Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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The Joshua Tree – U2 (Full album songbook)


Well having put out a single song (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For) the rest of this just seemed to flow. I hadn’t intended this to happen, but here it is. I’d thought for many years about putting this one together, but had persuaded myself that (a) nobody would want it, and (b) the songs wouldn’t really work. Well I can’t vouch for (a), but having listened to the album afresh, and worked these through, I think I can say that I was wrong about (b).

I know that this band, and this album, is one that has attracted more than its fair share of opprobrium. I get some of that, and understand some of it. But personally U2 is the band that has sound-tracked my life more than any other. From having first seen them in a surprise appearance at the Greenbelt Festival in 1981 and then in a nightclub in Portsmouth later that year, Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton have informed and inspired me over the years. Yes, the last few albums have been something of a disappointment. And I know that Bono’s ego can get in the way of things. But for me, the journey that this band have been on, and the journey that they have taken me on, is something I don’t regret.

From the fresh-faced post-punk misfits of Boy, through the initial breakthrough of War and Under A Blood Red Sky, to the world-wide domination that was announced at Live Aid and came to fruition with The Joshua Tree, this was a band that grew up in, and to an extend defined, the 1980s. Afterwards they spent the 1990s embracing their more detached, ironic side with Achtung Baby, Pop and the Zoo TV tour – although it’s fair to say that under the surface there was still a lot of deeply serious stuff going on, before returning to be U2 again in the 2000s and beyond.

And so here is The Joshua Tree. The real international break-through for the band, one that begins with three stone-cold classics (Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You), but which contains within its grooves a reservoir of deep cuts that have still bear repeated listening. Reprised a few years ago when the band – who usually stick rigidly to the mantra (from Rattle and Hum’s God Part II) that “you glorify the past when the future dries up” – toured the album in a series of world-wide shows, thematically the album is still is relevant as it was back in 1987. An album that riffs on themes of spiritual yearning and spiritual drought (those desert pictures aren’t coincidence), of the heart of America, and those on the fringes of that promised land who are cut-off and unable to participate, and of international tension and war-torn strife, this is a record that is still relevant, and which still inspires.

At the heart of the record, though, is a series of great songs. Strip away the effects and the production and – with a couple of probable exceptions (Bullet The Blue Sky and Exit, I’m looking at you!) – these are songs that works as stripped down, acoustic renditions, as much as they work as huge stadium-filling rock performances. And that is the measure of a great record.

And so here you have The Joshua Tree for ukulele. Unlikely, I’ll grant you. And whether these ever get to be played in public who knows. Stripped back, these songs are surprisingly simple. There’s no complicated chords here, no complicated rhythms, just a bunch of great songs that deserve to be sung proudly. I don’t think there’s more to be said than that. Just – whatever you’ve thought about the band and the record in the past – give it a chance. There’s riches in here.


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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2

An Easter weekend seemed an apposite time to post this one.

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At the time of the songs writing and recording, Bono had been listening to the likes of The Swan Silvertones, The Staple Singers, and Blind Willie Johnson, and producer Brian Eno had long held a love of gospel music. And those themes are evident deep in the roots of the song.

Yet whilst the lyric and sound echoed those gospel themes, there is a degree of ambiguity and uncertainty underlying it. This is a gospel song that recognises the reality of temptation, and embraces doubt and uncertainty. Described by Bono as a gospel song with a restless spirit, this was the sound of a band that was at the same time questioning and clinging on to their beliefs. That explicitly Christian spirituality had been something that almost broke the band earlier in their career, and whilst it had evolved and matured over the years, it is never something that has left them.

At the time of this songs release, it was totally misunderstood and condemned by a certain section of the Christian community that had previously embraced the band, turned away by the questioning and doubt that offended their sense of religious certainty. And yet it is this ambiguity and uncertainty that have made this song something of an anthem of its time. One that leaves room for multiple interpretation, for believer, non-believer, and all the shades in-between to find a common ground. With the divisiveness that those on the extremes of religious belief have wrought over the years, that should be a rallying cry that should be celebrated.

[N.B. As well as the obvious original (and check out the version that made itself onto Rattle and Hum) there are some great covers out there – check out versions by Mica Paris, Juliet Turner and Sarah Jarosz]

The song is a straightforward, 3-chord one. I’ve added in an additional Csus4 throughout the song to give it some colour, and there are plenty of opportunities for embellishment. This works both as a simple camp-fire song, and a ramped up to the max gospel shout-out. So give it a go. And enjoy!

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Automatic For The People – R.E.M. (Full album songbook)


R.E.M. are a classic example of a phenomenon that seems to have all-but disappeared. Formed in 1980, releasing their first single (Radio Free Europe) in 1981 and debut album (Murmur) in 1983, it took them 8 albums and 12 years to reach the commercial (and arguably artistic) peak that is/was Automatic For The People. That kind of slow-burn development and investment is not something that seems exist in today’s music industry.

And yet Automatic For The People is evidence, if any were needed, of the value of such an approach. R.E.M. had developed over the years, from their original enigmatic, Byrds-inspired underground roots (Murmur, Reckoning), through a more accessible rock sound (Lifes Rich Pageant, Document) to the richer sound palette, incorporating folk and country influences, that preceded Automatic (Green, Out Of Time) and had provided them with their international breakthrough in the shape of Losing My Religion.

So with this album, R.E.M. were at a commercial peak, and expectations were high. But the band were not one to rest on their laurels and repeat past glories, and Automatic For The People comes as something of a surprise given what came before, especially the global smash that was the insanely upbeat Shiny Happy People. Here, R.E.M. doubled down on the the direction that had been previously signposted. Instead of a rocking album of guitar-dominated songs (which had been the original intention) what emerged was a gorgeous collection of masterly songcraft – lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, production. This is truly a collection of songs that hangs together as a piece, deserving of being consumed together in one sitting (despite six songs being released as singles). For such a successful and career defining album it is a surprisingly muted, intimate affair, and definitely a grow-up one, musing on themes of loss and mourning.

Yet the artistic risk was reward, and rewarded in spades. Lauded by critics in all corners, it was also a massive commercial success, ultimately selling in the region of 18 million copies world-wide. The band were never to repeat that level of success, and with it’s follow-up (Monster) deliberately turned against the sound that had brought them such praise, with heavy, distorted guitars and much simpler song arrangement. But Automatic For The People stands as a bench-mark of what a maturing band can achieve, and has – if anything – improved with age. A genuine classic.

The song book is – for the most part – fairly straightforward. All the sheets are in the same key as the originals, and I’ve tried to keep the arrangements as faithful as possible to the originals, whilst keeping them playable. One of the biggest challenges here, though is the lyrics, or – to be more precise – the scanning and timing of the words. These can be a bit tricksy, particularly if you don’t know the songs well, and fitting the words into the timing of the song and the chords sometimes takes a bit of concentration and effort. I’ve done my best to try and clarify that in the arrangements, but you’ll definitely benefit from listening to the originals.


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I’m Outta Love – Anastacia

It’s been a little while since I posted something on here – apologies for that. There’s a few things in the works, but one of the things that has disrupted the schedule has been this. For International Women’s Day, Southampton Ukulele Jam held a virtual jam made up of videos made by members of songs written by, or made famous by, women. And along with Ali, Anne, Doug and Wayne (otherwise known as Should Know Better) we put forward a version of this song for this evening.


I’ll be honest – Anastacia, and this song, were not ones that were on my horizon at all. That said, I’m always partial to a slice of funked-up disco, and this song serves that up in spades, albeit in a more contemporary pop style. Co-written with Sam Watters and Louis Biancaniello, I’m Outta Love proved to be a global smash hit that launched Anastacia and made her a huge star.

We took the original, knocked it down a semi-tone (just to make it easier to play), and then just had some fun with it. The song actually works surprisingly well with ukulele, and it’s almost impossible not to bust out some moves to it.

So here is the song sheet. As I mentioned, I’ve transposed it down a semitone, which definitely makes it easier to play. Other than that, there’s not too much to say about playing it – check out the video above how it could sound, but make it your own. Just play it with some attitude and strut – enjoy!



Kirsty MacColl – Galore (++)


This songbook has been one that has been brewing for a while. Thinking about artists and songwriters who have amassed a body of quality songs that still work when pared down to their very basics, Kirsty was one of those artists that I kept coming back to. With Southampton Ukulele Jam we have regularly performed They Don’t Know and A New England (the Billy Bragg song that she made into a hit). But this was finally kicked into life by a suggestion in one of our small groups of doing In These Shoes, from her Cuban-inspired final album, Tropical Brainstorm. And so here it is.

As I write this, the twentieth anniversary of MacColl’s tragic, untimely death has just passed. Killed in a boating accident in 2000, at a time when – both personally and professionally – her life was on an up, the world lost a talented, witty and sadly underrated artist and songwriter. We’ll never know what gems might have surfaced had it not been for that incident, but what we are left with is a body of work that established a high-water mark for songwriters of any ilk.

The daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl (best know as the writer of the classic The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face) and theatre director Joan Littlewood, Kirsty was an exceptionally gifted child who was always destined to do something great. However she wasn’t to take the folk singer route that her father had been such a hard-lined exponent of, and instead – after a brief dalliance in a punk band – pursued the route of a classic English songwriter, whose songs offered warm and witty vignettes and mini soap operas. But from the beginning her career suffered from a stop-start pattern that ultimately meant that she never had the constant presence in people’s short memories that would have allowed her to establish herself more firmly. Coupled with a crippling stage-fright early on, a period spent bringing up family with husband Steve Lillywhite (uber-producer for the likes of U2 an Simple Minds), a habit of directing her energies towards supporting other artists rather than furthering her own career, and a I’ll-do-it-my-way attitude that wouldn’t play the record company game, Kirsty struggled to get consistent traction.

And yet, as an artist and songwriter in her own right, and as a collaborator and interpreter of others songs, the quality bar was kept high throughout her life. From early 50s/60s-inspired songs such as They Don’t Know (a huge hit for Tracey Ullman) and There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis, to her cover of Billy Bragg’s A New England (for which Bragg wrote an additional verse), she earned love and respect from all she worked with. Later collaborations with Johnny Marr (of The Smiths) and Mark E. Nevin (of Fairground Attraction) led to a raft of classic songs across the five studio albums she left the world. Not forgetting the Christmas classic that is Fairytale of New York with The Pogues. And that’s before you factor in all her performances adding vocals to other people’s records (that’s her on records from Simple Minds, Talking Heads, Robert Plant, Billy Bragg, The Smiths, Robert Plant and Anni-Frid Lyngstad).

Her final album, 2000s Tropical Brainstorm, saw her finally hook her song writing to the Cuban and Brazilian music that was a massive love of hers – Kirsty regularly travelled to Cuba and Brazil, and was besotted by the music and culture of those places. What would have followed is anybody’s guess, but she had finally found happiness with a new partner (divorce from Lillywhite was followed by some dark times) and was at a creative peak. We lost a good one on the 18th December 2000. But these songs – all of her 1995 great hits collection, Galore, plus three additional songs – remain to remind us of a great talent.

Songs in this songbook: They Don’t Know / A New England / There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis / He’s On The Beach / Fairytale of New York (with The Pogues) / Miss Otis Regrets (with The Pogues) / Free World / Innocence / You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby / Days / Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim / Walking Down Madison / My Affair / Angel / Titanic Days / Can’t Stop Killing You / Caroline / Perfect Day / Terry / Soho Square / In These Shoes