Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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The Mating Game – The Monochrome Set

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This is a song about sex. When you look at the lyrics that’s not exactly a revelation. It’s a very British take on the reproductive act, a slightly embarrassed, school-boy snigger-behind-the-bike-sheds, seaside postcard, Carry-on-ish view. But maybe it’s a more authentic, down-to-earth version than the in-yer-face, sex-obsessed pop of today. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

I first came across The Monochrome Set via. the Cherry Red compilation album “Pillows and Prayers“, a pay-n-more-than-99p release from 1982 that sold over 100,000 copies and introduced me to the likes of Tracey Thorn, Everything But The Girl, Felt and a host of other obscurities (including poetry from Quentin Crisp and Attila the Stockbroker). Their track on that album, the somewhat bizarrely titled “Eine Symphonie Des Grauens” (a reference, I find now, to the 1922 German Expressionist horror film “Nosferatu“) was not the best on the album, but piqued my interest enough to search out a couple of their albums.

Originally formed from the ashes of a prototype Adam and the Ants (their eponymous song “The Monochrome Set (I Presume)” echoes the tribal drum sound the Ants would later adopt), The Monochrome Set were a classic post-punk art-school band. “The Mating Game” is taken from the bands (tricky?, not really!) third album “Eligible Bachelors“, a wonderful collection that showcased the witty, sophisticated, slightly-off-beam pop that was The Monochrome Set’s offering to the world. In a parallel universe they would be legendary, up there with The Smiths in terms of recognition and reputation (a band whose wit and 60s-influenced sound The Monochrome Set shared). But unfortunately that never happened. The mainstream really couldn’t work out how to handle something like this, and so they languish in relative obscurity.

So here’s the songsheet (chords sourced from here). It’s a simple song, with simple chords, so shouldn’t present too many problems. The recording is in E, but the songsheet is transposed down to D because I found it easier to sing (if you want a version in E it’s here). Best sung (in my experience) with very deliberate pronunciation of the lyrics in the verse, this is just a bit of fun. Enjoy!

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Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty

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Ah. Back to the 70’s we go with this one. Probably most famous for it’s wonderful saxophone riff, this was probably one of those songs / artists that punk was meant to kill off. But a year after the Sex Pistol’s rose to public prominence, here is a classic piece of 70’s pop/rock that has weathered the years and established itself as a bona fide classic.

Gerry Rafferty was originally a member of folk/rock/pop group The Humblebums, which included comedian Billy Connolly in its ranks. In the early 1970s he was part of Stealers Wheel, most famous for their hit “Stuck In The Middle With You“. But by the mid 70s that had all folded, and he was out there as a solo artist. Baker Street was the first single from his second solo album, “City to City”, and was the song that got the solo Gerry into the public consciousness.

With a gentle opening, the song explodes into that classic saxophone refrain (by Raphael Ravenscroft), and takes a full minute before getting to the opening verse. For all the attention that the instrumentation gets in this song (and there is a great guitar solo in there as well towards the end), the song itself – verses and choruses – is, to my mind, the equal of the music, albeit somewhat more understated.

The song was voted best British single of 1978 in the forerunner to the British Rock and Pop Awards (although this is the only – somewhat bizarre – reference I can find to that). I can’t say I’ve been a huge Rafferty fan, although great songs like “Get It Right Next Time” and “Night Owl” remind me that I really should check out some more of his music, and are definitely sounds that transport me back to a certain time and place (late 70s, middle years of secondary school, and all that goes with that!).

Now with all that sax and lead guitar solos, I can understand why you might be raising your eyebrows at a ukulele version of this song. Hopefully this will show you that the songs works just great on the humble old uke. I think this version is stunning!

And so here is the song sheet. It follows the song arrangement fairly closely, and hence has lots of space for instrumental improvisation, if required. I guess you could try and replicate the saxophone parts on the kazoo, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve also included some tab for the intro and instrumental sections, which I stumbled across on Ukulele Underground. Worth giving a try, I think, if you want a bit of a challenge.

Enjoy!!

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Sunspots – Julian Cope

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I’ve partly got my sister to blame for this one. For what must have been her 14th birthday she was given a number of 7″ singles. One of them I remember being Do The Hucklebuck by Coast to Coast (I’m not going to dwell on that one!), and one was Reward by The Teardrop Explodes. I loved it.  [I believe I annexed my sister’s copy of Reward some time ago, and it still sits amongst my collection of vinyl up in the loft]. From the full-on brass section that detonates the song, the mannered vocals of Mr Julian Cope, the constant pulsing bass, this was a song that defined energy and excitement. And so was born my first, proper “favourite group”  (my selective memory erasing all those years as an Abba fan!).

I saw them at Portsmouth Guildhall the following year after the wonderful “Wilder” album had been released, a record that moved the band away from the psychedelic rock sound into a more distorted, parallel pop universe. The band was on the verge of a chronic meltdown (due in no small part to Julian’s prodigious drug habit) but I remember that concert as a celebratory one, full of glorious weird pop sounds.

After the band fell apart towards the end of 1982, Julian took a little while to re-group, but in 1984 returned with not one but two wonderful, wilfully weird albums. The first, World Shut Your Mouth, was a breath of fresh air – obviously recorded on the cheap but full of great songs, weird songs, and crack-pot lyrics (“Elegant Chaos” being my favourite in that respect – “People I see / Just remind me of mooing like a cow on the grass / And that’s not to say / That there’s anything wrong with being a cow anyway”!).

The second album, Fried, with it’s infamous cover of Julian naked under a huge tortoise shell, seemed to confirm his acid-casualty credentials. Now a fully-fledged English eccentric in the tradition of Syd Barrett et al, Fried was recently cited by Rob Young in his excellent book “Electric Eden” as a continuation of the back-to-the-earth, rooted-in-an-english-locale visionary sounds of the likes of Incredible String Band. This is a record that dives into the Cope psyche without a care about who is watching or what might be found there.

The album was not what you would call a huge commercial success. Not exactly in tune with the mid-80s preference for Linn drums, hyper-production and shoulder pads, it created it’s own little world, perversely different from the one in which it existed. Sunspots was the one and only single from the album and vanished without trace. Your loss, world. A trashy guitar-riff led nursery rhyme, a paen to his love for his very best friend(?), this is trade-mark Julian Cope.

And so here is the songsheet. As with all Julian Cope songs, there is nothing tricky here in terms of chords. Listen to the song and you’ll get the feel for the riff, which is important ‘cos it kind-of makes the song. You could even try a nice recorder solo during the instrumental verse – I’m sure that will sound good.

Oh, and the “Meeeeeeeeeeoh” bit in the chorus is like the sound a car makes as it whizzes past. Not a cat noise!

Enjoy!!

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Man On The Moon – R.E.M.

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R.E.M. are not exactly famous for their blunt and straightforward, straight-to-the-point lyrical transparency. Whilst it’s true that over the years there was a definite evolution from the sometimes indecipherable vocals of the wonderful debut album “Murmur“, the songs are often cryptic and impressionistic, open to multiple interpretations.

So whilst this song is one that at first sight appears to be a tribute to comedian and entertainer Andy Kaufman, it’s clearly not that straightforward. As can be seen from this page, the song elicits all sorts of interpretations – some obvious, others somewhat contrived. The “man on the moon” is apparently “an oblique allusion to rumors that Kaufman’s 1984 premature death was faked”.

Andy Kaufman is not somebody whose work I am particularly familiar with. But what I did know was the US sitcom “Taxi“. It’s one of those shows that elicits a proustian rush in me that takes me right back to my early teens. I loved that show, and looking back over a few clips recently it seems to have retained its charm, something that can’t be said for everything from that era. Here’s a clip with Andy and Danny DeVito – priceless!

But back to the song. Taken from the bands commercial peak album “Automatic for the People“, “Man in the Moon” is a simple, gentle song filled with cultural references to Andy Kaufman’s career.

So here’s the ukulele chord sheet for the song (largely derived from these guitar chords). Nothing complicated here, I think. Sing loud, and enjoy!

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Oh, and if you want to hear what this sounds like on a uke, you could do worse than listen to this.