Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Open Your Heart – The Human League

So here we are again, back to the 80s, and back to shiny, streamlined synthpop. And what better example of that than The Human League at their peak.

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1981’s Dare was the album that made The Human League, a commercial triumph that seemed all-but-impossible a year earlier. In the autumn of 1980 the band were seen as something of a cult success, having achieved critical plaudits and a degree of recognition with their first two albums Reproduction and Travelogue. But tensions within the band resulted in a split on the eve of a UK and European tour. At the time, the smart money would have been on Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, often seen as the musical talent within the band, to be the ones that made the commercial break when they formed Heaven 17. Phil Oakey was left holding band name and little else, and with the threat of being sued for not meeting contractual commitments, Oakey quickly pulled together a band made of two girls he found on a Sheffield dance floor (Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall – no previous singing or performing experience) and a professional musician (Ian Burden) to play keyboards. They survived the tour, but it was when Oakey and the band were put together with producer Martin Rushent that things really sparked, and it was that relationship that produced Dare, and which ultimately established the band, particularly via. the hit singles that it spawned – The Sound Of The Crowd, Love Action, Open Your Heart and Don’t You Want Me.

Open Your Heart was the third single from the album, a co-write between Oakey and new band member Jo Callis (ex-Rezillos), immediately preceded the album’s release, and was a huge hit in the autumn of 1981.

Chord-wise this isn’t a complex song, as you would expect. So there’s nothing much to explain there. I’ve included some tab, for the opening bass riff (C x 32!), for the synth riff in the chorus (playable up high or down low) and for the bridge. I think this is a great song to sing, so enjoy!

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Black Man Ray – China Crisis

It’s 1985, and having gained a reputation as a slightly wimpy synthpop band via. a couple of hits (Christian and Wishful Thinking), China Crisis hook up with Steely Dan’s Walter Becker to produce their next album, Flaunt The Imperfection.

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The result is an career high for the band, combining the bands trademark wistful melodies with a sophisticated Dan-esque production that could have come across as a little cold and aloof, but thankfully ends up as a warm cloak that soaks a quality song with a crystal-clear sheen. And in so doing manages to avoid the worst excesses of 80s production.

Black Man Ray was the albums lead single, and a classy choice it was too. Giving the band their third top 20 hit, I can’t really be sure what the song is actually about, other than references in the songs title and the single cover to Man Ray, an American visual artist who spent most of his career in France, and who was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements.

So the basic structure and chords for the song are reasonably straightforward, and there’s nothing too challenging here rhythmically either. I’ve tabbed out the little synth riff in the intro (that also re-appears at the end of the first chorus), and also the picking pattern that accompanies the songs fade-out as well as the end of the second chorus. This is a lovely song, so enjoy!

 


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Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade

Remembered as a one-hit wonder, Strawberry Switchblade emerged from the Glasgow’s post-punk scene in the early 1980s and left us with this slice of glorious pop-goth.

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Taken under the wing of managers David Balfe and Bill Drummond, who both had Teardrop Explodes connections (Drummond later going on to huge success with The KLF), and releasing their first single on the label of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sargent, Strawberry Switchblade (essentially a duo of Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall) took their time to become overnight successes, and when it came were almost as famous for their costumes (all ribbons and polka-dots) as their songs. To be honest they probably suffered from being neither Goth enough nor poppy enough, but their one album is a great mix of those extremes (the name Strawberry Switchblade was designed to reflect the juxtaposition of sweetness and darkness), although may be a bit too much on the catchy, sweet side for some. Since Yesterday was a huge, deserved hit, and one that takes you right back to the mid-80s.

There’s nothing too much to say about the song sheet. It’s a simple 4 chord song, basic structure, and lots of la la las, just something to strum and sing. Enjoy!


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Autobahn – Kraftwerk

So I think this must be something of an apogee for synthpop arranged for ukulele!

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I hadn’t intended doing this one, in fact I was just tidying up all the recent songs for inclusion in the next edition of the songbooks (coming soon). But then this popped up on my shuffle on my ipod, and it just seemed to be crying out for doing. So here it is.

Autobahn is one of those songs that can genuinely be called seminal. Can be seen as a genuine game-changer. A song that was like nothing else that had ever gone before it. Kraftwerk themselves had recorded a few albums before this one, but with Autobahn they toned down some of their more experimental side and conceived a song that was truly groundbreaking. Emulating the rhythmic, hypnotic sounds of a car journey on Germany’s autobahns, the album version clocked in at 22 minutes, a subtly and constantly evolving electronic soundscape. The first Kraftwerk song to feature lyrics, the “fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn” phrase is clearly a homage to the Beach Boys “Fun, Fun, Fun”, so much so that it is often mis-heard as “fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn”.

Fortunately (for these purposes) the song was cut down to a more manageable 3-and-a-half-minutes single version, and that is what I’ve based this songsheet on.

So yes, the songsheet. Well, clearly this isn’t your usual sing-along ukulele song, is it. Firstly, the arrangement is primarily based on the single version, as per the YouTube link above. I’ve tabbed out the main synth lines that run throughout the song, and indicated (hopefully clearly) where the various bits fit in. None of them are too tricky, but if you struggle you can play along, as the song sheet is in the same key as the original. So probably best played with two – one for the strumming, one picking the synth lines. At some point I’ll try and get around to recording a version so you can hear what it sounds like. Enjoy!


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Joan Of Arc – OMD

So here we are going full circle in the series of recent posts, back to some synthpop, back to the 80s, and back to OMD.

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OMD (or Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, or Orchestral Manoeuvres as the sleeve for this song described them) had always straddled the line between experimentation and commerciality. Sometimes they went further in one direction than the other, but they are arguably at their best we they manage to hold those two tendancies in tension. As an album, 1981’s Architecture and Morality could be seen as a career highlight in achieving that, birthing three hit singles, hit still with enough elements of outright weirdness and oddity to make it interesting.

Two of those three singles focussed on the French heroine Joan of Arc (nicknamed Maid of Orleans, the title of the second such song). Having been in receipt of many religious visions in her early years, Joan was famed for her role in influencing the outcome of battles with the English in the 15th Century. She was ultimately handed over for trial and burnt at the stake at the age of 19, but it was not until the early 19th century that she was declared a national symbol, and not until the early 20th century that she was made a saint.

So it’s just a simple three-chord song, chorus-less but with a bridge-like interlude before the final verse. The original is unaccompanied (just a drum machine) at the beginning, but I’ve chorded it. Works both strummed or picked. Enjoy!


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Rent – Pet Shop Boys

More synthpop. More 80s. I know, i know, this phase will pass. But not just yet!

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“Rent” is a single culled from the Pet Shop Boys second album, Actually, a less successful (but still top 10) follow-up to the massive hits It’s A Sin, and the Dusty Springfield duet, What Have I Done To Deserve This?

Rent is a mid-tempo, melancholic song that focuses on a financially one-sided relationship, where a kept man is in hock to another. Commonly perceived as depicting the lot of a rent boy, Neil Tennant has been quoted as saying that it was originally conceived as being about a kept woman.

It’s a simple and straightforward song, spoken word for the first half of the first verse, and generally veering towards the understated. Enjoy!

 


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Night Café – OMD

1980s synthpop has been a rich vein on this site, and I make no apologies for that. Many of those songs seem to translate well to the ukulele.

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What has surprised me recently, though, is how many of the bands of that era are still around, and still creating new music. Not just mining the nostalgia-circuit (although there’s nothing wrong with that per se) but actively creating new and interesting music. Not least of those is Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, forever shortened to OMD.

Born from the same late-1970s scene that also resulted in the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, OMD were always an interesting proposition, forever balancing their pop sensibilities with experimental, avant-garde elements. Notorious for following up their most successful and critically acclaimed album (Architecture and Morality – not exactly choc-full of hummable tunes itself) with the experimental cold-war themed Dazzle Ships (musique concrete, sound collages and short-wave radio exceprts), and reducing their sales by 90% into the bargain. OMD have ploughed their own path over the years. And in recent times that has resulted in something of a renaissance – their last album, English Electric, managing the trick of being a career highlight (after nearly 40 years), clearly an OMD record, yet also remarkably contemporary. They have a new album out later this year (The Punishment of Luxury) and if the early tracks are anything to go by that promises to be just as good.

Night Café was a single taken from English Electric, and is a gorgeous medium tempo, chorus-less (a synth riff takes that role) song that is far darker than it at first seems. Check out the video (below) to see how dark!

So here’s the songsheet. There’s only three chords, and they’re G, C and D, so it couldn’t be easier! I’ve also included tab for the synth riff that opens the song and runs between the verses, which again is nothing too tricky. Enjoy!