Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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More Than This – Roxy Music

For many people Roxy Music were on a downhill trajectory from start. Understandable in some ways, because that debut album, and the hit single that sat alongside it (Virginia Plain) are such extraordinary records, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

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And in those people’s eyes, Avalon, Roxy’s swansong, became the epitome of everything that they had lost – smooth, bland, featureless, a triumph of style over substance. Well, I’m not one of those people, and I see it quite differently. Yes, Bryan Ferry would appear to have spent much of the rest of his career circling around and repeating that Avalon sound, but there are worse things to repeat. And that record, Avalon, is in my mind a classic, a subtle, sophisticated record that is a world away from songs like Editions of You and All I Want Is You, and yet retains much of the mysterious DNA that marked those early records out from the crowd.

More Than This was the lead single from Avalon, and landed at a time (Spring, 1982) when Roxy’s influence over other artists had never been stronger. Both musically and aesthetically, the sounds of the early 80s were indebted to the path that Roxy had pioneered, with groups like Duran Duran, Associates, Spandau Ballet and many others from that post-punk / new romantic era openly citing Roxy as a prime influence. That the rich, sophisticated sound that Avalon inspired may have resulted in some of the more vacuous, hollow, style-first content that followed later in the decade is hardly Roxy’s fault. This was a record that was taken to the heart (and bedroom!) of many that heard it, and to my ears is one of the bands masterpieces.

So here’s the songsheet. I’m aware that there are other ukulele versions floating about out there. But they didn’t quite cut it for me. Chords are relatively straightforward, the structure is pretty standard. I’ve included the opening riff as well, which definitely enhances the song. Not much more to say, really, other than 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!

 


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Message In The Box – World Party

In the mid-1980s The Waterboys did a classic swerve away from a trajectory that was taking them towards full-on 80s stadium rock and into the fertile avenues of Irish folk, ultimately resulting, after many, many studio sessions, in the classic album that is Fisherman’s Blues.

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Nestled in the middle of the first (“Dublin”) side of that record was a song called World Party, a co-write between the band’s leader Mike Scott, and Trevor Hutchinson and Karl Wallinger. Wallinger had joined The Waterboys a couple of albums earlier, initially as a keyboard player, but increasingly contributing his wide range of instrumental skills. However by the end of the This Is The Sea (Fisherman’s Blues predecessor) tour, Wallinger had decided he wanted to spread his wings, and left the band. World Party (the song) had already been written, but hadn’t made it onto This Is The Sea, and so by the time the band came to record the song Wallinger was no more a part of the band.

However that song obviously had a resonance for Wallinger, as it soon became the name of his new project, the band World Party. Making its public appearance a couple of years before Fisherman’s Blues finally emerged, World Party were a stew of influence – rock, folk, funk, soul – that Wallinger ushered into a cohesive and distinctive sound that – to my ears – owned more than a little to what Prince was doing at the time. By the time of the bands second album, Goodbye Jumbo, they were hitting their stride, an underrated classic that contained a smorgasbord of styles yet still felt of a piece. Message In The Box was the “hit” single from the album, hit as in scraping to #39 in the UK singles chart, but deserving of far more.

So here’s the song sheet. I’d been thinking of doing this one for while, but for whatever reason took a while to get around to it. Nothing too tricky – one unusual chord (the C6) but nothing too taxing. I’ve also transcribed / approximated the guitar solos at the beginning, after the chorus and at the end – I think they’re fairly close to the original, although maybe not perfect. Enjoy!


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Forest Fire – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

More back to the 80s, I’m afraid. But no excuses for this one, for this song is just pure class.

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Taken from their debut album, Rattlesnakes, Forest Fire is a gem amongst an album of ridiculous riches. Lloyd Cole and his Commotions may have had a reputation for pretentiousness (to be fair, a not undeserved criticism, given it contains lyrical references to Renata Adler, Simone de Beauvoir and Norman Mailer) and a somewhat affected vocal style, but this was an album that crammed more ideas and tunes into its 35 minutes than many bands manage in their whole career.

Forest Fire was a little different to the rest of the album, being something of a brooding slow-burner, replete with an almost rock-ist guitar solo. But what a track! Time and again, when I come back to this song, I’m reminded of what a gorgeous experience it is. Not a minute of its 5 minutes and 15 seconds (always go for the album version, anything else and you’re just being short-changed) is wasted, gradually turning up the emotional heat until it bursts with a guitar solo of both grace and grit.

And so to the song sheet. It’s basically just verses, a repeated chord sequence that isn’t too stretching. I haven’t included the solo – you can work that out if you like, but I think it still holds up without. Rhythm might be a little tricky, but check out this solo acoustic version by Lloyd here for some ideas on that front. Enjoy!


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Robot Man – The Gymslips / Connie Francis

From the sublime (step forward, Brandy Clark) to the faintly ridiculous. Never let it be said that you don’t get variety around here!

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So here’s a song that I’ve lived with for 30 odd years, only to find a couple of hours ago that it wasn’t quite what I’d thought. The origin of this one for me was a purchase in an Edinburgh record shop of a shrink-wrapped bundle of 5 singles. It was bargain-basement time, and though you could see the covers of the two outside records, I didn’t have a clue what was inside. To be honest, I don’t remember all the records that were in that pack, but I do remember that one was the great double-sider by The Rezillos I Can’t Stand My Baby / I Wanna Be Your Man, and another was this slice of kitsch punk from The Gymslips.

Now I never knew anything else about The Gymslips, but really loved the definitely tongue-in-cheek, bubblegum punk that sprang from the turntable when I played this song. It’s only after the last year or so that I rediscovered this song and this band, primarily through a copy of their only album, Rocking With The Renees. An all-female punk band from London (and there’s no transatlantic twang here, the accents are full-on London), The Gymslips were never one to take the music business that seriously, and clearly had a blast doing what they were doing. This is sheer good time punk, replete with plenty of lyrics references to bums and getting pissed (there’s a very definite strain of English humour running through it all), a cartoon image exemplified in that album cover.

So Robot Man seemed to fit into that category without any trouble, a 2-minute blast of tuneful fabulousness. But it wasn’t until I was looking online for the chords and lyrics for this song (where there are zero references) that I accidentally discovered that actually this is a cover of a song originally recorded back in the 1960s by Connie Frances, part of a double-sided single that made it to number 2 in the UK charts. So not so obscure after all. Actually, thinking about it the lyrical content (a robot lover, somehow strangely back in vogue) is obviously such a theme of the late 50s / early 60s it’s quite obvious really. But The Gymslips version gives the original a spirited kick up the arse (as I’m sure the band would say!) and is just a pure joy to listen to.

So here’s the song sheet. As to be expected from such a straight-ahead punk song, it’s not tricky. Four chords (surely that’s one more than necessary!) and a lot of attitude. This version is in the same key as the Gymslips version, the Connie Francis version being a semi-tone lower. Oh, and I’ve thrown in the four note opening riff as a bonus. Enjoy!


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Rockin’ In The Free World – Neil Young

One of my favourite songwriters, Martyn Joseph, often comments how when you release a song you have to set it free, because at that point the songwriter has to hand over control as to exactly what that song is an means.

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Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World is a good example of that. Written and released at the end of the 1980s, it was a response to the early days of the George W Bush administration, and a comment on the social ills of contemporary America. And yet in 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell and communism across eastern Europe imploded, the song took on a life of its own as an anthem for the collapse of communism. Ironic, given that the song was actually a criticism of the failing state of the USA, communism’s greatest nemesis.

Released on Young’s album Freedom, marking something of a return-to-form after a patchy 1980s, Rockin’ In The Free World book ended that album in two forms – a live acoustic version, and a cranked up studio electric version. Young famously reprised the song a few years later at the MTV Awards in a collaboration with Pearl Jam that ended up in a destructive, guitar-fuelled freak-out.

So here’s the song sheet. I’ve used the acoustic version as a basis, principally because its lower and I find it easier to sing. But I’ve also included the third verse of the song, which was only used in the electric version. Chords are pretty straight-forward, rhythm is pretty simply. This isn’t a subtle song, its one to belt out at the top of your voice. Enjoy!