Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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Down In The Subway / What! – Soft Cell

R-490877-1235309593.jpegR-116294-1241539463.jpegBy 1984 Soft Cell were imploding in a cocktail of drugs, sex, fame and general debauchery. It had been a steep, messy and rapid decline from the heights they had achieved with the massive success of Tainted Love 3 years earlier. It was an arc that can be traced through the titles of the three albums they released during that period – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, The Art Of Falling Apart, and This Last Night In Sodom.

<What!>  <Down In The Subway>

To the mass consciousness, Soft Cell are Tainted Love, Tainted Love is Soft Cell, and that’s all there is too
it. Clearly things were far more complex than that, and at their heart there was always a tension between their pop sensibilities and their more outré tendancies. But throughout their career, one influence that they kept coming back to was Marc Almonds passion for Northern Soul. Northern Soul was a dance movement that emerged in the north of England in the late 1960s, that focused on black American soul music with a heavy, four-to-the-floor beat and fast tempo, strongly influenced by the sound of Tamla Motown. And the more obscure the record the better.

Tainted Love, Soft Cell’s huge breakthrough hit, was a cover of a a 1964 original by Gloria Jones (and was backed with a cover of the Motown hit Where Did Our Love Go, famoulsy segued together on the 12″ version). And they returned to that format a number of times throughout their career. In 1982 their cover of “What”, originally a 1968 recording by Judy Street, climbed to the top 5. And their final single before their dissolution, 1984s Down In The Subway, was a cover of a 1968 original by Jack Hammer.

So two song sheets for the price of one today. Down In The Subway is a pretty straightforward song – three chords, and a lot of attitude. What! is a little more complex – the rhythm is one that needs a little practice and experimentation to get right. I’ve tried to transcribe the sound as close to the Soft Cell version, including the extended outro. I’ve also included some tab to cover some of the riffs, and the solo section in the middle.


<What!>  <Down In The Subway>


Rainbow Connection

KermitDon’t ever let it be said that there’s no variety on this site. From 80s synthpop and soulful grooves, we now move on to a song made famous by a singing frog playing the banjo!


Rainbow Connection, however, is not your average glove-puppet inspired tune. The work of two highly respected composers and arrangers, Paul Williams (“We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)”) and Kenneth Ascher, the song first came to the consciousness of the world via. The Muppet Movie, where it was performed by Kermit the Frog. Performing a similar role in that film to the similarly-themed “Over The Rainbow” in The Wizard Of Oz, the song is a surprisingly wistful song that looks yearns and dreams for, and holds out the hope for, a better life. Nominated for an Academy Award (it lost out to “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae – no, me neither!) it has over the years turned into a true standard.

Subsequently reprised in The Muppet Show in 1980 as a duet with Debbie Harry, it has since gone on to be covered by a whole host of artists including The Carpenters, Sarah McLachlan, Willie Nelson, Ed Sheerhan, and my personal favourite version by The Dixie Chicks.

There are quite a few Rainbow Connection song sheets out there, so why another one? Well this was put together for when our band, The Flukes wanted to perform it (you can see/hear it below – excuse the slightly fluffed intro and solo from yours truly!), and none of the versions out there quite worked for us. So firstly this version does away with the key change, thereby avoiding a host of horrible chords! Secondly, I’ve also include (a) the opening riff, and (b) a solo for the middle, which started off based on The Dixie Chicks version, and then morphed into some kind of amalgam of a number of versions. Anyway, I think the whole thing is better picked than strummed, but that’s my opinion, and you’re free to ignore it. Enjoy!




Your Love Is King – Sade

Sade+Your+Love+Is+King+18700It’s becoming a bit of an 80s-fest on here lately, isn’t it. Apologies for that, but as I’ve said before that was my time, and there was some darned good music around at the time. Not always those day-glo caricatures of the decade, but songs of real class and quality. This song definitely fits that description.


Sade were/are both a person and a band – Helen Folasade Adu, otherwise known as Sade Adu, and the band that she leads. Originally a fashion designer, and spending a brief time as a model, Sade formed the band in 1983. The following year their debut album, Diamond Life, was released and became a global phenomenon, selling 6 million copies, the best-selling debut by a female vocalists. Unfortunately it got a reputation as a somewhat vapid yuppie dinner-party soundtrack to the decade, but if you put those associations aside you’ll find inside a genuinely classy record.

Your Love Is King was the lead single that announced the band, and remains their most successful song. Typifying the sound that she came to make her own, the smooth grooves, soulful sax and honey-rich vocals could appear formulaic, but for me (and clearly for many others) that was part of the appeal. And don’t let that smooth sound lull you into thinking that these songs are without depth – Sade shows a real heart for the downtrodden and broken-hearted that might have upset those self-congratulatory dinner parties if anybody was really listening.

So here’s the song sheet. There’s some lovely major 7th chords in there (you can’t go wrong with those!), but essentially it hits a groove and sticks there. Getting that groove might be a little challenging on the little uke, but it’s worth playing along with the original to get that feel. Alternatively I’ve been picking this, and I think that gives quite a nice feel to it. I’ve had a go at recording what this sounds like – you can listen below. Enjoy!






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Save A Prayer – Duran Duran

Save A PrayerThings don’t come more 80’s than this. With its exotically located video and its synthpop stylings, for some this is the cliched 80s song – a vapid triumph of style over content. Yet whilst that might be true of some music and bands from the period, I would argue it is an unfair slight on this band. Yes, they did – for a while – become the screaming female band of choice, there was always more to them that that.


Coming from a late-70s Birmingham art school scene, strongly influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music, Duran Duran were, alongside the likes of Spandau Ballet and Visage, a key part of the early 80s New Romantic scene that – in its strong emphasis on image and glamour – was both a reaction to and inspire by the spirit of punk. Whilst they had a good level of success with their first album, it was with their second album, Rio, that the band really hit the big time. Featuring a clutch of hit singles, including Hungry Like The Wolf, the title track Rio, My Own Way and this (the most successful of the bunch) it launched the band into the big time, and with the accompanying videos (filmed in the likes of Sri Lanka and Antigua) capturing something of the aspirational spirit of the age turned then into an iconic representation of that time.

But underneath all that there were good songs. And Save A Prayer is nothing if not a good song. More thoughtful and wistful than some of their more poppy moments, this is an accessible and yearning ballad that, whilst being immediately redolent of the age – at least for those who remember it – is also a timeless pop moment.

And so to the song sheet. I’ve tried to reflect the original recording as much as possible. Chords are relatively straightforward, and the rhythm is – I think – quite easy to pick up from listening to the original. I’ve also included some solo parts – the arpeggio and riff from the opening, parts of which are repeated throughout the song, plus a riff that occurs during the chorus. Obviously you can totally ignore those if you wish and just stick to the chords.




“Heroes” – David Bowie (an update)

I’ve been wondering about putting an actual recording of me doing one of these songs for a while. The real problem is that I really don’t sing well – I know that, and know my limits. But with the recent passing of David Bowie, and with a number of his songs on this site, I thought I’d give it a go.

So here it is – my version of “Heroes” (to join the 27,392 others on YouTube!). This may be the very last time that I do this, so make the most of it!

(click for the “Heroes” article and songsheet)

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Let’s Dance – David Bowie

LetsDanceThere’s nothing else that I could post today other than something by David Bowie.


Like many this morning, I was shocked by the news of Bowie’s death. I don’t remember being so affected by the death of a public figure. Like a number of comments I’ve seen today, there was an almost unwritten sense that he was immortal, this otherworldly man who seemed different in so many ways to the rest of us.

My first real connection with Bowie was when Ashes to Ashes was released and got to number one, with its strange sounds, strange video and slightly unhinged lyrics. I was just getting into music in a serious way, and here was the real deal – music both strange and beautiful, different to everything else around, and yet also strangely accessible. And so whilst I wouldn’t classify myself as a real Bowie-head, I dug deep into his past and discovered the multifarious catalogue that he had amassed through an amazing, unparalleled run through the seventies and into the eighties. From the amazing acoustic songs of Hunky Dory, the alien rock-god of Ziggy, the white-soul of Young Americans and the electronic sounds of his Berlin albums, Bowie was an artist and pop star unrivaled, skittering across the surface of culture, hoovering up influences, and pushing and defining the zeitgeist. At the time he was a marvel, looking back now it seems almost inconceivable what he achieved in that time. If he slowed down and lost the plot a little in the 80s its no surprise given what came before. And yet his latter day resurgence, with the achingly beautiful Where Are We Now, it’s attendant album (The Next Day) and finally what turned out to be his swansong (Blackstar) saw him pushing boundaries to the end, redefining himself even in death (see the video to his final single, Lazarus).

I’m not going to argue that this song, Let’s Dance, is his artistic peak. It’s not. It was certainly his most commercially successful period, and there were some good – if not great – songs that came from those sessions. But there is certainly a joyous feel to this song that has lasted down the years (that’s another amazing thing about the Bowie back-catalogue – so much of it still feels so contemporary, even 40 years after it was recorded). And the joy that he brought is something that should be celebrated, as much as the strangeness, the challenging, the glam and the new.

And so to the song sheet. It’s a relatively simple song in structure. There’s a few unusual chords in there, but there not tricky, and they give a really nice feel. The tricky bit is the rhythm, to capture that stuttering, syncopated funk sound of the original. I haven’t really had time to practice this properly so can’t give much advice. This cover by M.Ward potentially points to something that might work, but try it and see what you can do with it. Just – please – try and avoid the bog-standard ukulele strumming pattern. You’ll kill it!

Enjoy! (and see also songsheets for “Heroes” and China Girl)


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2015 most popular songs

As I did last year, I thought it would be fun to have a look back at the website stats and see what were the most popular songs on this site over the past 12 months, based on the number of downloads of songsheets.

The two songbooks that I published back in the summer (Uketunes Volume 1, and the 1980s subset) seemed to go down very well, which is great, But for individual songs, the top 5 looks as follows:

  1. Baker Street, by Gerry Rafferty
  2. Lost Stars, by Adam Levine or Kiera Knightley
  3. Look At Miss Ohio, by Gillian Welch
  4. Rhinestone Cowboy, by Glen Campbell
  5. Sugar Town, by Nancy Sinatra

Baker Street and Rhinestone Cowboy are no surprises, both being at the same places in the top 5 last year. The popularity of Lost Stars surprised me a bit, but may have something to do with it’s nomination for Best Original Song in the 2015 Academy Awards, and being covered in the UK by the winner of The Voice. But both Sugar Town and (particularly) Look At Miss Ohio are surprises to me at being so popular. But just go to show what great taste you guys have!


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