Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You've GotTo my shame, this is a song that I wasn’t even consciously aware of until about a month ago. I first came across via. Massive Attack’s cover on their Blue Lines album, and whilst checking that out online for the chords came across this – the original – on YouTube, and was hooked. The hypnotic trance-like groove just sucks you in and suddenly you’re in another world where the concept of time dissappears – I could (and have) listened to this over and over again.

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Despite the song being huge in the US (it was only a minor hit here in the UK) William DeVaughn, who wrote and sung the song (it’s often mistakenly credited to Curtis Mayfield) wasn’t able to capitalise on its success, despite a first-rate album to accompany the song. That may have had something to do with his preaching and admonishing of the audience during gigs (DeVaughn was a Jehovah’s Witness when the song was written), and eventually he walked away from the music business, with occassical sporadic re-appearances.

None of that, however, detracts from the quality of *this* song. Recorded with the legendary MFSB, responsible for the Philly sound that was the foundation of the success of the likes of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, and The Stylistics, the song is essentially one long laid-back groove, over which DeVaughn’s silky vocal intones a (preobably religiously influenced) paean that acknowledges that, despite what you don’t have, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

So this on the ukulele. Hell, why not! It’s only two chords, after all. It *is* about the groove, and that’s not easy to teach, let alone describe. Listen to the song, particularly where it’s in instrumental mode, you can clearly hear the guitar chopping away, just put it on a loop and play along – over time you’ll get it. Despite the fact that it’s only two chords, those are best played – as indicated on the sheet – as barre chords on the 9th and 7th frets. That way you can really get that choppy rhythm working. I’ve also included a brief little riff that you can play over those chords as well. Again, listen to the original and you’ll work it out. This one is all about feel.

Enjoy!

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Being Boiled – The Human League

beingboiledSo. It’s been a little quiet here lately. Apologies for that, but I’ve been busy with a number of things lately, not least of which is our little band The Flukes, who have been playing a few gigs and even doing some recording.

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But that’s not why you’re here, so time for some songs. And here’s one that probably falls into the “unexpected” category. The thought of doing this came to mind recently when Southampton Ukulele Jam had a go at The Undertones My Perfect Cousin. To be honest that didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped, but the song includes a pre-fame reference to The Human League (“…got the Human League into advise her..”). Rather flippantly I suggested that we should pair My Perfect Cousin with a Human League song, citing the most-obscure-yet-still-known-but-totally-unlikely-to-work-on-ukuelele League song I could think of, that of Being Boiled. But then I remembered this acoustic guitar version, and thought well maybe it might work. So I had a look. And here it is!

Being Boiled was a significant song in the history of electronic music. Recorded in 1978 by the first, pre-Dare incarnation of The Human League, the song was composed by future Heaven 17 members  Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, with lyrics from then new vocalist Phil Oakey. Lyrically it’s somewhat dark in its themes, focussing on the inherent cruely of sericulture, the raising of silk moth larvae for the production of silk, and its relationship to Buddhism. There probably aren’t too many songs on popular (or unpopular!) music that are addressing this issue! Whilst not achieving anything other than critical plaudits on its initial release, it was finally a hit in 1982 when released off the back of the success of Dare! and it’s associated singles.

Musically the song is built on a repetative drum patttern and bass-line, overlaid with simple synth riffs.So perfect for translating to the ukulele, then. Well, it’s probably not going to usurp the likes of Folsom Prison Blues or Bad Moon Rising anytime soon. But personally I think there’s something here that works. The basic chords are straightforward (Am, C and Em), although you’ll see that I’ve add an optional riff that you can use in various places throughout the song. It does some need a good strong rhythm (this is *not* one for the universal ukulele strum!), and maybe benefits from something relatively sparse. You’ll also see that I’ve added a bit of tab, both for an introduction and a verse accompaniment. Use (or ignore) this as you wish – it’s designed to accompany the chords rather than replace them.

Enjoy!

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