Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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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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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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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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Dancing With Myself – Generation X / Billy Idol

DancingWithMyselfGenXDancingWithMyselfBillyIdolGeneration X always came across as something of cartoon punks. Not sticking rigidly to the punk rule book, there was always an element of pop in their sound, a suspicion that they didn’t really “mean it” the way other punks meant it, and maybe were perceived as being too willing to compromise themselves to “make it”.

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Of course, the whole idea of a punk rule book was actually anathema to its true spirit, but one result is that Generation X are seen as second-tier punks, despite (or maybe because) they had (an admittedly quite modest) level of success. That reputation was probably cemented when lead singer Billy Idol went solo in the 80s and garnered a huge amount of success, particularly in the US, with an image that again came across as a crude mashup of punk, pop and Elvis.

Yet they left behind a number of songs which – to my mind, credibility be damned – captured some of the energy and dynamism of the times, coupled with a genuine, if maybe simplistic, tunefulness. Dancing With Myself was in fact written by the band’s bassist, Tony James, who later want on to higher-profile infamy/success with Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Recorded for the band’s third album, it only managed to claw itself into the bottom reaches of the singles chart in 1980. Idol re-recorded it as his first single when he went solo a year later, and whilst it still didn’t make much of an impact, it’s calling card status has given it a longevity that its chart position belies.

I have a strong preference for the original Generation X version of the song – the later Billy Idol version tones down the guitar sounds and makes what is a tuneful-yet-aggressive punk classic into a slightly watered down power-pop anthem. But in either guise this is a song whose driving rhythm, simple riff and singalong nature have sustained it throughout its 30+ years of life.

And here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple three chorder, although in this version (the same key as both the Generation X and Billy Idol versions) it contains the infamous E chord, which I know some people struggle with (if you do, just take it down to D, G and A, rather than E, A and B). I’ve also included tab for the introductory riff, and for the solo in the middle. Both are really simple, so give them a go. And enjoy!

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