Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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“Guilty Pleasures”

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From the off, let me be upfront. I don’t personally hold truck with the concept of guilty pleasures. I’m fully on board with New York Times journalist Jennifer Szalai, who wrote in The New Yorker that:

If you want to listen to Rihanna while reading the latest from Dean Koontz, just go ahead and do it. Don’t try to suggest you know better. Forget the pretense and get over yourself. You have nothing to lose but your guilt.

The New Yorker, September 2013

For me, good music is good music. Just because some critic or some friend somewhere may have judged something less worthy, less culturally edifying, less highbrow, less on-trend, doesn’t mean it is without merit. And certainly doesn’t mean that anyone should feel guilty about it. And I’m not talking in an ironic way either – if you enjoy it, then own it. The opinions of others shouldn’t have any bearing on it.

Having said all that, however, the phrase “Guilty Pleasures” is a useful shorthand for those songs which have, over the years, been somewhat denigrated and judged as somehow naff or unworthy, despite having accrued significant measures of popularity and commercial success. Often these are songs that have gone against the grain of contemporary trends, and yet have been embraced and loved – at the time, at least – by a significant group of off-trend, couldn’t-care-less punters. Sometimes these songs and artists have been re-evaluated in retrospect (Abba being a case in point), but often these songs end up languishing in a kind of artistic purgatory, forgotten and unloved.

All the songs in this collection are ones that have, at one time or another, fallen into these categories. Some have been, or are in the process of being, rehabilitated – the likes of Toto’s MOR classic Africa, Rick Astley’s Stock-Aitkin-Waterman stormer Never Gonna Give You Up, or Journey’s pop-rock barnstormer Don’t Stop Believin’ have all had their credibility restored of late (as an aside, I do find that the younger, Spotify generation have less hang-ups about these kind of things – maybe because they are distant from their origins and less likely to engage in “culture wars” – and are happy to just go with what they enjoy). Some – notably Bryan Hyland’s angsty, teenager-woe-is-me Sealed With A Kiss, or Terry Jack’s adaptation of Jacques Brel’s death ballad Le Moribond (Seasons In The Sun) – still seem to languish in the not-really-credible pile, despite both having been hits again when covered by others (Westlife and Jason Donavan respectively – OK, I can see why that might not have garnered them additional respect!). And some seem to languish still in relative obscurity – nobody is expecting a David Soul or Gilbert O’Sullivan revival any when soon.

But every song in this collection is one that I will argue strongly for. And every song in this collection is one that nobody should feel bad about singing – in fact many of these songs are, in my book, at least, the kind of song that just feels great being belted out – alone or in a group. These are pleasures that nobody should feel guilty about.

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As well as links to the songbook above, below is the list of songs, with links to individual song sheets:


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Are You Leaving For The Country – Karen Dalton

Karen Dalton is not a household name. In her time (she was active during the folk scene of the 1960s, around New York and Woodstock) she played alongside many of the greats, including Bob Dylan and Tim Hardin, but her lack of willingness to play the music business game, a reluctance to perform, alongside alcohol and drug use, meant that she never really made her mark. All this despite an obvious talent – Dylan for one described her as having a voice like Billie Holiday and playing guitar like Jimmie Reed.

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She did, however, record two albums around the end of the decade – 1969’s It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You Best, and 1971’s In My Own Time. It’s from the latter that todays song – Are You Leaving For The Country – is taken. Written by her then husband, Richard Tucker, the song is a languid shuffle that closes that 10 song selection of covers and traditional songs.

Dalton never sang her own words, her repertoire was made up of unique takes on the songs of others, but she is a wonderful example of the lost art of the interpreter. Whilst the songs may not be her own, everything that she does with those songs is unique and special, her voice especially so. These songs can only be Karen Dalton, and in doing so brings out something new and special from songs which could sometimes be considered tired and old hat. If raw soul-infused folk blues with a jazzy twist is your thing, then give Karen a try.

The song is a simple one, although has an interesting selection of chords and timings that gives it a special feel. Karen’s phrasing is special and unique and, whilst I’ve tried to echo that in the song sheet, it really is open to interpretation. Enjoy!


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Goin’ Back – Dusty Springfield

Last night I watched the 2019 documentary, Echo in the Canyon. It’s a look at the roots of the mid-60s music scene in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, focussing on some of the key groups of that scene, including The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas, and weaved through with a concert and recording of the songs of the time by a contemporary band led by Jakob Dylan, and including such luminaries as Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power and Regina Spektor. It was a good watch, and definitely recommended if that is your kind of music.

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Anyway, one of the songs featured was The Byrds version of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s wonderful Goin’ Back. It transpires that The Byrds recording of the song, and releasing it as a single, was a key decision that ultimately led to David Crosby leaving the band, frustrated at what he saw as embracing “lightweight fluff”, rather than putting out his own song, Triad, about his own experiences of a ménage à trois.

I really like The Byrds version. But even more so do I love the Dusty Springfield version of the song. Dusty’s version preceded the Byrds version by little over a year, a stand-alone single that was offered to her by one of the song’s writers, Carole King. For me, Dusty’s version captures perfectly that key theme of the song – the loss of innocence that comes with growing up, along with a belated (and ultimately doomed) attempt to recapture that youthful innocence. The song is a great song, and there are some good versions out there, but for me none of the will every top this version.

And so to the song sheet. This is a beautiful song, and part of the reason for that is the subtle use of some lovely chords. And so I’ve deliberately not over-simplified, and kept it as true to the original as possible. That means a few unusual chords (Aadd9, Asus7, Dadd9 for starters). But before you panic, they’re all perfectly playable chords (no need to dislocate your fingers to reach these), and they all add to the gorgeousness of this song. So give it a try. And enjoy!


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The Jam – Songbook

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This one has been on the to-do list for a while, to be honest. It’s felt like an obvious collection to pull together, and having recently advertised it as a possibility for future “SUJ vs …” evening, I thought I should finally get round to doing it. And so here it is.

The Jam blazed brightly for six years at the end of the 70s and early 80s. Melding the ferociousness, anger and energy of punk with classic British songwriter sensibilities that harkened back to bands like The Kinks and The Who, and single-handedly spearheading a so-called Mod revival, Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler managed to balance both huge commercial success (in the UK, at least) and critical acclaim, all the while holding true to their principles. Weller’s breaking up of the band at the height of that success left fans and admirers astounded, but meant that their legacy has not been tainted over the years (the chances of a Jam re-union are on the negative side of zero).

Whilst their first couple of albums echoed the emerging punk scene, the bands appearance (sharp, tailored suits) and 60s musical influences (Motown, as well as the aforementioned Kinks and Who) set them apart. Quickly gaining a large and loyal fan-base, it was 1978s All Mod Cons that really turned up the song writing quality dial. Having gone back to his 60s influences, Weller emerged with a collection of songs that – whilst not losing the punk spirit – brought a new found observational lyricism to the the already pointed political declarations. Songs like Down In The Tube Station At Midnightly keenly captured the threat of violence in late night London, something contrasted by the romantic tones of English Rose.

Following a couple of non-album singles (Strange Town and When You’re Young), 1979’s Setting Sons built on the success of All Mod Cons, and also gave the band their first top 3 single in the shape of The Eton Rifles, inspired by skirmishes between demonstrators on a Socialist Working Party’s Right to Work March and pupils from Eton College (the ultimate public school, source of a large proportion of British prime ministers).

By 1980 the band were officially the biggest band in the country, a fact cemented by their new single, Going Underground, going straight into the charts at number 1 (an almost unheard of event at the time). Start! followed it to the top of the charts later in the year, and so strong was the appetite for material from the band that another song from that year’s Sound Effects became a hit on the sale of import copies alone. Sound Effects marked a broadening of the bands sound, influenced as it was by The Beatles’ Revolver (Start!’s baseline is more than a little inspired by Taxman), and incorporating swirling psychedelia and R&B alongside contemporary post-punk sounds.

Consolidating with two more non-album singles in 1981 (the dark Funeral Pyre, and the horn-laced Absolute Beginners), the bands final album was 1982’s The Gift, which took on more soul, funk and R&B influences (acting as something of a precursor to Weller’s post-Jam outfit, The Style Council) and gifted the world the massive Town Called Malice, a song which was both a UK number 1 and a big hit around the rest of the world.

But by then Weller was itching to move on. The decision to split the band came from him alone, as he later explained:

“I wanted to end it to see what else I was capable of, and I’m still sure we stopped at the right time. I’m proud of what we did but I didn’t want to dilute it, or for us to get embarrassing by trying to go on forever. We finished at our peak. I think we had achieved all we wanted or needed to, both commercially and artistically.”

Whilst a disappointment to many, Foxton and Buckler included (relationships have remained frosty), in terms of the legacy that they left, Weller’s decision would appear to have been vindicated. The catalogue that remains has – despite Weller’s continued success with both The Style Council and solo – not been diminished, untainted by age, and not devalued by a gradual decline, and at its best remains a high-water mark, not just of its time, but of a classic British band that is now held up there alongside the artists that originally inspired them.

This songbook pulls together 18 tracks that made up the bands astonishing run of singles. From the urgent punk spit of debut single In The City, to the glorious swansong that is Beat Surrender, these songs deserved to be sung and played with sprit and attitude. Enjoy!

Songs included : In The City / All Around The World / The Modern World / News Of The World / David Watts / ‘A’ Bomb In Wardour Street / Down In The Tube Station At Midnight / Strange Town / When You’re Young / The Eton Rifles / Going Underground / Start! / That’s Entertainment / Funeral Pyre / Absolute Beginners / Town Called Malice / The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) / Beat Surrender

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Patience Of Angels – Eddi Reader

For a few years during the 1990s, Eddi Reader’s records were something of a constant companion. For some reason that changed (it might have been that my tastes too something of a country diversion), but the quality of those records didn’t.

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Patience of Angels is probably her best-known solo song (Reader was formerly the singer in Fairground Attraction, whose Perfect is a veritable classic). Certainly it is the one with the largest number of streams on Spotify, by a significant distance. However the song is not Reader’s own, but comes from the pen of long-time collaborator Boo Hewerdine.

Hewerdine is someone who has mostly gone under the radar, but is a consummate and highly regarded songwriter, whose songs have been covered by a range of artists (k.d.lang, Paul Young and Brian Kennedy to name just a few). He still records and performs himself, mostly in a low-key acoustic singer-songwriter.

Patience of Angels was something of a high-water mark for both Reader and Hewerdine. Probably Reader’s most successful solo single, it also earned Hewerdine a nomination for the Ivor Novello Award in 1995.

And so to the songsheet. Or rather songsheets. I’ve included two here – one for the Eddi Reader version, and another for the Boo Hewerdine versions. The arrangements of both are the same, it’s just that I’ve transposed them to fit the keys of the respective original versions. Which probably means one’s a bit easier for women to sing, the other easier for men. Otherwise the songs are reasonably straightforward (apart from the stray F#7 chord in the Reader version), taken at a brisk 3/4 timing. Enjoy!

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