Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Femme Fatale – Velvet Underground

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Whilst it is often true that the bext version of songs are the originals, by the original writers, that isn’t always the case. Bob Dylan is probably a case in point – great songwriter that he is, his own recordings of his own songs aren’t always best, and covers (taking The Byrds as a case in point) can add to and improve on the originals.

Femme Fatale is – for me – another song that falls into that category. The song was originally written by Lou Reed, and appeared on the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, sung by Nico. I guess it’s that “sung by Nico” bit that does it for me – her voice is definitely an acquired taste, and not one that I’ve acquired!

Still, you can’t keep a good song down. My first (and best loved) exposure to this song was via. a version on Tracey Thorn’s gorgeous debut solo album, A Distant Shore. I’ve loved Tracey’s voice from the first time I heard it on a couple of tracks on the Cherry Red “99p or less” compilation album “Pillows and Prayers”, and it is perfect on this version of the song (check out the rest of A Distant Shore as well, it really is beautiful, and a real autumn feeling album). But the song has been covered extensively (see the Wikipedia page for details), including a surprisingly good version by Duran Duran. Here’s the Tracey Thorn version..,

Not much to say about the song sheet. It’s a very simple song, and with all those maj7 chords it can’t fail to go wrong. Enjoy!

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As can be expected for such a classic song, there are plenty of ukulele versions out there. Some good, some bad. But this is my favourite, as I think it really captures the feel of the original (but with a decent vocal!).


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The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) – U2

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I’ve waxed lyrical about U2 in the past, and for years, despite their hugeness as a band (or maybe because of it) that’s felt a desperately uncool position to take. Not that being cool is something that I’m overly concerned about, but they’ve certainly attracted their fair share of detractors. I can understand that to an extent – reaching as big an audience as possible has always been in the DNA of the band, and the idea of being a culy favourite is almost anathema to them. So the things they’ve done and the stunts they’ve pulled to maintain that position have sometime rankled. And that’s before you get to Bono’s “do-gooding” and the tax situation. Those are easy things to pick fights on, but personally (and as a fan I declare a relative lack of objectivity here) I think the almost instinctive U2-hating knee-jerk reaction has become a lazy conformance to stereotype.

The recent launch of their new album “Songs of Innocence” into 500 million iTunes accounts, unbidden, was greeted with the to-be-expected cries for these vociferous haters. But it’s been interesting over the last month or so, after the initial noise died down, to see how many people are discovering (or rediscovering) the band as a result of the stunt. Which to a certain extent justifies the action. Certainly Bono has commented that the band were afraid that this collection of songs (some of their most personal in recent times) wouldn’t be heard, and that they wanted to get them out there and give people a chance to hear them. People certainly had that chance, even if they chose not to take them up on the offer.

The album is one that looks back, as the title suggests, to the early days of the band and its members as they were growing up. In that sense it is a concept album, although not with the overblown pretentions that might be associated with such a label. For what it’s worth, I think it’s their strongest collection of songs for quite a while. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” harks back to the early days of punk, and crytalises the bands (and particularly Bono’s) reaction to the adrenalin rush of that music, and in particular the sounds of The Ramones  – “the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard”. Whilst some may accuse them of bandwagon jumping, the Ramones were a significant influence on U2 right from the beginning, even if that’s not immediately obvious in the band’s sound in general, and in this song in particular. And the tribute is certainly appreciated by those who knew Joey Ramone.

So here’s the songsheet. I’ve actually based this around the “(Busker Version)” included as part of the Acoustic sessions on the deluxe version of the album. I can’t find a copy of that on YouTube (here’s a Spotify link), but listen to this version from a recent BBC session with Jo Whiley, or this version from an Italian TV performance. The songsheet probably makes more sense when listening to these versions, and being familiar with the song will certainly help in getting a feel for how to play it. A few notes though. The [Asus4] bits at the end of each line in the chorus are a couple of grace notes that – to my mind – add something at that point (and are prevelant on the busker version). The [A5] is a power chord, and the song probably works well with power chords throughout, but some of them are hard to play on the uke(!), so I’ve only kept it in for the unaccompanied riff bit. Also I’m not totally convinced about the chords in the “We can hear you…” bit, but they sound OK. Enjoy!

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Living On The Ceiling – Blancmange

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And so it’s back to the 80s. Again. As I might have said before, my view of “the 80s” seems to bear a passing resemblance to the popular cultural view of what that decade was like. But having lived through that decade, it seems to me that the popular memory of it has become somewhat skewed and selective. Yes there were shoulder pads and leg warmers, rubiks cubes and De Lorean’s (although not many in my neck of the wood, I can tell you). But those things seem to have become lazy catch-alls for a decade that I remember as being somewhat darker and more varied than that. I recently went to see the film Pride, a film focussed on the unlikely but true alliance between a London-based gay and lesbian group, and striking mine workers in South Wales. For me that film captured the essense of the 80s as I remember it. Helped by the fact that it has a cracking musical soundtrack!

One of the tracks on the “Music from and Inspired by…” soundtrack album is this little gem from 80s synthpop duo Blancmange. Duos of this sort were all the rage at the time (Soft Cell, Yazoo, Tears for Fears, etc.), and Blancmange have somewhat fallen off the radar compared to their compatriots. But this is a great little pop song, made particularly memorable by the  middle-eastern flavour (something that, according to the band’s Neil Arthur, was a mistake that stuck).

The song itself is just two chords – what could be simpler! However I’ve also transcribed the instrumental melody line, something that is a very distinctive part of the song. It goes a bit high up the fret board at one point, but worth giving a try. I’ve also included it in two keys – one in the original key (B) and one in C that makes it a little easier to play. Enjoy!

<songsheet – original key>  <songsheet – in C>


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All About The Bass – Meghan Trainor

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OK, so you’ll know by now that this isn’t the usual kind of thing to pop up on here. But for a number of reasons I thought this appropriate.

Firstly, this was suggested by Sarah, one of my fellow Flukes, at a band practice on Thursday evening as something we might do. So I dug it out (not being overly familiar with chart pop these days) and it seemed like something that might work.

Secondly, on looking the song up I came across this version, which is Meghan singing the song live, accompanying herself on a ukulele. So clearly it’s a song for ukulele!

Finally, the theme of the song – about having a positive body image regardless of your size – is one that resonates a little too painfully at the moment. My youngest daughter has been suffering from anorexia for the last three years, and it has been something of a tramatic journey, both for her and us. It’s a highly misunderstood illness, and often comes with a whole load of other related conditions, of which poor body image is one. So it’s a subject I’ve become somewhat more sensitive to of late. Consequently this song gets a strong thumbs up in my book. Contrary to the “wisdom” of the internet, the song isn’t about encouraging people to be big/fat, it’s about accepting your body shape for what it is, and making the most of it. Yes, for sure there are people who would benefit from losing weight, no one would deny that. But there are others, maybe just as many, for whom not having this level of acceptance leads to a downward spiral of weight loss and self-abuse, something that might start with good intentions but soon becomes an uncontrollable monster that takes over their lives and consumes everything. The reasons for people developing conditions such as anorexia are many and varied, and one little pop song isn’t going to change that. But if it encourages debate and thinking about the need for positive body image, then that has to be a good thing.

So here’s the song sheet. It’s a simple, straightforward song, nothing tricky from a chords point of view. You might want to polish off your rapping chops to get the feel for the song as a whole, but what ever you do, give it some attitude. I’ve put the song in two keys – the first (A) is the same as the original recording. The scond (G) is the key that Meghan plays it on the ukulele (see clip below). Enjoy!

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Just Like Heaven – The Cure

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I’m conscious that there’s been a lot of 80s stuff on here lately. And here comes another one. I guess it’s no surprise given it’s the era when I was growing up, and that is an age at which music seems to have such a significant impact. The music you love at at that time lives with you forever, and it’s often hard to be objective about it. It becomes part of who you are, somehow written through you and in you.

Just Like Heaven is an 80s song, from a band who were undoubtedly most prolific and creative during that period. My first awareness of The Cure was when their song Charlotte Sometimes (still a favourite) appeared on the early 80’s compilation album Modern Dance. I can’t say it turned me into a huge fan, but there was a run of singles through the 80s that was very impressive – songs like The Lovecats, Inbetween Days and Close To Me were all great singles, and there was a real sense of creativity and variety that came through what The Cure did, despite their being tarred with the “Goth” badge. Recently I’ve been digging back into some of the music of the early -80s that I missed, some of the post-punk music of the time, and along with bands like Magazine, Josef K and the B-52s, I’ve discovered that I *did* miss something with The Cure – albums like Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Disintegration are records I really love.

Just Like Heaven is from the band’s 1987 album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which is probably at the poppier and more accessible end of the spectrum of the bands music (those terms are relative – this isn’t Bros or One Direction!). Apparently it is considered by the band’s singer and main songwriter Robert Smith to be one of the bands strongest songs. I don’t think anybody would much argue with that. It’s a simple and effective pop song, albeit one with a slightly opaque lyric which, according to Smith, is about “hyperventilating—kissing and fainting to the floor”.

The Cure songs seem to translate well to the ukulele. The ukulele group of which I am a part, Southampton Ukulele Jam, regularly perform a version of Inbetween Days (listen here), and sometimes have a bash at Friday I’m In Love. Just Like Heaven scores quite a few hits on YouTube for ukulele covers, of which I think this has to be the best. Although I think this one captures something of Robert Smith’s performance.

The song sheet is a relatively straightforward one. I’ve added in a transcription of the two solo sequences in the song as well, the first over the intro and the first instrumental break, the second combining guitar and keyboard solos over the second instrumental breaks. Enjoy!

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Life In A Northern Town – Dream Academy

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Occassionally I look through the stats for this site, just to see what people are looking at (if you’re interested currently Baker Street is the top downloaded songsheet, followed by How Long Will I Love You). It also shows some of the search terms that people have used that find their way to this site. Earlier this week I noticed that one of those was “life in a northern town ukulele tabs” – it had taken the searcher to the page for Julian Cope’s Head Hang Low, which contained a reference to said song due to the contribution of one-time Ravishing Beauty and Dream Academy member Kate St. John. And I thought – well, why not? Let’s give it a go. And here it is!

Life In A Northern Town was a 1985 hit (and really their only hit of any substance) for The Dream Academy. Their polished, sophisticated pop sound was akin to a number of other bands around at the time, including Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout and Everything But The Girl. This particular song was apparently intended as a tribute to singer-songwriter Nick Drake, a deeply melancholic artist who recorded a number of rich and intensely personal albums in the early 1970s, but who never achieved any kind of significant success in his lifetime, and who died of an anti-depressant overdose at the age of 26. Since then his star has been in ascendence and he is now rightly reverred for his work.

I remember buying the 12″ single version of this when it came out (I think it was probably from Henry’s Records in Southampton), and it has always been a favourite song of mine. The contrast of the windswept (yes, you can here it) downbeat and nostalgic verses with the upbeat, almost African / tribal chorus was a winner for me, and it was one of those songs you could play again and again and never tire of. If you get a chance to check out the couple of additional tracks on that 12″ (Test Tape No. 3 and Poised On The Edge Of Forever) which are just gorgeous.

And so to the songsheet. This took a bit of working on, and even now I’m not convinced it totally does the job. But it’s good enough. First thing you’ll see is that there are a lot of chords, including some slightly unusual ones. No apologies for that, because I think they help contribute to making the song what it is. This is quite a subtle song, and those subtle chord variations are key to the making the song work. However, it’s not as bad as it looks – essentially the song is the chord sequence shown in the intro repeated, with a few subtle variations.  And if you struggle with the Aadd4 chord, just play Asus4 instead – that still works. Also I should give some thanks to Tony Canova, the creator of this video, from which I stole a few ideas. Nice version, Tony! Enjoy!

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I Shall Be Released – Bob Dylan

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So here’s a clasic example of one of the reasons I started putting this blog together in the first place. This is hardly an obscure song. In fact I think the word “classic” is not really open to debate on this one. And yet could I find a decent, clear, consistent set of chords for it? No, I couldn’t. Probably there is one lurking out there, and probably I’m being a bit fussy, but here’s my take anyway.

Wikipedia starts its entry for this by saying that “I Shall Be Released” is a 1967 song written by Bob Dylan. Well, that’s factually correct, I’ll give them that, but it all seems a bit terse for what is such a sublime song. The song has a real gospel influence to it, both in the musical structure of the song and in its lyrics, which combine themes of religious redemption with that of a man unjustly prisoned, looking forward to his release. There’s some heavy existential stuff going on in this song, yet as with much of Dylan’s material it’s not quite as simple and explicit as it might be in lesser hands, and leaves itself open to all manner of interpretations.

The song was originally released in a version by The Band, who had acted as Dylan’s backing band on those infamous folk-goes-electric gigs. The keening, falsetto harmonies of that version give it an otherwordly feel that are echoed on the original Dylan version, later released on The Bootleg tape series. The song has since been extensively covered, with notable versions being made by the likes of Nina Simone and reggae band The Heptones, who lent it a lovely chugging rhythm, something repeated on one of my favourite versions by Beth Rowley.

I couldn’t find a Youtube clip of the original Dylan version (try the Beth Rowley version for one in the same key as Dylan and the songsheet, or this Spotify link), but meanwhile here’s the classic version from The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz. Featuring the massed ranks of Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Hawkins and Van Morrison – my what a concert that must have been!

And so here’s the song sheet. Nothing much to say about it, it’s a very simple song (three chords) with endless room for variation and improvisation. This is in the same key as the Dylan original. Enjoy!

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