Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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My best of 2014

My Best of 2014 by Ian James on Mixcloud

What follows is a selection of some of the best music I’ve come across this year. Not all of it is new for 2014, but it was new to me, and that’s what matters. You can listen to it all via. the playlist below. I’ll say upfront that this (largely, with one notable exception) is non-ukulele related, but normal blog service will be resumed at a later date.

[Life of Sin – Sturgill Simpson]  Sturgill’s second album, “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music”, is one of those quiet growers that finds itself near the top end of many a year end best-of list. And deservedly so. Whilst it may superficially come across as a retro outlaw country sound, a little digging finds it filled with existential metaphysics, “reptile aliens made of light” who “cut you open and pull out your pain”, and a fair degree of druggy indulgence. Not that it eschews country conventions totally – there’s plenty of drink, sin and redemption in here as well, some real, well-written songs, and musically it’s bedded in the world of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the like, albeit with a sometimes harder and more rocking sound, and the occasional psychedelic wig-out. (00:00)

[I Wonder – Rodriguez]  This clearly isn’t from 2014. But this year I did finally get to see the wonderful documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”, which tells the almost unbelievable story of Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez recorded a couple of albums in the early 1970s, but his career never really took off, and so he turned his back on the music business and took mostly low-paid work in Detroit. Unbeknown to him, however, copies of his album made their way to South Africa (then very isolated from the rest of the world due to Apartheid), where they became bona fide hits. Yet it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he finally found out about how successful his music had become. A scenario you just can’t imagine happening in today’s hyper-connected world, you wonder how different his life would have been if he had been aware of the success he had.  I Wonder, with it’s distinctive rolling bass-line, is from his 1970 debut album “Cold Fact”. (02:25)

[Forget – Ben Watt]  Ben was the non-Tracey Thorn half of Everything But The Girl, who had a string of successes during the 80s and 90s. But this was only his second solo album, a 30-year delayed follow-up to his pre-EBTG debut North Marine Drive. Since EBTG retired in the late 90s, Ben had largely focussed on DJ-ing. But following a number of traumatic personal incidents, including the death of his parents and a sister-in-law, he took up the songwriting muse, and Hendra was the result. A collection of grown-up songs reflecting on lived experiences, they are brought alive in part by the contribution of ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who paints his distinctively fluid electric guitar across the album. Forget is – to be honest – one of the more upbeat songs on the album. But listening to it is not a depressing experience, just one of recognition and understanding – hallmarks of the best music. (04:54)

[James Alley Blues – Willie Watson]  Willie Watson was a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show. I only know of them. But his solo debut album, Folk Singer Vol. 1 came to my attention because it was put out and promoted by Gillian Welch’s label, Acony. Like Welch and her cohort Dave Rawlings, Watson’s album is a stark country / folk / blues hybrid that sounds like it could be 100 years old. Picked guitars, banjos, blow harmonicas and plaintive vocals bring these songs, old and obscure, to life. And yet for all it’s harking back to the past, there’s something distinctively touching and refreshing about the sound and these songs that draws you in. As an example, James Alley Blues is a song from the 1920s, written and performed by one “Rabbit” Brown. (10:01)

[Houston – Robert Ellis]  Robert Ellis was a new name to me this year. The Lights From The Chemical Works is the third album from the Nashville-based singer songwriter. Fleshing out his country and folk sound with a confessional/observational singer/songwriter ethos, and mixing the music up with elements of free jazz, bossa nova and other delights, the album is a rich mine of sounds and lyrics. Houston is a case in point – a love letter to a city he is leaving, needing to move on but aware of all the city has given to him, the song starts as a plaintive ballad, loping along with an unusual groove before crashing out with free-form bass topped with screeching electric guitars. (14:04)

[Do You Ever Think Of Me – Laura Cantrell]  Laura Cantrell has been on my radar for a long time, but it was only this last 12 month that I took the plunge. Cantrell’s sound is more of a straight-down-the-line country one, inspired by a clutch of original country artists, including Kitty Wells, recording a whole album of her songs in 2011. This song, though, is taken from her 2000 debut album, Not The Tremblin’ Kind, a firm favourite of the late John Peel who described it as “my favorite record of the last ten years, possibly my life”. Driven along by a constantly pulsing organ, but still with that familiar country twang, Cantrell’s vocals – as ever – are maybe an acquired taste; ever so slightly off key, but with songs this good you can forgive her. (21:13)

[Played Out – Peter Bruntnell featuring Rumer]  Peter Bruntnell is a master song-writer, but totally hopeless at self-promotion. As a result he has acquired a hugely admiring but numerically very small fan base. He’s never going to cross-over in any huge way, but all the while he keeps turning out quality songs such like this, a small selection of the music-loving population will be kept very happy. Originally starting off with an almost Britpop sound in the late 90s, he moved on to a country-tinged Americana sound before adopting a more pastoral english pop/folk sound of late. This track is a re-recording of an earlier song for a recent Retrospective collection, a version enhanced by the velvety vocals of the lovely Rumer. There’s lots more quality where this comes from. (23:52)

[Hard Act To Follow – Sylvie Simmons]  The best ukulele-based album of the year! In fact its the only one that I’ve heard, but that doesn’t distract from the quality of these songs. Sylvie is a music writer who has been there and done it all during the LA music scene of the late 70s and early 80s, of late becoming renowned for a biography of Leonard Cohen. Originally including ukulele-accompanied versions of Cohen songs during book readings, she has recently recorded an album of her own songs, from which this is taken. Her ukulele skills aren’t going to worry the likes of Jake Shimabukuro, nor are her vocals going to trouble Aretha Franklin, but it is the songs  that are the jewels here. In fact the sparse settings are perfect for these observational songs borne of a life lived. (27:31)

[The Prettiest Girl In Church – The Waterboys]  Fisherman’s Box, released towards the end of last year, is a mammoth undertaking, to be honest. Comprising 121 songs from the legendary Fisherman’s Blues sessions, it marks the journey of a band moving on from the big music of This Is The Sea, delving deep into roots music of all sorts (country, blues, folk) before arriving on the west coast of Ireland and fully embracing the joys of traditional Irish music. Whilst not all of it is essential, the quality control is kept remarkably high, and amazing how much fantastic stuff has been kept locked away in vaults for 25 years. Including the 25-minute Soon As You Get Home was going to be impractical here, but this country-tinged, just-the-right-side-of-corny original song from Mike Scott demonstrates the light-and-airy sound of a band in their stride. (30:38)

[Colfax Avenue – The Delines]  Willy Vlautin is a genius. That’s a conclusion I’ve come to this year. This time last year I knew nothing of him. But off the back of the chance discovery of The Delines’ lead track, I Won’t Slip Up, I found myself being drawn into his world. Vlautin started off as songwriter and lead singer with Americana band Richmond Fontaine. But he has also established a parallel career as a novelist, writing concise, humble, affecting and compassionate tales of the disenfranchised underclass in the US. I’ve consumed all of them, and they’re all great. The Delines is another side project, a bunch of songs written by Vlautin specifically for vocalist Amy Boone, in a retro country soul style, which comprise vignettes that pick up similar themes to his novels. Colfax Avenue (title track for the album) is a case in point – the tale of a sister who goes searching for her traumatised ex-Army brother up and down Denver’s Colfax Avenue, a notorious haven for prostitutes and junkies. With compact turns of phrase, Vlautin and Boone take you there, and you ache for the circumstances that led them there. (34:05)

[The Troubles – U2]  In all the hoopla that surround the release of Songs Of Innocence to 500 million iTunes accounts, the quality of the music being released seemed to get a little overlooked. This collection definitely marks a return to song-writing form for the band. Focussed on the formative days of the group, the songs are personal in a way that hasn’t always been the case of late. The death of Bono’s mother, the first reaction to the sound of The Ramones, Dublin bombings and the like are the backdrop and heart of this record. The Troubles is *not* about The (Irish) Troubles, but is more about troubles of the heart. Enhanced by the vocals of swedish singer Lykke Li, this brooding song may not be what you expect from U2. Which is why it’s here! (37:29)

[Billy – Prefab Sprout]  Paddy McAloon, the man behind Prefab Sprout, is a songwriting genius. His songs were always something of a superior quantity in the band’s heyday of the 1980s, something which probably didn’t help in the commercial stakes but certainly enhanced his critical credentials. However for the last 10 years or more he has suffered from a succession of health problems, including a detached retina and tinnitus. As a result he’s unlikely to be able to perform again. And yet towards the end of last year, out of nowhere, came Crimson/Red, the first all-new Prefab Sprout record for over 10 years. And it was more wonderful than you could ever hope for. Recorded totally alone, this was probably one of the strongest set of songs he had put out. Lush and romantic as every (Burt Bacharach is a big influence) these were songs from and for the heart, with melodies to die for. Billy is an upbeat example of that, a dream of a song about the joys of music. (42:08)

[Super 8 – Jason Isbell]  Jason Isbell’s Southeastern topped many an end-of-year list last year. So I thought I should investigate. And my, were those polls right! Isbell spent some time with Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers as guitarist and songwriter, but in 2007 branched out on his own. Initially adopting something of a country/rock sound, Southeastern was something of a departure, being more of an acoustic, country-tinged singer/songwriter collection. Recorded off the back of a spell in rehab, the album goes to some pretty dark places and as such isn’t an easy listen. But the songwriting is superb – crisp, focussed, economical, personal and emotive. Super 8 is atypical in sound, being more of that southern rock sound, but tells its tale with a punch and with tongue firmly planted in cheek. (46:38)

[Spring – Bill Callahan]  Bill Callahan has been ploughing his own lo-fi furrow since the early 90s, without any significant commercial success, but building something of a cult following under the band name Smog. Recently he’s been releasing albums under his own name, and 2013’s Dream River (from which this track is taken) was another critical favourite. The songs often eschew the classic verse/chorus/middle 8 structure, being more freeform in nature, with Callahan’s not-always-tuneful barritone vocals semi-reciting the lyrics. Conceived as a “last record you could listen to at the end of the day” Dream River paints pictures in lyrics and sound that connect both with the details of nature and humanity. It is beautiful. (50:01)

[Under The Pressue – The War On Drugs]  I’ve only become aware of this in the last week or so, but have fallen in love with Lost In The Dream, the third album from US band The War On Drugs. Topping many a year-end poll over the last few weeks, I’d given this a try a few times this year and it didn’t click. Goodness knows why, because when I tried it again last week it was a revelation. Blending the classic rock of the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and echoes of early Waterboys with the relentless, propulsive motorik krautrock rhythm, drenched in a rich and evocative soundscape that conjures the expansive sounds of the open road and the wide plains, this is visionary mood music of the highest order. Something to be immersed in, to be lost in, to dream in. (55:02)

[Higgs Bosun Blues – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds]  Cave has ploughed his own distinctive furrow since coming over from Australia in the early 80s with the rage and noise that was The Birthday Party. Something of a renaissance man, he has written novels and film screenplays, and acted, alongside developing a rich (and mostly dark) musical legacy. Higgs Bosun Blues (blues in spirit rather than in technical musical terms) is from last years Push The Sky Away, an album of songs that are far more subtle than some of Cave’s work, and an album that often works better as a cohesive whole than a collection of individual songs. Tunes are a little thin on the ground, this isn’t really sing-along territory, and meandering and meditative are probably words that sum it up well. But it is an album to lose yourself in, and one whose riches slowly reveal themselves if you patiently persist with it. (1:01:11)

[Even If That Were True – Suzy Bogguss]  Suzy Bogguss is steeped in the traditions of country. Her latest album, Lucky, is a collection of Merle Haggard songs, and her career has been fairly close to the country mainstream. That said she has recently branched out with a collection of jazz/swing covers, and another of American folk standards. I only became aware of her this year, and this beautiful ballad comes from her 2007 album Sweet Danger. Beautiful, plaintive vocals with wonderful phrasing overlayed on a sparse and open acoustic accompaniment make this a heartbreaking gem of a song. Well, it’s country isn’t it. (1:08:57)

[Molly-O – Simone Felice]  Simone (pronounced Simon!) is another songwriter who has branched out into writing fiction. Like Willy Vlautin, Felice’s writing focusses on the marginalized and forgotten, and does it with compassion and humanity. Molly-O is taken from his most recent album, Strangers, and is a rousing, crying-out-to-sing-out-loud song of hope in spite of the evidence. (1:12:32)

 

In addition to these, notable commendations should go to Iris Dement (There’s a Whole Lot Of Heaven), Neil Cowley Trio (Kneel Down), Zsófia Boros (Canción Triste) and Tord Gustavsen Quartet (The Embrace).


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This Old Town – Nanci Griffith

othervoicesNanci Griffith has one of those voices that some people find hard to love. I get that. No matter. For me she is a fine writer of songs, and when she performs them they are very obviously Nanci Griffth songs. Sitting in a place somewhere between folk and country, she’s never really been part of either scene – too country for the folk crowd, too folk for the country crowd. But since her debut in 1978 she has ploughed her own furrow, and in the process built up an impressive body of work. The songwriting craft and tradition is one that Nanci is clearly part of – economical with language, painting vignettes that tell the stories of “ordinary” lives – little slices of life as it is lived, of the loves, hopes and fears of people.

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So as an artist for whom songwritting is such a big part of who she is, it is somewhat surprising (and possibly dissappointing) that her most successful venture has been an album of other people’s songs. In actual fact it’s not that surprising, as she has always sung the virtue of the great (if unacclaimed) song writers, and has regularly included the songs of others on her albums. But 1993’s Other Voices, Other Rooms album (and it’s 1998 follow-up Other Voices, Too) was a focussed and deliberate project to highlight songs that had been influential on Nanci’s songwriting and her career. With it’s title lifted from a Truman Capote novel, and featuring songs by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Ralph MacTell, Woody Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot and many others, Nanci proved that she is not just a great songwriter, but also a great interpreter of other’s songs, making many of the songs her own, and creating a wonderfully cohesive collection in the process.

One of those songs was this one, This Old Town, which was written by Janis Ian. At the time it was unreleased by Janis, not appearing until 1999 on a collection of previously unreleased songs. So whilst this was a cover of somebody else’s song, Nanci’s version was essentially it’s first outing, and as a result she claimed it. The song is very clearly one set in a small dust bowl town (Nanci grew up in Texas, an area much impacted by the dust bowl) and paints brief sketches of that town from the 1920s, highlighting all the things that could have destroyed it, yet rejoicing in the fact that the town and its people have weathered those storms, and that it is the people at the heart of that town which make it the community it is.

So here’s the songsheet. Nothing too complicated here, although the timing is sometimes a little tricky. Best to listen and play along to the original to get the feel for it. Play with a sprightly feel – ideal for strumming, or some fancy picking (but that’s beyond me!). Enjoy!

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Rhythm Of The Rain

rhythmoftherainsylviesimmonsDespite being an enthusiastic discoverer of the joys of playing the ukulele over the last 18 months, that joy of playing hasn’t really translated itself into a joy of listening to uke-based music. I’m not too sure why that is, and to be fair I don’t think that I’ve really given a lot of the artists out there much of a try, but I haven’t developed a huge urge to seek out and listen to ukulele artists. I guess that is in part because for me it is an instrument to make music with first, and a ukulele second, and so I don’t get hung up with the whole “4 strings good, 6 strings bad” philosophy, nor with the evangelistic promotion of the ukulele above all others. For me it is an instrument that I can play reasonably OK, that I can play together with others, and which allows an outlet for musical expression that I haven’t really had for a long while.

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I’ve also never been a huge fan (in any instrumentation or genre) of technique or style for their own sake. For me, technique, technical competence and capability should always be subservient to the song, the emotions, the feeling that is being communicated through the music. So whilst there is nothing wrong with technique per se, I sometimes find (and the few ukulele artists I’ve come across suffer from this, at least from my perception) that the emotional heart of the music is lost in a triumph of technique over heart, and that is not what I look for in music. At it’s core music for me is something that is more than just the sum of it’s superficial parts, it is something that connects, often at an almost sub-conscious level, with what is deep within us, and which takes us out of that ourselves and opens us up to broader vistas, that hurts and heals in a magical way.

So what has all this philosophising got to do with what might seem a slightly shallow, obvious early 60s throwback of a song? Well earlier this week I stumbled across a new album by an artist I had never heard of before, and it captured my heart. Sylvie Simmons is a renowned music journalist who has interviewed many of the major stars of rock over the years, and who has most recently made her name as a biographer of Leonard Cohen. However, she has just released her debut album of (mostly original) songs, and it is a beauty. And this is an album that is almost exclusively ukulele-based. Although it is not a ukulele album (if that, and my previous philosophising, make sense). Largely just herself and her simply strummed ukulele, Sylvie sings a haunting selection of literate and emotionally engaging songs that lend a lie to the myth of the ukulele being the happy instrument that must always make you smile. As Sylvie says;

“I’d always thought of the ukulele as a toy, a little handful of happiness, but it has a sad, fractured sweetness, like a broken harp, and a modesty; it almost apologizes for being there. And yet these songs kept coming through this tiny instrument with all their heartbreak and truth intact.”

It’s probably not for everybody, and her voice may be an acquired taste (it reminds me of Rickie Lee Jones circa “The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard”, and some of Jewel’s more fragile moments), but for me it is a balm for the soul. And whilst the original songs on the album are great (check out “You Are In My Arms” as an example) one song that stood out for me was her cover of Rhythm of The Rain (you knew we’d get to the song eventually, didn’t you!). The sole hit (in the UK, at least) for 1960s group The Cascades, Sylvie’s version is an altogether more fragile and bitter rendition. Taking the not-at-all-unusual-for-a-sixties-(or-any-other-decade)-pop-song theme of an unrequited love who has left town, never to return, Sylvie swaps the gender but then adds some slight lyrical tweaks (“the motherfucker took my heart”) and performs the song in a quitely world-weary, heartbroken tone that lets you know in a gently self-mocking tone that her world has fallen apart and, oh, why has she been so stupid.

There’s no version of this on YouTube yet (go buy the album instead!), but here’s a Spotify link to Sylvie’s version:

And here’s the original:

And so to the songsheet. Well, as with much of the pop songs from this era the song is a very simple and straightforward one. It’s in the same key (G) as the Sylvie Simmons version (the original is in E). Sylvie’s version is played with a very simple picking pattern, which is constant all the way through, and is basically just a steady picking of the C-E-A-E strings, repeated throughout. Lyrically the songsheet reflects the original version, but for completeness, I’ve also included a “gender reassigned” version for those of the opposite persuasion. Enjoy!

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Revelator – Gillian Welch

timerevelatorI warned early on that there was likely to be an abundance of Gillian Welch songs on this site.* And as we haven’t had one for a while it seemed about time for another. Actually, this one was prompted by a comment left by Catherine on a previous post, with a specific request for a songsheet for this song, Revelator. At the time I didn’t have anything, but had looked at it previously and so took that as a prompt to pull something together.

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Revelator is the title track of Gillian’s third album, Time (The Revelator), the album that – after the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack – was my first introduction to Ms. Welch. And it is one of the slow-burning songs of which she is a master (or should that be mistress?!). Whilst the theme of the song is a not always clear, there’s a strong argument for suggesting that it is – in some ways – a retort to the criticisms of inauthenticity that have been levelled at here. Born in New York City and raised in LA, some critics have taken this to mean that the adoption and assimilation of the old-time roots in her music must somehow be fake, is somehow a deception. References to being “the pretender”, “the traitor”, “queen of imitators” could certainly suggest that was on her mind when writing the song, but clearly these are criticisms that she doesn’t accept, the song is a defiant riposte to those criticisms, and good on her for that. For me her music is a thing of sublime beauty, something certainly earthed in a lineage that looks back to those roots, and is totally true to them, but which is still about now, and to which 21st century listeners (myself included) can totally relate to.

As with many (most) of Gillian’s songs, this is performed with just herself and her long-time musical callaborator Dave Rawlings. Two people, two voices, two acoustic guitars (and Rawling’s playing is never less than stunning, incendiary when played live, as these recordings testify – 1, 2), the song is stark, but beautiful for it. A song that wraps you and engulfs you, something to lose yourself into.

And so to the song sheet. As I said earlier, this is something that I pulled together in response to request, and it did prove a little tricky. I’m still not 100% convinced by it (in particular the Am and “Am/C” at the end of the first two lines of the verse), but I think it sounds OK. The D definitely sounds better as the barred D (2225), but will still work with the standard one (2220). Clearly these are just the chords, and I haven’t attempted in any way to transcribed Dave Rawling’s licks and solos, but if you want to have a go at that be my guest. Enjoy!

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* Previous songs published here include April the 14th (Part 1), Look at Miss Ohio, and No One Knows My Name.


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Femme Fatale – Velvet Underground

velvetundergroundadistantshoreWhilst it is often true that the best 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.

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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!

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