Many American slang words come from the world of music, as you'll hear in this film.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2002 documentary film directed by Paul Justman. It recounts the story of The Funk Brothers, the uncredited and largely unheralded studio musicians who were the hand picked house band by Berry Gordy in 1959. They were the band who recorded and performed on Motowns' recordings from 1959 to 1972.The version of the film above keeps the original subtitles, but the subtitles are often inaccurate, especially during the songs. For example, in the song "Shotgun," the line "do the dirty" is really "do the jerk" (that is, the dance).
The film was inspired by the 1989 book Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson, a bass guitar instruction book by Allan Slutsky, which features the bass lines of James Jamerson. The film covers the Funk Brothers' career via interviews with surviving band members, archival footage and still photos, dramatized re-enactments, and narration by actor Andre Braugher. The film also features new live performances of several Motown hit songs, with the Funk Brothers backing up Gerald Levert, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins, Chaka Khan, and Montell Jordan.
The impetus behind making the film was to bring these influential players out of anonymity. In addition to bassist James Jamerson, The Funk Brothers consisted of the following musicians: Jack Ashford (percussion); Bob Babbitt (bass); Joe Hunter (keyboards); Uriel Jones (drums); Joe Messina (guitar); Eddie Willis (guitar); "Pistol" Allen (drums); "Papa Zita" Benjamin (drums); "Bongo" Brown (percussion); Johnny Griffith (keyboards); Earl Van Dyke (keyboards); and Robert White (guitar). The Funk Brothers produced more hits than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys together. It was their sound, according to Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) that backed The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, amongst other noteworthy bands during their tenure from 1959 to 1973.
Here is a guide to some of the phrases we hear in this film:
I heard it through the grapevine: I found out about something through rumors passed from person to person
To dash all over: to run quickly, usually frantically, especially from task to task. “He was dashing all over, getting ready for the party.”
Between the two of us: together we are enough to get the task done—“Between the two us of us, we’ll finish by five.” Also, holding something confidential: “This is just between the two of us—nobody else should know.”
To run over to (somewhere – store, etc.): to go somewhere quickly. “I’ll just run over to the store to get some milk. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Traffic got tied up: a traffic jam started. “As usual, traffic got tied up at the exit ramp to I-95.”
(something was) holding up traffic: interrupting or interfering with the flow of traffic. “An accident was holding up traffic”
I was used to (doing something): I was accustomed to… “Russians are used to the cold.” Also, “get used to.” “After living in Russia, I got used to the cold.” Also used with verbs. “I got used to leaving my shoes at the front door when I lived in Russia.”
to find peace of mind: to come to terms with a emotional event, decision, etc. “I think he’s found some peace of mind now, after coming home from the war.”
his piece: his pistol
to wear a smirk: a derisive or sarcastic smile with one end of the lip curled up … “Wipe that smirk off your face! Listen to me when I talk!”
you do (me, him, them, etc) wrong: treat someone unethically , unfairly; “you did me wrong”
cocky: arrogant and careless, usually applies to youth
took on a life of its own: began to take on an existence, or began to circulate, independently of its creator—for example, an idea, song, text, saying, rumor
she’s getting down: “getting down” is doing something well and enthusiastically, especially in music, dance, etc.
doing our own thing: very American expression; finding what’s uniquely ours to do, what suits our personality and talents; “We didn’t like the way he told us to do it, so we did our own thing.”
you guys – in casual conversation, has almost become an informal plural in American English; it now applies to both men and women, especially among young people
you beat me to the punch: you scored a point (figuratively) by taking the initiative or anticipating what I might do
he kicked it off: when someone begins with the expectation that others will join in. In American football, the game begins with a kick-off.
work it out: in a conflict, means to come to an agreement – with a problem, to find a solution to a problem. “They worked it out so they could still work in the same office.” Or, “the computer crashed, so together they worked out a way to do it by hand.”
we couldn’t make a living: didn’t receive wages high enough to support a family. “I couldn’t make a living on a small farm anymore, so I took a job at the store.”
we ended up (doing, going, etc.): without planning, or through eventual lack of choice – “After getting lost a few times, we ended up going on the freeway.”
to stand a chance: have a possibility - “Thirty years ago, a black person didn’t stand a chance of being elected president of the U.S.”
gonna: short for “going to”; “The pilot radioed the control tower, ‘We’re gonna be in the Hudson’.”
lay the groundwork: prepare for a complex event, etc. “He laid the groundwork for the company’s move to Chicago.”
to raise Cain: a biblical reference to a child who grew up to kill his own brother; means to make a big, noisy fuss. “After the manager refused to pay their back wages, the workers sure raised Cain about it.”
to make up your mind: to decide. “He’s coming in ten minutes. Make up your mind what you’re going to wear.”
to become a permanent fixture: to be always present; “He came to the gym so often he was a permanent fixture.”
will see you through: to help you get through a difficult time. “I’ll stay with you in the hospital, to see you through your son’s surgery.”
my head’s in a haze: to be unable to think clearly, mostly because of an emotional event. “Ever since she left me, my head’s been in a haze.”
it gets to you: something that becomes upsetting after awhile. “Everyone was paid more than me. Being treated like that gets to you.”
to skip school: to be absent from school. “He skipped school so often he had to repeat eighth grade.” (However, to skip a grade in school means to advance or be promoted two grades higher rather than just one grade higher, usually owing to the student's ability to do schoolwork at a higher level than their current class level.)
what he was about: plans, interests, intentions, dreams for the future, etc. “He explained to me what he was about.”
to hang out with: spend time with. “I was just over at his house, hanging out with him and his brothers.” Has been shortened to “hangin’ or “hangin’ around.” “What you doin’ hangin’ with someone like him?”
to sit back: to relax, or to take yourself out of the general action; “We were discussing it – it really got heated, but the director just sat back and let us work it out.” Or, “sit back, enjoy the show…”
mainstream: the majority, or what the majority believes, does, etc. “We didn’t talk to the most conservative or the most liberal – just mainstream America.” When used negatively, its meaning is similar to “conventional”—that is, the opposite of “avant-garde.”
Stuff is a word we often use when we don’t want to be specific:
a whole lot of stuffNonstandard or regional English usages:
the instruments and stuff
he done learned (the word “done” becomes an intensifier or modal verb, something like a past-tense equivalent to “do” in the sentence “I do want you to finish that task”, or the “went and” construction in “he went and learned” ...)
it wasn’t never going to be happenin’
I didn’t have no full set of drums
that weren’t nothin’
hurry up, man! – the use of “man” is different from so-called “standard” English. Historically, “the man” sometimes meant “the white boss” or white people generally, or the authorities.
our people came north: refers to the migration of blacks from the southern states to work in the factories in the northern states after 1920 or so, and especially during World War II. Blacks often use the phrase “our people” to mean blacks. Low-income whites migrated, too.
the truck had a accident Use of article a before a word starting with a vowel, when standard English would use “an”.
Use of the double negative ("I didn't have no full set of drums") is characteristic of certain dialects and the youth slang influenced by them; it is not recommended for standard English or for university exams.
Here are some examples of language specific to music or musicians, especially jazz, blues, R & B, soul, rock, etc. … sometimes crossing over into general use:
cat: a musician (usually but not always a jazz musician); (sometimes) a musician one really admires
a take: one attempt to record a song, symphonic movement, etc., from beginning to end. “We recorded that song in one take.” Also refers to movie-making. “Filming that scene took 30 takes!”
to cut a track: to record a song (refers to the production process for gramophone records, in which record masters were actually cut with an electromechanical record cutter that cut a spiral groove into the master disk)
axe: musical instrument (often guitar or trumpet)
ivories: piano or piano keys (also 88’s)
harp: harmonica (also blues harp or Mississippi saxophone)
funky: originally, having a strong odor, and by extension “earthy”; having a strong syncopated, danceable beat, a groove driven by coordination between drums and bass and a rhythmic use of repeated musical phrases, sometimes with flattened notes and chords
gig: a performance, usually for pay (now sometimes used in non-musical contexts)
countoff: the signals (often by voice or drum) to coordinate the start of a song, typically “one two three four” or “one, two, one two three four”—or in Sam the Sham’s famous case, “Uno dos, one two tres quatro!” (“Wooly Bully”)
pickup: among other meanings, the opening drum flourish of a song
riff: a short musical phrase, often repeated or used as the basis for improvisation; as an opening theme that catches the listener’s attention, it is sometimes called the hook, as in Robert White’s opening guitar notes of “My Girl.”
bridge: typically a contrasting musical interlude between the two main parts of a song, or between parts two and three of a three-part song
groove: the emotionally satisfying sensation resulting from musicians playing in rhythmic cohesion (from the era of gramophone records, when the needle was literally in the groove of the record)
Domingo Samudio's countoff:
The Funk Brothers are the musicians behind this next classic. Note Robert White's hook and the drum pickup.