Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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You Do Something To Me – Paul Weller

Who’d have thought when The Jam burst onto the 1977 music scene – a mix of stark dappy mods and punk aggression – that the songwriter and guitarist at the heart of that sound would have become a national icon 40 years later.

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But Weller was clearly more than your average punk opportunist – the lyrics, sound and image were all sharp and biting, and here was clearly a young man (he was only 19 when The Jam had their first hits) who had a vision and the drive to realise it. The Jam were a phenomenon , blazing a trail through the late 70s and early 80s, growing and evolving over their 6 albums in 5 years before Weller broke up the band in 1982 at the height of their success.

Ever restless, Weller returned the next year with The Style Council, a more sophisticated soul-influenced sound that continued the success without compromising on his core values (if anything The Style Council were even more political than The Jam) before the band finally fell apart at the end of the 80s, having had their house-influenced album rejected by the record label.

Taking some time off, Weller slowly started out again, this time as a solo artist. Initially low-key, he started to make headway, with the more pastoral second solo album Wild Wood starting to spawn hits whilst garnering a Mercury nomination for itself. But it was that albums follow-up, 1995’s Stanley Road, that really re-established Weller in the public consciousness. Appearing at the same time as BritPop was turning into the scene that it became, Weller was almost seen as an honorary god-father for that scene, back at the top end of the charts with songs like The Changingman, Out Of The Sinking, and this gorgeous, soulful mid-tempo ballad, You Do Something To Me. Opening with circling piano chords, the song gradually layers warm organ sounds and guitar riffs under a wistful vocal expressing a yearning love. I’m sure this must have been “our song” for countless couples over the years.

And so to the songsheet. Looks like a lot of chords, but it’s not really. A basic four chord sequence throughout the verses, the timing may take a little getting used to if you don’t know the song, but play along (it’s in the same key) and you’ll get the hang of it. The Em / Em6 / Em7 sequence at the beginning and end is designed to emulate those piano chords, but you can get away with just Em if you want. And that C/D at the end of the bridge/chorus is just a passing, one beat chord. But whatever you do, enjoy!

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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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Ellis Island – Mary Black

Sometimes you want a good old thrash. And sometimes you just need something a bit more gentle. This morning is a more gentle time.

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Mary Black first caught my attention back in the early 1990s. I think it was probably via. the “A Woman’s Heart” compilation album, a collection of songs by Irish singers Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon, Frances Black, and Maura O’Connell that became something of a phenomenon, selling over 750,000 copies, prompting a couple of follow-up albums and introducing a collection of contemporary folk-influenced female singers to a wider audience. I’ve always had a soft spot for the music of the emerald isle, in its many guises, from the rock sounds of U2, The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, through the soulful sounds of Van Morrison, the cathartic waywardness of Sinead O’Connor, the new-age vibe of Clannad, singer-songwriters like Juliet Turner, Duke Special and Luka Bloom, through to the folkier sounds of Sharon Shannon and Cara Dillon. And whilst the “A Woman’s Heart” collections were hardly cutting edge, there is an honesty and soulfulness in these singers and their recordings which I find very appealing.

Mary Black came from a typically Irish musical family (her father a fiddler, her mother a singer, and all her siblings involved in a band – sister Frances even had her own recordings on the Woman’s Heart album.  Black isn’t primarily a songwriter, but does know a good song when she hears it. Noel Brazil was one of her go-to songwriters, the author of some of her best such as Columbus, Vanities, Babes in the Woods, and this one – Ellis Island. Ellis Island is an island in New York (within sight of the Statue of Liberty) that for over sixty years, between 1892 and 1954,was the gateway to the US for 12 million immigrants, handling at its peak 5,000 immigrants a day. 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Obviously the route from Ireland to America is a hugely well-trodden one, inspiring a multitude of books, films and music, and so for an Irish singer like Black this tale of a pair of lovers who are being separated by emigration is a natural one that resonates deeply.

And so to the songsheet. A simple shuffle in the verses, alternating between Fmaj7 and Am7, leads into a chorus that chucks in a few additional chords (nothing tricky, although getting the rhythm right requires a little listening to the original), before dropping into a middle eight, back to the verse and choruses. Lots of gorgeous major7 and minor7 chords makes it obvious – to me at least – why this is such a beautiful song. Enjoy!


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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.

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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!


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Breathless – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

What, not *more* Nick Cave? Well yes, and what of it!

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I’ve actually had this one sat around for a while now, from when I did the previous batch of Cave songs, but just hadn’t got round to posting it. Like previous post O Children, this song comes from the 2004 double-album Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus. And again, like that song, this is from The Lyre of Orpheus – the more reflective side of the coin. In fact Breathless is positively bucolic, filled with wholly positive, arcadian observations on nature and the rural life, directing all of nature to worship his loved one. The lyrics, the phrasing, the instrumentation (those flutes!)  place this in a rural idyll hundreds of years ago.

For this is an out-and-out love song, almost spiritual in tone (many of Cave’s song walk that tightrope between the spiritual and the earthy), that unconditionally celebrates his loved one. Cave is often portrayed as a gloom-merchant, one who revels in perversity, misery, and the negative side of human nature. And whilst that is definitely a part of what he does, one of the great things about his artistry is that it isn’t limited to that – he embraces all of human life, and that includes the richness of the deepest love, alongside the darkness of great pain. Sometimes both are touched on in the same song, but Breathless is not that kind of song – it is a wholly positive, life-affirming exhortation to worship his beloved. There are no doubts, no chinks, no ifs or buts here – this is pure, unadulterated adulation.

So it’s just three chords. Just C, F and G. A gentle chugging rhythm all the way through. They don’t come much easier than this! The only tricky bit I found was the lyrical phrasing and fitting the lyrics into the tune – it’s can vary subtly through the verses, and Cave’s mannered delivery takes a little getting used to. But persevere – this is a lovely song.


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On My Way – Martyn Joseph

Sometimes I worry that the songs I post on here are too obvious. And sometimes I think the opposite. Today’s post definitely falls into the latter category. But this is *my* blog. So I’ll post what I want!

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Martyn Joseph’s music has been part of my life for nearly 30 years. I first came across him in 1989 when he played a stripped back set at the Greenbelt festival, a set that formed the basis the live album “An Aching and a Longing”. Since then I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen him in concert, often at The Brook in Southampton (a favourite venue for Martyn, to the extent that he released a live album and DVD recorded exclusively at that venue), but also in a variety of incarnations with Show of Hand’s Steve Knightley, and as a trio with Steve and Tom Robinson under the moniker of Faith, Folk and Anarchy.

For those who haven’t encountered Martyn Joseph, he is a Welsh singer-songwriter and guitarist, with shades of the Bruces Springsteen and Cockburn, whose songs have a strong social, community and spiritual conscience. A hard-working troubadour, almost constantly touring the UK, Europe and North America, releasing over 20 albums through his career, he is a performer who gives his all. His concerts are always full of passion, spirit and compassion, truly life-affirming and uplifting events despite what might seem to be gloomy themes and materials, something that he often references in a self-deprecating manner during those gigs.

On My Way is a song that was almost designed as a community sing-along, something reinforced by his starting to perform the song before it was even finished, and something which any audience will get drawn into whenever the song is performed. Taken from his 2010 album, Under Lemonade Skies, Martyn was quoted at the time of its release as saying that he was trying to write songs that are companions for people on the road, songs that make you feel that you are not alone. On My Way does that in spades, an encouragement to pick yourself up and carry on the journey despite what life my thrown at you, doing so in the knowledge that you are not alone, that there are others “running, loving, stumbling” along similar paths.

So here’s the songsheet. I’ve included two versions – one in the same key as the original (E), and one in F, which makes it easier to play. It’s designed for strumming rather than picking as on the originals, and so may lose a little in the translation. But only a little, as it’s a great song whose spirit shines through. Note that the video above is a live version with Steve Knightley – if you want to here the original studio recording it’s here. Enjoy!


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O Children – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Another Nick Cave song, and another where appearances can be deceptive – a gentle but intense song that ultimately appears to be a ballad of murder and suicide.

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Yet this is the song that, despite having a moderate sized hit with Where The Wild Roses Grow, has probably had the biggest exposure of any Nick Cave song, albeit maybe unknowingly for the majority of it’s audience. O Children was first released in 2004 on Cave’s double album Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, an album that was in effect two albums, almost flip-sides of each other – Abattoir Blues a more menacing, driving rock album, and The Lyre of Orpheus a quieter, more reflective album – elsewhere the distinction being stated much better as Abattoir Blues being “a rock & roll record… a pathos-drenched, volume-cranked rocker, full of crunch, punishment – and taste” and The Lyre of Orpheus “a much quieter, more elegant affair… more consciously restrained, its attention to craft and theatrical flair more prevalent.” O Children closes out The Lyre of Orpheus.

But it was the choice of the song to feature in a pivotal scene in the 2010 film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) that both brought a certain emotional intensity to the movie, and also brought Cave’s music to a far broader audience than he had ever been exposed to before. As this interesting article points out, the inclusion of music “from an artist whose work has been steeped in lechery, sin and redemption, characteristics [is] not necessarily associated with a holiday-season family blockbuster”. And yet it worked, and that scene, and this song, are held in great affection by many fans of Harry Potter.

And here is the songsheet. It’s a long sprawling song, so had to stretch to two pages – sorry about that. It’s a straightforward chord sequence, the rough timing of which I’ve indicated in the intro – the only trick being to delay the [D] chord at the end of the sequence (it’s only two beats). The song itself has Cave singing with a group of backing singers, and so in places the lines overlap – I’ve tried to indicate where these overlaps happen with asterisked chords – don’t play both of these chords, they are in effect the same chord, just shown twice for clarity. Enjoy!