Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Homecoming Queen – Brandy Clark

I’m not great at keeping up with new music. But come December I’m often scouring and sampling the end-of-year best album lists to see what’s gone down well, and what might appeal. Let somebody else sort the wheat from the chaff, I figure.

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So it was whilst doing that at the end of last year that I came across an album that was consistently in the upper echelons of those lists, at least in the Country music variety, and sounded up my street. One play through the album and I was hooked. Many, many plays later and I regard it, and it’s immediate predecessor, as stone-cold classics of heartfelt, intelligent, incisive songwriting, coupled to performances that are sheer class. The album is Big Day In A Small Town. The artist is Brandy Clark.

Clark has been around Nashville for years, penning songs that have been recorded by the likes of Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, LeAnne Rimes and Kasey Musgraves, but it wasn’t until 2013 that she was able to record 12 Songs, her first collection of her own material. Critically lauded at the time, and hitting high in many of those end-of-year lists, 12 Songs did no more nor less than what it said on the tin. But what a collection of songs! Taking its cue from many of country music’s tried and tested themes, Clark treads a fine line between cliche and genuine insight, showing a real heart for the people of small-town america, without succumbing to some of the more reactionary viewpoints that can be associated with that.

Three years later she followed 12 Songs up with what is – in my mind – an even more impressive collection of songs. Again, doing what it says on the tin, Big Day In A Small Town is loosely themed around the ups and downs of life in such a small town. In that context (or indeed, any context) Homecoming Queen is a highlight, a poignant tale that looks back on how the life of a woman didn’t quite match the expectations that she might have had for herself when she finished high school. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking song, one that is full of humanity and compassion, and one that I’m sure everybody can relate to at some level.

The song was originally recorded by Sheryl Crow on her Feels Like Home album. Whilst it’s good, I prefer Clark’s version, which you can hear below, or alternatively listen to this stripped back acoustic version.

So here’s the song sheet. As with most country songs, there’s nothing too complicated here. I’ve thrown in a few little flourishes – the F4 in the intros and interludes that kind-of approximates to the original, and the C7s leading into the chorus, which are certainly optional and down to preferences. This is a great song (have I said that already!) so enjoy.

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Rockin’ In The Free World – Neil Young

One of my favourite songwriters, Martyn Joseph, often comments how when you release a song you have to set it free, because at that point the songwriter has to hand over control as to exactly what that song is an means.

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Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World is a good example of that. Written and released at the end of the 1980s, it was a response to the early days of the George W Bush administration, and a comment on the social ills of contemporary America. And yet in 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell and communism across eastern Europe imploded, the song took on a life of its own as an anthem for the collapse of communism. Ironic, given that the song was actually a criticism of the failing state of the USA, communism’s greatest nemesis.

Released on Young’s album Freedom, marking something of a return-to-form after a patchy 1980s, Rockin’ In The Free World book ended that album in two forms – a live acoustic version, and a cranked up studio electric version. Young famously reprised the song a few years later at the MTV Awards in a collaboration with Pearl Jam that ended up in a destructive, guitar-fuelled freak-out.

So here’s the song sheet. I’ve used the acoustic version as a basis, principally because its lower and I find it easier to sing. But I’ve also included the third verse of the song, which was only used in the electric version. Chords are pretty straight-forward, rhythm is pretty simply. This isn’t a subtle song, its one to belt out at the top of your voice. Enjoy!


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Rent – Pet Shop Boys

More synthpop. More 80s. I know, i know, this phase will pass. But not just yet!

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“Rent” is a single culled from the Pet Shop Boys second album, Actually, a less successful (but still top 10) follow-up to the massive hits It’s A Sin, and the Dusty Springfield duet, What Have I Done To Deserve This?

Rent is a mid-tempo, melancholic song that focuses on a financially one-sided relationship, where a kept man is in hock to another. Commonly perceived as depicting the lot of a rent boy, Neil Tennant has been quoted as saying that it was originally conceived as being about a kept woman.

It’s a simple and straightforward song, spoken word for the first half of the first verse, and generally veering towards the understated. Enjoy!

 


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Night Café – OMD

1980s synthpop has been a rich vein on this site, and I make no apologies for that. Many of those songs seem to translate well to the ukulele.

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What has surprised me recently, though, is how many of the bands of that era are still around, and still creating new music. Not just mining the nostalgia-circuit (although there’s nothing wrong with that per se) but actively creating new and interesting music. Not least of those is Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, forever shortened to OMD.

Born from the same late-1970s scene that also resulted in the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, OMD were always an interesting proposition, forever balancing their pop sensibilities with experimental, avant-garde elements. Notorious for following up their most successful and critically acclaimed album (Architecture and Morality – not exactly choc-full of hummable tunes itself) with the experimental cold-war themed Dazzle Ships (musique concrete, sound collages and short-wave radio exceprts), and reducing their sales by 90% into the bargain. OMD have ploughed their own path over the years. And in recent times that has resulted in something of a renaissance – their last album, English Electric, managing the trick of being a career highlight (after nearly 40 years), clearly an OMD record, yet also remarkably contemporary. They have a new album out later this year (The Punishment of Luxury) and if the early tracks are anything to go by that promises to be just as good.

Night Café was a single taken from English Electric, and is a gorgeous medium tempo, chorus-less (a synth riff takes that role) song that is far darker than it at first seems. Check out the video (below) to see how dark!

So here’s the songsheet. There’s only three chords, and they’re G, C and D, so it couldn’t be easier! I’ve also included tab for the synth riff that opens the song and runs between the verses, which again is nothing too tricky. Enjoy!


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When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring) – Deacon Blue

Sorry, it’s been a bit quiet here lately, hasn’t it?! No excuses really, just life getting in the way. But here’s a couple of songs to make up for it.

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First up, a band that definitely have fallen on the wrong side of the “cool” divide, but who – for me – have consistently produced quality songs. Deacon Blue emerged in the mid-80s, taking their name from a Steely Dan song, adopting a sound that was a kind of pop / rock / soul hybrid that saw them bracketed with similar bands of the era such as Prefab Sprout and The Christians. Their debut album, Raintown, from which this song was taken, was steeped in the city of its birth (Glasgow), reflected in the albums title, its cover art, and many of the themes of the songs.

The song itself was a relatively minor hit, as were all the singles taken from the album – it wasn’t until the follow up, When The World Knows Your Name, that the band really broke through. Elements of 80s production creep through into the song (those snares!) but this is – in my books – a powerful and emotional example of Deacon Blue at their best.

So nothing particularly tricky here in the songsheet. It’s in the same key as the original, so you can play along(!). Note the C and D chords are best played as barre chords, both because they sounds better (to my ears), but also because it makes that nice little run in the chorus (C / Cm / Eb / D) nice and easy. Enjoy!