Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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!


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Stop! – Erasure

stopA couple of Vince Clark songs have made it to this blog over the years, but this is the first time I’ve posted one from the band that he had most success with, namely Erasure.

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The 1980s was clearly synthpop’s heyday. The availability of relatively affordable synthesizers, coupled with the anybody-can-do-it over-spill from punks formative years, with the added impetus of the new romatic / new pop era of resulted in a stream of wannabes-with-eyeliner having a go. Over the years many of those artists (China Crisis, Eurythmics, OMD, Tears for Fears) evolved their sounds to a fuller, richer, more “traditional” sound, others stubbornly stuck to their roots. Vince Clark is the epitome of that.

From his first brush with pop stardom in Depeche Mode, through the successful collaboration with Alison Moyet as Yazoo (see Situation) and a number of one-offs with the likes of Paul Quinn and Feargal Sharkey (see Never, Never), he eventually ended up as another duo with Andy Bell as Erasure. During the late 80s and early 90s they achieved a phenomenal run of success, both as a singles and albums band.

Stop! was the lead track from the band’s first EP, Crackers International, released around Christmas 1988 and peaking at number 2 in the UK singles chart.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple little synthpop song, so there’s nothing tricky or clever here – it’s a real strumfest so just give it plenty of energy and have fun. 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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Missing – Everything But The Girl

By the early 90’s Everything But The Girl had been going for 10 years. Whilst they were still having success, they seemed to have plateaued, a loyal fan base, but unlikely to break out beyond that.

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1994’s Amplified Heart continued the trend of tasteful acoustic songs with a folk and jazz influence. But buried within it was this low-tempo song based around a subtle laid-back groove. Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn (the duo/couple that essentially *were* Everything But The Girl) had always though of the song as a dance-oriented track, and gave the it to American DJ Todd Terry to remix for use in nightclubs. The result was revelatory.

Giving the song a strong New York house direction, Missing was transformed with a sparse, beat-driven sound that contrasted with the mournful, lonesome vocals of Thorn (who, if you’re at all interested, has what I would consider to be one of the most beautifully textured voices in pop). And the world agreed – Missing became a huge global hit, one of *the* defining songs of the decade. The band were so taken with this new direction (alongside Tracey’s involvement with the Massive Attack track “Protection”) that they executed a radical career reinvention, embracing a more electronic sound, picking up on the emerging drum-and-bass sounds and ushering in a newly successful period for the band, something that Ben Watt then took further when the band entered an indefinite hiatus in his role as dance music producer and DJ.

As with many dance tracks, the song has a very simple structure based around a simple repeating chord structure. So nothing difficult in terms of chords here – the only challenge is getting the rhythm right in a way that keeps the song moving forward. Follow the acoustic version or the dance version – the choice is yours. Enjoy!

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Down In The Subway / What! – Soft Cell

R-490877-1235309593.jpegR-116294-1241539463.jpegBy 1984 Soft Cell were imploding in a cocktail of drugs, sex, fame and general debauchery. It had been a steep, messy and rapid decline from the heights they had achieved with the massive success of Tainted Love 3 years earlier. It was an arc that can be traced through the titles of the three albums they released during that period – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, The Art Of Falling Apart, and This Last Night In Sodom.

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To the mass consciousness, Soft Cell are Tainted Love, Tainted Love is Soft Cell, and that’s all there is too
it. Clearly things were far more complex than that, and at their heart there was always a tension between their pop sensibilities and their more outré tendancies. But throughout their career, one influence that they kept coming back to was Marc Almonds passion for Northern Soul. Northern Soul was a dance movement that emerged in the north of England in the late 1960s, that focused on black American soul music with a heavy, four-to-the-floor beat and fast tempo, strongly influenced by the sound of Tamla Motown. And the more obscure the record the better.

Tainted Love, Soft Cell’s huge breakthrough hit, was a cover of a a 1964 original by Gloria Jones (and was backed with a cover of the Motown hit Where Did Our Love Go, famoulsy segued together on the 12″ version). And they returned to that format a number of times throughout their career. In 1982 their cover of “What”, originally a 1968 recording by Judy Street, climbed to the top 5. And their final single before their dissolution, 1984s Down In The Subway, was a cover of a 1968 original by Jack Hammer.

So two song sheets for the price of one today. Down In The Subway is a pretty straightforward song – three chords, and a lot of attitude. What! is a little more complex – the rhythm is one that needs a little practice and experimentation to get right. I’ve tried to transcribe the sound as close to the Soft Cell version, including the extended outro. I’ve also included some tab to cover some of the riffs, and the solo section in the middle.

Enjoy!

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Save A Prayer – Duran Duran

Save A PrayerThings don’t come more 80’s than this. With its exotically located video and its synthpop stylings, for some this is the cliched 80s song – a vapid triumph of style over content. Yet whilst that might be true of some music and bands from the period, I would argue it is an unfair slight on this band. Yes, they did – for a while – become the screaming female band of choice, there was always more to them that that.

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Coming from a late-70s Birmingham art school scene, strongly influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music, Duran Duran were, alongside the likes of Spandau Ballet and Visage, a key part of the early 80s New Romantic scene that – in its strong emphasis on image and glamour – was both a reaction to and inspire by the spirit of punk. Whilst they had a good level of success with their first album, it was with their second album, Rio, that the band really hit the big time. Featuring a clutch of hit singles, including Hungry Like The Wolf, the title track Rio, My Own Way and this (the most successful of the bunch) it launched the band into the big time, and with the accompanying videos (filmed in the likes of Sri Lanka and Antigua) capturing something of the aspirational spirit of the age turned then into an iconic representation of that time.

But underneath all that there were good songs. And Save A Prayer is nothing if not a good song. More thoughtful and wistful than some of their more poppy moments, this is an accessible and yearning ballad that, whilst being immediately redolent of the age – at least for those who remember it – is also a timeless pop moment.

And so to the song sheet. I’ve tried to reflect the original recording as much as possible. Chords are relatively straightforward, and the rhythm is – I think – quite easy to pick up from listening to the original. I’ve also included some solo parts – the arpeggio and riff from the opening, parts of which are repeated throughout the song, plus a riff that occurs during the chorus. Obviously you can totally ignore those if you wish and just stick to the chords.

Enjoy!

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The Great Dominions – The Teardrop Explodes

WilderIt’s been a little while since there’s been some Julian Cope magic on here, so it’s about time that was rectified.

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As with a previous post, this one takes us back to their second (and final) album, 1981’s Wilder. Their first album, the previous year’s Kilimanjaro, had a classic post-punk, 60s-garage-band-inspired, psychedelic-influenced scratchy sound, but was also strong on melody, tunes, and threw in a bit of brass to give it a real kick. Wilder, on the other hand, was an altogether more colourful, eclectic, experimental collection, and clearly one where the drug influences (Cope and the band were on a real long rock-and-roll bender by this time) shine through. From the sunshine-pop of Passionate Friend (all ba-ba-bas and horns) to the clipped funkiness of The Culture Bunker and the psychedelic wanderings of Like Leila Khaled Said, this is a more varied and rambling album than its predecessor, and one which – from my perspective – is all the richer because of that.

The Great Dominions is one of a clutch of slower songs on the album (Tiny Children and …and the fighting takes over being the others) that – in my mind – turn this into a classic. I haven’t a clue what it’s all about – I’m not really sure that Julian had much of an idea either, given the amount of drugs he was consuming at the time (“I’m still stuck in this pickle jar on a paper carpet” anyone?!) – but for all that it is a beautiful and touching hymn that suggests a yearning for lost innocence.

I couldn’t find any chords anywhere for this lovely song, so I’m hoping that what I’ve transcribed works OK. Personally I think it transfers well to the ukulele, but then I would. Nothing tricksy here – it’s just a continuing D / C / G chord loop – and the tune is almost nursery-rhyme like in its simplicity and innocence. Enjoy!

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