Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Rock ‘n’ Roll Star – Oasis

definitelymaybeIf I’m out in the car by myself for a drive, I like to dig out a CD and crank the volume up. A couple of days ago I had that opportunity, and was in the mood for a bit of noise and attitude. Having a quick scan through my CDs I noticed a copy of Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe, and thought that would certainly fit the bill. So as I pulled away the open bars of this opening track filled the car with a wall of noise, and we were off.

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Definitely Maybe was, alongside Blur’s Parklife, the defining starting gun for Britpop. Although arguably a somewhat backward-looking phenomena, being heavily influenced by british guitar pop of the 60s and 70s, for a while it was a breath of fresh air that usurped the early 90s grunge sound, although – as these things always do – it eventually petered out amongst repetition, diminishing returns, and cheap third-rate imitations of itself.

However, Definitely Maybe can rightly be held up as a classic, and certainly blows the cobwebs away. A blend of the attitude and noise of punk bands with the melodic intents of 60s guitar bands, the album drives forward on an enormous wall of guitar sound, great dumb songs (don’t go looking for too much meaning in here) mostly from the pen of Noel Gallagher, and the rock and roll attitude of vocalist brother Liam. Rock ‘n’ Roll Star sets the tone from the off, and the album retains a remarkable consistency all the through to closing acoustic number “Married with Children”, taking in classics such as “Live Forever” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol” along the way.

Clearly a ukulele version is never going to achieve the sound of the original. But the basic song underneath all of that is a good one, and so I believe it works well (see here for an example of how it might). It’s relatively straightforward – essentially one verse and chorus, repeated! I’ve raised the key by half-a-tone to make it easire to play, and I think that works OK. Play with attitude, and enjoy!

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Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind – Dolly Parton / Rhiannon Giddens

giddens-tomorrow-is-my-turnI only came across Rhiannon Giddens about a month ago, following one of those “customers who brought x also brought y” trails on Amazon. And she was something of a revelation. Rhiannon is better know – if she is known at all – as singer, violinist and banjo player in old-time American music revivalists Carolina Chocolate Drops (and isn’t the world a better place knowing there is a band called Carolina Chocolate Drops in it!). Classically trained (she studied opera), she has just released her debut solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, which acts as a show-case for a hugely versatile talent, mixing country, gospel, jazz, blues, chanson and more.

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One of those is this Dolly Parton song. The opener from Dolly’s 1969 album, In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad),  this was recorded during the time she was partnering with Porter Wagoner, and before she had really established herself as a solo artist. One thing it does is affirm, again, the often over-looked song-writing ability of Dolly. In all the country show-biz caricature and cartoon quality that has grown up around Dolly, people often ignore what a great songwriter she is. The author of classics like Jolene, Love Is Like A Butterfly and I Will Always Love You (the original is a breath of fresh air of you’re only familiar with the Whitney Houston version). Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind is not as well known as any of those, in fact it is relatively obscure, and yet it bears all the hallmarks of a classic, whether in the original by Dolly, or in the excellent cover by Rhiannon.

So here’ the songsheet. As a country song, there’s nothing too complicated here, although the timing is sometimes a little unexpected. The song sheet includes the song in two keys – the first (C) a little easier to play and (for me) to sing, the second (Bb) consistent with the originals by both Dolly Parton and Rhiannon Giddens.

Enjoy!

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UkeTunes Songbooks!

UkeTunes Songbook, Volume 1So I thought it was about time I pulled together all the songs that I’ve posted on here so far into one, single, UkeTunes songbook. And here it is!

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Somewhat optimistically subtitled “Volume 1″, here is the songbook nobody has been waiting for. From the ridiculously popular (-ish) to the willfully obscure (Our Daughters Wedding, anybody?) UkeTunes Volume 1 brings together an eclectic mix of punk and synthpop, folk and country, showtunes and reggae, soul and ska, in the songbook that will revolutionise the four-stringed world and have ukulele groups all over the world casting aside their battered copies of Folsom Prison Blues, Bad Moon Rising and Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue in favour of songs about the ethics of silk-worm farming, Dostoyevsky’s reflections on free will, and the recurring disasters of April 14th. There might be a few broken-hearted love songs in there as well.

Feel free to onward share the book. It’s been put together with the intention of being used, although I think it would be a brave group to perform all of these (I’m thinking of you, “The Mating Game”!).

And foUkeTunes - The 80sr those for whom the eclecticism on offer in this songbook is maybe just a little too much, I’ve also pulled together a sub-volume which collects together all the songs published so far on this site from the 1980s. Remember, though, this is *my* 1980s, not the one of popular imagination, so it still veers off into some obscure bywaters. Click on the image or link below for UkeTunes – The 80s.

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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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