Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Making Plans For Nigel – XTC

Hot on the heels of the previous post, which featured the more pastoral, psychedelic side of XTC, here is one of – if not THE – songs that the band is known for.

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XTC were originally formed in Swindon in the early 1970s, taking a while to find their sound (early incarnations were of a more glam / glitter rock persuasion), ultimately emerging as part of the punk generation in 1977. However, XTC were never one to be pigeon-holed, and to be honest were somewhat smarter that your average punk band, and from the get-go refused to bow to the somewhat conservative conventions and year zero mindset that the punk scene often created.

Characterised by a jagged, angular sound, and smart, often ironic lyrics, the band were three albums into their recording career before they finally found some kind of significant success, a purple period from 1979 to 1982 that saw them regulars in the mid-reaches of the charts.

Making Plans For Nigel was the song that brought them that initial flurry of recognition and success, and it is a song that has weathered well. From the pen and voice of Colin Moulding, this song has become a mainstay of a hundred new wave compilations. A song that still sounds as fresh as the day it was conceived, a song full of spaces, it is underpinned by a distinctive drum pattern and sound, topped with sharp angular guitar riffs, and a lyric that mocks the entry into dull careerism to the titular Nigel, all wrapped in a production that is both crisp and sharp, and also owes more than a little to the dub sounds and effects that were entering the mainstream at the time from reggae.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s quite a straightforward song, the trick is getting a rhythm / strumming pattern that works. I’m not going to be prescriptive about that, just experiment and seems what works. The D / D4 / D5 run down can easily be replaced with a straight D, but otherwise it should all work as written. Enjoy!

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Grass – XTC

XTC have always been one of those bands that I kind of thought I should get, but never really did. Yes, I loved those late 70s / early 80s hits like Sgt Rock, Senses Working Overtime, and Making Plans For Nigel (more of which later). But I never really got beyond that.

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So I decided to put that right recently. But where to start? After  bit of dithering I ended up plumping for a copy of 1986’s Skylarking, prompted in part by having recently heard one of the albums track, That’s Really Super, Supergirl, on the radio. An album that was strongly rated, critically acclaimed, but of which I knew almost nothing.

So how did it go, I hear you ask? Well, if I’m honest, first listen I was little unsure, a little non-plussed. A few songs sounded good first time, but much of it felt indistinct and uncertain. But I got the sense that this might be one of those albums you need to work at a little to really extract its riches. And so it proved to be. A few weeks later and the subtle riches of the album are beginning to worm their way into my head and heart.

For those who don’t know it, Skylarking has a more pastoral, quintessentially English sound than you might have expected if all you’ve heard is the new wave / post-punk sounds of those early hits. Produced by Todd Rundgren, it is loosely themed around various cycles in life and nature, and as a result really hangs together as a whole piece.

Grass, a song written and sung by Colin Moulding, was the lead single from the album (the flip-side, Dear God, was later to become the most well-known song from this set, a minor hit in the US), and exemplifies the mood and feel of the whole album. A song that looks back in almost bucolic terms to romantic fumbles in the summer grass, with more than a hint to doing so under the influence of that other grass (marijuana), the song captures a time and space so perfectly that for three minutes you feel yourself right there.

So here’s the song sheet. The song is actually quite a simple one, both in terms of structure and chords, and feels like it demands to be sung under a late summer evening sky, basking in the the great outdoors. I’ve included two versions, one in D and one if F, both a little easier to play than the original in E (play the first version with capo 2 if you want to play/sing along to the original. Enjoy!


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(What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis (Full Album)

Well I have to say that these full album nights have really taken off. Having had two really successful evenings with 30-40 ukers listening to, and bashing their way through, Parallel Lines and Rubber Soul, we’re now planning a to make this a semi-regular event. Undoubtedly you’ll be seeing some of those popping up on here over time, but the next one is going to be Oasis’ sophomore classic, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.

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I must say up-front that this songbook is definitely (maybe!) not all my own work. Most of the credit for this must go to my good ukeing friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, Ian Rothwell, who has put in a massive amount of effort to pull this together. We road-tested it earlier this week, and we’re relatively happy with how it sounds, so here it is.

Released in October 1995, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory was the album that propelled from a very successful indie rock band at the vanguard of the Britpop scene (that album was the fastest-selling debut album of all time in the UK when it was released) to a world-wide phenomenon. World-wide the album has sold an estimated 22 million copies, it was number one in the UK for ten weeks on it’s release, and it spawned a swathe of classic singles, with two (Some Might Say and Don’t Look Back In Anger) reaching the coveted number one slot, and another two (Wonderwall and Roll With It) peaking at number two. The last of those, Roll With It, was the subject of the much-hyped Britpop battle with Blur, when they both famously released new singles on the same day, Blur releasing Country House. Blur won that particular battle and hit the top spot, but I think it fair to say that, at least if judged commercially, Oasis won the war.

Marking a move away from the rawer sound of the band’s debut, (What’s The Story) was marked out by slower tempos, songs more ballad like (although still swathed in loud rock-and-roll guitars) with huge sing-along choruses, and with richer instrumentation than on their first record. The critical reception the album received on its release was a little lukewarm, many comparing it less favourably to its predecessor, complaining that the album was derivative and simplistic, as well as being seen as prompting a major step-change in the loudness wars.  As ever though, timing can be everything with these things, and the emergence and mainstream embracing of the cultural phenomenon that was Britpop at the same time as this albums release allowed Oasis to surf its wave with massive success.

And so here it is – the songbook. As I said earlier, the hugest of thanks to Ian Rothwell for doing most of the work on this one. As you’ll see the format is slightly different to previous songbooks, but the content is all there. Only one of the songs (She’s Electric) is not in the same key as the original (that has been upped from F# to G for obvious reasons!), so all the rest are definitely play-along-able. As far as possible we’ve tried to keep the arrangements faithful to the originals. We haven’t tabbed any solos or the like – in actual fact there aren’t that many – but feel free to work those out yourselves. Sing loud, with great enthusiasm. And most of all, enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>

P.S. If you’re interested, and in the Southampton area on the 17th May, this (see below) is the event where we’re going to be playing this one through.


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Innocence – Kirsty MacColl

If judged solely by commercial success, Kirsty MacColl doesn’t rank highly in the pantheon of singers or songwriters. But fortunately that isn’t the only way to measure these things, and when rated by the quality of her work, and the love felt for her and her songs, then Kirsty is right up there.

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Clearly she had something of a head start, being the daughter of the esteemed folk singer Ewan MacColl, who wrote “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. But after being spotted singing backing vocals in a punk band by Stiff Records, she was signed and released her first single in 1979, They Don’t Know. From that point on it’s fair to say that her success was patchy. Whilst she scored a hit with an early single (There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis), and her appearance on the Christmas perennial Fairy Tale Of New York with The Pogues, her own songs seemed to struggle, although there was some success in the early 80s when comedienne Tracey Ullman had a hit with They Don’t know during her brief pop career. It’s somewhat ironic that for all the acclaim that she received as a songwriter, her biggest successes seemed to come with other people’s songs (Billy Bragg’s A New England, Ray Davies’ Days, and The Pogues).

MacColl released a number of albums over the years, somewhat sporadically, but every one was chock full of quality songs. 1989’s Kite probably came closest to being a big success, and its from that album that Innocence is taken. With a jangle guitar reminiscent of The Smiths (ironic in that whilst Johnny Marr was a big contributor to the album – both playing and writing – this is one song he *didn’t* play on), Innocence is classic Kirsty – sharp lyrics, melodic, gorgeous harmonies, perfectly packaged pop. The video (below) is also great fun, well worth a watch, including a cameo from Ed Tudor-Pole.

And here is the song sheet. It’s a fairly faithful translation, in the same key as the original. Nothing tricksy chord wise, or rhythmically for that matter. There are quite a lot of words to fit in, but they’re good ones, so worth pursuing.

Enjoy!


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Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow – Felt

I’ve kind-of giving up worrying about the preponderance of 80s tunes from my youth that I post on these pages. The songs that I post have always been influenced by the music that I’m listening to at any point of time, and – in no small part thanks to Decade, a wonderful event that happens not for from me that plays alternative music from 77-87 – I’ve been listening to a lot of music from that era, both songs that I’m familiar with, as well as tunes and artists that passed me by at the time.

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So this is a stone-cold classic from that era. Felt could be considered the quintessential 80s indie band. Essentially the platform for the artistic vision of the enigmatic Lawrence (no surname was ever used), Felt’s original jangle style was influenced by the likes of Television, but taken in a more fragile and luminescent direction. Early albums were resolutely low-fi and contained as many instrumentals as vocal songs, but through the 80s the Felt project grew and evolved, adding a bright and bubbling organ to the mix, branching off into lounge-style mini-instrumentals and kitsch-jazz before concluding (after 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years – all part of the masterplan) in 1989 with the vastly underrated, almost professional sounding Me and a Monkey on the Moon.

Top of the pile of all those songs, for me, is the swooningly gorgeous Primitive Painters, a duet with Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser (one of the few records I’ve ever brought on-spec after one hearing in a record shop). But that doesn’t translate too well to ukulele! So instead here is a song that scales pretty close to those dizzy heights, the 1984 single Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow. With a title like that how could a song fail (I’d love Felt just for their song and album titles, even without hearing the music – Rain of Crystal Spires, The World is as Soft as Lace, Evergreen Dazed, Sapphire Mansions, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, Ignite the Seven Cannons and Set Sail for the Sun – the list is endless!). A resolutely up-beat sounding song that would appear to be a somewhat stinging observation of a friend, with the pretentiousness meter turned up high (the single and album versions differently reference a poem by Rimbaud or an Egyptian funerary text), the song is soaked in gorgeous shimmering and chiming guitars courtesy of Maurice Deebank, who was instrumental (literally) in the bands sounds for the first half of their career.

So translate this gloriousness to ukulele? Well, clearly its not going to sound *quite* like the original. But underneath all those wonderful sounds is a great song, and so I think it works. I’ve transcribed the ringing intro, solo and outro sections as well – Maurice Deebank never went in for guitar gymnatics, so these are definitely playable. It’s a great song, one that deserves more exposure. Enjoy!


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I’m Free – The Rolling Stones / The Soup Dragons

Lets be honest, this one is here because of The Soup Dragons cover, not because of The Rolling Stones original. That’s not to say that I have any kind of aversion to the sixties original, its just that it had never entered my consciousness before the Madchester-inspired cover.

<Rolling Stones songsheet> <Soup Dragons songsheet>

“I’m Free” is a relatively early Jagger/Richard composition from 1965 that first appeared as the closing track on the band’s Out Of Our Heads album, and the b-side of Get Off My Cloud. Ranked number 78 in Rolling Stone magazines top 100 Rolling Stones songs, I’m Free shuffles along with echoes of The Byrds jangley folk-rock sound.

In a similar way, The Soup Dragons 1990 cover was inspired by a popular rock sound of the day, this time the Madchester/Baggy rock/dance hybrid sound that was everywhere at the time through the music of The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, and others. This version definitely grooves more than the original version, fleshes out with liberal doses of wah-wah, takes a few liberties with the lyrics and throws in a rap courtesy of  Jamaican reggae and dancehall star Junior Reid – whether that adds or subtracts from the record depends on your preference for that sort of thing. The song gave the band their only sizeable hit, one that has become a staple of compilation albums of that period.

So here’s the songsheets. I’ve done two versions, one for The Rolling Stones version (in C), and one for The Soup Dragons version (in E). However, they’re not just the same sheet with different chords, I’ve tried to reflect the arrangements, lyrics, etc. of the two different versions. Even down to the rap in The Soup Dragons version – try it if you dare!  Enjoy!

<Rolling Stones songsheet> <Soup Dragons songsheet>


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The Only One I Know – The Charlatans

The house / rave / dance music scene that emerged in the late 1980s passed me by, I’m afraid. I’m guessing that it all made much more sense in a throbbing night club, probably enhanced by various substances, but it wasn’t for me.

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Some of the more mainstream crossover tracks I did like (808 States’s Pacific State I love, and I was quite partial to The Beloved), but as much as I like a groove I do also like a good tune, and that wasn’t really what the dance culture was all about. However, what did float by boat much more was the so-called Madchester scene – effectively an alternative rock sound merged with the culture of rave, creating a brace of classic indie-dance tracks. Artists such as Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and James all had a life before Madchester, but gradually came to represent the so-called “baggy” scene, even if that was a media and record-company hyped one.

Whilst getting lumped under the Madchester label, The Charlatans actually hailed from Birmingham. The Only One I Know was only the band’s second single, but at the height of the baggy phenomenon gave them a top 10 success, something they were unable to repeat until the height of Britpop in the mid-90s. Underpinned by the classic funky shuffling beat, propelled by an insistent bass riff, wah-wah guitars and overlaid with that distinctive organ sound, this song is a classic of its time – of any time – guaranteed to fill the floor at the Indie disco.

So baggy on the ukuele? Well why not (SUJ are currently working on Primal Scream’s Moving On Up, another classic of the time, and I think it will work). This is a song that definitely needs you to get into that groove – it’s all about the rhythm – and that’s best done by playing along to the original (above) – the song sheet is in the same key. Other than that there’s not a lot to say. Just enjoy!