Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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The Only Way Is Up – Yazz via. Stornoway

yazzstornoway-bonxieA couple of weeks ago I went, with my daughter, to see Stornoway play the opening night of their tour here in Southampton. It was a great gig, leaning heavily on songs from their most recent album Bonxie (go get it, it’s great!) but also taking in the best of their first two albums as well. Coming back on for the encore, they started up what sounded like a simple country-ish strum for a song I didn’t immediately recognise, but which at the same time felt kind-of familiar. It wasn’t until those “hold on” refrains just before the chorus that the mist clear and the song came into focus. Here was Yazz’s late-80’s dancefloor anthem reimagined. And I thought, “that would work well on the ukulele”!

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So here it is. The song originally started life in 1980 as a single by soul singer Otis Clay, with a funky,disco-influenced sound. The Yazz version, a poppy take on the acid house sound that was emerging at the time, was a *huge* omnipresent hit in 1988, the second best selling song of the whole year in the UK (beaten only by Cliff Richard’s execrable Misltoe and Wine!), and massive across the rest of Europe.

And then, 27 years later, new life is breathed into it by a folk-and-ornithology-influenced band from Oxford. And the song breathes.

So here’s the songsheet. This is very much the Stornoway version, and I haven’t tried to play this like Yazz or Otis Clay. I think it’s fairly straightforward – each chord on the sheet representa a bar – and play it with a simple strumming pattern (either d-du-du-du or d-d-du-du, or some combination of the both). Enjoy!

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It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Them / Bob Dylan

It'sAllOverNowBabyBlue-ThemIt’s kind of surprising that a Dylan song has turned up this far into UkeTunes. Firstly because – clearly, and without any doubt – he has written some great songs, songs that have become part of the cannon of popular music. Secondly because due to their relative simplicity many of those songs translate well to the ukulele. [Afternote : I’ve just remembered I have already posted a Dylan song on here – I Shall Be Released! But the points still stand.]

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The uncontended proof that he has authored so many classic songs is evidenced by the many, many cover versions of these songs. That trend started early in Dylan’s career with the likes of The Byrds, Joan Baez and others picking up on, and having hits with, his songs, sometimes to the extent of recording whole albums of them. And this has continued until very recently – I’d be interested to know what proportion of the people that bought it knew that Adele’s Make You Feel My Love is a cover of Dylan’s 1997 original.

But as with many Dylan songs (although certainly not all) the original is not always the best, and certainly not always the definitive version. Sometimes that view can be clouded by the version that you first know, and that may well be the case for me with this song. But I would contend that Them’s version of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue is, amongst all the myriad cover versions, the definitive, unbettered version.

Them, for those who aren’t aware, were a relatively short-lived, but over time significantly influential, band from Belfast that emerged in the mid-1960s, probably the first successful rock/pop band to emerge from Northern Ireland. And they gifted the world Van Morrison, lead singer and leader of Them. Having hits with Here Comes The Night and Baby Please Don’t Go, as well as writing and recording the original version of the classic garage anthem, Gloria, they also record covers, often of classic rhythm and blues standards, but also contemporary songs.

Them’s version of It’s All Over… is a brooding masterpiece. Introduced by a bass riff that pulses, and overlaid with an organ motif that circles throughout, these lay the foundation for a Morrison vocal that feels the song, full of power and depth, never breaking into histrionics, but on the point of breaking as the song reaches its conclusion. To my mind this fleshes out and gives additional depth that the Dylan original lacks, something that – of all the covers I’ve heard, only this Marianne Faithful version comes close to.

And so to the song sheet. Firstly, it contains two versions – one in the same key as the Them and Marianne Faithful versions (A), and one in F, a key that I can sing it in! Lyrically, I’ve kept with the Dylan original, which the Faithful version is (ahem) faithful to – Them’s version shortens, re-arranges and alters some of the lyrics. But I’ve also included the chords for the instrumental interlude from the Them version, which – I think – adds a nice break. You can strum along in a faily conventional sense as per Dylan, in a more laid-back, slightly off-beat Faithful way, or I’ve found that picking the chords in a vague approximation (you’ll have to experiment) of the organ in the Them version sounds good as well. Enjoy!

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Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You've GotTo my shame, this is a song that I wasn’t even consciously aware of until about a month ago. I first came across via. Massive Attack’s cover on their Blue Lines album, and whilst checking that out online for the chords came across this – the original – on YouTube, and was hooked. The hypnotic trance-like groove just sucks you in and suddenly you’re in another world where the concept of time dissappears – I could (and have) listened to this over and over again.

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Despite the song being huge in the US (it was only a minor hit here in the UK) William DeVaughn, who wrote and sung the song (it’s often mistakenly credited to Curtis Mayfield) wasn’t able to capitalise on its success, despite a first-rate album to accompany the song. That may have had something to do with his preaching and admonishing of the audience during gigs (DeVaughn was a Jehovah’s Witness when the song was written), and eventually he walked away from the music business, with occassical sporadic re-appearances.

None of that, however, detracts from the quality of *this* song. Recorded with the legendary MFSB, responsible for the Philly sound that was the foundation of the success of the likes of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, and The Stylistics, the song is essentially one long laid-back groove, over which DeVaughn’s silky vocal intones a (preobably religiously influenced) paean that acknowledges that, despite what you don’t have, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

So this on the ukulele. Hell, why not! It’s only two chords, after all. It *is* about the groove, and that’s not easy to teach, let alone describe. Listen to the song, particularly where it’s in instrumental mode, you can clearly hear the guitar chopping away, just put it on a loop and play along – over time you’ll get it. Despite the fact that it’s only two chords, those are best played – as indicated on the sheet – as barre chords on the 9th and 7th frets. That way you can really get that choppy rhythm working. I’ve also included a brief little riff that you can play over those chords as well. Again, listen to the original and you’ll work it out. This one is all about feel.

Enjoy!

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Being Boiled – The Human League

beingboiledSo. It’s been a little quiet here lately. Apologies for that, but I’ve been busy with a number of things lately, not least of which is our little band The Flukes, who have been playing a few gigs and even doing some recording.

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But that’s not why you’re here, so time for some songs. And here’s one that probably falls into the “unexpected” category. The thought of doing this came to mind recently when Southampton Ukulele Jam had a go at The Undertones My Perfect Cousin. To be honest that didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped, but the song includes a pre-fame reference to The Human League (“…got the Human League into advise her..”). Rather flippantly I suggested that we should pair My Perfect Cousin with a Human League song, citing the most-obscure-yet-still-known-but-totally-unlikely-to-work-on-ukuelele League song I could think of, that of Being Boiled. But then I remembered this acoustic guitar version, and thought well maybe it might work. So I had a look. And here it is!

Being Boiled was a significant song in the history of electronic music. Recorded in 1978 by the first, pre-Dare incarnation of The Human League, the song was composed by future Heaven 17 members  Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, with lyrics from then new vocalist Phil Oakey. Lyrically it’s somewhat dark in its themes, focussing on the inherent cruely of sericulture, the raising of silk moth larvae for the production of silk, and its relationship to Buddhism. There probably aren’t too many songs on popular (or unpopular!) music that are addressing this issue! Whilst not achieving anything other than critical plaudits on its initial release, it was finally a hit in 1982 when released off the back of the success of Dare! and it’s associated singles.

Musically the song is built on a repetative drum patttern and bass-line, overlaid with simple synth riffs.So perfect for translating to the ukulele, then. Well, it’s probably not going to usurp the likes of Folsom Prison Blues or Bad Moon Rising anytime soon. But personally I think there’s something here that works. The basic chords are straightforward (Am, C and Em), although you’ll see that I’ve add an optional riff that you can use in various places throughout the song. It does some need a good strong rhythm (this is *not* one for the universal ukulele strum!), and maybe benefits from something relatively sparse. You’ll also see that I’ve added a bit of tab, both for an introduction and a verse accompaniment. Use (or ignore) this as you wish – it’s designed to accompany the chords rather than replace them.

Enjoy!

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One Way Or Another – Blondie

parallellinesA couple of days ago I finally got round to sitting down and watching the recent documentary on BBC4 about Blondie’s Parallel Lines. It’s worth seeing (watch it here), and re-ignitied my often dormant fantasy of trying to do a ukulele-based full-album show featuring Parallel Lines, in sequence! I don’t suppose that will ever come to fruition, but it did prompt me to have a go at this song, the second track from this album I’ve posted on here (see the previous post of Picture This). Surprisingly I couldn’t find a ukulele sheet for this song (that wasn’t polluted by 1D!) so here is one.

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It’s a mark of just how much a classic Parallel Lines is, that even an album track such as this is so well known. I’m not even going to entertain the notion that this is due to the ghastly One Direction mash-up with Teenage Kicks (it’s appearance in the Rugrats movie gives it more credibility than that!). One Way Or Another is a classic of the Debbie Harry “attitude” school, spat out with the venom of a (presumably somewhat agrieved) stalker who’s going to see ya / meetcha / getcha / trick ya. You really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that treatment. There’s an interesting segment in that documentary (starting at 4:31) on the song, it’s genesis and recording.

So here’s the song sheet. For what might come across as a simple song there’s a lot of chords, but nothing too tricksy as long as you’re comfortable with barre chords. I’ve shown the chords as barre chords on the songsheet as they do work better that way, so if you can play them like that do. And if you can’t, practice! I found the little runs in the verse from D/C#/C/B and back again need a bit of concentration to get the timing right (it’s quite quick). The strumming pattern is something you need to listen to the original for, particularly in the verse where a nice bit of damping and scratching of the strings with the left hand gives it that chunky feel (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damping_(music) – I had to look the terms up!).  As ever, listen and play along to the original to get the overall feel and timing (it’s in the same key). And enjoy!

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Backhanded Compliment – Sunny Sweeney

sunnysweeneyI’ve been going through something of a country phase lately. Things tend to go like that for me, but certainly for the last 6 months or so there’s definitely been a country bias to my listening. Albums from Sturgill Simpson (Metamodern Sounds In Country Music), Suzy Bogguss (Lucky) and Willie Watson (Folk Singer Volume 1) have all been highly enjoyed, alongside older albums from Laura Cantrell and Rodney Crowell. But most recently it’s been Provoked by Texas singer/songwriter Sunny Sweeney that I’ve been really getting into.

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I hadn’t even heard of Sunny until very recently, but through one of those “if-you-liked-such-and-such-you-might-like-this” recommendations I gave her a go. And what a great little record it is. Provoked is fairly straight down the line country, and appears to be her first album since being dropped by her previous record company (home to Taylor Swift) and a divorce. Those events clearly had a strong influence on the songs on this album, but not in a woe-is-me kind of way, rather in a sassy, fighter / survivor kind of way. This is clearly not a woman to be messed with!

Backhanded Compliment is from that album, and is a very funny response to those kind of double-edged comments which we’ve probably all been subject to – which say one thing but clearly, intentionally or not, mean another. Set to a bouncing rhythm, it’s clearly written from a woman’s perspective, and she’s not shy with the comeback!

And so to the song sheet. Nothing particularly complicated in here, other than the fact that it’s in Bb, which results in some slightly unusual chords (if you want it in an easier key – to play – try this version in G). A nice chugga-chugga rhythm is all that’s needed (listen to the video to get an idea). And enjoy!

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You Give A Little Love – from “Bugsy Malone”

bugsymaloneMusicals are a strange beast. Some people can’t stand them, and certainly in some circles your musical credibility takes a nose-dive if you express even a smidgen of interest in them. Others love them, particularly the escapist, fantasy world they can create, and there’s a whole world of them out there that you can lose yourself in if you wish. Me, I sit somewhere in the middle of those extremes (what do you know!).

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For me, the best musicals take you on an emotional journey where music, lyric, story and staging combine to create a credible other world that does something none of those elements can do on their own. So shows like Les Miserables, West Side Story and Blood Brothers, neither of which could be classified as escapist fun, are ones I would see over and again. Of the little I’ve come across (A Little Night Music and Into The Woods) I’ve really enjoyed as well, even though they’re not big on blockbuster tunes (the classic Send In The Clowns excepted). More recently Matilda was one I particularly enjoyed.

But I also have time for the more traditional musicals, particularly those from the golden age of such in the mid 20th-century. I think that may be partly my parents fault(!) but shows like Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Calamity Jane, Annie Get Your Gun and 42nd Street are just feel good bonanza’s.

But for sheer fun and feel-good vibes, you’d have to go a long way to beat Bugsy Malone. Featuring an all-child cast (including Jodie Foster and Scott Baia) the show is set in 1920s America during prohibition, and focusses on the exploits of a bunch of gangsters, although with the real-life bullets and machine guns being replaced with custard-shooting splurge guns. Directed by Alan Parker, whose film career has included other musicals such as Fame, The Commitments and Evita, the music was written by Paul Williams, notable for pop successes such as We’ve Only Just Begun for The Carpenters, and Evergreen, sung by Barbara Streisand from the film A Star Is Born. But for Bugsy, he composed a set of songs that reflect both the time the film is set, but also give it a more (1970s) contemporary feel. You Give A Little Love is the rousing, sing-along closing song from the film, noticably sung after the mother of all splurge gun fights, with the whole cast covered in custard!

So here’s the song sheet. I thought this might work largely because the instrumentation on the original (is that a banjo in there) seemed to lend itself to a strummed ukulele. I can’t find a lot of evidence that this does work out there, but having played with this a bit I’m sure it will. The chords are reasonably straightforward, although you can embelish it with – in particular – a nice G / G# / F / E7 run at the end of the third line in each verse (it is a bit quick, though). And playing the A chord in the second line as a slide up two frets from the G in the first line works well too. I’ve also transcribed the introduction – a nice clashing chord followed by a little riff. Listen to the original and you’ll work it out. Oh, and keep going at the end for as long as you want. Enjoy!

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