Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Crash – The Primitives

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By the late-80s it seemed that the indie music scene had started its shift from its hugely eclectic post-punk roots of the late 70s and early 80s, when the Independent charts had first been established, into a specific and definable sound. The NME-cassette inspired C86 scene could be heralded as the beginning of this shift, with it’s emphasis on jangly guitars and power-pop.  This shift would ultimately lead to the nadir of “landfill indie”, but at the time there was still enough pzazz, energy and inventiveness for it to be an interesting and vibrant scene.

And even some glamour. Bands like Transvision Vamp (admitidly not on an indie label, but indie in spirit), The Darling Buds and The Primitives all combined that jangly power-pop sound with a striking peroxide-blonde female vocalist. A superficial commonality, maybe, but together they provided a pop / indie crossover that was refreshing in the late-80s, post-Live Aid music scene. Whilst not able to sustain a long-term career, while thesebands bloomed they brought a welcome sense of energy, fun and glamour to an indie scene that doesn’t always embrace some of those concepts.

The Primitives I remember seeing in a thrilling gig in the late 80s at Southampton University. I remember being part of a seething, constantly churning crown who pogoed and slam-danced to a constant succession of short, sharp 2 minute pop songs with punk energy and style. Crash was the epitome of the bands repetoire, their biggest hit and the one song that has probably outlived their brief career. Opening with that jangly riff, it bursts into life with lead singer Tracey Tracey’s vocals and doesn’t give up its thrills until two-and-a-half minutes later, fading away on a trail of na-na-nahs. Long enough to get hooked, short enough to want to put it on again, this is the sound of pure adrenalin pop in my book.

And so here’s the song sheet. As I’ve mentioned before these simple punk / new wave / indie three-chord pop songs seem to work really well on the uke, and this is no exception. The song sheet is simple and straightforward, just the chords (if you want to try transposing the guitar riff’s then you can find the guitar originals here!). I’ve also provided it in two keys – the original in B, but also a version in A which (a) is a little easier to play, and (b) I find easier to sing. Play with spirit and attitude, and enjoy!

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Just Now – John Martyn

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John Martyn may be renowned for his incredibly intracate, innovative and accomplished guitar playing. But he is also the writer of some simple, beautiful songs, and this is one of them (see also Over The Hill). Taken from his 1971 album “Bless The Weather“, Just Now seems to be a song about growing  up, about the friendships that shift, change and dissolve as we do so, but looking optimistically to a special friendship that he longs to return to. With a delicate balance of strummed guitar and piano chords, this song closed the first side of the album on a gorgeous, pensive note.

The songsheet is a similarly simple affair. I’ve taken the key down from Eb to D just to make it (a) easier to play and (b) more comfortable for me to sing. Nothing much to add, really. This is just beautiful. Enjoy!

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Sugar Town – Nancy Sinatra

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What this site really needs is some gratuitous 1960s glamour. So who better to provide that than the iconic daughter of an iconic crooner.

Sinatra is – obviously – the daughter of the legend that is Frank Sinatra. Like her father, she had a gift for phrasing and timing in her singing that, in my mind at least, sets her apart from your some of the other female singers of the time. Her time was the mid-to-late-60s, and she will forever be associated with that time. Most well known for These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, Sinatra was far from a one-hit wonder, scoring hits with her father (Somethin’ Stupid), with Lee Hazelwood (Did You Ever), the James Bond theme You Only Live Twice. And this little ditty.

Sugar Town is a song written by Lee Hazelwood, and is a laid-back, light and airy, slightly jazzy song that effortlessly drifts by. When Hazelwood was criticised for providing the “worst lyrics ever written in a top 10 song”, he retorted with “Hey, I spent a lotta time writing a bad lyric like that! The words are as stupid as I could get ‘em”. But Hazelwood has since confirmed that this is, in fact, a drugs song about LSD. Whilst Sinatra was aware of this, record company, radio and others were oblivious to, or overlooked, these references.

So here is the song sheet. Nothing complicated here, just a repeating set of simple chords throughout. I also transcribed the little trumpet riff in the middle and at the end, if you fancy it. This is a lovely little song to sing, so give it a try. Enjoy!

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Song From Under The Floorboards – Magazine

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I’ll be honest. Magazine aren’t a band that I’ve ever been a huge fan of, or know too much about. Not because I don’t really like them, but more through ignorance. There’s a lot of music out there, and catching up on all of it is a hopeless task. But recently I’ve been listening to quite a lot of post-punk-type compilations, and Magazine crop up on a number of those quite regularly. This song in particular (alongside Shot By Both Sides) seems to crop quite frequently, and has wormed its way into my head.

Magazine were formed in 1977 when lead singer Howard Devoto left the influential Manchester punk band Buzzcocks after their first EP. They are often considered one of the first post-punk bands, thought of as an artsier and more experimental form of punk. Song From Under The Floorboards was taken from their 1980 album The Correct Use Of Soap. Lyrically, this is a somewhat intruiging song, and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s all about, but it has been suggested that it is based on ‘Notes From the Underground’, a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in which the main character debates the concept of free will, regrets his lack of direction in life, and glorifies himself as a product of society, in turn condemning that society.

Released as a single in 1980, the song has been recently covered by Morrisey, as well as by Simple Minds.

Here’s the song sheet. There’s quite a bit of guitar tab out there for this song, but (unsurprisingly!) nothing for ukulele. It’s fair to say that this is an approximation of the original, and could probably do with some work and verification. But I’m putting it out there in the hope that somebody somewhere might be interested. Note that I’ve also included some tab for the guitar riff introduction – that again is an approximation as the limited range of the ukulele makes it difficult (impossible) to do it properly. But I think it sounds OK. Enjoy!

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Duel – Propaganda

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It’s the mid-80s, and the phenomenon that is Frankie Goes To Hollywood is everywhere. This isn’t a time for subtlety – Frankie reflect the times and are big, loud and brash. Relax, Two Tribes, even the ballad The Power Of Love are not exactly wallflowers. Thanks to Trevor Horn’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink production these songs are huge, in-your-face efforts that are reinvented each week with a new re-mix and new pseudo-intellectual posturingfrom Paul Morely. This isn’t necessarily bad – I like these records, Two Tribes in particular is wonderful, and the whole Frankie thing certainlty made for colourful times.

The label that Frankie emerged on, ZTT, was the brainchild of Morley, Horn and Jill Sinclair, and was hugely distinctive in both its music (Horn’s production fingers were all over it) and in the way it presented the music. Amongst the roster of other artist on the label at the time was the German synthpop group Propaganda. In it’s original incarnation the band only managed a single album, 1985’s A Secret Wish. But what an album that was. More musically capable and coherent than Frankie Goes To Hollywood, this was definitely a ZTT record, but had much more of an experimental European sound to it.

Duel was a single from that album, and gave the band their only Top Of The Pop performance. It was by far their most poppy effort, although alternative version Jewel is a far a more aggressive, industrial style take on the same song, at times unrecognisable compared to the original (there is also a remix version which combines the two).

Ultimately Propaganda suffered from the huge success of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which diverted effort and resources away from promoting them, and so seem to languish in the twilight world of 80s almost-made-its. That is a shame, because for a short time at least Propoganda had something original and exciting to offer.

And this on ukulele? Well why not! As I said earlier, this is probably Propaganda at their most popy and tuneful, so it really is a good sing-a-long. The song comes with quite a few chords, one or two not too common, but nothing too tricky. Probably best to forget that huge Trevor Horn production and trim it back to the basics of the tune, and there you’ll find something very lovely. Enjoy!

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Wanda (Darling of the Jockey Club) – Duke Special

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My track record on these pages for songs recorded in this century isn’t great, I’ll have to admit. And when they do appear, they’re usually throwbacks, often country and folk, to a distant sound and era. This song is *not* going to change that, and then some!

Duke Special is an artist from Northern Ireland. Known to friends as Peter Wilson, Duke has adopted a somewhat unorthodox bohemiam, white-man-in-dreadlocks-and-make-up look that certainly makes him stand out from the crowd. And his music has adopted, almost wilfully so, a similarly unorthodox approach that has little truck with the fads and sounds of 21st Century popular music. From his initial adoption of the Duke Special persona over ten years ago, he has moved from a set of low-fi EPs, almost hitting the big time with his debut album Songs From The Deep Forest and it’s follow-up I Never Thought This Day Would Come, before taking a series of left-turns with albums of original songs for a Bertol Brecht play, a collection of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson songs from an unfinished musical based on Mark Twain’s novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an album of songs inspired by the fictional silent film star Hector Mann, an EP of songs from 1950s Irish country superstar Ruby Murray, and a suite of songs commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrating the work of pioneering photographers Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. And that’s before the wildly eclectic seleciton of cover versions, taking in the likes of Joy Division, Buggles, Chaka Khan, Razorlight, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 1950s rock-and-roll and country songs. Live he performs solo, sometimes accompanied by a vintage gramophone, sometimes with a band (including Roy Castle’s son Ben on woodwind), and often with the legendary percussion player “Temperance Society” Chip Bailey, who will almost play / hit anything including the kitchen sink! Despite the bewildering variety of material and styles, in concert Duke somehow manages to unite this seemingly disparate material in both an entertaining and deeply affecting way. Those concerts are a real joy, and usually something out of the ordinary – the last two times I’ve seem him involved (i) wheeling an upright, candlelit piano into the middle of the audience and singing a mini-set totally acoustically, and (ii) handing out songsheets for the audience to join in!

Wanda… is taken from The Silent World of Hector Mann, a collection of songs commissioned by Duke from his songwriting friends, with the premise that they should be in a “pre rock-and-roll style”. This particular song was written by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, and adopts a jaunty 1920s style. Telling the humorous story of a female aviator, it taps into a whole series of themes and styles from that period.

As you’ll notice the original is performed with a piano accompaniment. But the style and general vibe of the song lends itself quite nicely (I think) to the ukulele. So here is the songsheet. It throws in a lot of chords, but nothing too tricky. The trick is getting that jaunty 20s feel to the accompaniment – the rest of the song will then flow from that. Enjoy!

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Substitute – Clout / The Righteous Brothers

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I never knew that Substitute was a cover version. Until about an hour ago I’d always gone under the misconception that it was an original song from Clout, a South African all-girl band (seemingly a sub-genre of one!). In that guise, I’ve always viewed at as a great, sadly forgotten, example of melodic, veering-on-the-edge-of-cheesy 1970s pop. It reached number 2 in the UK charts, yet it seems to have dissappeared from most people’s consciousness. Clout were a one-hit wonder in the UK, althought they did have further success elsewhere.

But then I did a bit of googling, and find it’s not that straightforward at all. It appears that Substitute was first recorded by The Righteous Brothers and released as a single in 1975. It was written by a certain Willie H. Wilson, of whom I can find very little information, other than that he wrote another song (High Blood Pressure) for The Righteous Brothers, and sung a rather nice pop/soul recording called My Ship.

Then I find that, amongst a number of other cover versions, Substitute was also recorded by Gloria Gaynor. Not just that, but it was originally the A-Side of a single, the B-Side of which was I Will Survive! DJ’s started playing I Will Survive in preference to Substitute and the single was eventually flipped. And the rest, as they say, is history – I Will Survive became a bone-fide and (unfortunately!) staple of karaokes the world over.

But for me it will always be the Clout version that is definitive.

And so to the song sheets. Having unearthed this slightly surprising history for the song, I’ve now got no less than three versions of the song sheet! There’s the original Clout version, as performed in E. There’s also a transposed version of the Clout version, in D, which I find easier to sing. And then there is The Righteous Brothers version, which has slightly different lyrics (gender reassignment!), and is in the same key as their version, namely D. Take your pick, and enjoy!

<Clout, original version>  <Clout version, in D>  <Righteous Brothers version>

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