Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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!


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Spacer – Sheila B. Devotion

It’s the late 1970s, and disco has taken over the world. Yes, I know that in the critics-written history of pop it was all about punk, post-punk and new wave. But in terms of commercial success and popularity it was disco all the way.

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Now I understand that disco had (and still has) its detractors, something that reached something of a crescendo with the infamous Disco Demolition Night where a crate of disco records was blown-up in the middle of a baseball game in the US to chants of “Disco Sucks”. And yes, I will accept that the tacking on of a disco beat to anything became something of a plague (although I definitely have a soft spot for The Rolling Stones’ Miss You). But alongside the dross and bandwagon jumpers there were some truly sublime moments.

Not a small number of those sublime moments came from the hands of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Most famously known for being the power behind disco behemoths Chic, over a hugely productive period at the end of the 70s and early 80s the pair lent their not inconsiderable talents to the likes of Sister Sledge (Lost in Music, We are Family, etc.), Diana Ross (Upside Down, I’m Coming Out and more), Debbie Harry (KooKoo) and Carly Simon (Why). But one of the more overlooked collaborations was with a French former  Yé-yé artist originally just known as Sheila. Adopting a more contemporary disco style, she had a huge European hit with a disco version of Singing In The Rain in 1977. But it was Spacer, the first fruits of that collaboration with Rodgers and Edwards, for which she will always be known. Full of the trademark Chic funky guitar and bass, I defy anybody now to want to strut their stuff to this collision of two late 1970s phenomenons – disco and sci-fi.

Star Wars had woken Hollywood to the sudden realisation that sci-fi was a cash cow, and for five minutes there was a sudden spate of sci-fi / disco cross-overs. Spacer was by far the best of those (and check out the extended version for it at its best), but it was joined in the charts by the likes of I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper (Sarah Brightman, before Andrew Lloyd Webber credibilty), Automatic Lover (Dee D Jackson, who had worked with Giorgio Moroder), the awesome Space by Magic Fly, and even a disco version of the Star Wars theme.

Ukulele-disco I hear you say. Are you mad?! Well maybe, but as has possibly been proven previously it might just work. There’s nothing too tricky chord-wise here (the E7sus4 to Em7 change is reasonably straightforward once you’ve got used to it). But clearly getting a good, steady rhythm is key to making this one work. To that end I’ve had a go at recording this over the top of the original so you have some idea of how *I* think it could go (see below – you can obviously do your own thing) – I hope this helps.

 

 

 


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Beautiful Day – U2

beautiful-dayU2 seem to be something of a marmite band, to say the least. As I’ve said before, I can understand that. But one or two songs seem to rise above that and have become bona fide classics. Beautiful Day is, I would say, in that category.

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Beautiful Day was the first track from the band’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. In many ways the song was a throw-back to the sound of their early days, coming as it did after the band’s adventures during the 1990s which saw them embracing a more contemporary, radical sound influenced in part by the electronic and dance-culture of the day. It was a move that the band were wary of and debated for a long time before finally convincing themselves it was a good thing. In reality, whilst clearly echoing that early sound, the song wouldn’t have been what it was without the band having been through those 1990s – the electronics, textures, drumbeat, whilst more subtle, are clearly an extension of that experimentation.

Lyrically the song is a little ambiguous, a not uncommon trait amongst the bands songs, living at that intersection of spirituality, romance and self-help, and has been described by Bono as being about “a man who has lost everything, but finds joy in what he still has”.  Whatever the specifics of the lyrics, though, this is clearly a song designed (some might say cynically so) to uplift, and for me it does that in spades.

Over the years Beautiful Day has established itself as a classic, reaching number 1 in many countries, garnering three Grammy awards in 2001 (including both song and record of the year), and becoming something of a mainstay for TV sport highlights. The song has been played at every U2 concert since.

So here’s the song sheet. In many ways its quite straightforward. But the sheet may be a little misleading in that respect. They key is getting the rhythm of the main riff right. The timing indicated in the sheet is a rough approximation, and the best thing today is to listen to the original and get the feel from that. However, to help with that I’ve recorded an excerpt of the song that you can listen to below – essentially this covers the main riff (x4) and the F#m “Touch me…” bridge section.  Hope it helps. Timing is something like:

[A] 1 2 [Bm7] 3 [D] 4 5 [G] 1 2 3 [D] 1 2 3 [A] 1 2 3 4 5;  and

[F#m] 1 2 3 [G] 1 2 3 4 5 [D] 1 2 3 [A] 1 2 3 4 5

Note that if you struggle with all of the main riff, you can get away without the [Bm7][D] chords.

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Mulder and Scully – Catatonia

mulder-and-scullyRiding on the back on the mid-90s phenomenon (or over-hyped, media-defined throw-back, dependent on your perspective!) that was Britpop, Catatonia briefly shined at the end of that decade.

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Hailing from Cardiff, Wales, and always proud of their nationality (singer Cerys Matthews welsh accent is fully in evidence), Catatonia were seen as part of an upsurge in popular music in Wales at the time that included the likes of Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics and Super Furry Animals, which received the slightly dodgy epithet of “Cool Cymru“. It was with their second album, 1998’s International Velvet, that the band really broke through big time, spawning two classic singles in the shape of the excellent Road Rage (my personal favourite) and this one.

Making a direct reference to the at-the-time hugely popular “X Files” sci-fi TV series staring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, here was a pop-culture collision that couldn’t fail to be a success. Whilst the references to the series were more incidental to the actual content of the song than direct, the references clearly made the song stand out at the time and would certainly have contributed to getting it noticed, ultimately resulting in the song peaking at number 3 in the single charts.

And so to the song sheet. First things first, it’s not quite as straightforward as it might come across. There’s a few more chords than you might expect, but nothing too tricksy as long as you’re comfortable with barre chords. Otherwise it’s just a question of bashing through it! I’ve made an approximation of the opening (and occasional occurrence in the song) riff which (a) may or may not be right, and (b) you may or may not include. Enjoy!

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Stop! – Erasure

stopA couple of Vince Clark songs have made it to this blog over the years, but this is the first time I’ve posted one from the band that he had most success with, namely Erasure.

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The 1980s was clearly synthpop’s heyday. The availability of relatively affordable synthesizers, coupled with the anybody-can-do-it over-spill from punks formative years, with the added impetus of the new romatic / new pop era of resulted in a stream of wannabes-with-eyeliner having a go. Over the years many of those artists (China Crisis, Eurythmics, OMD, Tears for Fears) evolved their sounds to a fuller, richer, more “traditional” sound, others stubbornly stuck to their roots. Vince Clark is the epitome of that.

From his first brush with pop stardom in Depeche Mode, through the successful collaboration with Alison Moyet as Yazoo (see Situation) and a number of one-offs with the likes of Paul Quinn and Feargal Sharkey (see Never, Never), he eventually ended up as another duo with Andy Bell as Erasure. During the late 80s and early 90s they achieved a phenomenal run of success, both as a singles and albums band.

Stop! was the lead track from the band’s first EP, Crackers International, released around Christmas 1988 and peaking at number 2 in the UK singles chart.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple little synthpop song, so there’s nothing tricky or clever here – it’s a real strumfest so just give it plenty of energy and have fun. Enjoy!
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Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order

bizarreWe’ve already had a smattering of New Order on the site (see in the shape of both sides of the True Faith single), but nothing for a while, so when this little ditty popped up recently it seemed worth giving it a try. And what do you know, it works!

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Bizarre Love Triangle is New Order at their prime. The full length 12″ version is – in my books – just a perfect record, something that was amplified when I saw Peter Hook’s The Light perform it recently as part of a stunning concert where they performed both the Low-Life and Brotherhood albums in their entirety. Even cut down to the standard single version it is an amazing piece of music. And to prove it’s not just the recording that is strong, but there is a quality song at the heart of it, an acoustic version by Frente! (apparently a moderate hit in the US in the 1990s) gave a new perspective on the song.

A quick YouTube search reveals quite a few ukulele-based covers of the song. So it does work. You can either do it as a gentle finger-picked version (a la the Frente! cover) or give it a bit of wellie and go for the feel of the original (although be warned – try it too fast and you’ll run out of breath quite quickly!). It’s a simple, repeated chord sequence all the way through, and whilst the Fmaj7 may not be totally in line with the original I personally think it gives the song some additional colour. Enjoy!

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