Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Roy’s Tune – Fontaines D.C.

If anybody is band of the moment it has to be Fontaines D.C. The hype for this group of Dublin post-punk-ers has been building and building over the last few months, and with the release of their debut album Dogrel yesterday that is likely to amplify. And deservedly so, in my book.

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Fontaines D.C. are not for the feint-hearted. There music is a full-on assault – clattering drums, punching bass and take-no-prisoners guitars, topped with the full-on Irish brogue of lead man Grian Chatten. That voice is truly Grian’s own – it’s not going to win any competitions, but in the context of this band it is just what is needed. Drawing on Ireland’s long literary heritage, this is serious music that doesn’t shirk from the gritty reality of life as it is now – as one of their other songs taunts, “Is it too real for ya?”.

But for all their reputation as pummelling, aggressive noiseniks, Dogrel show’s there is more to the band than that. Roy’s Tune is a case in point – a poignant reflection on how the behaviour of giant corporations can impact on the lives of ordinary people. Guitarist and writer of the song, Conor Curley, had this to say about the song:

It’s sung to Ireland – from a mindset of frustration, depression, and a loss of innocence… A couple years back the EU awarded Ireland €14 billion in back taxes from Apple, but the government here refuses to do anything with the money out of fear Apple will move their headquarters. They care more about a giant corporation than the people of our country, and all we can do is sit there and take it. We wanted this to be a moment of reflection on the album. We included this song with the purpose of showing our intent as a band and as songwriters. We intend to explore whatever emotions or ideas we see, not just make ‘another post-punk album’.

Oh, and do watch the video (below). It’s great, and really enhances the song.

As with many of the band’s songs, their is simplicity at the heart. The song is – at surface level – very basic, really only two chords. But there is a power and focus at the heart of the song that gives it its strength. Essentially it’s the same pattern repeated throughout the song, so once you get that (spelled out in the intro in the song sheet) you’ll have it. I’ve included two versions – one in the original key, and one transposed down to make it easier to play (removing those horrible E’s and B’s!). This is a song that deserves to be sung. Enjoy!

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Something For The Pain – She Drew The Gun

She Drew The Gun are from Liverpool, and have been described as dreamy psych pop. That works for me.

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Fronted by / a vehicle for Louisa Roach, there’s more than a hint of the 60s, psychedelia and the like in the bands music. But this is also very much music for now. Winner of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent contest in 2016, She Drew The Gun aren’t exactly what you think of as a protest singer, or their songs as protest songs. But these are songs rooted in the reality of 21st century life, but not ones that are content to let that life wash over her. Take this line from the Resister, the opening track of last year’s Revolution of Mind:

All the underdogs, black sheep/Fighters of the powers that be/
In tenements, high rises/Freedom fighters, the outsiders…

Roach isn’t a newbie on the block, either. Although having played music since her early teens, she has lived a life (she has a 12 year old son, returned to academia as a mature student) and her songs reflect that – shot through with a considered maturity and life experience, but not worn down by it. An observer, but one that empathises and roots for the underdog against the powerful. Something For The Pain comes from that place.

So probably not a massively well known song. But a good one nonetheless. Maybe a great one. The song sheet is quite a straightforward, nothing tricky chord wise, and a consistent chugging rhythm that works nice strummed on the uke. It’s a bit wordy, but those words are important. Persevere. And enjoy!

 


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White Horses – Jacky

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, they say. And whilst nostalgia is clearly in the eye of the beholder, *this* song will, for a certain generation, transport you back to a time, a place, a mood that is keenly evocative of growing up, of childhood in the late 60s and early 70s.

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White Horses started life as a Slovenian children’s TV series in 1965, and follows the adventures of Julia (Helga Anders), 15, who leaves Belgrade to spend a holiday with her uncle Dimitri on his stud farm. There he trains white Lipizzaners with the help of Hugo, the head groom. Appalingly dubbed into English (see this clip for evidence) it was first shown on British TV in 1968, and was a staple of childrens TV through to the late 1970s. That re-dubbing included the introduction of a new theme song, written by Michael Carr and Ben Nisbet. Recorded by Irish-born Jackie Lee, under the name Jacky, White Horses was a top 10 single at the time.

I think it fair to say, however, that the plain facts are not what makes this song, and that Jacky recording of it in particular, the thing that it is. For those of a certain age, I’m pretty sure that this song acts as a portal to the past, immediately summoning up a hazy, almost forgotten time of innocence and youth. Whether that time actually existed or not, this is a classic case of a song that puts you in a certain place, that surfaces misty memories.

There are some great cover versions of this song out there, including by Cerys Matthews, Kitchens of Distinction, Trash Can Sinatras, and Dean and Britta. But nothing will every top the peerless original by Jacky.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s a relatively straightforward 60s-flavoured song that really doesn’t need much commentary from me. I’ve tabbed the lovely little solo in the middle, but other that that it just needs the nice little chugging rhythm behind the chords to make it work. Enjoy!


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Give Stupidity A Chance – Pet Shop Boys

This song is so new, and so topical, that I wanted to get it out there before it goes of the boil. My fervent wish is that in 6 months time this is just seen as a historical aberration, something we look back on with a smile and say “Do you remember when…”. My fear and gut-feel is that won’t be the case, and that this will remain relevant for some time to come. I’m just going to let the lyrics do the talking.

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Intelligent people have had their say
It’s time for the foolish to show the way
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

We’ve heard quite enough  of experts and their dealings
Why face the facts when you can just feel the feelings?
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

Forget political correctness
I mean WTF?!
I don’t wanna think about the world
I wanna talk about myself!

Instead of governing with thoughtful sensitivity
Let’s shock and awe the world with idiotic bigotry
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance

You say corruption, I say justified reward
Keeps the cronies loyal, chairmen of the board
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance

Forget political correctness
Let’s talk man to man
Chicks are always up for it
You gotta grab whatever you can

We need a leader who knows that money means class
with an eye for a peach-perfect piece of ass
Not a total dumb-cluck just one of the guys
Let’s give stupidity a prize
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

Maybe not the best ever Pet Shop Boys song, but at this time songs like this need to exist and be out there. Sing it loud!


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The Passenger – Iggy Pop

By the mid-70s Iggy Pop was going nowhere. Despite the legendary and influential position that his band The Stooges had achieved (a seminal garage rock band, and a huge influence on punk), and despite a helping hand from David Bowie on 1973’s Raw Power, The Stooges had fallen apart, and Pop had descended into a spiral of drug abuse.

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However, Bowie continued to support his friend, and took him along as a companion on the 1976 Station to Station tour. Bowie himself, at that time, was deep into a drug dependency, and when he relocated to Berlin afterwards to kick his addiction, Iggy came with him. Thus began an extraordinary period of creativity from Bowie, and Iggy benefited hugely from that.  In early 1977 The Idiot was released, Pop’s first solo album, written, recorded and produced in collaboration with Bowie. Later that same year (a year in which Bowie also released both Low and “Heroes”) came Lust For Life, Iggy’s most commercially successful album, once again a collaboration with, including co-writing and producing, David Bowie.

Best known for it’s opening title track (which itself achieved iconic status via. its inclusion in the opening sequence of the film Trainspotting), The Passenger is the most covered song on the album (the likes of Nick Cave, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and REM have all performed the song),  allegedly inspired (according to Pop’s former girlfriend Esther Friedmann) by a Jim Morrison poem that viewed modern life as a journey by car, as well as rides on the Berlin rapid transit railway, the S-Bahn. Written by guitarist Ricky Gardiner, it was originally released as the B-side of a single (“Success”), but has since come to be one of the defining songs of Iggy’s career.

And so to the song sheet. In terms of chords, there’s nothing tricky here – it’s just an Am / F / C / G / Am / F / C / E sequence repeated all the way through the song (with one or two subtle exceptions. The real key to getting the song sounding right is the strumming pattern. This YouTube guitar lesson gives a good sense of the pattern, but essentially it’s a mute-down-up-down-up pattern, repeated all the way through – effectively there is no chord played on the first (and third) beats. Give it a try. And enjoy!


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River – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell recently turned 75, something that was celebrated with the help of an all-star concert. Mitchell herself wasn’t present, and has been something of a recluse of late, in no small part due to a number of health scares. She is unlikely to perform or record again, but my goodness what a legacy she has left us.

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Emerging from a Canadian coffee-house scene in the mid-1960s, she moved to the US where she was eventually spotted by David Crosby, and started releasing a series of intimate, confessional acoustic albums. Songs like Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock became anthems for a generation (the latter notable because she never actually made it the festival!), and in 1971 she turned in the album which really defined the term singer-songwriter, and which has become the litnus against which all subsequent albums in that genre, particularly female-fronted, will be compared. Described by the New York Times as one of the “turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music”, the album is a no-holds barred portrayal of Joni’s relationships (she had relationships with both Graham Nash and James Taylor prior to this record) that is startling in its honesty.

River, taken from Blue, has become one of Mitchell’s most recorded songs. Whether you class it as a Christmas song or not (it is set around that period, but isn’t really about Christmas, although the piano accompaniment does reference Jingle Bells), it has become something of a discerningly alternative Christmas standard (listen to this fabulous BBC Radio 4 documentary of personal stories related to the song). Somewhat surprising given that the song is a rueful song about a broken romance, the singer reflecting on what was, desperately wanting to escape the heartbreak.

So here is the songsheet. Joni Mitchell is famous for her alternative tunings and complex song structures. Fortunately this song is *relatively* straightforward (for a Joni song!), albeit it was originally written and performed on piano. I’ve added a few additional chords into the sheet to try and imitate aspects of the original piano accompaniment, and tried to replicate the ‘Jingle Bells’ references (including an optional, more complex intro). I’ve also done two versions of the song – one simplified version, and one that fleshes the song out with a few more complex chords and rhythms, The choice is yours, but enjoy either!

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A Perfect Miracle – Spiritualized

You’ll have noticed that ukulele-based songs are few and far between on this blog. That is kind-of deliberate, but also a reflection of the fact that, whilst I love playing the little 4-string wonder myself, it hasn’t let me towards wanting to listening to music made on the instrument. Call me a fraud if you like, a traitor if you want (in these febrile Brexit times, such accusations seem to get thrown around increasingly carelessly), but that is me.

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Now I don’t actually know that there is a ukulele playing as the backbone to this song. There’s no credit of a ukulele player in the album credits. But a number of other reviews of the song have suggested that’s what it could be, and to my ears that sounds totally plausible. So I’m going to go with it.

A Perfect Miracle is the opening song, and lead single, from Spiritualized’s most recent album, And Nothing Hurt. It’s a beautiful, hazy waltz-time lullaby that starts off with nothing much more than that strummed ukulele, but then builds and swells to an increasingly glorious crescendo – strings, choirs, the lot. Actually, when you peer behind the sounds the lyrical content of the song is not quite what it seems – yes, there’s lots of lovely sentiment towards a loved one, but as the song progresses there is a thread of uncertainty and ambivalence that creeps in. But there’s still glimmers of light, so let’s hope it all ends well, eh?

And the song sheet. Well, to be honest, this is such a simple song it’s almost embarrassing to have one! Basically the song is the same four chords, repeated in sequence throughout. I’ve transposed the song up a semi-tone, from B to C, to make it easier to play. But other than that there’s not much more to say (although you can thrown in the occasional Gsus4 if you wish, to give a bit more colour). I have included the backing choir lyrics which are sung in parallel with the last three verses, so if there are more than one of you doing this I’m sure that will sound lovely. Do enjoy!