Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Elvis Presley Songbook

I could write pages about today’s post. But it’s probably fair to say that it wouldn’t add anything to the millions upon millions of words that have already been written about this man. So I’m going to keep this one short.

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It’s probably fair to say that without Elvis, popular music would not be what it is today. The combination of rhythm and blues, boogie woogie, country and gospel that he stumbled on in the mid-50s set a trajectory for music that we are still living with today. And he was the template for the musical superstar, so many of whom would follow in his footsteps and shadow. And obviously that was a significant contributor to his untimely death, another tragic precedent that Elvis set for the tortured star.

At the same time, it’s also fair to say that, to a certain extent, Elvis was in the right place at the right time. Yes, clearly he had talent, and certainly a great deal of charisma. But the timing was right, the circumstances were right, and Elvis benefited from that. There will never be another Elvis, in the same way there will never be another Beatles, because it’s not just about the talent – it’s about a combination of circumstances, in particularly the cultural and societal expectations and climate, that made these artists the huge stars that they became.

But artists like Elvis are nothing without the songs. And what a legacy of song he left behind. Despite one or two credits, Elvis wasn’t really a songwriter. But the songs that he chose, or had chosen for him, includes a ridiculous number of stone-cold classics. Even songs that had been written for, and recorded by, others, Elvis took and made them his own. That, I guess, is the hallmark of a true talent, a true star.

The number of songs Elvis sung and recorded has been estimated in the 700-1000 range, so how do you cut that down to 19 songs (that’s the number in this songbook). Well, to be honest, it was all down to personal taste. This is a selection of Elvis songs that (a) I love, and (b) I think are familiar to others (the plan is to use this for a future ukulele artist evening). So you can blame me if your favourites are missing! Here’s the list of songs included:

  • All Shook Up
  • Always On My Mind
  • Blue Suede Shoes
  • Burning Love
  • Can’t Help Falling In Love
  • Don’t Be Cruel
  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • (Marie’s The Name Of) His Latest Flame
  • Hound Dog
  • I Just Can’t Help Believing
  • In The Ghetto
  • Jailhouse Rock
  • A Little Less Conversation
  • Return To Sender
  • Suspicious Minds
  • (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear
  • That’s All Right
  • Viva Las Vegas
  • Way Down

I won’t say too much about the songs or the songsheets themselves. For the most part these are simple songs, a good number of 3 or 4 chord songs, and they are songs that *everyone* knows. Sometimes the rhythms may be a little challenging, but for the most part these are the same key as the originals, so you can play along and get the hang of them. The most important thing is to enjoy them, so sing them loud!

<Full Album Songbook>

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Rubber Soul – The Beatles (Full Album)

I mentioned in the previous post about doing a full album night with Blondie’s Parallel Lines. Well here is the second classic album to get that treatment. And records don’t get much more classic than this one.

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Those arguments about what is the best Beatles’ album will doubtless run and run. For a long time it was apocryphal to consider it to be anything other than Sergeant Pepper. Then during the Britpop era Revolver seemed to pick up that baton, with occasionally The White Album pipping them both to the post. In all that time Rubber Soul has been something of an underdog, but there’s definitely a strand of opinion and an argument for this being the toppermost of the toppermost.

After all, this was the album that drove Brian Wilson to write God Only Knows, and whose existence was a massive inspiration for Pet Sounds, an album which in turn laid down the gauntlet that was taken back up by The Beatles in the aforementioned Sergeant Pepper (Wilson has been quoted as saying that Rubber Soul is better than Pet Sounds, citing it as “still the best album of all time”). And Rubber Soul is arguably the first album of the pop era that was more than just a collection of somewhat random songs – a coherent, paced collection that works as a whole, start-to-finish, experience.

Rubber Soul was effectively the last album The Beatles toured. Marked by a more sophisticated production, and a wider variety of styles, Rubber Soul was laying the ground work for the more adventurous and experimental approaches that were such a big part of the band’s later albums. Rubber Soul feels like it is on the cusp – one foot in the classic pop songs that established them, one foot striding into new and uncharted territory. Personally this era (with Revolver) is my favourite of the bands, precisely because it crystallises the best of those dynamics. And whilst other Beatles albums, being admittedly being full  of fine songs, suffer from one or two bum tracks (the Fab Four certainly weren’t flawless), Rubber Soul has no bad tracks. Not one. OK, Run For Your Life may be a little dodgy lyrically, especially in these #metoo days. But I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Concise – 14 songs in 35 minutes, so much depth and variety in such a short period – and perfectly formed, here is a band at the height of their powers, yet at the same time stretching and growing. From the raw throwback that is “Drive My Car”, the folk-rock inspired-by-yet-outdoing-the-Byrds “If I Needed Someone”, the early Indian influences that come through “Norwegian Wood”, the folk stylings of “In My Life”, and the chanson leanings of “Michelle”, this is an album rich in variety yet still hanging together as a perfectly paced exemplar.

 

Full Album Songbook

Individual songsheets


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I’m Free – The Rolling Stones / The Soup Dragons

Lets be honest, this one is here because of The Soup Dragons cover, not because of The Rolling Stones original. That’s not to say that I have any kind of aversion to the sixties original, its just that it had never entered my consciousness before the Madchester-inspired cover.

<Rolling Stones songsheet> <Soup Dragons songsheet>

“I’m Free” is a relatively early Jagger/Richard composition from 1965 that first appeared as the closing track on the band’s Out Of Our Heads album, and the b-side of Get Off My Cloud. Ranked number 78 in Rolling Stone magazines top 100 Rolling Stones songs, I’m Free shuffles along with echoes of The Byrds jangley folk-rock sound.

In a similar way, The Soup Dragons 1990 cover was inspired by a popular rock sound of the day, this time the Madchester/Baggy rock/dance hybrid sound that was everywhere at the time through the music of The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, and others. This version definitely grooves more than the original version, fleshes out with liberal doses of wah-wah, takes a few liberties with the lyrics and throws in a rap courtesy of  Jamaican reggae and dancehall star Junior Reid – whether that adds or subtracts from the record depends on your preference for that sort of thing. The song gave the band their only sizeable hit, one that has become a staple of compilation albums of that period.

So here’s the songsheets. I’ve done two versions, one for The Rolling Stones version (in C), and one for The Soup Dragons version (in E). However, they’re not just the same sheet with different chords, I’ve tried to reflect the arrangements, lyrics, etc. of the two different versions. Even down to the rap in The Soup Dragons version – try it if you dare!  Enjoy!

<Rolling Stones songsheet> <Soup Dragons songsheet>


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Sunshine Superman – Donovan

SunshineSupermanDonovan emerged from the 1960s folk scene with a sound that was influenced by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, but most noticably by Bob Dylan. That Dylan influence has proved something of an millstone around his neck, something amplified by the reactions of Dylan himself when he toured the UK in 1965, famously captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary film “Don’t Look Back”.

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By 1966, however, Donovan was starting to move away from the limitations of the folk scene, and began immersing himself in the emerging counter-cultural hippie scene. Picking up particularly on the psychedelic sounds emerging from the US West Coast (bands such as Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane), but also on jazz, blues and eastern sounds, Sunshine Superman – the start of a collaboration with successful produced Mickie Most – proved to be a huge breakthrough for Donovan, topping the US charts, and becoming a massive hit almost everywhere else.

The song sheet is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original. I’ve included tab for both the intro riff, the riff that occurs during the verses, plus an approximation of a solo. At some point I’ll get around to recording the latter to give some indication of what its meant to sound like. Enjoy!

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Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry

OdeToBillyJoeSometimes a song arrives so perfectly formed that its difficult to believe that there was a time when it didn’t exist.  And sometimes a song becomes so iconic that it overshadows the artist that created and performed it. I think both of those things apply to this classic.

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Ode To Billy Joe is a song, like You’re So Vain or American Pie, that has created a huge amount of debate, discussion and speculation. Originally the b-side to her debut single, Mississippi Delta, Ode… started picking up US airplay and eventually topped the charts there. It’s sparse sound was a contrast to the country rock sound of Mississippi Delta, but it is the enigmatic lyrics that have given the song its long-lasting mystique. Exactly what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? Why did Billie Joe commit suicide? I’m not going to add to the debate that has ensued endlessly since the songs original release (see here and here for a flavour of that) – suffice to say it is one of those debates that will run and run.

Gentry never really eclipsed this performance (hard to see how that could be possible) despite a series of classy releases. She had continued success in the late 60s and early 70s, but effectively dropped off the public radar by 1972 to focus on television production work, and disappeared entirely from public life in the early 1980s, lending to her own life a degree of the mystery that surrounded this her most iconic song.

There’s not much to say about the song sheet. It’s a simple set of blues-flavoured chords. Just keep the rhythm simple and sparse, and it will sound great.

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P.S. I love this photo (below) of Bobbie Gentry crossing the Tallahatchie Bridge

BobbieGentryBridge1967

 


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Walk On By

WalkOnBySongs don’t come more classic than this. If you judge the quality of a song by the number of times its been covered (and by the diversity of those covers) then this has to be up there with the best of them. Variously covered by as eclectic a collection as Isaac Hayes, The Stranglers, Average White Band and Diana Krall, it is still the peerless original version by Dionne Warwick that stands over them all.

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Warwick had a particularly strong relationship with the Bacharach and David songwriting team, much of whose work was written for her. Over a 20-year period Warwick charted 38 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach and David, including Don’t Make Me Over, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Alfie, I Say A Little Prayer, Do You Know The Way To San Jose, and many, many more. It’s hard, if not impossible, to pull any one song out from that list, but if there was one song that exemplifies that relationship, Walk On By has to be a strong contender.

So here’s the song sheet. As with many Bacharach / David songs, this is never as straightforward as it might at first appear. In this case, the rhythm and timing is what tends to require a bit of focus / attention (if my experience is anything to go by). Your best bet will tend to be listening to the original, and getting the feel from that. Of course, if you want a punk feel (The Stranglers) or a funky/disco feel (Average White Band) listen to those versions as well.

Enjoy!

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Feeling Good – Nina Simone

ninasimoneOur band, The Flukes, has been starting to find its feet, and have been gradually evolving towards a preference for jazzy, bluesy, country type material. So when we were looking for new material to add to our repetoire, it didn’t take long before this 1960s classic came to the surface.

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Amazingly, this song was never released as a single back in the day, only surfacing in that format in 1994 off the back of a TV advert. Yet this is as well known and loved as anything from the Nina Simone catalogue. Written in 1964 by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, Simone recorded it a year later for her album. It is fair to say that it was Simone’s recording that really transformed the original and turned it into a standard that has subsequently been covered by artists as diverse as Muse, Michael Bublé and The Pussycat Dolls.

The songsheet is in the same key as the Nina Simone version. It is essentially made up of a continual loop based on G minor, with a C / D sequence thrown in during the chorus. The G minor sequence includes a G / F / Eb / D run-down on the bass – not easy to achieve on the little ukulele, but I think the chords shown here work. The Gm/D is a bit of a stretch (for me, at least) but is worth persevering with. Enjoy!

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