Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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.

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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.

Enjoy!

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“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.

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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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Get It Right Next Time – Gerry Rafferty

I’ve already posted one Gerry Rafferty song (Baker Street) on here, and if the web-site stats are anything to go by it’s the most popular song on the site. So in a totally cynical attempt to drive traffic to these pages, here’s another!

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“Get It Right Next Time” was the last time Rafferty bothered the UK Top 40 singles, although it only peaked at a relatively lowly number 30 in the late summer of 1979. In fact Rafferty was never really a mainstay of the singles chart, with only Baker Street and Night Owl ever being significant hits. As befits his time and background, he was more of an album artist, a “serious” musician coming from a folk background via. Steelers Wheel, best known for Stuck In The Middle With You, a song that seems to have gained some significant favour in ukulele circles, in part I suspect a reflection of the vintage of those playing the uke at the moment! After Get It Right… and it’s parent album Night Owl, Rafferty’s commercial fortunes declined, in part as a result of his reluctance to perform live. But that purple patch in the late 1970s left us with a number of bona fide classics as his legacy. And Get It Right Next Time, with it’s eternal pick-yourself-up-and-start-again message certainly ranks in that number.

So a song for the ukulele? Well yes, and this time round I’ve got some solid-ish evidence that it works. We’ve been playing this with my band The Flukes for a little while now, and after a fair bit of practice (more of which later!) it seems to work quite well. If definitely benefits from the driving bass (thank you, Will!) and Doug’s harmonica really add something, but it still works with just the single uke if you want. If you want to hear what it sounds like, here’s us performing at a recent Southampton Ukulele Jam Christmas Cabaret.

There’s nothing too tricky chord wise here – even the Bb/G, A/G, Ab/G, G sequence is a very straightforward rundown the fretboard. The trickier bit was timing, and particularly the middle instrumental break. The best way to get this is to listen to the original (and maybe even to The Flukes version!) and get the feel for it – it is very much about feel on this, I find, and the key to that is playing some of those chords just before the beat. In the songsheet I’ve added a third page which tries to annotate how this works for that instrumental section. It may help, it may not, but it may be worth a look if you’re struggling with that bit.

Enjoy!

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The Great Dominions – The Teardrop Explodes

WilderIt’s been a little while since there’s been some Julian Cope magic on here, so it’s about time that was rectified.

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As with a previous post, this one takes us back to their second (and final) album, 1981’s Wilder. Their first album, the previous year’s Kilimanjaro, had a classic post-punk, 60s-garage-band-inspired, psychedelic-influenced scratchy sound, but was also strong on melody, tunes, and threw in a bit of brass to give it a real kick. Wilder, on the other hand, was an altogether more colourful, eclectic, experimental collection, and clearly one where the drug influences (Cope and the band were on a real long rock-and-roll bender by this time) shine through. From the sunshine-pop of Passionate Friend (all ba-ba-bas and horns) to the clipped funkiness of The Culture Bunker and the psychedelic wanderings of Like Leila Khaled Said, this is a more varied and rambling album than its predecessor, and one which – from my perspective – is all the richer because of that.

The Great Dominions is one of a clutch of slower songs on the album (Tiny Children and …and the fighting takes over being the others) that – in my mind – turn this into a classic. I haven’t a clue what it’s all about – I’m not really sure that Julian had much of an idea either, given the amount of drugs he was consuming at the time (“I’m still stuck in this pickle jar on a paper carpet” anyone?!) – but for all that it is a beautiful and touching hymn that suggests a yearning for lost innocence.

I couldn’t find any chords anywhere for this lovely song, so I’m hoping that what I’ve transcribed works OK. Personally I think it transfers well to the ukulele, but then I would. Nothing tricksy here – it’s just a continuing D / C / G chord loop – and the tune is almost nursery-rhyme like in its simplicity and innocence. Enjoy!

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Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry

OdeToBillyJoeSometimes a song arrives so perfectly formed that its difficult to believe that there was a time when it didn’t exist.  And sometimes a song becomes so iconic that it overshadows the artist that created and performed it. I think both of those things apply to this classic.

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Ode To Billy Joe is a song, like You’re So Vain or American Pie, that has created a huge amount of debate, discussion and speculation. Originally the b-side to her debut single, Mississippi Delta, Ode… started picking up US airplay and eventually topped the charts there. It’s sparse sound was a contrast to the country rock sound of Mississippi Delta, but it is the enigmatic lyrics that have given the song its long-lasting mystique. Exactly what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? Why did Billie Joe commit suicide? I’m not going to add to the debate that has ensued endlessly since the songs original release (see here and here for a flavour of that) – suffice to say it is one of those debates that will run and run.

Gentry never really eclipsed this performance (hard to see how that could be possible) despite a series of classy releases. She had continued success in the late 60s and early 70s, but effectively dropped off the public radar by 1972 to focus on television production work, and disappeared entirely from public life in the early 1980s, lending to her own life a degree of the mystery that surrounded this her most iconic song.

There’s not much to say about the song sheet. It’s a simple set of blues-flavoured chords. Just keep the rhythm simple and sparse, and it will sound great.

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P.S. I love this photo (below) of Bobbie Gentry crossing the Tallahatchie Bridge

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