Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Love Is The Drug – Roxy Music / Bryan Ferry Orchestra

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I came to Roxy Music the wrong way round. My first conscious exposure was via. the Summer of ’79 singles (Angel Eyes, Dance Away), and the first recording I owned was the Flesh + Blood album (Christmas present, 1980). I worked back to Manifesto (second-hand record shop in Kingston Road, Portsmouth) and then forward to 1982’s Avalon (a truly gorgeous record).

But the early Roxy years were something I was blithely unaware of until I picked up a copy of For Your Pleasure in another Portsmouth second-hand record shop. I don’t know what I was expecting. But it wasn’t that!  From the bold statement of intent that is Do The Strand, through the totally rocking Editions of You (the guitar riff is my ring tone!) to the weird and somewhat unsettling In Every Dream Home A Heartache, this was a long way from the smooth Roxy of the early 80s. And the inside of that gatefold sleeve – who were these people? (the outside was pretty memorable as well)

That record grew on me, and remains probably my favourite of all of theirs. Subsequently I delved back into their past and discovered the even more “out there” sounds of the eponymous debut album (that must have sounded like aliens discovering rock and roll in 1972), and then followed the development of the Roxy sound from those adventurous beginnings to the cultured conclusions, and it kind of make sense.

Siren is the album that sits at the end of Roxy Phase 1, and for me sounds like the cross-roads between that early ground-breaking sound, and the later more mature work. Love Is The Drug is the opening track, and the lead-off single, and is rightly regarded as a classic. From the opening sounds of a footsteps and revving car, the song is a tight, concise construction, powered along by a classic bass line that Nile Rodgers of Chic claims was a big influence on their song “Good Times“. In fact the song itself has a loose disco feel to it that was probably instrumental in making it the world-wide hit it was (it was the band’s biggest hit in the US, who never really “got” the earliest incarnation of the band). It was probably Grace Jones who best demonstrated this in her cover version.

In 2012, Bryan Ferry surprised many by releasing “The Jazz Age“. An instrumental collection of Roxy Music songs recorded in the style of a 1920s Jazz band, some of the songs were almost unrecognisable, and some were hugely different in style and tone (Avalon being the most obvious example). Love Is The Drug was included on that album, and whilst a relatively faithful working of the original, it brings to the song a swing where the original was a strut. Better? Probably not. Good? Definitely.

So here are the chords to the song. It works for both versions – the straight-ahead original, or the swinging Jazz version. Personally, I think the ukulele suits the jazz version better, and that’s how I tend to play it. But hey! It’s a free world, and it’s your choice. Just enjoy!

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No One Knows My Name – Gillian Welch

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Looking back over my first few posts it seems they’re all wrapped in an layer of nostalgia. The most recent being more than 25 years old. So I thought it time to show that my musical tastes haven’t ossified, and demonstrate that the 21st century is as full of good music as the 20th was. Step forward Ms Gillian Welch.

What? You were expecting something cutting edge and contemporary? Something with modern sounds, that addressed the sensibilities of the hyper-connected networked world in which we live? Something you were familiar with from the speakers of commercial radio stations or the background to the shopping mall. Yes, well I don’t really think that’s my thing. And just because music is made in the 21st century it doesn’t have to sound like it was, does it. So whilst being the newest song I’ve posted so far (2003) the irony here is that this one is by far the oldest sounding of all of them.

Gillian Welch (that’s Gillian with a hard “G”) is a wonderful anomaly. Derided by some for being a fake (she grew up in Los Angeles), her music is singularly derived from Appalachian, Bluegrass, and Americana music, described by The New Yorker as “at once innovative and obliquely reminiscent of past rural forms”. This is music that is steeped in its past, that is part of a tradition, and is deeply bedded in that tradition. Along with musical partner, guitarist David Rawlings, they have created a totally coherent musical sound that is so fresh and invigorating partly because it is so out-of-step with modern sounds. Totally acoustic, delicious harmonies, simple structures and traditional lyrical themes (including the odd murder song here and there!), what is not to like. OK, there’s not going to be a Gillian Welch theme-night on X-Factor (nice idea, though!). But that’s kind-of the point.

So to the song. No One Knows My Name is from the 2003 album Soul Journey, an album that marked something of a radical departure in having more of a “band” feel to the music (something discarded on the follow-up, 2011’s The Harrow and the Harvest). This song, however, is that classic Gillian Welch sound of just her and David Rawlings, banjo, guitar and voices, embelished with a nice fiddle-line all the way through given a jaunty good time feel that somewhat confuses the lyrical meditation on our place in the world, on loneliness and not being sure of our place in the world,

And here’s the best live version I could find (Gillian is really somebody you have to experience live. I saw here a couple of years ago in Brighton, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to).

And so to the songsheet. Gillian Welch songs tend to be musically straightforward, at least in terms of structure and chords, and this is no different . A simple four-line verse with a blues-like structure in their lines, the pattern repeats all the way through. I guess the thing to do is to take this basic structure and build light and shade in the instrumentation and harmonies. I couldn’t find any ukelele versions of this song anywhere (chords or performances), so take this and enjoy!

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(p.s. there’s a good chance that Ms. Welch may be appearing on this blog quite regularly. you have been warned)


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Top Of The Pops – The Rezillos

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From the sublime to the…

Only three years separate Rhinestone Cowboy from Top Of The Pops. But these songs *appear* to come from totally separate universes. In that time punk had happened, and with its year zero ethic sought to sweep away the past and start again. That it was a sound and an ethic for which there was a strong, albeit underground, lineage – from the tougher sound of 60s groups such as The Kinks (check out “You Really Got Me” or “All Day And All Of The Night” as a prototype for the punk sound) and The Who, through the US garage bands, The Stooges, New York Dolls, and the UK pub rock scene of the early 70s with bands like Dr Feelgood – seemed to have passed some of the revisionists by.

But whatever the background, it is undoubtedly true that punk was a breath of fresh air into a music scene that was becoming increasingly divorced from its raw roots, either in the polished sheen of disco, the middle-of-the-road blandness of mainstream pop, or the indulgent and tedious world of prog rock. And it was fun! Yes, there was obviously the political intensity of bands like The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. But there was also a collection of punk bands who didn’t take them to seriously – something you could term day-glo punk. Step forward The Damned, X-Ray Spex (whose “Day The World Turned Day-Glo“could be this non-existent movements anthem!). And step forward The Rezillos.

The Rezillos hailed from Edinburgh, and were influenced as much by Glam Rock and 60s pop as the punk sound. They weren’t hugely successful in commercial terms, and Top Of The Pops was  their only top 40 single, peaking at 17. But it is a great song that hasn’t aged at all. An explosion of energy and colour that blasts breathlessly through it’s 2 minutes and 58 seconds, leaving you wanting to go straight back to the beginning and play the thing over again. The hallmark of a great single. Here’s a performance from – where else – Top Of The Pops.

Ukulele groups up and down the country seem to have taken a shine to some of the classic two-and-a-half minute punk singles from this era. Whether it is the lean structure of the songs, the three-chord thrash, or just a reflection of the demographics of those in these groups, it is true that some of these songs work really well on the ukulele.  So I thought that Top Of The Pops might maybe join the ranks of Teenage Kicks and Ever Fallen In Love… a ukulele staple. And as if to confirm it, I came across this wonderful version by Gus & Fin…

So buoyed by that  I pulled together a set of chords that seemed to work and reflect (as close as feasible) the original. Also included is the little riff that goes before each line in the chorus. Tabbed for ukulele (the two notes in brackets can be omitted and you still get the right feel). Or else you can do as Gus & Fin did and whistle it! Works for me.

Enjoy!

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Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell

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The 1970s is starting to feel like a long time ago. It was the decade of my youth (ages 5-15) and so holds fond memories, albeit I expect they are probably somewhat rose-tinted. I was relatively late getting into pop music, and so much of my experience of music before the age of 12 was via. my parents, whose taste were for extreme middle-of-the-road, Radio 2 fare. As a result there are songs from that time that operate as a warm comfort blanket to my soul, that summon up memories of Sunday afternoons with crumpets by the fire, Sing Something Simple, Family Favourites. Songs like Durham Town and The Last Farewell by Roger Whittaker, There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving by Guys and Dolls, Aria by Acker Bilk.

For a long while I kept Glen Campbell in that same box. But in the same way that I have slowly been able to appreciate the likes of The Carpenters and ABBA without the baggage of credibility hanging round by neck, so I’ve come to appreciate the impeccable quality of some of Glen Campbell’s songs. Sure, some of it really does cross the line into MOR blandness. But at it’s best it is quality songs, perfectly performed. There are the supreme Jimmy Webb songs, Galveston, Wichita Lineman and By The Time I Get To Phoenix. There is Gentle On My Mind. Try A Little Kindness. Country Boy. All of them wonderful tunes. And don’t be surprised if some of those crop up on here at some point soon.

But for now it is the perfect slice of Country Pop that is Rhinestone Cowboy that gets the attention. I guess it probably is a bit cheesy, But as a song, as a 3-minute piece of pop music, it works so well. The understated opening verse, slowly building, holding back the instrumentation in those few lines before the inevitable tumble into the chorus. This song isn’t about cool, about credibility, about edginess. It’s just a good song, a tune that can’t help but get under your skin and lodge there forever.

So enough of the song. Here are the chords. As usual these have been adapted from a number of sources, but seem to work for me (and are the same key as the recording).  You can choose to ignore most of the *sus4 chords if you wish. And I’m not sure whether the chord I’ve called Csus5 is actually called that, but the fingering (see bottom of the page) sounds right. I think this is a great song to belt out, either together or in the privacy of your own home. Either way, enjoy!

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P.S. Came across an interesting cover version by Radiohead. Maybe that makes it slightly coo? Nah, I didn’t think so!


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Follow You, Follow Me – Genesis

Follow You, Follow Me

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Let’s get this straight from the start. I’m not a big Genesis fan. Never have been.

All that early prog-rock staff really leaves me cold (as does most prog rock, if truth be told), although I do actually quite like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. And much of the later stuff from the 1980s just feels pointless and soulless. But I do have a soft spot for some of the late-70s / early 80s singles – songs like Turn It On Again, Misunderstanding and Mama seemed to occur in that transition from prog to pop, and were all the better for it.

Follow You, Follow Me was probably my first exposure to Genesis, and is a song I have loved for as long as I can remember. Maybe pre-empting some of the early Phil Collins solo material (and I will argue with anybody the merits of “Face Value“) it is probably one of their more melodic offerings (original version here, really nice unplugged version here). So what better song for a little uke-ing.

This one is largely transcribed from guitar chords from a number of sources on the web, but then I found this on YouTube, which confirmed my suspicions that this would work on the ukelele. It really does!

Here are the chords (below). Enjoy!

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1963 – New Order

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So here’s my first post!

In 1987 New Order released the single “True Faith“. It was a huge hit, memorable in many ways including the very striking cover image. But turn the record over (yes, remember those big slabs of 12” vinyl) and you’ll find an equally wonderful song hidden away.  That’s not an unusual facet of New Order’s 1980s material (“Lonesome Tonight“, the b-side of “Thieves Like Us” is another great example), but 1963 has always remained a favourite of mine.

So when I was pulling together the chords for True Faith (that will be a later post) I was reminded of that, and then came across this wonderful ukulele cover on YouTube (original New Order version is here).

What the song is about is anybody’s guess, although Wikipedia quotes the band’s lyricist Bernard Sumner as saying that it was;

“a tongue-in-cheek account of the song’s lyrics that relate it to the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Sumner theorises that Kennedy arranged for Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot his wife so that “J.F. could do one with M. Monroe”. Monroe commits suicide when Oswald hits the wrong target (in reality, Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, over a year before the assassination took place) and Oswald is later shot by his boss for “doing such a bad job and causing his hit-man business to go bust”

and producer Stephen Hague describing it as

“the only song about domestic violence that you can dance to”

Chords for this were hard to come by, but with the help of a number of sources, and this video in particular, I managed to pull together something which seemed to work. Click on the icon below. Enjoy!

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