Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Message In The Box – World Party

In the mid-1980s The Waterboys did a classic swerve away from a trajectory that was taking them towards full-on 80s stadium rock and into the fertile avenues of Irish folk, ultimately resulting, after many, many studio sessions, in the classic album that is Fisherman’s Blues.

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Nestled in the middle of the first (“Dublin”) side of that record was a song called World Party, a co-write between the band’s leader Mike Scott, and Trevor Hutchinson and Karl Wallinger. Wallinger had joined The Waterboys a couple of albums earlier, initially as a keyboard player, but increasingly contributing his wide range of instrumental skills. However by the end of the This Is The Sea (Fisherman’s Blues predecessor) tour, Wallinger had decided he wanted to spread his wings, and left the band. World Party (the song) had already been written, but hadn’t made it onto This Is The Sea, and so by the time the band came to record the song Wallinger was no more a part of the band.

However that song obviously had a resonance for Wallinger, as it soon became the name of his new project, the band World Party. Making its public appearance a couple of years before Fisherman’s Blues finally emerged, World Party were a stew of influence – rock, folk, funk, soul – that Wallinger ushered into a cohesive and distinctive sound that – to my ears – owned more than a little to what Prince was doing at the time. By the time of the bands second album, Goodbye Jumbo, they were hitting their stride, an underrated classic that contained a smorgasbord of styles yet still felt of a piece. Message In The Box was the “hit” single from the album, hit as in scraping to #39 in the UK singles chart, but deserving of far more.

So here’s the song sheet. I’d been thinking of doing this one for while, but for whatever reason took a while to get around to it. Nothing too tricky – one unusual chord (the C6) but nothing too taxing. I’ve also transcribed / approximated the guitar solos at the beginning, after the chorus and at the end – I think they’re fairly close to the original, although maybe not perfect. Enjoy!


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Glen Campbell – RIP

Late last night came the sad but inevitable news of the death of Glen Campbell. Inevitable, as he has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the last 6 years or so. Sad because Glen was a man who’s music made the world a better place. Never one of the cool kids, perceived as being on the square side of the block (although his back-story and life might tell you otherwise), Campbell had a way with a song (and a guitar) that was unparalleled. And when paired with songwriter Jimmy Webb, they made a peerless combination.

So here, collected together, are the four Glen Campbell song sheets that I’ve published so far (I get the feeling there might be another one coming!):

And here’s a few other songs to remember him by:


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Forest Fire – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

More back to the 80s, I’m afraid. But no excuses for this one, for this song is just pure class.

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Taken from their debut album, Rattlesnakes, Forest Fire is a gem amongst an album of ridiculous riches. Lloyd Cole and his Commotions may have had a reputation for pretentiousness (to be fair, a not undeserved criticism, given it contains lyrical references to Renata Adler, Simone de Beauvoir and Norman Mailer) and a somewhat affected vocal style, but this was an album that crammed more ideas and tunes into its 35 minutes than many bands manage in their whole career.

Forest Fire was a little different to the rest of the album, being something of a brooding slow-burner, replete with an almost rock-ist guitar solo. But what a track! Time and again, when I come back to this song, I’m reminded of what a gorgeous experience it is. Not a minute of its 5 minutes and 15 seconds (always go for the album version, anything else and you’re just being short-changed) is wasted, gradually turning up the emotional heat until it bursts with a guitar solo of both grace and grit.

And so to the song sheet. It’s basically just verses, a repeated chord sequence that isn’t too stretching. I haven’t included the solo – you can work that out if you like, but I think it still holds up without. Rhythm might be a little tricky, but check out this solo acoustic version by Lloyd here for some ideas on that front. Enjoy!


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The Way Old Friends Do – ABBA

It’s strange how songs crop up in the most unlikely of places.

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Yesterday I attended the Wickham Festival. It’s a local festival, just down the road, and I was attending because Southampton Ukulele Jam had been asked to perform, somewhat at the last minute. We had a blast (here’s a clip of us doing Blitzrieg Bop – that’s me at the back in the straw hat!), and got a great reaction from the audience. But it meant we had a free day ticket, so got to enjoy some great music, largely of the folk variety, from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Gaz Brookfield, Imar and Brighde Chaimbeul. Anyway, inbetween sets there was an interesting mix of music being played, often with something of a 70s soft rock flavour (blatantly appealing to the majority demographic in attendance). And then this song popped up. It somewhat surprised me that something from a hyper-polished Swedish pop group would crop up during an English folk festival. But on reflection, it actually fitted really well.

Pre-Abba, each of the band members, in particular Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, had established themselves in various parts of the Swedish folk scene. And there has often been elements of folk music creeping in to their music over the years. The Way Old Friends Do is certainly one of those songs, initially just accompanied on the accordion, there is something pure and honest about this lovely song. Never recorded in the studio, the version that found its way onto 1980’s Super Trouper album was recorded live during the band’s tour in 1979, and the simple sounds of voices and accordion show that, for all the studio wizardry and perfectionism that went into ABBA’s music, cut to the core they were four great musicians.

There is *nothing* complicated in this songsheet. The song only has one verse, repeated. The chords are as straightforward as they could be. The only slightly tricky thing if you try to play along (the songsheet is in the same key) is that the recording is not in any kind of regular tempo. When played alone, it’s easy to give it that regular tempo, though. So enjoy!


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Life Is A Rollercoaster – Ronan Keating

I love this song! I don’t care what anybody says, or where that puts me in your credibility league table. But this song is a cracker!

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Now don’t get my wrong – I really can’t abide Boyzone, or indeed any boyband stuff. And I’m not very partial to any other Ronan Keating songs either (although, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve really sought any of it out). However, this song stood out to me when I first heard it, and hasn’t lost its charm as far as I’m concerned.

I suspect that might have something to do with the song originating not from Mr Keating, but from the can-do-no-wrong-in-my-book pen of Mr Gregg Alexander. Who he, you say? Well he is none other that the frontman, songwriter and main driving force behind the late-90s one-hit wonders New Radicals. Breaking up after a single album (but my, what an album), Rollercoaster was actually scheduled for their second album, but was never recorded by the Radicals.

(Note, another Gregg Alexander song appears elsewhere on here, in the form of Lost Stars from the movie Begin Again. And that is just as wonderful!)

So the song sheet is pretty straight forward. A standard song structure, pretty reasonable chords (you can go with a Dm instread of the Dm7 if that is a problem for you), and just a feel-good, sing-along. Enjoy!


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Short Haired Woman Blues – Dave Rawlings Machine

So I’ve posted plenty of songs here from Gillian Welch. And with good reason – in my book she can do no wrong. But until now I haven’t posted anything from fellow partner-in-crime, Dave Rawlings. So ahead of a brand new album from him later this month, I thought it time to right that wrong.

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To be fair, it is somewhat artificial to make this split between Welch and Rawlings. The two have been inseparable in their recording and performing career, and are very much a democratic duo. It’s just that for each recording they have chosen one or other of them to act as the front to the other. True, Welch was four albums in before a Rawlings album appeared. But of late it has been Rawlings who has been more prolific, with the new album, Poor David’s Almanack, being the third in a period when Welch has only fronted one (albeit that was the totally sublime, career highlight that was The Harrow and The Harvest).

Together they plough a very traditionalist furrow, drawing on various roots traditions such as folk, bluegrass, country and old-time music, whilst at the some time having a sound that is all their own, and oddly contemporary. And in many ways the songs could interchange between the two of them. Short Haired Woman Blues, as an example, falls into that classic Welch/Rawlings stock of languid, stretched-out ballads that I just love. For me, these songs could go on forever and never outstay their welcome.

And so to the song sheet. A little more complicated this one, though not excessively so. There’s a batch of chords in there, not all of which are stricty accurate compared to the original, but ones which act as a (to my ears) reasonable sounding translation of the subtleties of the original guitar chords to the ukuele. In particular, that chord labelled and shown as B5 isn’t actually B5, but I think it fits OK into the song at that point. To my mind the song is best played pick (although I’m certainly not attempting to emulate Rawlings wonderful playing!), but it can be strummed as well. Timing can be a little tricky in places, but listen to the original and you’ll get the feel. Note the song sheet is in G, whilst the original is in G#. So capo 1 if you want to play along with the original. Enjoy!


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Robot Man – The Gymslips / Connie Francis

From the sublime (step forward, Brandy Clark) to the faintly ridiculous. Never let it be said that you don’t get variety around here!

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So here’s a song that I’ve lived with for 30 odd years, only to find a couple of hours ago that it wasn’t quite what I’d thought. The origin of this one for me was a purchase in an Edinburgh record shop of a shrink-wrapped bundle of 5 singles. It was bargain-basement time, and though you could see the covers of the two outside records, I didn’t have a clue what was inside. To be honest, I don’t remember all the records that were in that pack, but I do remember that one was the great double-sider by The Rezillos I Can’t Stand My Baby / I Wanna Be Your Man, and another was this slice of kitsch punk from The Gymslips.

Now I never knew anything else about The Gymslips, but really loved the definitely tongue-in-cheek, bubblegum punk that sprang from the turntable when I played this song. It’s only after the last year or so that I rediscovered this song and this band, primarily through a copy of their only album, Rocking With The Renees. An all-female punk band from London (and there’s no transatlantic twang here, the accents are full-on London), The Gymslips were never one to take the music business that seriously, and clearly had a blast doing what they were doing. This is sheer good time punk, replete with plenty of lyrics references to bums and getting pissed (there’s a very definite strain of English humour running through it all), a cartoon image exemplified in that album cover.

So Robot Man seemed to fit into that category without any trouble, a 2-minute blast of tuneful fabulousness. But it wasn’t until I was looking online for the chords and lyrics for this song (where there are zero references) that I accidentally discovered that actually this is a cover of a song originally recorded back in the 1960s by Connie Frances, part of a double-sided single that made it to number 2 in the UK charts. So not so obscure after all. Actually, thinking about it the lyrical content (a robot lover, somehow strangely back in vogue) is obviously such a theme of the late 50s / early 60s it’s quite obvious really. But The Gymslips version gives the original a spirited kick up the arse (as I’m sure the band would say!) and is just a pure joy to listen to.

So here’s the song sheet. As to be expected from such a straight-ahead punk song, it’s not tricky. Four chords (surely that’s one more than necessary!) and a lot of attitude. This version is in the same key as the Gymslips version, the Connie Francis version being a semi-tone lower. Oh, and I’ve thrown in the four note opening riff as a bonus. Enjoy!