Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Sweet Baby James / How Sweet It Is – James Taylor

james-taylorWhilst we’re on that early 70s singer songwriter vibe with the recent Carole King post, it seemed an opportune time to get a couple of James Taylor songs out there as well.

<How Sweet It Is> <Sweet Baby James>

The paths of King and Taylor have been linked ones throughout their careers, in large part because of those songs and recordings of the early 70s. Playing regularly at The Troubadour club in West Hollywood, Taylor played guitar on King’s Tapestry, and King returned the compliment by playing on Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, his breakout album. Taylor’s first US number one single was a cover of King’s You’ve Got A Friend from Tapestry. IN 2010 the pair reunited for a tour together, using the same band they had used back in The Troubadour in 1970.

Taylor is renowned as an incredibly talented guitarist, not necessarily in a flashy way, but dazzling in the sounds that he coaxes from his acoustic guitars. Sweet Baby James is taken from the sophomore album of the same name, and is a song that Taylor has cited personally as one of his best. Set in a 3/4 waltz time, the apparent simplicity of the lilting lullaby-like tune deceptively hides a more complex structure and rhyming pattern that, whilst feeling totally natural, can take a little work when trying to play it. How Sweet It Is is a cover of a Motown song by the legendary writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, originally recorded by Marvin Gaye. Taylor’s version, from his 1975 album Gorilla, took a more relaxed, soft-rock feel to that song, and was a huge hit.

So two song sheets. Sweet Baby James, as previously mentioned, is a quite straightforward 3/4 time song, although you do need to watch the timing of lyrics and chords throughout the verses. How Sweet It Is is a little more complex chord wise. There’s a few little run downs in there that add flavour to the song, but you can make a very passable version of the song without these (I’ve shown these optional chords as subscript in the song sheet – the E11 can be replaced with a straightforward E). The song does need to swing, though!

Enjoy!

<How Sweet It Is> <Sweet Baby James>


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It’s Too Late / You’ve Got A Friend – Carole King

tapestryRecords don’t come much more iconic that Carole King’s 1971 sophomore solo album, Tapestry.

<It’s Too Late>  <You’ve Got A Friend>

It’s a recording for which the records and superlatives are almost never ending. The winner of 4 Grammy awards in 1972 (including, album, record and song of the year), seller of 25 million copies, second only to Dark Side Of The Moon for number of weeks on the Billboard album chart (313 weeks), ranked the 36th best album ever by Rolling Stone in 2003, all of these statistics and critical acclaim are surprising when you consider that Tapestry is really such a humble and relatively unassuming record.

During the 1960s King had established herself – alongside then-husband Gerry Goffin – as one of the leading songwriters in the Brill building in New York, penning hits for others such as The Loco-motion, It Might As Well Rain Until September, and Up On The Roof. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s, following a divorce from Goffin and a move to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, that King focused more on recording her own songs, in the process becoming the archetypal singer-songwriter.

Tapestry is chock full of bone fide classics. Even if you’ve never heard it before it will be immediately familiar, the songs having become part of the DNA of popular music. It’s Too Late was the lead single (coupled with I Feel The Earth Move) and was number one on the US singles charts for 5 weeks, and won that Grammy for best record. You’ve Got A Friend won the best song Grammy, and was a US number one for 4 weeks when covered by James Taylor.

I thought there would be plenty of songsheets for these songs, but none of them worked for me. So here’s my versions. There’s nothing particularly to say about these, other than they have quite a lot of chords (You’ve Got A Friend in particular). But those chords are the things that add the colour, so stick with them (You’ve Got A Friend has a few “optional” chords – in subscript – that can be easily omitted if you want). A bit of feel in the strumming is in order as well, adopting the standard ukulele strumming patterns kind-of kills these songs, so listen well to the originals to get that feel. You’ve Got A Friend (G) is a semi-tone down from the original (Ab) so you’ll need a capo on fret one if you want to play along (but it does make it a whole lot easier to play). It’s Too Late is in the same key as the original.

Enjoy!

<It’s Too Late>  <You’ve Got A Friend>


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Make You Feel My Love – Bob Dylan / Adele

bob_dylan_-_time_out_of_mindadele_-_make_you_feel_my_loveI remember the first few times of listening to Bob Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out Of Mind and being particularly struck by this song. I guess that, as a stark, piano led ballad it had a clear, distinctive sound amongst the swampy, Daniel-Lanois-produced songs.

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And yet I didn’t realise at the time how massive the song would become. Originally surfacing as a Billy Joel recording, and then the following year by Garth Brooks, the song has become something of a modern classic, covered by a myriad of artists from many genres. But I don’t think it was until Adele covered the song on here debut album 19 in 2008 that it really seemed to take off. In doing so she really made the song her own, with a simple, piano-led stripped back performance that gets to the emotional heart of the song. Personally I love them both – the Dylan original, with its slightly cracked vocal, has a world-weary feel, whilst the Adele version with just the vocal and piano works equally well. Both proving what a great song this is.

The song sheet is transposed from the originals, not just to make it easier to play but mainly so I could sing it! There’s nothing tricky chord wise here, just some lovely sounding changes. Clearly this isn’t designed for the ubiquitous ukulele strumming pattern, and so requires a bit more sensitivity. But this one is definitely a case of less is more. [Note : See the video in the comments for a suggestion for a simple accompanying picking pattern for this]

Enjoy!

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You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – Stevie Wonder

stevie_wonder-you_are_the_sunshine_of_my_life_s_1Songs don’t come a whole lot more classic than this one. Yet I struggled to find a decent uke-friendly chord sheet for it, and so hopefully here is one.

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You Are The Sunshine Of My Life comes from Wonder’s purple patch during the 1970s. Having grown up as Motown’s boy wonder during the 1960s, the 1970s saw him reach an extended creative peak with albums such as Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life, spawning solid-gold classic songs such as Superstition, Living For The City, Isn’t She Lovely, Sir Duke, and this. In terms of creativity and breaking new ground Wonder was arguably up there with the likes of David Bowie in the way he extended the possibilities of what was possible, becoming a critical success whilst still establishing a commercially successful career.

You Are The Sunshine Of My life won a Grammy in 1973, topped the charts in the US, and was nominated for both record and song of the year.

So here’s the songsheet. For such an apparently simple song there’s quite a lot of chords, but there’s nothing too tricky and they’re worth persevering with because its those that give the song its distinctive loveliness (the lovely Em7 to Gdim change is a particular favourite of mine). I did have a go at transcribing the intro from the original but it didn’t really work out too well, so I just stuck with the first two lines of the verse. Strumming pattern needs to have a bit of a swing / edge to it, but get that feel from the original.

Enjoy!

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Whistle Down The Wind – Nick Heyward

WhistleDownTheWindNick Heyward is one of those classic instances of a songwriter who the public won’t let grow up.

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First shooting to prominence in the early 1980s with his band Haircut 100, Heyward took some of the hip sounds of the time (the jangly guitars of Orange Juice, the white-boy funk that was everywhere at the time), added a melodic pop sensibility, and cleaned up with some classic singles (Favourite Shirts, Love Plus One, Fantastic Day, Nobody’s Fool). The band didn’t last long though, and only recorded one album together (Pelican West). Heyward subsequently launched a solo career, kicking off with this classic pop song, a song that had originally been slated as a Haircut 100 single. Whilst his first album, North of  a Miracle, did quite well, Heyward soon fell off the pop radar (something probably not helped by having acquired a devoted but fickle young female fan base with Haircut 100). Albums struggled to be heard, and have been sporadic over the years. His last was in 2006, but it looks like there may be new material later this year. However don’t take that as any signifier of a lack of quality. Heyward is a dedicated and focussed songwriter, working in a classic british pop vein, and his lack of success or visibility says more about the fickle state of pop than it does about his talents.

Whistle Down The Wind takes its title from a 1961 British film that starred Hayley Mills, Bernard Lee and Alan Bates in a touching story of three young children finding a fugitive in a barn, mistaking him for Jesus Christ, unbeknown that he is wanted on suspicion of murder. The song only tangentially touches on these themes, and is a slightly more mellow sound than the Haircut 100 sounds that preceded it. I’ve only recently discovered the album this is from, North of  a Miracle, but it is a superb collection of classic pop sounds that is vastly underrated.

So here is the songsheet. Nothing too complicated, although a few unusual chords are thrown in there. But they do give the song its colour. 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.

<songsheet>

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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Sunshine Superman – Donovan

SunshineSupermanDonovan emerged from the 1960s folk scene with a sound that was influenced by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, but most noticably by Bob Dylan. That Dylan influence has proved something of an millstone around his neck, something amplified by the reactions of Dylan himself when he toured the UK in 1965, famously captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film “Don’t Look Back”.

<songsheet>

By 1966, however, Donovan was starting to move away from the limitations of the folk scene, and began immersing himself in the emerging counter-cultural hippie scene. Picking up particularly on the psychedelic sounds emerging from the US West Coast (bands such as Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane), but also on jazz, blues and eastern sounds, Sunshine Superman – the start of a collaboration with successful produced Mickie Most – proved to be a huge breakthrough for Donovan, topping the US charts, and becoming a massive hit almost everywhere else.

The song sheet is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original. I’ve included tab for both the intro riff, the riff that occurs during the verses, plus an approximation of a solo. At some point I’ll get around to recording the latter to give some indication of what its meant to sound like. Enjoy!

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