Coldplay in concert

Songs to Learn English – Used to and Would for Past

How can songs help you learn English? Read this blog post!

Click on the title of each song below to view the video.

Come Dancing by The Kinks

Released in 1983 by the British rock band

Theme: Nostalgia, Urban Development, Family & Relationships, Social Activity

Expressions: Palais’ – ‘Dance hall or entertainment venue; ‘Big bands’ – large musical bands, usually playing jazz or swing music; ‘Estate’ – large housing development; ‘A peck on the cheek’ – a quick light kiss on the cheek.


Used to by Chris Daughtry

Released in 2006 by the American pop rock singer

Theme: Relationships, Nostalgia, Emotions, Reflection

Expressions: ‘To lean on’ – to depend on someone for support; ‘Figured out’ – to have something understood or resolved.


This Used To Be My Playground by Madonna

Released in 1992 by the American pop singer

Theme: Childhood, Nostalgia, Reflection.

Expressions: ‘Keep your head held high’ – remain confident and proud when things are difficult; ‘Don’t hold on to the past’ – don’t dwell on past events.


Viva La Vida by Coldplay

Released in 2008 by the British pop group,

Theme: Power and Authority, Historical and Religious Imagery, Loss and Reflection.

Expressions: ‘Viva la vida’ (Spanish for ‘Long Live Life’), lots of biblical references.

Note: This song is an interpretation of the last speech the French King Louis XVI gave before he was executed in the French Revolution.


Used To Love Her by Guns n’ Roses

Released in 1998 by the American rock band.

Theme: Death, Relationships, Violence, Crime, Emotions

Expressions: ‘Bitching, Fussing, Cussing’ – complaining; ‘to drive someone nuts’ – to make someone crazy; ‘Six feet under’ – this refers to burying a body in the ground; ‘Take it for what it is’ – accept something without thinking about it too much.


Cry, Cry by Oceana

Released in 2009 by the British pop R&B group.

Theme: Friendship, Childhood

Note: ‘We were inseparately’, should be ‘we were inseparable’ – it’s not dialect, it’s just wrong; ‘Sneaking all the night’ – moving quietly and carefully so you won’t be seen/heard.


The Way It Used To Be by The Pet Shop Boys

Released in 2009 by the British pop duo.

Theme: Nostalgia, Relationships, Geographical places

Expressions: ‘To be set in stone’ – something that is fixed and cannot be changed easily, ‘water under the bridge’ – past events or issues that are no longer important.


We Used to Wait by Arcade Fire

Released in 2010 by the Canadian indie rock band

Theme: Change, Nostalgia, Longing and Hope

Expressions: ‘Patient on the table’ – a patient waiting for a medical procedure/surgery.


Used To Be by A J Mitchell

Released in 2021 by the American pop singer.

Theme: Nostalgia, Relationships, Emotions.

Expressions: ‘Hang out’ – spend time together casually.


Just My Imagination by The Cranberries

Released in 1999 by the Irish pop group.

Theme: Youth, Nostalgia, Relationships, Imagination

Expressions: ‘Hit the town’ – go out and enjoy yourself in the city; ‘put my cards upon the table’ – to be honest about your feelings or intentions; ‘the man above’ – God.

Note: Also uses ‘would’ for past actions.



The River by Bruce Springsteen

Released in 1980 by the American rock singer.

Theme: Relationships, Nostalgia, Jobs

Expressions: ‘They bring you up to do like your daddy done’ – they raise you to do the same work as your father; ‘Union card’ – belonging to a trade union; ‘vanished right into the air’ – disappeared, ‘Memories come back to haunt me’ – memories evoke strong feelings or emotions or regrets.

Note: Non-standard English ‘like your daddy done’ in standard English this would be ‘like your daddy did’.