Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


2 Comments

1979

<songbook>

In his book “1971 – Never A Dull Moment”, the music journalist and writer David Hepworth makes the case for that year being “the most febrile and creative time in the entire history of popular music”, rock music’s Annus Mirabilis. And whilst he may very well have a point (any year that included the release of Tapestry, Led Zepplin IV, Sticky Fingers, Every Picture Tells A Story, Blue, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, and Hunky Dory has to have something going for it), I’m here to make the argument that – even as founder of Q magazine and Smash Hits, writer for the NME and Sounds, presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and anchor for Live Aid – he may very well have got this one wrong. For I’m here to make the incontrovertible claim that this accolade actually belongs to the other end of that turbulent decade. Yes, it is 1979, for sure, that must go down as the most satisfyingly disparate smorgasbord of rock and pop, the richest collision of sounds and influences, the time when anything was possible, when the rule book was well and truly trashed, when the foundations of whole future genres were being laid.

Now I’m going to lay all my cards on the table here upfront. In 1979 I was 14, and it is widely recognised that is an age where music has the biggest impact on your life. In fact, in a recent pseudo-scientific study carried out by the New York Times using Spotify listening habits, it concluded that the peak influence on listening habits is between the ages of 13 and 16, with men’s favourite song being released – on average – when they are 14 (for women it is 13). So clearly I’m less than objective on this one. But this is my party, and I’m not going to let any scientific evidence get in the way of a good story.

Admittedly in the outside world the claims for 1979 being a classic year feel somewhat wide of the mark. You’d think that a year that started with the country slowly grinding to an ignominious halt as the Winter of Discontent stretched on and on, rubbish stacking up on every street corner, bodies going unburied, with continued comparisons of the UK to third-world nations, could only get better. Yet the fall-out from those events saw one of the most divisive prime-ministers of all time enter Downing Street, somewhat ironically quoting the unifying words St Francis of Assisi, sending prices and unemployment spiralling, making changes to the country that it is still reeling from 40 years later. Alongside the continuing Irish “troubles”, the tension was palpable, the country was perched on a knife-edge. And yet maybe it was just this kind of background that provided the catalyst for what was to come in musical terms.

It’s probably true that the foundations were being laid throughout the years that preceded it. Disco had emerged from the underground gay clubs of New York in the early 1970s to become a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon by the end of the decade. The pub rock scene of the mid-1970s had collided with an art-school mind-set; been ignited by a huge sense of dissatisfaction with the escapist, irrelevant sounds of prog, soft rock and pop-pap; mixed in a healthy dose of boredom and disillusionment with a world of bleak inner cities, zero prospects, and the continued threat of nuclear annihilation; and in parallel with a nascent scene out of New York, had spawned the lightning bolt that was punk. Initial avant-garde experimentation with electronic sound creation had been channelled across Europe into more accessible forms by bands such as Kraftwerk, and was starting to bleed into the mainstream, thanks in no small parts to the attentions of that chameleon scene-setter, David Bowie. And the influx of migrants from Jamaica, the so-called Windrush generation, had brought with it the mutant rhythm and blues that had evolved into ska, reggae and rocksteady, sounds that were at once both exotic and familiar. Even that stalwart of unchangeability, hard rock, was being inspired by the energy and aggression of punk to evolve, including the tougher, leaner New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.

Out of this melting pot of influences emerged the shining beacon of popular music that was 1979. Admittedly it started somewhat inauspiciously. The number 1 single in the UK at the beginning of the year? Yes, that was YMCA by The Village People. Beloved of office parties and wedding discos ever since, it wasn’t exactly a beacon of quality, credibility and originality. The best-selling album during January? Well that will be Showaddywaddy’s Greatest Hits, re-hashed, watered down and popped-up rock and roll nostalgia. So does the case breakdown before it’s even had a chance to be heard? Certainly not.

Look behind the headlines, and you’ll see the signs were there. January saw the release of two albums of classic (what was to become) new wave singer-songwriters – Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces (which would spawn Oliver’s Army amongst others) and Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp! (likewise giving us Is She Really Going Out With Him?). Taking the energy, rawness and urgency of punk, but marrying it to more complex song structures, more literate and varied lyrical themes, and more diverse and original musical arrangements, these artists were there to move punk in new directions, to stretch it, grow it, evolve it and take it to new places. Clearly children of the punk ethos, they weren’t constrained by what had become for some a formulaic, rule-bound approach that was the antithesis of the spirit of punk.

Others were continuing a similar journey. Buzzcocks, The Undertones, The Jam and The Clash were all maturing their sounds – still driven by that original punk spirit, but marrying it to classic pop formats, sixties mod stylings, and classic rock themes. And from across the Atlantic one of the seminal punk-inspired pop/new wave bands, Blondie, horrified many by “going disco” with Heart of Glass. Yet it was this transforming spirit, this desire to meld disparate sounds and not to be constrained by the ghetto that many felt punk had become, that sparked new directions, new sounds and new careers.

Bands were also emerging under the banner of what would – only retrospectively – come to be described as post-punk; bands who stretched things even further. Definitely inspired by the spirit of punk, if not so obviously by its sounds, the likes of XTC and The Cure in the UK, and Talking Heads in the US, were pushing the boundaries. Angular, spiky, abrasive music that was born of a singular vision, this explosion of imagination was to take music in myriad directions – Talking Heads marrying their art-rock abstractness to African-inspired polyrhythmic sounds, The Cure almost inventing a new genre (Goth) alongside the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus (who’s awesome debut single, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, was like nothing anybody had ever heard in 1979). And then there was Joy Division. Inspired by a Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, the band’s classic debut, Unknown Pleasures, was the archetypal post-punk record, inspiring generations to come, and the source of continuing t-shirt sales with *that* cover!

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as some are want to characterise those bands. Disco was in its heyday, and was everywhere. In fact it’s sheer ever-present-ness, and maybe also it’s ever-so-blatantly in-your-face non-macho-ness, led rise to the “Disco Sucks” movement in the US, a backlash that saw disco records being ceremoniously blown-up at a baseball game. Yet 1979 saw more classic disco songs that have outlived all their critics and continue to flourish on dance-floors across the world. Lost In Music, Good Times, Boogie Wonderland, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, I Will Survive, Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. Disco may not get the critical plaudits that white rock bands get, yet it changed the musical landscape forever, and most importantly has brought – and continues to bring – untold joy to millions.

In a very different way, the desire to dance was at the heart of another musical break-out during 1979. Marrying the energy and spirit of punk with infectious rhythms inspired by Jamaican ska music, the Two-Tone movement combined this with a sharp look and an up-front, in-yer-face multiculturalism and political awareness that was born of the inner-city. The Specials, Madness, The Beat, Selecter and others emerged in the year as flag-bearers for this new sound which was embraced in particular by the young across the country.

1979 was also the year that electronic music went over-ground. Inspired by the mid-70s albums of German band Kraftwerk, and the relative affordability of the basic instruments, a number of bands were experimenting with all-electronic formats. The early Human League were the critics darlings in this respect, and so when Gary Numan beat them to it and scored two number ones, firstly with his band Tubeway Army, and then solo, he was seen as something of a pretender, an upstart who wasn’t deserving of the privilege. Yet history and career longevity has shown Numan as a genuine innovator and talent. But those electronic sounds were bursting out all over during 1979, from OMD’s debut, Electricity, to the revitalised US mavericks Sparks, whose collaboration with legendary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder gave them with multiple hits. Even the Trevor Horn-led geek-band The Buggles were able to have a huge hit with the iconic Video Killed The Radio Star.

It wasn’t all just about the new kids on the block, though. Many established bands were at a commercial peak during 1979. A re-launched Roxy Music returned with Manifesto, a somewhat smoother version of their original sound, but one which was a clear continuation of their journey. Fleetwood Mac followed the enormous Rumours with Tusk – a less consistent record that still had some gorgeous peaks. Electric Light Orchestra followed the massive Out Of The Blue with the equally massive, hit spawning Discovery. Abba dominated the singles charts with multiple cuts from Voulez-Vous. And Pink Floyd finally gave in and released a single … and it was huge! Another Brick In The Wall, along with the haunting Gerald Scarfe video, was a somewhat unlikely and chilling Christmas number one. Prog-meets-confessional-singer-songwriter Kate Bush hit again with the stunning Wow (alongside the only full-scale tour of her career). Even heavy rock was propping up the top of the charts with the likes of Rainbow’s riff-tastic Since You’ve Been Gone.

So was this the best year ever? Clearly there is no objective way to answer that question. And that’s the great thing about those kind of questions – the fun is in the arguments, not in the answer. On a purely personal level the songs in this book represent a wonderfully diverse selection of totally classic songs that have – without exception – stood the test of time and, for the most part (certainly in my mind, at least) established themselves as bona fide classics. Whether you agree or not is not really the point. But I hope that you’ll concede that there was definitely something in the musical waters at the end of the “decade that taste forgot”.

Here is the songbook with all the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with links to each of the individual song sheets:

Advertisements


1 Comment

Redemption Song – Bob Marley

Bob Marley was a huge part of bringing reggae music into a wider public consciousness. Whilst some may think that his was a somewhat watered down version that was deliberately aimed at crossing over to a white rock audience, there is no doubt that his music has had a profound affect around the world. And none more so than Redemption Song.

<songsheet>

Whilst clearly not a reggae song in itself, Redemption Song is the epitome of all that Marley sought to achieve in his music. The final track on the final album Marley released before his death from cancer in 1980 (Uprising), the song is in many ways Marley’s own eulogy, a song of hope despite the pain of the circumstances. But rather than focusing inwards on his own pain, the song turns that feeling into a universal call for the downtrodden, the oppressed, those who have lost so much, urging them to keep on, to keep singing these “songs of freedom”. The famous “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”, “none but ourselves can free our mind” lines were in fact inspired by a speech by Marcus Garvey, a proponent of Black nationalism in Jamaica who was considered a religious prophet within Rastafarianism, a religion strongly linked to reggae and Marley.

Whilst the song was recorded and performed as a full band version (you can here it here), it is most famous in its most stripped back form – just Marley and an acoustic guitar. Which I think makes it a great candidate for playing on the uke.

The prompting for putting this song on UkeTunes came from hearing over Christmas a bit of the Radio 4 Soul Music documentary that focused on this song, and the impact it is had on a variety of people. It’s an informative and touching listen, and at the time of writing is still on the BBC IPlayer – you can listen to it here.

The song sheet is quite straightforward to play – no tricky chords or strumming patterns. That said, Marley’s phrasing is sometimes a little tricky to replicate, but don’t worry too much about that – this is a song to take and mould to your own experience. Also this is definitely a less-is-more song, so keeping the strumming sparse helps. I’ve also included tab for the opening guitar riff as well. Enjoy!


7 Comments

UkeTunes Songbooks!

UkeTunes Songbook, Volume 1So I thought it was about time I pulled together all the songs that I’ve posted on here so far into one, single, UkeTunes songbook. And here it is!

<songbook pdf>

Somewhat optimistically subtitled “Volume 1”, here is the songbook nobody has been waiting for. From the ridiculously popular (-ish) to the willfully obscure (Our Daughters Wedding, anybody?) UkeTunes Volume 1 brings together an eclectic mix of punk and synthpop, folk and country, showtunes and reggae, soul and ska, in the songbook that will revolutionise the four-stringed world and have ukulele groups all over the world casting aside their battered copies of Folsom Prison Blues, Bad Moon Rising and Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue in favour of songs about the ethics of silk-worm farming, Dostoyevsky’s reflections on free will, and the recurring disasters of April 14th. There might be a few broken-hearted love songs in there as well.

Feel free to onward share the book. It’s been put together with the intention of being used, although I think it would be a brave group to perform all of these (I’m thinking of you, “The Mating Game”!).

And foUkeTunes - The 80sr those for whom the eclecticism on offer in this songbook is maybe just a little too much, I’ve also pulled together a sub-volume which collects together all the songs published so far on this site from the 1980s. Remember, though, this is *my* 1980s, not the one of popular imagination, so it still veers off into some obscure bywaters. Click on the image or link below for UkeTunes – The 80s.

<80s songbook>

 


Leave a comment

Let Your Yeah Be Yeah – The Pioneers

letyouryeah<songsheet>

So reggae took me a long time to get. Yes, I’ve had a copy of Bob Marley’s Legend for ever, and occassionaly the odd reggae song broke through as a pop hit. But that’s as far as it went. Then a few years ago, having got a little bored with a whole host of my usual musical tastes, I made a concerted effort to “get” into reggae. Spotify, and a bunch of days spent working alone at home, was my saviour. And with a bit of effort it all finally clicked.

One thing I like about reggae is the rawness of sound and attitude, something that – for all it’s wonderfulness – was a little lost in the music of Bob Marley. There’s a real punk spirit to a lot of reggae, that pre-dates the punk revolution of 1976/7, born in part from an outsider attitude and an anti-establishment mind-set. Interestingly, though, there was a real affinity for those original punks with reggae. DJs like Don Letts often played reggae between sets at punk gigs, and that cross-fertalisation spread into the music of some of the punk bands (The Clash’s cover of Police and Thieves being an obvious example). And then there was the whole Two-Tone movement, a blissful amalgam of punk and ska (a more up-beat version of reggae). There’s a good article here on the links between the punk and reggae.

The Pioneers were a vocal trio from Jamaica, formed in the early 60s, and were amongst the first wave of reggae bands to score international (i.e. UK!) success in the late 60s and early 70s. Their first hit was with Long Shot Kick De Bucket (later covered by The Specials), but Let Your Yeah Be Yeah, a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song, was their biggest hit, peaking at #5 in the UK singles charts in 1971.

[As an aside, I can highly recommend the following compilations if you want to move beyond the obvious into the treasures of reggae; Scratchy Sounds (Ska, Dub, Roots & Reggae nuggets), and Tighten Up! Trojan Reggae Classics (although admitidily not at the prices Amazon seem to be selling them for!).]

And so to the song sheet. A few words of explanation I think are required for this one. Firstly the chords. I originally did a version of the song in an easier key (G). But I subsequently realised that playing it in the original key works much better. Putting aside that I find it easier to sing in that key (Bb), having to use barre chords really helps to get the reggae feel for the song – it means that you can get the choppy rhythms much better because you can dampen all the strings when you need to. So the chord diagrams in the sheet represent the barre-chords that I think work best with this.

Secondly, there is the rhythm. I’m not going to give a lesson on how to play reggae here. Suffice to say that your best bet is to listen to the song, and get the feel from that. Basically I play it as a d-u-d-u rhythm all the way through, BUT with the first of those beats (the first down beat) dampened – i.e. with the fingers forming the chord shape on the strings, but not actually pressing down on the fret, AND the last down beat being clipped (i.e. the fingers lifting off the frets – but staying on the strings – almost as soon as the stroke has been completed). Listen to the song and have a play around and you’ll get the hang it.

Enjoy!

pdf-icon


Leave a comment

Tears Of A Clown – The Beat

tearsofaclown<songsheet>

It’s been something of an ’80s nostalgia-fest here of late hasn’t it. Sorry about that, but I guess these songs were from my formative years musically and so have a special resonance for me. And look, here comes another one pounding down the tracks. And before anybody starts, yes, I do know that this is a cover of the great Smokey Robinson song. But as with my earlier post of Dear Prudence, it’s the early 80s cover version that is my frame of reference for this song. And whilst I do like the Smokey Robinson original, the energy and drive of The Beat’s version is what makes it for me. The Beat (or English Beat, as they got named in the US) came to prominence as part of the Two-Tone movement in the late 1970s. Two-Tone took sounds that originated in Jamaica (rocksteady, ska, reggae), mixed it with the energy and attitude of punk and new wave, and sprinkled it liberally with a political conscience, creating a truly grass-roots, cross-cultural movement. Bands like The Specials, Madness, and Selector were all part of the scene, and The Beat were there right from the beginning. Tears of  a Clown was their début (and sole Two-Tone) single, reached the UK top 10 in early 1980. The Beat split in 1983 after just three albums. However the band have reformed, although now exist in two versions – one, mainly based in the US, fronted by singer and songwriter Dave Wakling, and another, based in the UK, fronted by vocalist Ranking Roger. I saw the UK version a few years ago here in Southampton and they were storming! Definitely worth checking out.

The songsheet aligns to The Beat’s version, and is relatively straightforward. In fact, other than the chorus it’s essentially just a repetition throughout of the A/D/G/D chords. The chorus chucks in a few curveballs (E, C#, F#m), but if you play E as the barred-D shape on the 4th fret, and C# as the Bb shape on the 4th fret as well, it works OK. I’ve included the little dinky riff as well, if you want to play around with that. And if you want to get something of The Beat’s feel to this, then the rhythm is key. Listen to the original to get the feel, but it’s something like [A] d d-u [D] d d-u [G] d-u-d [D] u u-d-u, repeated. Play with energy, and enjoy!

pdf-icon