the Motown sound crossed over, and many whites started to listen to that style, that Motown style of music. When the groups that recorded records for Motown went around the country and gave concerts, you started to see both blacks and whites coming together to listen to the music. This was very popular in the 1960s.

Motown music, then, in some ways had a role, or had a place, in the racial integration in the 1960s. We've talked about the civil rights movement before on English Café episodes 97 and 143 and a few others. After a while, Motown had some smaller record companies that were associated with it. We would call these “subsidiaries.” “Subsidiaries’ (subsidiaries) are smaller companies that are part of a larger company. Motown Records and its subsidiaries produced the music of many famous artists, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, The Miracles, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and in later years Queen Latifah, Lionel Richie, and many others.

As I mentioned previously, Motown Records is still around today. In the early days of its existence in the 1960s, Motown Records had the reputation for being a place where people worked very hard, where a lot of songs were recorded. The studio, the place where the records were recorded, was actually open up to 22 hours a day. So, it was pretty much open all day, and people who worked for Motown records, the musicians, were expected to come in and record as much as possible. Motown records also controlled how its musicians dressed in public, how they danced in front of audiences during concerts, and other important details that they felt were part of the entire package – the entire presentation that the singer or the group made in public.

Motown in some ways saw its black musicians as being ambassadors, or representatives, of African American music in a largely non-African-American world, in a white world. It is impossible to grow up in the United States, at least since the 1960s, and not be familiar with Motown music. I grew up in the 1970s, and Motown music was still very popular. Today you can still hear those old songs on the radio, and they're still popular among Americans of all different backgrounds.

Now let's turn to our next segment, where we’re going to talk about another famous song that American children know. Today, we’re going to talk about a song called “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is based on a nursery rhyme. A “nursery (nursery) rhyme (rhyme)” is a short poem, really, that you repeat to a young baby to often calm it down, or to entertain it, or perhaps just to get it to fall back to sleep. This particular nursery rhyme was a poem written by a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale back in the early part of the nineteenth century, in 1830. Apparently, the poem is based on or was created from a real-life incident, a real-life situation – something that actually happened, not just in the imagination of the public.
According to the story that people tell, the little girl in the poem took a lamb to school. A “lamb” (lamb) is a baby sheep. “Sheep” is an animal that we use for its meat but also for its hair, for what we call its “wool” (wool). But when this little girl took the lamb to school, it made quite a commotion. A “commotion” (commotion) is a lot of confusion and excitement. I guess the other children were excited to see a lamb. I'm guessing it was very difficult, however, for the teacher to teach with this lamb in her classroom. The poem, the nursery rhyme, and the song are all based on what happened, according to the traditional story, the day that Mary, the girl in the poem and the song, brought this animal to her classroom. And I’ve taught for many years and I have never had a student bring a lamb to my classroom. So, I question whether this incident, this situation, actually happened. Maybe. Maybe not.

In the 1830s, a man by the name of Lowell Mason took this poem and added music – or we could say he set the nursery rhyme to a melody. A “melody” (melody) is a set of notes, of musical notes. “To set something to a melody” means to take the words and to create a song out of them, to add music to them, basically. Here's how we know the song today. This is the version that most children in the United States would know:

Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow.

So, Mary had a little lamb whose “fleece” (fleece) was white as snow. “Fleece” is another word for wool, which is the fur, the hair that grows all over the sheep. This particular lamb had hair that was white as snow, meaning it was very white. So, we continue:

And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

Everywhere that this little girl Mary went, the lamb went with her. The lamb followed her. That's what it means when it says, “the lamb was sure to go.” It was 100 percent certain that the lamb was going to follow Mary around. The song continues:

It followed her to school one day,
school one day, school one day,
it followed her to school one day,
which was against the rule.

So, the lamb followed Mary to school one day. Unfortunately for Mary, this was against the rules. We would probably use the plural. “Against the rule” is how the song was written, meaning of course that you can't bring animals to school. You have to leave your animals at home or on the farm. So, Mary broke the rule. However, the children were very entertained by this lamb. The next part of the song says:

It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play, laugh and play,
it made the children laugh and play,
to see a lamb at school.

So, the children laughed and played with the lamb, as young children probably would. Mary, of course, as we said before, was not supposed to be bringing animals to school. And so, in the rest of the song, we hear about how the teacher tried to make the lamb go away, but of course, the lamb did not want to go away. The lamb wanted to stay with Mary, and so it simply waited for Mary until, I guess, school was over. The other children asked the teacher why the lamb loves Mary so much, and the teacher says, “because Mary loves the lamb.” It's a very simple song. It's not a complicated situation. I don't think it has any deeper cultural meaning. But it’s a nice little song that most children know. Let’s sing the first part one more time.

Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb,
Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day,
school one day, school one day,
it followed her to school one day,
which was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play, laugh and play,
it made the children laugh and play,
to see a lamb at school.

Although “Mary Had a Little Lamb” doesn't have any great cultural significance, it is, however, important in the history of the United States, and the reason is, is that Thomas Edison recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a phonograph back in 1877. In fact, they say it was the first thing that Edison recorded on his phonograph. A “phonograph” (phonograph) was a piece of equipment that could record and play songs – one of the earliest ways that people could record sound – and Edison sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” which was the first recorded song in American history. I guess we could consider it that.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Sima (Sima) in Iran. She wants to know the difference between “boycott” and “prohibit.” Let’s start with “boycott” (boycott). A “boycott” is when a group of people decide together that they're not going to buy anything from a certain business, usually because they don't like what that business is doing. During the 1960s and 70s, there were many people who tried to organize a boycott of companies that sold grapes. The reason is that many people thought that these companies were not treating the workers with justice, with fairness, and so they tried to encourage people not to buy grapes. There was a boycott on grapes. It can be used as a verb, “to boycott,” or it can be used as a noun – “a boycott.”

“Prohibit” (prohibit) usually means to make a law or rule against some action, against something. We might also say “to forbid” (forbid). “To prohibit” means to say you cannot do this certain thing. In most buildings in the United States, in most public buildings, smoking is prohibited. You are not allowed to smoke in a public building. In California, you're not allowed to smoke in a café. You’re not allowed to smoke in a restaurant. You're not even allowed to smoke in a bar. Smoking is legally prohibited. You cannot do it – or you can do it, but you could get arrested for doing it. The police could come and, well, they probably wouldn't take you to jail. They would probably punish you by giving you what's called a “fine” (fine). You’d have to pay money to the government.

The difference between “boycott” and “prohibit” is that “boycott” is usually a voluntary action that a group of people take by organizing themselves and deciding they're not going to buy from some company. It's not legally something that people are told they can do or told they should not do. “To prohibit” means absolutely not to allow someone to do something – usually, it’s something that the government does. It prohibits you from doing this certain action, or it might even prohibit you from buying from certain companies or certain countries, even.

The noun for “prohibit” is “prohibition.” That word, however, “prohibition,” is usually associated in the United States with the laws that were passed in the early twentieth century which said that you could not sell alcohol. They prohibited the sale of alcohol. In 1933, I believe it was, however, that law was changed. You cannot, then, use “prohibit” and “boycott” in the same situations. They really are different ideas.

Our next question comes from Keun Young (Keun Young) in South Korea. The question has to do with a name that Keun Young heard in a television series talking about a “Jane Doe.” “Jane Doe” (Doe) is a general term that sometimes is used by the police to refer to a woman who is dead, but about whom they don't have any information. They don't know what her real name is. Sometimes, Jane Doe is a name used when someone doesn't want to tell their real name.

Now, why do police and others use “Jane Doe” as the name for someone who they don't have a name for? Jane is a very common name, a common name for women, or at least it used to be a very common name. Doe (Doe) was probably a common name in England. The more common expression is not Jane Doe, but John Doe. John, once again, is a very common name. John Doe was used to give a name to people we didn't have a name for. That usage of John Doe actually started back in the 1300s. So, many hundreds of years ago in England, John Doe started to be used in this way. John, of course, like Jane is a very common first name, in this case a first name for men. John and Jane Doe, then, are used in situations where we don't know the name of someone. You might also hear another term, which is Baby Doe. Baby Doe would be a young baby whose name we don't know or whose parents we don't know.

In some legal cases, it used to be common –I’m not sure if it is anymore – to use the word Roe (Roe) instead of Doe for someone who didn't want their name used in the legal court case, their real name. They used to refer to Richard Roe and Jane Roe. I'm not sure again if this is still done, in part because one of the most famous court cases in twentieth-century American history was something called Roe v. Wade – Roe versus Wade – which was a very controversial case by the U.S. Supreme Court. So, nowadays when people say Roe, usually they're referring to that particular court decision. I’m not sure if it's still used in the legal system, but Jane Doe and John Doe are still very common, and you will still see those names used for someone who is otherwise unidentified.

Our final question is also from Iran, from Mohsen (Mohsen). The question has to do with a phrase, “to catch some z’s.” “To catch some z's” – and “z” is just the letter “z” – means to get some sleep, to go to sleep, or to sleep for a certain amount of time. You might work very hard, and then say, “I’m going to go catch some z's.” “I'm going to go sleep for a while in order to rest.” You should be asking yourself, “Well, why do we say catch some z's?” “Why z?” Probably because in comic strips, in little cartoons that you used to find and probably still do in many newspapers, they used the letter “z” repeated many times to represent someone sleeping. So, if you saw a comic strip with Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and Snoopy was sleeping on top of his little dog house, you would probably see a bunch of z’s – the letter “z” written five, six, seven times – to indicate that Snoopy was sleeping. “To catch some z's,” then, would mean to sleep.

Another informal expression – and “to catch some z's” is definitely an informal expression – is “to snooze” (snooze). This is a little older, and probably not as common anymore – “to snooze.” To snooze means to sleep, often to sleep when you're not supposed to be sleeping, such as in class. My brother always used to use the expression, “If you snooze, you lose,” meaning if you weren't here, if you were sleeping and you didn't have the opportunity to get something, that's your fault. “If you snooze, you lose.” If you're sleeping or not paying attention, you may lose out on something. You may not get something that you want.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2013 by the Center for Educational Development.

record company – a company that helps musicians record, market, and sell their music

* To promote Jeff McQuillan’s new album, the record company is putting up signs all over the city.

hit – a song that becomes extremely popular and is know by many people

* Paul doesn’t listen to the radio and doesn’t know many of today’s hits.

soul music – a type of music that is a combination of African American gospel songs sung typically in black Christian churches, and rhythm and blues

* Listening to soul music makes me want to dance!

crossover – a type of music that is successful with two very different audiences, such as fans of rock and country music

* Alana is mainly a jazz singer, but she has also had crossover hits with a pop music audience.

subsidiary – a smaller company owned and controlled by a larger company or organization

* If our parent company makes a change in policy, all of the subsidiaries have to follow it.

ambassador – a person who officially represents a country in another country, working in an embassy; a person who helps to connect two cultures or groups

* Why weren’t the ambassadors of several major Asian countries invited to the reception?

nursery rhyme – a short poem that is often repeated to babies and young children

* Our baby’s first words were from a nursery rhyme that she likes to hear.

real-life incident – something that really happened, and not something that was made up or imagined

* Our show talks about real-life incidents of bravery and self-sacrifice.

lamb – a baby sheep; an animal that people raise for meat and for wool (their thick, warm fur or hair)

* When the lamb’s mother was taken away from her, she wouldn’t stop saying “baa baa!”

commotion – a confused and noisy excitement

* The commotion in front of the store is being caused by a few people who are protesting our hiring policies.

to set (something) to a melody – to give a set of words certain notes, so that they can be sung instead of said

* Tran decided to set his marriage proposal to a melody and sing it to Julie.

phonograph – an old music player that plays recorded music or sounds

* Look at this old phonograph! It still plays music.

to boycott – to stop buying or using, in an effort to cause change; to not buy from a business or use a service to show one’s displeasure or disagreement with a business’s policies or actions

* We are asking customers to boycott this restaurant because the owners refuse to pay the workers the money they’re owed.

to prohibit – to make a rule or law against an action or type of behavior; to prevent

* Our company has a rule prohibiting co-workers from dating, but most people ignore it.

Jane Doe – a name used for an unidentified woman or girl, usually related to a crime or a legal action

* Has anyone discovered the identity of the Jane Doe the police brought in this morning?

to catch some z’s – to get some sleep; to take a nap or to go to sleep

* Our band has been working non-stop to finish our album, but now that it’s done, we can catch some z’s.

What Insiders Know
Music Sampling

Have you ever heard a song and thought one part of it is similar to something they’ve heard in the past? This song may be using something called “music sampling.”

Music sampling was first used in the late 1960’s by musicians “experimenting” (testing and trying new things to discover something new) with “vinyl records” (flat, black discs with recorded music). They took small “portions” (parts) of songs on vinyl records that they then “incorporated” (put into) their own “tracks” (individual piece of recorded music). These musicians wanted to produced a new and “fresher” (up-to-date; modern) sound.

Later, it was “hip-hop music” (a popular type of American music that includes rap and electronic music) that really “embraced” (welcomed; used a lot) music sampling. Many hip-hop songs have music sampling “clips” (short sections of recorded music or video) from other types of music, other songs, and even “voice recordings” (spoken recordings without music).

When music sampling was first used, musicians did not get “permission” (consent; agreement for use by the owner of the music) from the original “artist” (musician). However, as it became more popularity, original artists didn’t want their music to be sampled without permission and this produced “legal” (related to the law and the courts) issues. Today, most musicians will get the original artist’s permission before using their music, but some prefer to sample their own recordings to avoid any legal problems.

Music sampling is also “controversial” (without agreement) among musicians. Some say that using music sampling is a sign of a “lack of creativity” (not being able to think originally). Others say that music sampling has “revolutionized” (completely changed) how musicians produce their music.