Song lyrics – One Direction – Long Way Down

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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.

Today, I’m making a podcast about the lyrics to a song by One Direction called Long Way Down. This was requested by Maisarah and I think will make a good A2 B1 podcast. I have gone through the lyrics and there are 14 interesting words and three phrases. As usual, I will try to work out what the meaning of the song is as I go through the lyrics.

The song starts with the line: 

We made a fire

Went down in the flames

Fire is what you get when material burns. I think the verb to burn is more advanced than the noun fire so this is not a great start. A fire is normally a pile of burning wood. If you go camping, you might build a fire or make a fire. I have a fireplace in my house and on a cold day, I light the fire to warm up the house. A fire in a house is a lovely thing, I mean in a fireplace and not out of control. But then the band sings went down in the flames. The expression is normally to go down in flames and it means to fail spectacularly. I think the expression comes from aircraft, possibly from during the second world war when aircraft would get shot down and literally fall to the ground in flames. Now, if you have a plan to do something and it goes horribly wrong, you can say it went down in flames.

The next line is: 

We sailed an ocean

And drowned in the wave

To sail means to control a boat. Normally, to sail implies that the boat you are controlling has a sail, that is, a large fabric sheet that’s raised above the boat to catch the wind. These days, most boats are not powered by wind and don’t have any sails, but we still use the verb to sail and call the people who work on boats sailors. The ocean means one of the very large expanses of water on the earth. The Atlantic or the Pacific ocean for example. To sail an ocean is an impressive thing to do. It takes hard work and determination. Unfortunately, in this song, the band sings they drowned in a wave. To drown means to die in water because you are underwater and can’t breathe. A wave is … you get waves in the sea. They are like moving ridges of water, like moving hills. When they arrive at the shore, they break and crash. Surfers ride waves when they meet the shore. Waves at sea can be really massive and can even damage or sink boats if they are hit from the wrong direction.

Next they sing:

Built a cathedral

But we never prayed

A cathedral is a big building where Christians go to perform religious rituals. Normally, Christians go to a church. When a Christian goes to a church, they go to listen to the priest or vicar talking and performing a ceremony. In a cathedral, you can find a bishop performing the ceremonies. A bishop is like a regional manager for Christian organisations. To pray means to talk to god. Sometimes people pray privately and maybe ask god for help or say thank you for some blessing, but other times people pray together and recite common prayers. 

The last line in this first verse is:

We had it all, yeah

And we walked away

To walk away means to give up something, usually a job. It’s quite poetic so people only really use it when talking about a big change in their life. The work was getting too much for me so I walked away. The relationship wasn’t good for me so I walked away.

In this first verse, the band are talking about their achievements. They worked hard to make One Direction a very successful band, but somehow things went wrong, their plans went down in flames, they drowned in their ocean, they never prayed in the cathedral they built and they had to walk away from their success.

Now in the chorus they sing:

Point of no returning

Now it’s just too late to turn around

The point of no return is the place in a journey where you are committed, where you can’t turn around and go back. So, if you are climbing a mountain, when you are at the bottom of the mountain, you can turn around and go home. However, once you get to a certain point on the climb, you are too high to be rescued if things go wrong. You are at the point of no return. Or if you are sailing across an ocean, you will have limited food and resources. If you sail for more than half of your rations in one direction, you will cross the point of no return because you will not have enough rations to sail home. This means that you have to make it to your destination, to the other side of the ocean or you will starve at sea. The band is singing that they can’t stop now, that they have passed the point of no return and it’s too late to turn around. 

The next line in the chorus is:

I try to forgive you

But I struggle ’cause I don’t know how

To forgive someone means to stop feeling angry towards someone who has done something that has hurt you. If you forget your best friend’s birthday and don’t get them a card or a present, when you see them you might say – I’m sorry, please forgive me. 

To struggle means to do something with great difficulty. It can also mean to try to do something when there are people trying to stop you. If somebody is tied up with ropes, they might struggle to get free. In films, you often see hostages and prisoners being tied up and the guards say: stop struggling. More commonly in real life, we use the verb to say that we are finding something difficult. I have so much work on, at the moment that I’m struggling to get it all done. 

Cause is the short form of because, which means is the reason. So you can say: I went to the shops because I wanted to buy some new clothes. Or I went to bed early because I was tired. Often in informal speech, we drop the be and just say ‘cause. I went to bed early ‘cause I was tired. 

The final lines of the chorus explain the meaning of the song and include the song title.

We built it up so high

And now I’m falling

It’s a long way down

So they are saying that because they have been so successful, because they have built the band and created music and have fans, because of all this, leaving the band or stopping, perhaps breaking up the band would feel like falling from a great height. They have come a long way and they can’t really go back to their lives before One Direction – they passed that point of no return when they started making music videos and became hugely famous. If they want to quit, though, it feels like a long way down.

In the second verse, they start with the following lines:

We had a mountain

But took it for granted

We had a spaceship

But we couldn’t land it

If you take something for granted, you don’t recognise the value of something because you think it will always be there, you will always have it. Granted is similar to the word given, the past participle of the verb to give. If something is given or granted, then you can feel certain or sure about it. There are a few uses of given and granted that are related to being certain. So if you take something for granted, it’s like you are so certain of it, you don’t value it. For example, my wife makes really lovely packed lunches for my boys to take to school. She always makes sure there’s some fruit and something sweet as well as lots of different types of sandwiches or wraps. My boys don’t realise how lucky they are to have these lunches because they have always had them. They just assume that it’s normal and so they take them for granted.  In the song, the band says that they had a mountain. I guess this is a metaphor for their success. They had an enormously successful band, but they were young and didn’t really appreciate it. They took it for granted. 

In the next line, they say something similar. We had a spaceship, but we couldn’t land it. A spaceship is a vehicle for travelling through space. Normally you hear about spaceships in science fiction. So the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars is a famous example of a spaceship. The band sang that they had a spaceship, but they couldn’t land it. To land a vehicle that flies means to park the vehicle on the ground in a controlled way. Normally, we talk about landing planes. Planes land on runways at airports.

The last lines of the second verse are:

We found an island

But we got stranded

We had it all, yeah

Who could’ve planned it?

An island is an area of land that is surrounded by water. Britain is an island. Australia is a massive island. I spoke about islands in a recent podcast about the natural world. 

But we got stranded

This is the only C2 vocabulary in the song. I think some of the expressions are quite advanced, but the word stranded was the only word that the vocabulary profile tool I use marked as C2. If you are stranded, you are stuck somewhere and you can’t leave. So if you are sailing in the ocean and your boat starts to sink and you make it to a small island, you will be stranded on the island. If you don’t have a boat then you won’t be able to leave the island. You might also get stranded somewhere if you run out of money. Perhaps you go on a trip and then lose your ticket home. You will be stranded in a strange place. It’s almost always used in the passive. I was stranded or like in the song, I got stranded. 

And after that, the chorus repeats and that’s the song. It’s quite a nice song, clearly about the band and their success and how difficult it was to deal with the idea that they can’t go back to their old lives, but the idea that you can be so successful, you can climb so high, that it’s a long way down is a feeling that you might get if you are in an amazing relationship or you get do a dream job so the song could mean something to regular people as well.

I suggest you listen to the song now and try to follow the lyrics. If you can, sing a long a couple of times as that can be a good way to remember the vocabulary. I hope you have enjoyed this podcast. I do love reading your comments so please leave me a comment on the site or a rating or a review on Apple podcasts. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. 

If there are any topics or songs or scenes from a film that you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.

Thanks for listening.

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2 Comments

  • Chan
    Posted 25/09/2021 at 2:38 am 0Likes

    Hi teacher . could you please do a lesson on the song bad liar by imagine dragon and falling Llike a
    Star by James Arthur . thanks in advance 🙏♥️

  • Phoebe
    Posted 30/09/2021 at 7:51 am 0Likes

    Thank you, Jack. I like you podcast. My English is still in the basic stage, so please forgive me for leaving few messages. May God bless you!

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