Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Sunshine Superman – Donovan

SunshineSupermanDonovan emerged from the 1960s folk scene with a sound that was influenced by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, but most noticably by Bob Dylan. That Dylan influence has proved something of an millstone around his neck, something amplified by the reactions of Dylan himself when he toured the UK in 1965, famously captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film “Don’t Look Back”.

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By 1966, however, Donovan was starting to move away from the limitations of the folk scene, and began immersing himself in the emerging counter-cultural hippie scene. Picking up particularly on the psychedelic sounds emerging from the US West Coast (bands such as Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane), but also on jazz, blues and eastern sounds, Sunshine Superman – the start of a collaboration with successful produced Mickie Most – proved to be a huge breakthrough for Donovan, topping the US charts, and becoming a massive hit almost everywhere else.

The song sheet is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original. I’ve included tab for both the intro riff, the riff that occurs during the verses, plus an approximation of a solo. At some point I’ll get around to recording the latter to give some indication of what its meant to sound like. Enjoy!

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Dancing With Myself – Generation X / Billy Idol

DancingWithMyselfGenXDancingWithMyselfBillyIdolGeneration X always came across as something of cartoon punks. Not sticking rigidly to the punk rule book, there was always an element of pop in their sound, a suspicion that they didn’t really “mean it” the way other punks meant it, and maybe were perceived as being too willing to compromise themselves to “make it”.

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Of course, the whole idea of a punk rule book was actually anathema to its true spirit, but one result is that Generation X are seen as second-tier punks, despite (or maybe because) they had (an admittedly quite modest) level of success. That reputation was probably cemented when lead singer Billy Idol went solo in the 80s and garnered a huge amount of success, particularly in the US, with an image that again came across as a crude mashup of punk, pop and Elvis.

Yet they left behind a number of songs which – to my mind, credibility be damned – captured some of the energy and dynamism of the times, coupled with a genuine, if maybe simplistic, tunefulness. Dancing With Myself was in fact written by the band’s bassist, Tony James, who later want on to higher-profile infamy/success with Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Recorded for the band’s third album, it only managed to claw itself into the bottom reaches of the singles chart in 1980. Idol re-recorded it as his first single when he went solo a year later, and whilst it still didn’t make much of an impact, it’s calling card status has given it a longevity that its chart position belies.

I have a strong preference for the original Generation X version of the song – the later Billy Idol version tones down the guitar sounds and makes what is a tuneful-yet-aggressive punk classic into a slightly watered down power-pop anthem. But in either guise this is a song whose driving rhythm, simple riff and singalong nature have sustained it throughout its 30+ years of life.

And here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple three chorder, although in this version (the same key as both the Generation X and Billy Idol versions) it contains the infamous E chord, which I know some people struggle with (if you do, just take it down to D, G and A, rather than E, A and B). I’ve also included tab for the introductory riff, and for the solo in the middle. Both are really simple, so give them a go. And enjoy!

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History – One Direction

HistoryOK, so this isn’t my usual kind of thing. I know that. And to be honest, this isn’t a song that I would ever knowingly choose to listen to or plan. But when it was recently suggested that The Flukes give this a bash for a wedding gig we’re playing soon it seemed churlish not to give it a go. And you know what? It works rather well!

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There’s not a great deal to say about this. One Direction, a product of the X Factor TV programme in 2010, became huge, a global sensation, managed to churn our five albums in five years that sold astonishingly well, and in the process made a huge amount of money. Inevitably things eventually started coming apart, and the group is currently taking an extended break whilst the various members pursue their own thing.

History was the bands’ final single before that hiatus, and whilst not the massive success that some of their other songs have been, it has still performed respectably.

And so to the song sheet. There’s nothing too tricky in here chord wise, but the rhythm may be a little challenging. It’s performed to a light 12/8 shuffle that takes a little while to get the hang of. But once you do, it’s effectively that same rhythm the whole way through. The songsheet is in F just to make it a bit easier to play – the original is in Gb, so play with capo 1 if you want to play along with the original.

Enjoy!

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Down In The Subway / What! – Soft Cell

R-490877-1235309593.jpegR-116294-1241539463.jpegBy 1984 Soft Cell were imploding in a cocktail of drugs, sex, fame and general debauchery. It had been a steep, messy and rapid decline from the heights they had achieved with the massive success of Tainted Love 3 years earlier. It was an arc that can be traced through the titles of the three albums they released during that period – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, The Art Of Falling Apart, and This Last Night In Sodom.

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To the mass consciousness, Soft Cell are Tainted Love, Tainted Love is Soft Cell, and that’s all there is too
it. Clearly things were far more complex than that, and at their heart there was always a tension between their pop sensibilities and their more outré tendancies. But throughout their career, one influence that they kept coming back to was Marc Almonds passion for Northern Soul. Northern Soul was a dance movement that emerged in the north of England in the late 1960s, that focused on black American soul music with a heavy, four-to-the-floor beat and fast tempo, strongly influenced by the sound of Tamla Motown. And the more obscure the record the better.

Tainted Love, Soft Cell’s huge breakthrough hit, was a cover of a a 1964 original by Gloria Jones (and was backed with a cover of the Motown hit Where Did Our Love Go, famoulsy segued together on the 12″ version). And they returned to that format a number of times throughout their career. In 1982 their cover of “What”, originally a 1968 recording by Judy Street, climbed to the top 5. And their final single before their dissolution, 1984s Down In The Subway, was a cover of a 1968 original by Jack Hammer.

So two song sheets for the price of one today. Down In The Subway is a pretty straightforward song – three chords, and a lot of attitude. What! is a little more complex – the rhythm is one that needs a little practice and experimentation to get right. I’ve tried to transcribe the sound as close to the Soft Cell version, including the extended outro. I’ve also included some tab to cover some of the riffs, and the solo section in the middle.

Enjoy!

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Rainbow Connection

KermitDon’t ever let it be said that there’s no variety on this site. From 80s synthpop and soulful grooves, we now move on to a song made famous by a singing frog playing the banjo!

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Rainbow Connection, however, is not your average glove-puppet inspired tune. The work of two highly respected composers and arrangers, Paul Williams (“We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)”) and Kenneth Ascher, the song first came to the consciousness of the world via. The Muppet Movie, where it was performed by Kermit the Frog. Performing a similar role in that film to the similarly-themed “Over The Rainbow” in The Wizard Of Oz, the song is a surprisingly wistful song that looks yearns and dreams for, and holds out the hope for, a better life. Nominated for an Academy Award (it lost out to “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae – no, me neither!) it has over the years turned into a true standard.

Subsequently reprised in The Muppet Show in 1980 as a duet with Debbie Harry, it has since gone on to be covered by a whole host of artists including The Carpenters, Sarah McLachlan, Willie Nelson, Ed Sheerhan, and my personal favourite version by The Dixie Chicks.

There are quite a few Rainbow Connection song sheets out there, so why another one? Well this was put together for when our band, The Flukes wanted to perform it (you can see/hear it below – excuse the slightly fluffed intro and solo from yours truly!), and none of the versions out there quite worked for us. So firstly this version does away with the key change, thereby avoiding a host of horrible chords! Secondly, I’ve also include (a) the opening riff, and (b) a solo for the middle, which started off based on The Dixie Chicks version, and then morphed into some kind of amalgam of a number of versions. Anyway, I think the whole thing is better picked than strummed, but that’s my opinion, and you’re free to ignore it. Enjoy!
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Your Love Is King – Sade

Sade+Your+Love+Is+King+18700It’s becoming a bit of an 80s-fest on here lately, isn’t it. Apologies for that, but as I’ve said before that was my time, and there was some darned good music around at the time. Not always those day-glo caricatures of the decade, but songs of real class and quality. This song definitely fits that description.

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Sade were/are both a person and a band – Helen Folasade Adu, otherwise known as Sade Adu, and the band that she leads. Originally a fashion designer, and spending a brief time as a model, Sade formed the band in 1983. The following year their debut album, Diamond Life, was released and became a global phenomenon, selling 6 million copies, the best-selling debut by a female vocalists. Unfortunately it got a reputation as a somewhat vapid yuppie dinner-party soundtrack to the decade, but if you put those associations aside you’ll find inside a genuinely classy record.

Your Love Is King was the lead single that announced the band, and remains their most successful song. Typifying the sound that she came to make her own, the smooth grooves, soulful sax and honey-rich vocals could appear formulaic, but for me (and clearly for many others) that was part of the appeal. And don’t let that smooth sound lull you into thinking that these songs are without depth – Sade shows a real heart for the downtrodden and broken-hearted that might have upset those self-congratulatory dinner parties if anybody was really listening.

So here’s the song sheet. There’s some lovely major 7th chords in there (you can’t go wrong with those!), but essentially it hits a groove and sticks there. Getting that groove might be a little challenging on the little uke, but it’s worth playing along with the original to get that feel. Alternatively I’ve been picking this, and I think that gives quite a nice feel to it. I’ve had a go at recording what this sounds like – you can listen below. Enjoy!

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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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