Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Knowing Me, Knowing You – Abba

So I was talking with a friend about potentially doing a variation on the album evenings we’ve been doing recently, and wondered whether a greatest hits evening might work. And instead of playing the album on vinyl, bring playing those greatest hits as 7″ singles, in all they’re crackly glory. But who would we pick? Well the conversation soon turned towards this band, and so I thought I’d give a few of their songs a try and see whether they might work.

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My Abba journey has been a not untypical one, I suspect. This songs was – in fact – the first single that I ever brought, wrapped in the Epic orange sleeve. And the album from which it was taken, 1976’s Arrival, was likewise the first album I ever brought (from Landports department store in Portsmouth, if you’re asking!). Through the late 70s Abba were my band, and it wasn’t until 1981, when my musical interests started to broaden, and deviate somewhat from the mainstream, encouraged in no small part by my consumption of the music press, that the love affair with Abba began to wane. Clearly, at this point, the (apparently) cheesy, european, middle-of-the-road, mainstay of the middle-aged sounds were doing my musical credibility no good, something I remember being accentuated by Not The Nine O’Clock News’ Super Trouper parody. So the super Swedes were somewhat hastily jettisoned.

But years go by, we grow and up mature (a bit!), and in doing so we realise that some of the decisions of our youth were not always good ones. And slowly the rehabilitation followed. Obviously that re-discovery and re-evaluation was a more widespread phenomenon than just within my own head, because when 1992’s compilation Abba Gold was released it immediately became a huge best-seller, now ranked as the bands best-selling album ever, one of the top 50 selling albums across the world ever, with sales in excess of 28 million.

Knowing Me, Knowing You is – for me – a classic example why the music of Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid (I was always a Friday girl, myself!) has lasted down the years. For all the accusations of cheesiness and inanity that are thrown at the group (and there are definitely examples of that) there are plenty of examples of real emotional depth and deep melancholy in their songs. The state of the bands own internal relationships were often mirrored and played out in the dynamics of the songs, none more so than in the video for 1980’s The Winner Takes It All. And sometimes were predicted by the songs, as was the case with Knowing Me, Knowing You. Written and recorded at the time that the band were happy loving couples (Agnetha and Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid) the song’s rather bleak relating of the breakdown of a relationship, haunted by the memories of the good times that are forever lost, certainly isn’t for the feint-hearted. Yet the song was a huge success all around the world, helped in no small part by the classic video (directed – as were many of the bands videos – by Lasse Hallström, later to find fame with films like Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and The Shipping News), partly set in the certainly allegorical icy Swedish landscape.

So here is the song sheet. For all their familiarity, Abba songs are not always the most straightforward. This certainly fits into that category. There are quite a few chords in there, but nothing very tricky, and they give real colour to the song (note that the Bm* is not a new type of chord, it’s just to distinguish that particular playing of Bm at that particular point in the song). Sometimes the timing can be a little odd as well (there’s the odd 2/4 bar thrown in along the way). But to be honest, if you know the song (and who doesn’t!) that will see you through. Oh, and I’ve also tabbed out the classic solo that occurs throughout the song. Enjoy (in a slightly maudlin, melancholic Scandinavian way)!

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Making Plans For Nigel – XTC

Hot on the heels of the previous post, which featured the more pastoral, psychedelic side of XTC, here is one of – if not THE – songs that the band is known for.

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XTC were originally formed in Swindon in the early 1970s, taking a while to find their sound (early incarnations were of a more glam / glitter rock persuasion), ultimately emerging as part of the punk generation in 1977. However, XTC were never one to be pigeon-holed, and to be honest were somewhat smarter that your average punk band, and from the get-go refused to bow to the somewhat conservative conventions and year zero mindset that the punk scene often created.

Characterised by a jagged, angular sound, and smart, often ironic lyrics, the band were three albums into their recording career before they finally found some kind of significant success, a purple period from 1979 to 1982 that saw them regulars in the mid-reaches of the charts.

Making Plans For Nigel was the song that brought them that initial flurry of recognition and success, and it is a song that has weathered well. From the pen and voice of Colin Moulding, this song has become a mainstay of a hundred new wave compilations. A song that still sounds as fresh as the day it was conceived, a song full of spaces, it is underpinned by a distinctive drum pattern and sound, topped with sharp angular guitar riffs, and a lyric that mocks the entry into dull careerism to the titular Nigel, all wrapped in a production that is both crisp and sharp, and also owes more than a little to the dub sounds and effects that were entering the mainstream at the time from reggae.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s quite a straightforward song, the trick is getting a rhythm / strumming pattern that works. I’m not going to be prescriptive about that, just experiment and seems what works. The D / D4 / D5 run down can easily be replaced with a straight D, but otherwise it should all work as written. Enjoy!


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Grass – XTC

XTC have always been one of those bands that I kind of thought I should get, but never really did. Yes, I loved those late 70s / early 80s hits like Sgt Rock, Senses Working Overtime, and Making Plans For Nigel (more of which later). But I never really got beyond that.

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So I decided to put that right recently. But where to start? After  bit of dithering I ended up plumping for a copy of 1986’s Skylarking, prompted in part by having recently heard one of the albums track, That’s Really Super, Supergirl, on the radio. An album that was strongly rated, critically acclaimed, but of which I knew almost nothing.

So how did it go, I hear you ask? Well, if I’m honest, first listen I was little unsure, a little non-plussed. A few songs sounded good first time, but much of it felt indistinct and uncertain. But I got the sense that this might be one of those albums you need to work at a little to really extract its riches. And so it proved to be. A few weeks later and the subtle riches of the album are beginning to worm their way into my head and heart.

For those who don’t know it, Skylarking has a more pastoral, quintessentially English sound than you might have expected if all you’ve heard is the new wave / post-punk sounds of those early hits. Produced by Todd Rundgren, it is loosely themed around various cycles in life and nature, and as a result really hangs together as a whole piece.

Grass, a song written and sung by Colin Moulding, was the lead single from the album (the flip-side, Dear God, was later to become the most well-known song from this set, a minor hit in the US), and exemplifies the mood and feel of the whole album. A song that looks back in almost bucolic terms to romantic fumbles in the summer grass, with more than a hint to doing so under the influence of that other grass (marijuana), the song captures a time and space so perfectly that for three minutes you feel yourself right there.

So here’s the song sheet. The song is actually quite a simple one, both in terms of structure and chords, and feels like it demands to be sung under a late summer evening sky, basking in the the great outdoors. I’ve included two versions, one in D and one if F, both a little easier to play than the original in E (play the first version with capo 2 if you want to play/sing along to the original. Enjoy!


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(What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis (Full Album)

Well I have to say that these full album nights have really taken off. Having had two really successful evenings with 30-40 ukers listening to, and bashing their way through, Parallel Lines and Rubber Soul, we’re now planning a to make this a semi-regular event. Undoubtedly you’ll be seeing some of those popping up on here over time, but the next one is going to be Oasis’ sophomore classic, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.

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I must say up-front that this songbook is definitely (maybe!) not all my own work. Most of the credit for this must go to my good ukeing friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, Ian Rothwell, who has put in a massive amount of effort to pull this together. We road-tested it earlier this week, and we’re relatively happy with how it sounds, so here it is.

Released in October 1995, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory was the album that propelled from a very successful indie rock band at the vanguard of the Britpop scene (that album was the fastest-selling debut album of all time in the UK when it was released) to a world-wide phenomenon. World-wide the album has sold an estimated 22 million copies, it was number one in the UK for ten weeks on it’s release, and it spawned a swathe of classic singles, with two (Some Might Say and Don’t Look Back In Anger) reaching the coveted number one slot, and another two (Wonderwall and Roll With It) peaking at number two. The last of those, Roll With It, was the subject of the much-hyped Britpop battle with Blur, when they both famously released new singles on the same day, Blur releasing Country House. Blur won that particular battle and hit the top spot, but I think it fair to say that, at least if judged commercially, Oasis won the war.

Marking a move away from the rawer sound of the band’s debut, (What’s The Story) was marked out by slower tempos, songs more ballad like (although still swathed in loud rock-and-roll guitars) with huge sing-along choruses, and with richer instrumentation than on their first record. The critical reception the album received on its release was a little lukewarm, many comparing it less favourably to its predecessor, complaining that the album was derivative and simplistic, as well as being seen as prompting a major step-change in the loudness wars.  As ever though, timing can be everything with these things, and the emergence and mainstream embracing of the cultural phenomenon that was Britpop at the same time as this albums release allowed Oasis to surf its wave with massive success.

And so here it is – the songbook. As I said earlier, the hugest of thanks to Ian Rothwell for doing most of the work on this one. As you’ll see the format is slightly different to previous songbooks, but the content is all there. Only one of the songs (She’s Electric) is not in the same key as the original (that has been upped from F# to G for obvious reasons!), so all the rest are definitely play-along-able. As far as possible we’ve tried to keep the arrangements faithful to the originals. We haven’t tabbed any solos or the like – in actual fact there aren’t that many – but feel free to work those out yourselves. Sing loud, with great enthusiasm. And most of all, enjoy!

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P.S. If you’re interested, and in the Southampton area on the 17th May, this (see below) is the event where we’re going to be playing this one through.


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Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (Full Album)

I freely admit that I was a child of the punk revolution. I fully brought into the Year Zero mindset that trashed everything that came before punk. As a result bands like Fleetwood Mac were anathema – self-indulgent west-coast soft rock that had no relevance to a late 70s urban teenager.

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So it was a long journey to come around to embracing Rumours. For me, that journey was one I can trace for an opening up to country music (via. the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack), which led via. Gram Parsons and The Byrds to the soft rock sounds of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the sounds of late 60s/early 70s Laurel Canyon, and ultimately to this polished slice of perfect grown-up West Coast pop/rock.

Fleetwood Mac had a varied and convulted evolution. Emerging in the late 1960s as a UK-based blues band, the group has a significant measure of success, but somewhat lost their way in the early 1970s. It took a significant re-jig of the line up in 1974, and an evolution into a US/UK hyrid, for those fortunes to be turned around. 1975’s eponymous album, Fleetwood Mac, set the tone, with songs like Rhiannon and Say You Love Me establishing the band with hit singles, as well as racking up huge sales in the US.

But that success was dwarfed by its follow up, Rumours. Not that the circumstances of its birth were promising. The band – now comprising guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood, keyboard player and vocalist Christine McVie, bass guitarist John McVie, and vocalist Stevie Nicks – were going through the most intense relationship breakdowns. The McVie’s were divorcing after eight years of marriage. Buckingham and Nicks were having a stormy on/off relationship. And Fleetwood was dealing with the discovery of his wife having an affair with his best friend. That a collection of such perfect songs should emerge from this maelstrom is nothing short of miraculous. With writing credits shared across the whole band, and singing duties likewise shared, this was a truly collaborative effort that captured a band at the height of their powers, at the same time their personal lives were falling apart, awash in a sea of cocaine excess.

With classics like Dreams, Go Your Own Way, The Chain and Don’t Stop, Rumours was the album that sent Fleetwood Mac into the stratosphere. Epitomising the smooth sun-drenched soft-rock California sound, Rumours was both a critical and commercial success. While clearly a product of its time, it has since transcended those times, becoming one of those albums that just goes on and on giving, a timeless record whose perfect sounds belie the raw emotions within. Topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, it sold 13 million copies in its first three years, and by 2013 world-wide sales were over 40 million.

The songbook includes all the songs in the album. Most are in the same key as the originals, but a few I’ve transposed to make a little easier to play. At heart these are actually mostly deceptively simple songs, and translate well – to my ears – to the uke. The one song that I’ve probably fudged a little is the finger-picked Never Going Back Again. There are some great ukulele versions of this out there (watch here, see tab here), so feel free to check those out.

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Rubber Soul evening

Our Rubber Soul ukulele evening was cruelly disrupted by Storm Emma last week. So we’ve now rescheduled for 15th March at The Talking Heads in Southampton.

A Southampton Ukuele Jam twist on the vinyl listening party.The plan is to listen to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album (on vinyl) – track by track – and then play each track together, as a ukulele jam. So we’ll be listening to each song, getting some sense of how it was done, and then jam together, putting SUJ’s unique spin on said track.

The songbook can be downloaded here. Please bring your own copy.

We’ll be in the Lounge Bar / Back Bar (on the left as you enter The Talking Heads.

More details in the Facebook event here.


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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!