Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


Leave a comment

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.

<songsheet>

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!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.

<songsheet>

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!


Leave a comment

Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air – Sister Rosetta Tharpe / Rhiannon Giddens

We’re digging back in time a bit with this one. Back to the days before rock and roll. In fact back to one of the more unlikely precursors of rock and roll.

<songsheet in C> <songsheet in G>

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is not a name that often appears in the pantheon of the most influential 20th century musicians, but the unique sound and guitar playing that she pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the rock and roll greats of the 1950s and beyond (Strange Things Happening Every Day is a particularly good example). Mixing spiritual lyrics with a gritty and rhythmic accompaniment, and performing in nightclubs and concert halls, Tharpe upset many in the religious communities of the time, but achieved real cross-over success, particularly in the 40s when she had a number of top 10 singles in the US.

Up Above My Head is a Tharpe original that uses the traditional call-and-response form of Gospel songs, with short, simple lines, and a number of thematic variations for the verses. Set against a rhythmic background of bass and piano, with Tharpe’s guitar playing (and soloing) over the top, the song was a big hit in the US in 1948, and has been covered many times since, including by Elvis Presley in a TV special, and most lately (and fabulously, if I do say so) by the hugely talented Rhiannon Giddens.

 

And so to the song sheet. There are so many different versions of the song, even by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, that it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ve based the verses on the Rhiannon Giddens version, but created two versions in different keys, one in C, the other in G (the Giddens version is in F!). It’s pretty straight-forward, the only one note of reference is to say that the C7/G7 chord on the third line of each verse comes right before the second half of the line (e.g. “I hear music in the air”) rather than right after the first half of the line (i.e. “Up above my head”). Also, I haven’t put the responses in the lyrics as it rather crowded and complicated the sheet – but feel free (in fact I encourage you!) to put them in. Enjoy!

<songsheet in C> <songsheet in G>


1 Comment

Murder Ballads – Nick Cave

Part 723 of my continued but ultimately fruitless attempt to refute the myth that the ukulele can only do jolly and happy…

<Henry Lee>  <Where The Wild Roses Grow>

…and what better way to demonstrate that than with a double-bill from the prince of Goth himself, Mr Nick Cave. And to make it doubly grizzly, let’s make it two from the gore-fest that is his Murder Ballads album.

Nick Cave is something of a polymath, being an author, screenwriter and soundtrack composer, but obviously most notable for his songwriting and performing, initially with the post-punk, proto-gothic sounds of the self-styled “most violent live band in the world” The Birthday Party, and subsequently (and for the past 30+ years) with his band The Bad Seeds, Cave often explores themes of death, religion, love and violence in his songs.

So 1996’s Murder Ballads was not exactly a bolt from the blue, but even by Cave’s standards it goes deep, dark and macarbe, sometimes to excess, albeit with a wry smile on its face. Composed of new and traditional murder-themed stories, taking the traditional use of the word ballad as a stories narrated in short stanzas, the album racks up a body count of 65 over its 10 tracks (bookended with a redemptive cover of Dylan’s Death Is Not The End). This is *not* background music, not easy listening, and certainly not for the squeamish (Stagger Lee has been described as “one of the finest foul-mouthed songs ever committed to tape, a swaggering tale of prostitutes and pistols, muddy roads and bloody murder”, and is brilliant!), but it is totally immersive, brilliantly executed career highlight.

To be honest, the two songs presented here aren’t totally representative of the album, but certainly are the two that probably translate best to the uke. Where The Wild Roses Grow is a duet with – of all people – Kylie Minogue, and gave Cave his one and only UK hit (what people buying Murder Ballads off the back of this song thought of it heaven only knows). Taking inspiration from the traditional song Down in the Willow Garden (also know as Rose Connelley), it tells the story of a man courting a woman and killing her while they are out together. Henry Lee is another duet, this time with PJ Harvey (with whom Cave had an affair, the breakup of which is a significant inspiration to Murder Ballads’ follow-up, The Boatman’s Call), and another variant on a traditional song (this time Young Hunting), this time turning the tables and telling the tale of a “the fury of a woman scorned”. Both songs tell their story in alternate versus from the man and woman’s perspective.

It is worth commenting on the videos for these two songs as well, as they are both remarkable. Where The Wild Roses Grow adopts the imagery of Sir John Everett Millais’ 1851 painting Ophelia, with Cave and Minogue in role. Henry Lee is a single-take, straight-to-camera, studio-bound video that practically explodes with the barely restrained sexual tension between the two singers.

 

 

 

And so (finally!) to the song sheets. In terms of chords, neither of these does anything tricky or unusual. Essentially these are ballads where the music’s job is to carry the stories. However there are one or two tricky timing issues. Henry Lee plays in 6/8 time, but chucks in an extra three beats (a 3/8 bar?) on the “a little bird lit down on Henry Lee” line. Likewise Where The Wild Roses Grow is also in 6/8, this time straight and without interruptions, the only slightly tricky bit being the first and third lines of the chorus, which is timed as [Gm] 1 2 3 4 5 6 [Cm] 1 2 3 [Gm] 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 (if that makes sense).  I’ve also indicated on each song sheet where the singer is male, female or both. Enjoy!

<Henry Lee>  <Where The Wild Roses Grow>


Leave a comment

Caravan Girl – Goldfrapp

I was a bit late to Goldfrapp, if truth be known. It wasn’t until the more acoustic sounds of their fourth album, Seventh Tree, caught my ears that I started to pay attention.

<songsheet>

From the cinematic soundscapes of the debut Felt Mountain, to the glam-meets-dance of Black Cherry and Supernature, the folk-meets-electronica sounds of Seventh Tree, the 80s-revisited vibe of Head First, and the lush orchestral mood of Tales Of Us, Goldfrapp have always taken a highly-stylised and deliberate approach to the twists and turns of their musical career. Seventh Tree took inspiration from paganism and surreal childrens books, and marked a more earthier sound that was a deliberate contrast to the glamour and synthetic feel of their previous releases. Despite the folk stylings this was still a pop record, with songs like A&E and Caravan Girl having a commercial appeal that saw them become hits. Caravan Girl is a great song, a lovely, bouncing late-summer song that can’t help bringing a smile to the face.

And so to the songsheet. Nothing too tricksy here. It definitely needs a good, driving rhythm to keep it moving. Chord wise, all relatively straightforward, with the possible exception of the F/C – I don’t think that’s the right name for it, but basically it’s an F with a C on the top string. An F (or C) by itself will do if you feel so inclined. Finally, I think this would definitely benefit from lots of oooh-ing, la-ing and lovely harmonies. Enjoy!


Leave a comment

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.

<songsheet>

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!

 


Leave a comment

WARNING : Videos! Of me! Doing songs!

So this is a bit of an experiment, and to be honest one I’m not wholly comfortable with, but there was no point avoiding the inevitable.

I had a request today to post recordings of some songs, on the premise that it might be a bit tricky for some people to pick up some of the songs without any guidance. I do get that, and so below are a couple of attempts to do that.

The first thing to say is that I’m not making any great claims to the quality of the videos. For one, they’re just recorded using the webcam on my laptop. But more significantly, it’s *me* singing, and that definitely is not my forte. So treat these as a very rough guide to how *I* think the songs *could* be played. Obviously they’re not sacred texts, and so you can do what you want with the songs. But hopefully these will be taken in the spirit that they are delivered – a rough approximation to be used as a guide.

So the song? Well the first one was a request / challenge, based on a comment that “I couldn’t imagine how you could do it”! It’s Abba’s “The Way Old Friends Do”, and this is how I imagine doing it.

The second song was not the second one that requested (that was Robert Palmer’s Big Log) – that might take a bit more practice, and might need me to drag my friend Sarah in to do it, as that was who we originally did the song for. No, the second is one that I felt a little more comfortable doing, and it is U2’s Beautiful Day. The main riff all the way through is a little tricky timing wise, so hopefully this gives some sense of what it could possibly sound like.

Thanks to Perry for the original prompt. If it’s not too disastrous, I might do a few more. Requests?!