10 Songs With Past Continuous in English
Students of English are often interested in learning English with music, and especially learning the English lyrics of their favourite music. We will look at some examples of music with the past continuous, but first let’s quickly review the grammar.
Songs With Past Continuous: Grammar Review
This explanation is from the book ‘English Grammar in Use’ by Raymond Murphy, you can read my analysis of this book and another grammar book here.
Often the past continuous is used together with past simple, to say that something happened in the middle of something else.
10 Songs With Past Continuos in English
And we can see this in some of the examples of musics with past continuous below:
1. Looking For Love - Karen Remirez
This was a very popular song when I was growing up and it is in a popular genre that I like which is electronic music.
The chorus is a good example of using past simple and past continuous together.
The most famous version for me is the one by Karen Ramirez from 1998 which is different from the original by Everything but the Girl from 1993.
Ramirez’s version is faster and was more successful in the charts. There is a very cool video for this that used to be on MTV a lot when I was a teenager but unfortunately it is not on YouTube.
The opening lyrics are as follows:
"I was alone thinkin' I was just fine
I wasn't lookin' for anyone to be mine"
As you can see the ‘g’ is ‘cut’ from ‘thinking’ and ‘looking’. This is very common in lyrics but also in real life. For example in Ireland with our accents, this ‘g’ is usually cut in everyday speaking. We eat this ‘g’ as you say in Brazil.
And then later we have the chorus:
"I didn't know I was looking for love until I found you
The past simple I found you, happens in the middle of the past continuous “ I was looking for love”.
Here is an unofficial video with lyrics:
Don Covay was an American R&B (Rhythm and Blues), soul, and rock & roll singer and this is his music with past continuous in the title from 1973:
2. I was checking out, she was checking in - Don Cavay
Again in general the ‘g’ is cut from checking.
At the beginning he was leaving the hotel, that is he was ‘checking out’, which you can understand from the very first lyrics in the song. The good news for students is that he speaks these lyrics instead of singing them, so it might be easier for you to understand:
"I just got finished givin’ the hotel manager
back the room key and paid my bill"
And then a previous partner, an ex-girlfriend who he calls his ‘old lady’, which is American slang, was checking in or registering at the hotel with another man.
And then he starts singing the chorus:
"Lord, I was checkin' out
And she was checkin' in"
Here is the official video on YouTube:
There have been many covers of this song, including by Bobby Womack.
3. Closer (Lyrics) - The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey
And now for some dreadful EDM (Electronic Dance Music)/Electro pop from 2016 by the American duo The Chainsmokers, and the opening lyrics of this song are:
"Hey, I was doing just fine before I met you"
As in our timeline, the past continuous was in the process of happening, he was doing just fine, then the past simple happened in the middle of this, I met you.
Their official video has the lyrics on screen which helps. It also inexplicably has over 2.5 billion views. Sometimes I don’t understand this planet!
4. - Used to Be - AJ Mitchell
Some more popular but dreadful contemporary music, however it was written by American singer AJ Mitchell when he was 13.
I think it is far more mature and poetic than many other songs written by song writers much older and famous than he is. So I give him credit for that, to use the English expression “I tip my hat to him”, which means I respect him for that.
"You were lovin' me, hating me, tell me you're my baby"
As a bonus he uses lots of different verb tenses, for example ‘used to’, to describe routine in the past but we don’t do now:
"We used to talk every day and night"
And present perfect continuous:
"Been searching day and night’ which should be ‘I’ve been searching day and night"
This is an example showing that incorrect grammar in songs is very common, and not just in English but all languages.
The official video has lyrics on the screen but they can be hard to read:
Here is an unofficial video with lyrics static on the screen that are easy to read:
5. Never Tear Us Apart - INXS
INXS, which is a play on words of ‘in excess’ have this music with past continuous.
They were an Australian band who were very popular when I was growing up, especially among teenage girls because of their charismatic lead singer Michael Hutchence, who sadly committed suicide at the age of 37 in 1997.
The past continuous lyrics are:
"I was standing, you were there"
This is repeated through the song, but then at the end of the song it changes to:
"You were standing, you know it’s true, I was there"
The official video is here:
Here is an unofficial video with lyrics on screen to help you:
6. Don’t You Want Me Baby - Human League
Now this is more like it! Classic British 80’s new wave, synth pop. This music is still hugely popular today and it has been covered many times and also used in many movies and TV shows.
"You were working as waitress in a cocktail bar, when I met you"
Again another example of past simple and past continuous used together to indicate that the past simple action “I met you” happened in the middle of the past continuous action “you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar”.
There is also lots of present perfect as the couple singing the song discuss their life together.
There are 11 lessons describing how to use the present perfect in my online video course "Eliminate All the Most Important Mistakes that Portuguese Speakers Make in English".
Over 4 hours of video made exclusively for Portuguese speakers, you can read more about it and watch free videos here.
This is the classic official video from 1982 with over 130 million views:
Here is an unofficial video with lyrics:
7. The songs we were singing - Paul McCartney
The Beatles are always a popular choice of songs in English to study, many students are curious to understand their lyrics, however they do use a lot of slang and ‘cut’ or ‘eat’ syllables and words.
This music with past continuous has the lyrics:
“But we always came back to the song we were singing”
To come back to means to return. Although it uses past simple and present continuous it does not mean that he returned during the action of singing, so this is a different use of past continuous and past simple. It means they continued to sing the same songs in the past.
It does not appear under Paul McCartney’s official Vevo channel on YouTube, but it does here:
Here is another unofficial video karaoke with lyrics on screen to help you:
8. Space Age Love Song - A Flock of Seagulls
More classic 1980’s action and this band has a lead singer with the most 1980’s popstar haircut you can imagine. In fact, people started to call this style of haircut “a flock of seagulls” haircut. In the movie Pulp Fiction, Samuel L Jackson’s character calls a young man “flock of seagulls” because of his hair.
Here are the lyrics:
"And you made me smile
For a little while
I was falling in love"
From the lyrics we infer that this past continuous “I was falling in love” was only temporary, he says it was for a little while, so soon after he probably stopped.
The song was released in 1982 and was made famous from the 1991 movie Career Opportunities which was also known as “One Wild Night” starring Jennifer Connelly.
It is a simple song lyrically with lots of repetition of the past continuous.
Here it is on their official channel without lyrics on screen:
And an unofficial video with the lyrics on screen:
And to finish of a couple of classics from “way back”, that is a long time ago.
9. Doo Wah Diddy - Manfred Mann
You might not recognise the name Manfred Mann but this English band had a few well-known hits in the 1960’s.
In this song the past continuous is used throughout which shows that the woman in the song was doing all the actions at the same time.
This song also has the common informal pronunciation of not pronouncing the ‘g’ in ‘-ing’. As I said this is very common in English speaking countries, certainly we do it a lot in Ireland!
"There she was just a-walkin' down the street, singin' "Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do"
Snappin' her fingers and shufflin' her feet, singin' "Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do"
To shuffle your feet means to move your feet like you are dancing or perhaps like a peson does when they are nervous.
To snap your fingers can also be called to click your fingers.
Here is an unofficial video with lyrics:
And the official video on Youtube which just has a static picture:
10. He Was Really Saying Something - Bananarama
This song was originally by American motown group The Velevettes. Motown was short for Motor town which is similar to motor city which was the nickname of Detroit, when it had many car factories from Ford, General Motors etc
Bananarama were a popular British girl pop band in the 80’s, one of their members Siobhan Fahey was from Dublin, Ireland. They had many top 40 hits in the UK during their career.
Unusually, but good for students learning English, the record company made a high quality video for this music with lyrics on screen. They did this to promote that they released all Bananarama albums on vinyl after remastering them.
It would be great to see more record companies make cool official videos with lyrics on the screen like this:
This is the official video from when the song was released in 1983, check out the 1980’s hair and fashion!
Here is the original Motown version by the Valevettes from the 1960’s:
This appears to be the official video on youtube:
Songs With Past Continuous: Vocabulary
To check in = to register at a hotel when you arrive there or at an airport before your flight. Also can be used to briefly meet or talk to someone to get an update from them.
To check out = to complete the administration, payment etc when leaving a hotel after your stay is finished.
To tip your hat = to politely recognise someone’s achievements, a sign of respect to somebody. Originates when men, remove their hat briefly to show respect to somebody.