Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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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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Kiss Me – Sixpence None The Richer

kiss-meMostly remembered as a one-hit wonder (although – in the UK at least – this was successfully followed up by a cover of The La’s classic There She Goes) Kiss Me is one of those songs that has stood the test of time, being a song that has passed the rather haphazard selection process to become a staple of oldies radio.

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Sixpence None The Richer were that rare thing, a band that broke out of the Christian music scene to achieve some proper commercial success. Admittedly that success was mainly limited to a couple of singles and their corresponding album, but all the same such a breakout is unusual. With something of a jangle-y sound (which probably inspired the choice of There She Goes as a cover) Kiss Me is no more – and no less – than an encapsulation of a shimmering, golden moment in a romantic relationship. The world needs songs like this.

And so the song sheet. It’s a simple song that relies on that D / Dmaj7 / D7 rundown (I’ve taken it down a semitone to make it easier to play – use a capo on the first fret to play along) during the verses, and a similar rundown towards the end of the chorus. The strumming pattern can be a bit tricksy, but as usual listen to the original and get the feel from there.

Enjoy!

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Bonny – Prefab Sprout

SteveMcQueenNot only is Steve McQueen one of the albums of the 1980s, I would argue that it is one of the albums of all-time.

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Not that this seems to be a universally held truth. Despite a lot of love for it, it only manages to scrape in at number 434 on the NME list of the best 500 albums ever. And doesn’t appear at all on the equivalent Rolling Stone list. But in this case I can safely say that they are both wrong. Steve McQueen, the second album from Paddy McAloon and his erstwhile band Prefab Sprout, was/is pure genius.

Musically sophisticated  yet still totally accessible, lyrically witty whilst still emotionally resonant, melodies to die for, all given a superb pop sheen by producer Thomas Dolby. Oh, and the angelic backing vocals of Wendy Smith are (more than just) the icing on the cake.

From the opening meta-country of “Faron Young” (a country-tinged song taking “Four In The Morning” as its emotional reference point ) the standard is set. Side One then ploughs a furrow that, to my mind, is not excelled anywhere in pop music – Bonny, Appetite, When Love Breaks Down (released at least three times, and still only charting at #25!), Goodbye Lucille #1 (otherwise known as Johnny Johnny), Hallelujah (*not* the Leonard Cohen song!). And if Side Two is somehow less than the first, it is only because of the insanely high standards that have already been set – Moving The River, Horsin’ Around, Desire As, Blueberry Pies, When The Angels. Pure pop perfection in one single package.

Nobody could keep up that standard forever, but McAloon and Co. certainly didn’t let that stop them trying. Official follow-up From Langley Park To Memphis, the sprawling, ambitious, vaguely conceptual (Love, God, Elvis, Death!) Jordan: The Comeback, the more low-key Andromeda Heights, and the surprise solo (but still using the Prefab moniker) Crimson/Red all flew the flag for perfect, sophisticated pop (and McQueen’s predecessor, the slightly prickly Swoon, would be up there too). Yet Steve McQueen acts as a high water mark for just how perfect perfect pop can be.

So here is Bonny, a lyrically ambiguous tome (is it about a girl that’s left him, or a man that’s died) that is a perfect representation of the Steve McQueen sound. It was later covered very successfully in a more reflective, slowed down version by Editors (who – coincidence or not – were on the same record label – Newcastle-based Kitchenware – as the Prefab’s, at the time a veritable feast of goodness with stablemates including Hurrah!, Kane Gang and Martin Stephenson and the Daintees).

So can we do justice to this marvellous song on the ukulele? Probably not, but that won’t stop me or you trying. So here’s the songsheet. If it looks a little busy, don’t worry. Listen to the song, particularly the intro, to get the strumming pattern going which you can keeping going throughout the song. Some of the transition chords are very brief (e.g. the Asus4 at the beginning of the chorus lines, the A’s at the end of those lines, and all the Bm7’s) and could be skipped if you struggle with timing. But they do add to the colouring of the song. If in doubt at any time, just resort to that gorgeous major 7 chord! Enjoy!

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He’s On The Phone – Saint Etienne

phoneBy the 1990s I’d started to lose track of contemporary pop music. Much of the dance scene that dominated the charts didn’t really interest me, and my focus was veering towards more country, folk and singer-songwriter sounds. As a result Saint Etienne passed me by.

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Which was a shame really. Because here was a band who combined a classic pop sensibility with a very british outlook, and blended that with facets of the contemporary dance sound. And in the process created a quite special and unique vibe that gave dance music genuine songs with a knowing, melodic twist. Over the years the more overt dance sounds became less prominent as their sound matured, but that mindset still pervaded their work. Songs took on my grown-up themes (although they also recorded a set of children’s songs as well!), reaching – to my mind – a peak in the truly extraordinary Teenage Winter.

He’s On The Phone was the bands biggest hit. The song was a reworking of a “Week-end à Rome”, a previous collaboration with French singer Etienne Daho. Introduced by a simple descending piano riff, the song powers along on a pulsating dance beat and tells the story of a hotel-based liaison between a young academic girl and a married man.

So not obvious material for a ukulele cover, clearly. But I think this works quite well. There’s a few unusual chords in there, and the Bsus4 to Bm transition may be a bit tricky to start with. But generally this shouldn’t be too tricky to pick up. I’ve also included the tab for that piano riff as well, which happens at the beginning of the song and then appears at various stages throughout. Give it a go. And enjoy!

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Lightning Bolt – Jake Bugg

LightningBoltIf his first album, and this song in particular, are anything to go by, Jake Bugg has (a) an old head on young shoulders, and (b) was born 50 years too late.

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Not that his sound is out of place. In fact, for me this song and that first album were a huge breath of air, a sound that – through its rawness, simplicity and back-to-basics approach – cut through so much machine-driven modern music. Obviously it’s not a radically new sound, it’s not going to win any awards for originality. But those qualities are highly over-rated in my book. What you get instead is the sound of young man (he was only 18 when this was released) reflecting on his own life growing up on a council estate in Nottingham, with an acoustic-based sound that takes in rock and roll, skiffle, folk and country influences, not a million miles from a young Bob Dylan at times.

Lightning Bolt is a classic example of that sound. A raw skiffle sound – strummed acoustic guitars, straight down-the-line drums and a cutting electric guitar solo – this will blow the cobwebs away.

All of which seems to make for a perfect ukulele strumming song. And it does (in my opinion at any rate). There’s only three chords here, and nothing tricky. I’ve transposed it up a semi-tone to F which (a) I find easier to sing, and (b) I think is easier to play. Try the Bb and C as barre chords, and it works really well. Note that I haven’t tried to fit all the chords in with the lyrics – I don’t think it helps and just clutters up the sheet. Just get that rhythym going, and it will all fall into place. Enjoy!

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P.S. If you want to have a listen to us playing this, here’a recording that The Flukes made of this last year.

 


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Happy Hour – The Housemartins

HappyHourThese days The Housemartins seem to be considered more as the prelude and launch pad for the careers of Paul Heaton (via. The Beautiful South) and Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).

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But when they emerged in the mid-1980s, the self-styled “fourth best band in Hull” were a breath of fresh-air. Not exactly original in their music (their is undoubtedly a debt to the likes of The Smiths, Aztec Camera and the contemporary “jangle” indie pop sound) they nevertheless delivered a sound and an attitude that cut through some of the po-faced posturing of the time (they also had a love of acapella singing, something that often came out on b-sides). And whilst they were certainly very politically aware, something that would often spill into their songs, they were also no afraid to send themselves up.

Happy Hour was their breakthrough single. As was fairly typical of the band, the bouncy sound of the song was something of a contrast to the lyrical content of the song, which addressed the hypocrisy and sexism of young British males, particularly what was perceived to be the office culture of the time. The song peaked high in the charts (number 3), only bettered for them by their Christmas-time accapella version of Caravan Of Love.

So here’s the songsheet. I’ve kept this in the same key as the original. Whilst that means its not the most straightforward chords, I don’t think there is anything too tricky in here that justifies transposing it. Essentially it’s the same chord sequence all the way through – make sure you give it a bouncy, choppy rhythm all the way through.

Enjoy!

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