Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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I Envy The Wind – Lucinda Williams

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Lucinda Williams’ Essence is an album that wraps and caresses like no other I know. Whilst being full of great songs, it is one of those records where truly the sum is even more than those delicious parts. A luxurious feel permeates every second, rich textures of sound all graced with Lucinda’s unmistakable voice. Full of brooding emotion, on the edge of cracking but just about holding it together, smokey, sultry, sensuous.

I Envy The Wind moves at a sedate, laid-back pace, a yearning vocal from a individual separated from her lover, jealous of the natural elements that embrace him. It’s relaxed tempo representative of the whole album (save the more cranked-up Get Right With God), this song encapsulates the pain of separation from the beloved.

So, a jolly song for the ukulele then?! Well no, but I love this song, and think that the deceptively simple nature of the song works well on the uke. Nothing complicated, nothing flash. Just a simple, raw, honest song. Enjoy!

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Oh. And if you like that, why not give “Blue” a try as well. Chords are here.


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(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding – Brinsley Shwarz / Elvis Costello

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I always thought this was an Elvis Costello song. It wasn’t until recently watching one of those great BBC4 music documentaries (on pub rock, or the pre-punk-scene, or something like that) that I came across Brinsley Schwarz, and realised that this was a song penned by Brinsley’s bassist and vocalist Nick Lowe. I didn’t even realise that Nick Lowe (who I was only familiar with from solo songs such as “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” and “Cruel To Be Kind“) had a pre-history. What do I know, eh.

Anyway, it turns out that it is all a bit more incestuous. Lowe was the producer of the Costello version, and it was originally released as the B-side of a Nick Lowe single. Both were originally on Stiff Records, but both artists had moved on by the time of the releases (the Costello version surfaced as the b-side of My Funny Valentine).

There’s quite a few ukulele versions out there. This one is probably my favourite.

The song is quite a straightforward one – no strange chords or anything in there. It definitely benefits from getting a good driving rhythm going, particularly for the [G] [D] [C] introduction / interludes. Sing loud and with energy. Enjoy!

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“Heroes” – David Bowie

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In my book songs don’t come more epic than this. “Heroes” (always with the deliberate affectation of quotation marks) is arguably the highpoint of Bowie’s hugely influential “Berlin period”, which spawned the Low, “Heroes” and Lodger albums. Arguably it is the highpoint of Bowie’s entire career (I, for one, would certainly argue that).

Inspired by the clandestine meeting of two lovers in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, next to the Hansa studios where the song was recorded, producer Tony Visconti has claimed to be that inspiration, viewed by Bowie in an embrace with backing vocalist Antonia Maaß (Visconti was married to Mary Hopkin – of Those Were The Days fame – at the time). A relative failure on its release (peaking at #24 in the UK singles charts, not charting at all in the US) the song has – over the years – come to be viewed (quite rightly) as a classic, a signature tune of Bowie, often cited highly in best song/single lists. And all that despite the misguided mawling it received at the hands of X-Factor in 2010 (and no, I’m *not* going to link to that!).

For me this has to be *the* Bowie performance. The huge wall of sound that wraps the song powers on and on, overlaid by what is probably the most emotive vocal performance Bowie has ever given. Gradually building and increasing in intensity throughout the song (and the 6-minute album version is the best to appreciate this) it reaches an almost painfully emotional crescendo about half-way through, and then continues to give and give. The video (see below) contrasts the huge sound of the song with a simple, effective, single-take.

So, an obvious choice for a ukulele song(!). Well, maybe not. But strip away that wall of sound, and at it’s heart there is a simple and effective song that tugs at the heart-strings, and just works. Here’s one version, but there are quite a few others out there on YouTube.

There’s two song sheets here. One for the single version (which is shorter) and one for the full length album version. Take your pick. Nothing really much to say about them, other than to highlight the possible backing vocal repeats on the “Standing by the wall” verse, and the abrupt stop on the short version (a single D chord on “day”) which I think works quite well.

[UPDATE : Listen to *my* version of “Heroes” here!]

Enjoy!

[Short version]  [Long version]