Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-out Desk – The Freshies

Welcome to ridiculously long song-title obscurity, everybody! Actually, if you were anywhere near a radio in 1981 this won’t be such an obscurity as it was one of those “radio hits” – played to death but never really catching on with the general public.

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The Freshies were largely the brain child of one Chris Sievey. If that name isn’t familiar as the leader of The Freshies, it may be more familiar in the guise of a Chris’s later career, via. his alter-ego Frank Sidebottom. A surreal comedic creation with a huge papier-mâché head, an extreme Mancunian accent and deliberately naff songs, Sidebottom was something of a cult success, a launchpad for somewhat more successful careers for the likes of Caroline Aherne (Mrs Merton was originally conceived as Frank’s neighbour) and Mark Radcliffe (a member of Sidebottom’s band).

But before all that there was The Freshies. A Manchester-based power-pop / new wave band, their songs bore all the hallmarks of the new wave sounds of the time (albeit with some classic tunes), but were shot through with Chris’s unique take on life. Whether it be the usual romantic travails given particular Sievey spin in the likes of Tell Her I’m Ill or If You Really Love Me … Buy Me A Shirt, or the record-buying woes of the wonderful I Can’t Get Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes, you were always guaranteed a unique perspective in The Freshies songs.

But it is with “I’m In Love…” that they are best remembered. An almost hit, reaching the giddy heights of number 54 in the singles charts, the song was almost more famous for being the subject of a BBC furore,resulting in the song needing to be re-recorded to remove the reference to a certain record store (Virgin) in the songs title and chorus. Intertwining a tale of unrequited love for the record shop counter girl with the rejections that Chris and The Freshies were to constantly get from the record business, the song is a 2-and-a-half blast of pure power pop joy. Should have been massive, but was destined to never be so.

And so to the songsheet. I couldn’t find copies of either the lyrics or the chords for this online (although I did eventually find a YouTube version where somebody had transcribed the lyrics), so this is mostly my own creation. Therefore it might not be perfect! One slightly tricky chord (the F# in the intro and bridge) but the bigger challenge is more likely the timing – fitting the lyrics into the tune, particularly the bit that lists record labels! But it’s a great song, and you’ll have fun trying. Enjoy!

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The Fear – Lily Allen

I find Lily Allen an interesting proposition. In era of somewhat anodyne and airbrushed pop stars, it feels good to have one who doesn’t play by the PR and careerist rules, who gets people’s backs up, makes mistakes, says it like she sees it. If this sounds like I know what I’m talking about, I probably don’t! But what I do know is that this is a great song.

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The daughter of a comedian Keith Allen (something that has probably been a blessing and a curse), Allen first came to musical prominence in 2006 with the sunny pop-reggae of Smile and it’s accompanying album, Alright, Still. Smile was a number one single, and it launched her into a  the tabloid spotlight, a place she has lived in ever since through various career and personal ups and downs.

The Fear was the lead single from Allen’s second album, It’s Not Me, It’s You. Whilst musically the song sits on a sleek electropop groove, lyrically, the song takes a swipe at materialism, consumerism and celebrity culture, although given her background this struck some as at best ironic, and at worst down-right cynical. Some even missed the somewhat obvious sarcasm in the song and saw it as a  For me, though, the song is just a well-observed and well-deserved poke at (albeit fairly obvious) targets in our money and fame-obsessed society.

Given some of the lyrics, this probably isn’t one for public performance – certainly not family audiences (although there is a “clean” version)! But to my ears it works well as a uke song. Chord wise it’s pretty straightforward, singing it definitely pays to be familiar with the song. Allen is never going to get awards for vocal gymnastics and dexterity, but that means it’s not a tricky sing. Enjoy!


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The King Of Rock and Roll – Prefab Sprout

I’ve posted before about the insane wonderfulness of Prefab Sprout. In many ways its a shame that the only song of theirs that made any real impression on the record-buying public was this throwaway slice of meta-pop. But that’s only a shame because of the ridiculously high standards that they set elsewhere.

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Hailing from the County Durham, Prefab Sprout emerged in the early 80s with a sound that blended classic pop, jazz and scratchy post-punk influences (debut album Swoon in particular) with literate lyrical aspirations. Not alone in those kind of influences and sound (the likes of Aztec Camera, The Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole and Orange Juice would at times be bracketed together with the Sprouts in what has retrospectively – and somewhat clumsily – come to be known as sophisti-pop), main man Paddy McAloon ploughed a steadfast furrow with a vision all his own that introduced a sophistication to songwriting and musicianship that harked back to the likes of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson in its ambition.

1988’s From Langley Park To Memphis was their commercial high-water mark, a record that added more gloss to the sound that they had refined (with produced Thomas Dolby) on 1985’s Steve McQueen. But this wasn’t a surface sheen to hide a lack of content and inspiration, rather it was a polish that complimented a collection of perfect (in a left-field kind of way) pop songs, songs whose seeming simplicity belied (much like Abba, another McAloon inspiration, whose Agnetha Faltskog was the inspiration behind The Ice Maiden) an underlying complexity, richness and ingenuity.

The King Of Rock And Roll was the second single from the album (following the Springsteen-baiting Cars and Girls), and gave the band their only top 10 single. Described later by McAloon as “novelty” effort, it is somewhat ironic – in a way that McAloon would undoubtedly appreciate – that a song which focusses on a washed-up pop star who is now only remembered for his one-hit novelty song should acquire the same status in the band’s back catalogue. Yet it’s apparent inanity lies its intelligence. For beneath the – undoubtedly deliberate – senseless chorus and relentlessly jaunty musical backing (watch the video for jumping frogs and dancing hot dogs!) is a song laced with poignancy and melancholy – “All the pretty birds have flown, now I’m dancing on my own”, anybody?

So here’s the songsheet for this deceptively trite piece of classic 80s pop! I don’t think there’s too much to say about it – it’s relatively straightforward, primarily as it’s transposed down half a tone (so capo 1 if you want to play along with the original). Timing should be no big problem, and whilst I’ve cut a couple of the “Hot dog…” lines from the end to fit the page, I don’t think it loses anything. Enjoy!

 


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Knowing Me, Knowing You – Abba

So I was talking with a friend about potentially doing a variation on the album evenings we’ve been doing recently, and wondered whether a greatest hits evening might work. And instead of playing the album on vinyl, bring playing those greatest hits as 7″ singles, in all they’re crackly glory. But who would we pick? Well the conversation soon turned towards this band, and so I thought I’d give a few of their songs a try and see whether they might work.

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My Abba journey has been a not untypical one, I suspect. This songs was – in fact – the first single that I ever brought, wrapped in the Epic orange sleeve. And the album from which it was taken, 1976’s Arrival, was likewise the first album I ever brought (from Landports department store in Portsmouth, if you’re asking!). Through the late 70s Abba were my band, and it wasn’t until 1981, when my musical interests started to broaden, and deviate somewhat from the mainstream, encouraged in no small part by my consumption of the music press, that the love affair with Abba began to wane. Clearly, at this point, the (apparently) cheesy, european, middle-of-the-road, mainstay of the middle-aged sounds were doing my musical credibility no good, something I remember being accentuated by Not The Nine O’Clock News’ Super Trouper parody. So the super Swedes were somewhat hastily jettisoned.

But years go by, we grow and up mature (a bit!), and in doing so we realise that some of the decisions of our youth were not always good ones. And slowly the rehabilitation followed. Obviously that re-discovery and re-evaluation was a more widespread phenomenon than just within my own head, because when 1992’s compilation Abba Gold was released it immediately became a huge best-seller, now ranked as the bands best-selling album ever, one of the top 50 selling albums across the world ever, with sales in excess of 28 million.

Knowing Me, Knowing You is – for me – a classic example why the music of Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid (I was always a Friday girl, myself!) has lasted down the years. For all the accusations of cheesiness and inanity that are thrown at the group (and there are definitely examples of that) there are plenty of examples of real emotional depth and deep melancholy in their songs. The state of the bands own internal relationships were often mirrored and played out in the dynamics of the songs, none more so than in the video for 1980’s The Winner Takes It All. And sometimes were predicted by the songs, as was the case with Knowing Me, Knowing You. Written and recorded at the time that the band were happy loving couples (Agnetha and Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid) the song’s rather bleak relating of the breakdown of a relationship, haunted by the memories of the good times that are forever lost, certainly isn’t for the feint-hearted. Yet the song was a huge success all around the world, helped in no small part by the classic video (directed – as were many of the bands videos – by Lasse Hallström, later to find fame with films like Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and The Shipping News), partly set in the certainly allegorical icy Swedish landscape.

So here is the song sheet. For all their familiarity, Abba songs are not always the most straightforward. This certainly fits into that category. There are quite a few chords in there, but nothing very tricky, and they give real colour to the song (note that the Bm* is not a new type of chord, it’s just to distinguish that particular playing of Bm at that particular point in the song). Sometimes the timing can be a little odd as well (there’s the odd 2/4 bar thrown in along the way). But to be honest, if you know the song (and who doesn’t!) that will see you through. Oh, and I’ve also tabbed out the classic solo that occurs throughout the song. Enjoy (in a slightly maudlin, melancholic Scandinavian way)!


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Making Plans For Nigel – XTC

Hot on the heels of the previous post, which featured the more pastoral, psychedelic side of XTC, here is one of – if not THE – songs that the band is known for.

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XTC were originally formed in Swindon in the early 1970s, taking a while to find their sound (early incarnations were of a more glam / glitter rock persuasion), ultimately emerging as part of the punk generation in 1977. However, XTC were never one to be pigeon-holed, and to be honest were somewhat smarter that your average punk band, and from the get-go refused to bow to the somewhat conservative conventions and year zero mindset that the punk scene often created.

Characterised by a jagged, angular sound, and smart, often ironic lyrics, the band were three albums into their recording career before they finally found some kind of significant success, a purple period from 1979 to 1982 that saw them regulars in the mid-reaches of the charts.

Making Plans For Nigel was the song that brought them that initial flurry of recognition and success, and it is a song that has weathered well. From the pen and voice of Colin Moulding, this song has become a mainstay of a hundred new wave compilations. A song that still sounds as fresh as the day it was conceived, a song full of spaces, it is underpinned by a distinctive drum pattern and sound, topped with sharp angular guitar riffs, and a lyric that mocks the entry into dull careerism to the titular Nigel, all wrapped in a production that is both crisp and sharp, and also owes more than a little to the dub sounds and effects that were entering the mainstream at the time from reggae.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s quite a straightforward song, the trick is getting a rhythm / strumming pattern that works. I’m not going to be prescriptive about that, just experiment and seems what works. The D / D4 / D5 run down can easily be replaced with a straight D, but otherwise it should all work as written. Enjoy!


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Grass – XTC

XTC have always been one of those bands that I kind of thought I should get, but never really did. Yes, I loved those late 70s / early 80s hits like Sgt Rock, Senses Working Overtime, and Making Plans For Nigel (more of which later). But I never really got beyond that.

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So I decided to put that right recently. But where to start? After  bit of dithering I ended up plumping for a copy of 1986’s Skylarking, prompted in part by having recently heard one of the albums track, That’s Really Super, Supergirl, on the radio. An album that was strongly rated, critically acclaimed, but of which I knew almost nothing.

So how did it go, I hear you ask? Well, if I’m honest, first listen I was little unsure, a little non-plussed. A few songs sounded good first time, but much of it felt indistinct and uncertain. But I got the sense that this might be one of those albums you need to work at a little to really extract its riches. And so it proved to be. A few weeks later and the subtle riches of the album are beginning to worm their way into my head and heart.

For those who don’t know it, Skylarking has a more pastoral, quintessentially English sound than you might have expected if all you’ve heard is the new wave / post-punk sounds of those early hits. Produced by Todd Rundgren, it is loosely themed around various cycles in life and nature, and as a result really hangs together as a whole piece.

Grass, a song written and sung by Colin Moulding, was the lead single from the album (the flip-side, Dear God, was later to become the most well-known song from this set, a minor hit in the US), and exemplifies the mood and feel of the whole album. A song that looks back in almost bucolic terms to romantic fumbles in the summer grass, with more than a hint to doing so under the influence of that other grass (marijuana), the song captures a time and space so perfectly that for three minutes you feel yourself right there.

So here’s the song sheet. The song is actually quite a simple one, both in terms of structure and chords, and feels like it demands to be sung under a late summer evening sky, basking in the the great outdoors. I’ve included two versions, one in D and one if F, both a little easier to play than the original in E (play the first version with capo 2 if you want to play/sing along to the original. Enjoy!


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(What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis (Full Album)

Well I have to say that these full album nights have really taken off. Having had two really successful evenings with 30-40 ukers listening to, and bashing their way through, Parallel Lines and Rubber Soul, we’re now planning a to make this a semi-regular event. Undoubtedly you’ll be seeing some of those popping up on here over time, but the next one is going to be Oasis’ sophomore classic, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.

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I must say up-front that this songbook is definitely (maybe!) not all my own work. Most of the credit for this must go to my good ukeing friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, Ian Rothwell, who has put in a massive amount of effort to pull this together. We road-tested it earlier this week, and we’re relatively happy with how it sounds, so here it is.

Released in October 1995, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory was the album that propelled from a very successful indie rock band at the vanguard of the Britpop scene (that album was the fastest-selling debut album of all time in the UK when it was released) to a world-wide phenomenon. World-wide the album has sold an estimated 22 million copies, it was number one in the UK for ten weeks on it’s release, and it spawned a swathe of classic singles, with two (Some Might Say and Don’t Look Back In Anger) reaching the coveted number one slot, and another two (Wonderwall and Roll With It) peaking at number two. The last of those, Roll With It, was the subject of the much-hyped Britpop battle with Blur, when they both famously released new singles on the same day, Blur releasing Country House. Blur won that particular battle and hit the top spot, but I think it fair to say that, at least if judged commercially, Oasis won the war.

Marking a move away from the rawer sound of the band’s debut, (What’s The Story) was marked out by slower tempos, songs more ballad like (although still swathed in loud rock-and-roll guitars) with huge sing-along choruses, and with richer instrumentation than on their first record. The critical reception the album received on its release was a little lukewarm, many comparing it less favourably to its predecessor, complaining that the album was derivative and simplistic, as well as being seen as prompting a major step-change in the loudness wars.  As ever though, timing can be everything with these things, and the emergence and mainstream embracing of the cultural phenomenon that was Britpop at the same time as this albums release allowed Oasis to surf its wave with massive success.

And so here it is – the songbook. As I said earlier, the hugest of thanks to Ian Rothwell for doing most of the work on this one. As you’ll see the format is slightly different to previous songbooks, but the content is all there. Only one of the songs (She’s Electric) is not in the same key as the original (that has been upped from F# to G for obvious reasons!), so all the rest are definitely play-along-able. As far as possible we’ve tried to keep the arrangements faithful to the originals. We haven’t tabbed any solos or the like – in actual fact there aren’t that many – but feel free to work those out yourselves. Sing loud, with great enthusiasm. And most of all, enjoy!

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P.S. If you’re interested, and in the Southampton area on the 17th May, this (see below) is the event where we’re going to be playing this one through.