Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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White Horses – Jacky

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, they say. And whilst nostalgia is clearly in the eye of the beholder, *this* song will, for a certain generation, transport you back to a time, a place, a mood that is keenly evocative of growing up, of childhood in the late 60s and early 70s.

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White Horses started life as a Slovenian children’s TV series in 1965, and follows the adventures of Julia (Helga Anders), 15, who leaves Belgrade to spend a holiday with her uncle Dimitri on his stud farm. There he trains white Lipizzaners with the help of Hugo, the head groom. Appalingly dubbed into English (see this clip for evidence) it was first shown on British TV in 1968, and was a staple of childrens TV through to the late 1970s. That re-dubbing included the introduction of a new theme song, written by Michael Carr and Ben Nisbet. Recorded by Irish-born Jackie Lee, under the name Jacky, White Horses was a top 10 single at the time.

I think it fair to say, however, that the plain facts are not what makes this song, and that Jacky recording of it in particular, the thing that it is. For those of a certain age, I’m pretty sure that this song acts as a portal to the past, immediately summoning up a hazy, almost forgotten time of innocence and youth. Whether that time actually existed or not, this is a classic case of a song that puts you in a certain place, that surfaces misty memories.

There are some great cover versions of this song out there, including by Cerys Matthews, Kitchens of Distinction, Trash Can Sinatras, and Dean and Britta. But nothing will every top the peerless original by Jacky.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s a relatively straightforward 60s-flavoured song that really doesn’t need much commentary from me. I’ve tabbed the lovely little solo in the middle, but other that that it just needs the nice little chugging rhythm behind the chords to make it work. Enjoy!

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I Shall Be Released – Bob Dylan

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So here’s a clasic example of one of the reasons I started putting this blog together in the first place. This is hardly an obscure song. In fact I think the word “classic” is not really open to debate on this one. And yet could I find a decent, clear, consistent set of chords for it? No, I couldn’t. Probably there is one lurking out there, and probably I’m being a bit fussy, but here’s my take anyway.

Wikipedia starts its entry for this by saying that “I Shall Be Released” is a 1967 song written by Bob Dylan. Well, that’s factually correct, I’ll give them that, but it all seems a bit terse for what is such a sublime song. The song has a real gospel influence to it, both in the musical structure of the song and in its lyrics, which combine themes of religious redemption with that of a man unjustly prisoned, looking forward to his release. There’s some heavy existential stuff going on in this song, yet as with much of Dylan’s material it’s not quite as simple and explicit as it might be in lesser hands, and leaves itself open to all manner of interpretations.

The song was originally released in a version by The Band, who had acted as Dylan’s backing band on those infamous folk-goes-electric gigs. The keening, falsetto harmonies of that version give it an otherwordly feel that are echoed on the original Dylan version, later released on The Bootleg tape series. The song has since been extensively covered, with notable versions being made by the likes of Nina Simone and reggae band The Heptones, who lent it a lovely chugging rhythm, something repeated on one of my favourite versions by Beth Rowley.

I couldn’t find a Youtube clip of the original Dylan version (try the Beth Rowley version for one in the same key as Dylan and the songsheet, or this Spotify link), but meanwhile here’s the classic version from The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz. Featuring the massed ranks of Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Hawkins and Van Morrison – my what a concert that must have been!

And so here’s the song sheet. Nothing much to say about it, it’s a very simple song (three chords) with endless room for variation and improvisation. This is in the same key as the Dylan original. Enjoy!

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Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell

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Fact : Jimmy Webb has produced some of the most sublime songs in pop history. By The Time I Get To Phoenix, GalvestonMacArthur ParkThe Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Up, Up and Away are all glorious songs. But one song stands above all the others in my book, and that is Wichita Lineman.

Webb’s collaborations with Glen Campbell have been kind to both men, and the Campbell version is so definitive it is one of those times when it just seems so pointless anybody else releasing a version. Campbell’s recording of the song cannot be bettered (another fact!). I’m not alone in feeling that either – apparently Stuart Maconie called it “the greatest pop song ever composed”, and somebody at the BBC referred to it as “one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music”.

What makes the song so great is a little hard to pin down. It’s a wistful piece, dwelling on a long-distance absence from a lover. The line “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time” is so evocative, it’s genius. The musical backing should be syrupy and full-on middle-of-the-road, drenched as it is in a sweet string arrangement. But somehow it rises above all of that – from the dramatic opening, the morse-code lines between the verses, the twanging guitar solo, the soaring strings, and the gorgeous fade-out, this is faultless.

So you’ll have guessed that I’m not expecting a ukulele version to improve on the original. But that said, it is a beautiful song to sing, even if me singing it isn’t exactly beautiful. I couldn’t find a ukulele song sheet that I liked, and so have adapted this from a number of guitar tab sites. I’m not claiming this is perfect, but it sounds OK to me (suggestions for improvements gratefully received).

There are two copies – one of which just contains the chords, the other of which contains the chords plus some tab as well – for the introduction, for the morse-code interludes, and for the instrumental half-verse (plus there’s an instrumental whole verse just for fun!).

Enjoy!

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