Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Spacer – Sheila B. Devotion

It’s the late 1970s, and disco has taken over the world. Yes, I know that in the critics-written history of pop it was all about punk, post-punk and new wave. But in terms of commercial success and popularity it was disco all the way.

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Now I understand that disco had (and still has) its detractors, something that reached something of a crescendo with the infamous Disco Demolition Night where a crate of disco records was blown-up in the middle of a baseball game in the US to chants of “Disco Sucks”. And yes, I will accept that the tacking on of a disco beat to anything became something of a plague (although I definitely have a soft spot for The Rolling Stones’ Miss You). But alongside the dross and bandwagon jumpers there were some truly sublime moments.

Not a small number of those sublime moments came from the hands of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Most famously known for being the power behind disco behemoths Chic, over a hugely productive period at the end of the 70s and early 80s the pair lent their not inconsiderable talents to the likes of Sister Sledge (Lost in Music, We are Family, etc.), Diana Ross (Upside Down, I’m Coming Out and more), Debbie Harry (KooKoo) and Carly Simon (Why). But one of the more overlooked collaborations was with a French former  Yé-yé artist originally just known as Sheila. Adopting a more contemporary disco style, she had a huge European hit with a disco version of Singing In The Rain in 1977. But it was Spacer, the first fruits of that collaboration with Rodgers and Edwards, for which she will always be known. Full of the trademark Chic funky guitar and bass, I defy anybody now to want to strut their stuff to this collision of two late 1970s phenomenons – disco and sci-fi.

Star Wars had woken Hollywood to the sudden realisation that sci-fi was a cash cow, and for five minutes there was a sudden spate of sci-fi / disco cross-overs. Spacer was by far the best of those (and check out the extended version for it at its best), but it was joined in the charts by the likes of I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper (Sarah Brightman, before Andrew Lloyd Webber credibilty), Automatic Lover (Dee D Jackson, who had worked with Giorgio Moroder), the awesome Space by Magic Fly, and even a disco version of the Star Wars theme.

Ukulele-disco I hear you say. Are you mad?! Well maybe, but as has possibly been proven previously it might just work. There’s nothing too tricky chord-wise here (the E7sus4 to Em7 change is reasonably straightforward once you’ve got used to it). But clearly getting a good, steady rhythm is key to making this one work. To that end I’ve had a go at recording this over the top of the original so you have some idea of how *I* think it could go (see below – you can obviously do your own thing) – I hope this helps.

 

 

 


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Sweet Baby James / How Sweet It Is – James Taylor

james-taylorWhilst we’re on that early 70s singer songwriter vibe with the recent Carole King post, it seemed an opportune time to get a couple of James Taylor songs out there as well.

<How Sweet It Is> <Sweet Baby James>

The paths of King and Taylor have been linked ones throughout their careers, in large part because of those songs and recordings of the early 70s. Playing regularly at The Troubadour club in West Hollywood, Taylor played guitar on King’s Tapestry, and King returned the compliment by playing on Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, his breakout album. Taylor’s first US number one single was a cover of King’s You’ve Got A Friend from Tapestry. IN 2010 the pair reunited for a tour together, using the same band they had used back in The Troubadour in 1970.

Taylor is renowned as an incredibly talented guitarist, not necessarily in a flashy way, but dazzling in the sounds that he coaxes from his acoustic guitars. Sweet Baby James is taken from the sophomore album of the same name, and is a song that Taylor has cited personally as one of his best. Set in a 3/4 waltz time, the apparent simplicity of the lilting lullaby-like tune deceptively hides a more complex structure and rhyming pattern that, whilst feeling totally natural, can take a little work when trying to play it. How Sweet It Is is a cover of a Motown song by the legendary writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, originally recorded by Marvin Gaye. Taylor’s version, from his 1975 album Gorilla, took a more relaxed, soft-rock feel to that song, and was a huge hit.

So two song sheets. Sweet Baby James, as previously mentioned, is a quite straightforward 3/4 time song, although you do need to watch the timing of lyrics and chords throughout the verses. How Sweet It Is is a little more complex chord wise. There’s a few little run downs in there that add flavour to the song, but you can make a very passable version of the song without these (I’ve shown these optional chords as subscript in the song sheet – the E11 can be replaced with a straightforward E). The song does need to swing, though!

Enjoy!

<How Sweet It Is> <Sweet Baby James>


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It’s Too Late / You’ve Got A Friend – Carole King

tapestryRecords don’t come much more iconic that Carole King’s 1971 sophomore solo album, Tapestry.

<It’s Too Late>  <You’ve Got A Friend>

It’s a recording for which the records and superlatives are almost never ending. The winner of 4 Grammy awards in 1972 (including, album, record and song of the year), seller of 25 million copies, second only to Dark Side Of The Moon for number of weeks on the Billboard album chart (313 weeks), ranked the 36th best album ever by Rolling Stone in 2003, all of these statistics and critical acclaim are surprising when you consider that Tapestry is really such a humble and relatively unassuming record.

During the 1960s King had established herself – alongside then-husband Gerry Goffin – as one of the leading songwriters in the Brill building in New York, penning hits for others such as The Loco-motion, It Might As Well Rain Until September, and Up On The Roof. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s, following a divorce from Goffin and a move to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, that King focused more on recording her own songs, in the process becoming the archetypal singer-songwriter.

Tapestry is chock full of bone fide classics. Even if you’ve never heard it before it will be immediately familiar, the songs having become part of the DNA of popular music. It’s Too Late was the lead single (coupled with I Feel The Earth Move) and was number one on the US singles charts for 5 weeks, and won that Grammy for best record. You’ve Got A Friend won the best song Grammy, and was a US number one for 4 weeks when covered by James Taylor.

I thought there would be plenty of songsheets for these songs, but none of them worked for me. So here’s my versions. There’s nothing particularly to say about these, other than they have quite a lot of chords (You’ve Got A Friend in particular). But those chords are the things that add the colour, so stick with them (You’ve Got A Friend has a few “optional” chords – in subscript – that can be easily omitted if you want). A bit of feel in the strumming is in order as well, adopting the standard ukulele strumming patterns kind-of kills these songs, so listen well to the originals to get that feel. You’ve Got A Friend (G) is a semi-tone down from the original (Ab) so you’ll need a capo on fret one if you want to play along (but it does make it a whole lot easier to play). It’s Too Late is in the same key as the original.

Enjoy!

<It’s Too Late>  <You’ve Got A Friend>


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You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – Stevie Wonder

stevie_wonder-you_are_the_sunshine_of_my_life_s_1Songs don’t come a whole lot more classic than this one. Yet I struggled to find a decent uke-friendly chord sheet for it, and so hopefully here is one.

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You Are The Sunshine Of My Life comes from Wonder’s purple patch during the 1970s. Having grown up as Motown’s boy wonder during the 1960s, the 1970s saw him reach an extended creative peak with albums such as Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life, spawning solid-gold classic songs such as Superstition, Living For The City, Isn’t She Lovely, Sir Duke, and this. In terms of creativity and breaking new ground Wonder was arguably up there with the likes of David Bowie in the way he extended the possibilities of what was possible, becoming a critical success whilst still establishing a commercially successful career.

You Are The Sunshine Of My life won a Grammy in 1973, topped the charts in the US, and was nominated for both record and song of the year.

So here’s the songsheet. For such an apparently simple song there’s quite a lot of chords, but there’s nothing too tricky and they’re worth persevering with because its those that give the song its distinctive loveliness (the lovely Em7 to Gdim change is a particular favourite of mine). I did have a go at transcribing the intro from the original but it didn’t really work out too well, so I just stuck with the first two lines of the verse. Strumming pattern needs to have a bit of a swing / edge to it, but get that feel from the original.

Enjoy!

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Never Can Say Goodbye – The Communards / Gloria Gaynor

communardsSorry, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Things going on I’m afraid (nothing significant, just general life stuff) which meant I haven’t got round to putting much up on here. But I do have a batch of stuff that I will post over the next few weeks, and here is the first.

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Depending on your generation, this is either a disco classic from the 1970s (Gloria Gaynor) or a classic hi-nrg cover from the 1980s (The Communards). Or possibly even a Jacksons classic from the early 1970s (I didn’t know anything about that one until I started looking into this). For me it’s the 1980s version that is the most evocative, although I do like the Gloria Gaynor one for it’s subtlety (The Communards version is *not* a subtle record!).

The Communards had already had a huge hit with a cover of a disco classic (Don’t Leave Me This Way) in 1986, and followed it the following year with this. Some might call it a cynical attempt to re-capture the success of the following year, and there is probably some justification for that (subsequent original songs had not really set the charts alight). But I don’t think you can fail to respond to the enthusiasm and clear love of the song that Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles (now the Rev. Richard Coles) brought to this recording. I particularly love the totally camp enthusiasm that Cole shows in the video (see 1:12) and Sommerville is obviously immensely enjoying himself (see 3:25).

And so to the songsheet. There’s a few unusual chords in there (although you could probably skip the Db if you struggle with it) but they do add something to the song. The rhythm is relatively straightforward and consistent throughout, although I have add a couple of counts where the timing might get a little tricky. Sing and play with enthusiasm an you can’t go far wrong.

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The Town I Loved So Well – The Dubliners

DublinersI was listening to the new Dexys album yesterday. “Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul” is a covers album with a loose Irish theme (loose in that it includes Rod Stewart and Joni Mitchell songs!). But it also includes a wonderful version of this gem, a song I loved but had almost forgotten about.

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The Town I Loved So Well comes from an unlikely source. Songwriter Phil Coulter was a professional musician, songwriter and arranger, responsible (amongst other things) for two Eurovision smashes (Puppet On A String, and Congratulations) as well as the England 1970 football squad’s Back Home, and the Bay City Rollers Shang-A-Lang. But away from the commercial focus of thos 60s and 70s pop hits, Coulter also indulged his love of Irish folk music, working with the likes of Planxty and The Dubliners. It was for the latter that he wrote this beautiful song.

Based on Coulter’s upbringing in Derry, Northern Ireland, the first three verses reflect on childhood memories of the two that he grew up in. But it is the juxtaposition of those verses with the final two which really gives the song it’s power. For in those verses he reflects on how all of that has been destroyed by the unrest and violence that gripped Northern Ireland during the last 60s and early 70s. Derry was the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacres, and much more deadly sectarian violence beside. And so the song is a lament for a lost innocence, and a forlorn reflection on what that violence has done to the place he loved.

And so the songsheet. Nothing tricky here, just four chords, for the most part straightforward timing. You can thrown a few Gsus4 chords in at the end of some of the lines, but it’s best kept simple. Sounds lovely when picked as well. Enjoy!
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Rainbow Connection

KermitDon’t ever let it be said that there’s no variety on this site. From 80s synthpop and soulful grooves, we now move on to a song made famous by a singing frog playing the banjo!

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Rainbow Connection, however, is not your average glove-puppet inspired tune. The work of two highly respected composers and arrangers, Paul Williams (“We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)”) and Kenneth Ascher, the song first came to the consciousness of the world via. The Muppet Movie, where it was performed by Kermit the Frog. Performing a similar role in that film to the similarly-themed “Over The Rainbow” in The Wizard Of Oz, the song is a surprisingly wistful song that looks yearns and dreams for, and holds out the hope for, a better life. Nominated for an Academy Award (it lost out to “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae – no, me neither!) it has over the years turned into a true standard.

Subsequently reprised in The Muppet Show in 1980 as a duet with Debbie Harry, it has since gone on to be covered by a whole host of artists including The Carpenters, Sarah McLachlan, Willie Nelson, Ed Sheerhan, and my personal favourite version by The Dixie Chicks.

There are quite a few Rainbow Connection song sheets out there, so why another one? Well this was put together for when our band, The Flukes wanted to perform it (you can see/hear it below – excuse the slightly fluffed intro and solo from yours truly!), and none of the versions out there quite worked for us. So firstly this version does away with the key change, thereby avoiding a host of horrible chords! Secondly, I’ve also include (a) the opening riff, and (b) a solo for the middle, which started off based on The Dixie Chicks version, and then morphed into some kind of amalgam of a number of versions. Anyway, I think the whole thing is better picked than strummed, but that’s my opinion, and you’re free to ignore it. Enjoy!
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