Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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War Baby – Tom Robinson

There’s been a few songs on here recently that have been inspired by gigs that I’ve either been to are going to. And you know what? Here comes another.

<songsheet>

In popular consciousness, when people think of Tom Robinson (if they think of him at all) there’s one, maybe two, songs that comes straight to the front of the queue. But they’re wrong! That’s not to say that 2-4-6-8 Motorway is a bad song – it’s a head-down pile-driver of a fist-pumping sing-along song that deserves to be up there in the pantheon of punk-inspired greats. Neither is Glad To Be Gay – a somewhat controversial (at the time) song that probably wasn’t the best career move Robinson ever made.

But if you’re looking for a sublime classic that represents quality songwriting, a timeless, emotionally brutal stream-of-consciousness evocation of nostalgia and regret, then look no further. This – for me – is peak Tom Robinson. This is such a gorgeous wonder of a song, very different to the rawness, aggression and political bite of his earlier sounds, but retaining the ferocious honesty that has been a hallmark of his whole career.

So last night there I was at the 1865 in Southampton (incidentally, the new home of Southampton Ukulele Jam) watching Tom Robinson perform, in full, his powerful debut album Power In The Darkness. It was a great show, with a great band, and a 68-year old Robinson in great form as singer, bass-player, band leader and host. The album played, the encore was made of the contemporaneous classics Martin, Glad to be Gay and a stretched-out rousing 2-4-6-8 Motorway. So job done, and what a good evening that would have been. But the best, the peak was yet to come. Responding to an audience who clearly wanted more, the unexpected gift to close out the evening was a wondrous version of this here classic. This boy couldn’t have been happier.

So how does it work for the ukulele? Well quite well, I think. There’s some lovely chords in here, and some lovely progressions. I’ve tried to simplify down from the original to something playable, but still retain the essence of the original song. So there are one or two slightly unusual chords in here, but persevere because it is those that make it.  Fitting the words in can be a little tricky (this is quite a verbose song) but if – like me – you know the song like the back of your hand, it will flow. Just enjoy!

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Elvis Presley Songbook

I could write pages about today’s post. But it’s probably fair to say that it wouldn’t add anything to the millions upon millions of words that have already been written about this man. So I’m going to keep this one short.

<songbook>

It’s probably fair to say that without Elvis, popular music would not be what it is today. The combination of rhythm and blues, boogie woogie, country and gospel that he stumbled on in the mid-50s set a trajectory for music that we are still living with today. And he was the template for the musical superstar, so many of whom would follow in his footsteps and shadow. And obviously that was a significant contributor to his untimely death, another tragic precedent that Elvis set for the tortured star.

At the same time, it’s also fair to say that, to a certain extent, Elvis was in the right place at the right time. Yes, clearly he had talent, and certainly a great deal of charisma. But the timing was right, the circumstances were right, and Elvis benefited from that. There will never be another Elvis, in the same way there will never be another Beatles, because it’s not just about the talent – it’s about a combination of circumstances, in particularly the cultural and societal expectations and climate, that made these artists the huge stars that they became.

But artists like Elvis are nothing without the songs. And what a legacy of song he left behind. Despite one or two credits, Elvis wasn’t really a songwriter. But the songs that he chose, or had chosen for him, includes a ridiculous number of stone-cold classics. Even songs that had been written for, and recorded by, others, Elvis took and made them his own. That, I guess, is the hallmark of a true talent, a true star.

The number of songs Elvis sung and recorded has been estimated in the 700-1000 range, so how do you cut that down to 19 songs (that’s the number in this songbook). Well, to be honest, it was all down to personal taste. This is a selection of Elvis songs that (a) I love, and (b) I think are familiar to others (the plan is to use this for a future ukulele artist evening). So you can blame me if your favourites are missing! Here’s the list of songs included:

  • All Shook Up
  • Always On My Mind
  • Blue Suede Shoes
  • Burning Love
  • Can’t Help Falling In Love
  • Don’t Be Cruel
  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • (Marie’s The Name Of) His Latest Flame
  • Hound Dog
  • I Just Can’t Help Believing
  • In The Ghetto
  • Jailhouse Rock
  • A Little Less Conversation
  • Return To Sender
  • Suspicious Minds
  • (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
  • That’s All Right
  • Viva Las Vegas
  • Way Down

I won’t say too much about the songs or the songsheets themselves. For the most part these are simple songs, a good number of 3 or 4 chord songs, and they are songs that *everyone* knows. Sometimes the rhythms may be a little challenging, but for the most part these are the same key as the originals, so you can play along and get the hang of them. The most important thing is to enjoy them, so sing them loud!

<Full Album Songbook>


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The Sound Of The Suburbs – The Members

“Inspiration” for the songs posted on this blog comes from many and varied places. Today’s came a bit out of the blue with the notification that The Members are playing a gig in my home town (Southampton) early next year.

<songsheet>

Now The Members aren’t a band that I’m massively familiar with. This single, obviously, a perennial that crops up on almost every Punk / New Wave compilation album you care to mention, is one that nobody of a certain age will be ignorant of (although it never even made the top 10 at the time). Alongside that I have strong memories of a great couple of later singles (Working Girl, Radio) which were what was referred to at the time as “radio hits” (loads of airplay, nobody brought it). But I hadn’t dug much further than that.

Turns out that “The Sound of The Suburbs” is an anthem in more ways than one. As well as being a pogo-tastic punk/pop phenomenon, it’s lyrical focus (life in the suburbs – the band came from Camberley, songs of humdrum reality, rather than the big, exciting city) was something that was reflected across the band’s output. I love this quote from the inimitable Paul Morely in a 1979 edition of the NME:

The Members sing about silly, simple things, and do it with style. Their lyrics deal with pathetic characters, trivial frustrations, minor irritations, unimportant failures; so if you’re lonely or spotty, you daydream a lot, the beard won’t come, the figure won’t fill out, your mum won’t leave you alone, the girls/boys all laugh at you, you can’t do anything right, your life’s intolerably dull – then the Members are the band for you. 

The band combined both punk and reggae styles in their music, but The Sound of the Suburbs definitely falls into the former category – full on punk power-chords, brief and concise solos, vocals that verge on the shouty, but with lyrics that demonstrate a wit and wisdom that echoes some of the theatrical, music hall influences that contemporaries like Ian Dury and Madness also brought to the music scene of the time.

So an obvious candidate for a ukulele song! Well yes, obviously. And so here is the songsheet. Chord-wise there isn’t anything too tricky here – a C5 power chord being the only unusual one. Although that said, there is a run up the fret-board at the end of the instrumental section in the middle of the song that is a little unusual – however all it is is a D bar chord (2225) going up the fret board one fret at a time. I’ve also included some tab for the solos – the opening riff, the solo in the instrumental section, and the outro. But most of all, this is a song to be bashed and shouted out. Have fun. And enjoy!


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ABBA Ukulele Night

If you’re in the Southampton, UK area next week, you *might* be interested in this. Having previous attempts at Blondie’s Parallel Lines, The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, the Ukulele Album night returns. Only this time a little bit different.

A Southampton Ukulele Jam (SUJ) twist on the vinyl listening party. This time it’s ABBA, only rather than picking a specific album it’s going to be a Gold-en Greatest Hits selection (hopefully) played from glorious 7″ vinyl singles (some authentic crackle will be included). So we’ll be listening to each of the original songs, and then playing each track together, as a ukulele jam. Getting a sense of how it was done, and then jamming together, putting SUJ’s unique spin on each track.

The set list for the evening will be as follows:

Side A
– Does Your Mother Know
– Money, Money, Money
– One Of Us
– S.O.S
– Knowing Me, Knowing You
– Waterloo
– Voulez-Vous
– Take A Chance On Me

Side B
– Dancing Queen
– The Winner Takes It All
– Chiquitita
– The Name Of The Game
– Fernando
– Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
– Mamma Mia

You can find all these songs in the songbook, which you can download here. Please bring your own copy.

For the final time (the venue closes at the end of this month) we’ll be in the Lounge Bar / Back Bar of the Talking Heads (on the left as you enter).

N.B. Dressing up, of any sort, is optional but encouraged.

More details in the Facebook event here.


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Olivia Newton-John – Physical / Xanadu

Two for the price of one today. And a double-dose of the Australian songstress Olivia Newton-John, somebody who I wouldn’t be going too if I was trying to establish any critical credibility for this blog. But who I would go to it I was after some cracking pop tunes.

<Physical> <Xanadu>

Actually, truth be told the roots of this post didn’t actually start with ONJ herself, but with the alternative artist Juliana Hatfield. Earlier this week I cam across an album she released earlier this year which is all Newton-John covers. Hatfield was – and remains – a big fan, and had decided to record her version of 13 of her favourite songs. Running the gamut of the obvious (these two included) to more obscure album tracks, these aren’t radical re-interpretations, but clearly demonstrate a love and a respect for the original material, albeit roughing them up a little and giving them a slightly grungy makeover.

Newton-John herself was a huge star, particularly in the US and her native Australia. Originally breaking through with a country pop sound, her role in the hugely successful movie Grease, which saw her character Sandy move from a goody-goody character to spandex-clad vixen, prompted her to undertake a similar transformation of her own image, moving towards a (relatively speaking) raunchier appearance, taking her music into more of a pop/rock direction. In 1980 that led her to star in the film Xanadu which, whilst a critical and commercial flop, did spawn a successful soundtrack which she featured prominently in, including the huge international hit which was the Jeff Lynne-penned title track, performed with Electric Light Orchestra.

The immediate follow-up album to the Xanadu soundtrack was the biggest of Newton-John’s career, spawning a series of hit singles, of which the title track was the biggest. Ten weeks at number one in the US (the longest run for any song during the 1980s), achieving a similar feat in many other countries, the song was doubtless helped by it’s tongue-in-cheek video and the very recent launch of MTV, which gave song and video massive exposure. Yes, its a little corny, and maybe somewhat of its time, but it’s still a great song, as Juliana Hatfield’s cover faithfully demonstrates.

So two song sheets for the price of one. Physical is quite a straightforward song – simple chords, simple structure – nothing really much to say for this one. Xanadu, as befits an ELO song, has a bit more going on in it, both in terms of chords and in terms of the structure / timing. But listen and play along to the originals (both are in the same key as those originals) and you’ll get the picture (although good luck on those last notes on Xanadu!).

Enjoy!

<Physical> <Xanadu>

 


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Come Alive and This Is Me, from “The Greatest Showman” [UPDATED]

From the dark sounds of grunge to the corniest of dance-pop musicals, never let it said that you don’t get variety on these pages.

<Come Alive>  <This Is Me>

The Greatest Showman has become something of a phenomenon. A contemporary musical loosely based on the life of celebrated American showman P.T. Barnum (and, by all accounts, taking a slightly revisionist view of his character), the film opened to something of a critical mauling at the end of last year, but has seen its star slowly rise through word-of-mouth to become the most unlikely movie success of the year. Even now, 9 months after it’s release, it is still showing at cinemas around the country, with new life being breathed into it by hugely popular sing-a-long events.

Let’s be clear. This film is not subtle and is somewhat formulaic. But it is also hugely entertaining, a constant barrel of energy and exuberance, driven by a star performance from Hugh Jackman, and a supporting cast that includes Zac Efron and Michelle Williams. And a power-packed set of original songs that carry the film through to its inevitable, feel good conclusion. The soundtrack is the work of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were also responsible for the Oscar-winning City Of Stars, from the slightly less feelgood La La Land.

And so to the songsheets. For Come Alive, this – like a number of the songs from the film – really needs a strong rhythmic backing to work. I’m not going to try and suggest a strumming pattern for this, but you could do worse than listen to the rhythms in the song and try and ape that. Plenty of muted strums will add to the effect – some of those are indicated in the songsheet with the [X] chord. The song also has a number of places where it breaks into acapella / clapped interludes, that again you could do worse than try and emulate. Probably best sung with a group of singers.

As for This Is Me, this is becoming something of a modern classic. The gentle start, and breakdown at the beginning of the last chorus, are worth emulating to give the song some texture. Note that some of the lyrics overlaps, particularly with the oh-oh-oh-oh’s, and along with plenty of opportunities for backing vocals and harmonies, this is probably best tried with a group of singers.

Enjoy!

<Come Alive>  <This Is Me>


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Come As You Are – Nirvana

I must admit that by the early 90s my interest in popular and alternative music had somewhat dissipated. This probably had something to do with the advent of a family of my own, as well as the rise to dominance of the rave scene (which I just never connected with), but by that time my musical interests were headed off in a more rootsy, country, folky direction (Bruce Cockburn, Van Morrison, Nanci Griffth and others), and as a result I really lost touch with what was happening in mainstream music.

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So whilst Nirvana were definitely on my radar (it would be hard for them not to be, so ubiquitous were they at the time), they weren’t somebody that I really paid that much attention to. And I’m not going to stand here and say that I had a subsequent life-changing revelation and realised everything that I’d missed. But without you even trying certain songs just ooze into your consciousness, and become part of the background of your life. Come As You Are is one such song.

Released as the second single from the bands huge, iconic album Nevermind, Come As You Are was a more obviously commercial song than the surprise initial hit from the album, Smells Like Teen Spirit. Whilst still obviously retaining the sounds and template of grunge, this was clearly a song that would build on that success and establish Nirvana as more than just a one-hit wonder. That it did, but that success was – to a certain extent – part of what ultimately resulted in Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.

And so to the songsheet. There are other versions of this out there, not much different from this. This is the same key as the original recording (but  not the MTV Unplugged version), and I’ve tabbed both the main riff (which plays throughout the song) and the solo. Enjoy!