Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Squeeze – Singles 45’s and Under

Squeeze are part of a long line of British observational songwriters/bands, taking their cure in particular from the likes of The Small Faces and The Kinks, with no small debt to The Beatles. Whilst never really making it big in the US, in the late 1970s and early 1980s they were constants in the UK charts, releasing classic single after classic single, the best of which were collected together onto a fabulous compilation album in 1982 called Singles – 45s and Under, released just after the band’s first split. It’s that collection (the UK version) that is contained in this songbook.

<Full Album Songbook>

At it’s heart, Squeeze songs were the product of a long-lasting (if sometimes fractious) songwriting partnership between Chris Difford (lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (music). Together with a band that included – for their first few albums – Jools Holland, Squeeze rode on the coat-tails of the late-70s New Wave scene, but were far more in the classic pop mould of their influences. Taking a particularly urban, British perspective, their songs were tightly observed vignettes of the life and characters that were part of their South London roots.

Whilst their first album, 1978’s self-titled debut, spawned a minor hit with Take Me I’m Yours, it was with 1979’s Cool For Cats that the band really broke through, scoring huge hits with the title track and Up The Junction, success that continued in the following year with Argybargy. 1981 brought arguably the bands masterpiece, the Elvis Costello-produced East Side Story, that saw the band’s sound broadening, exemplified by the country stylings of Labelled With Love (released at around the same time as Costello’s equally influenced single Good Year For The Roses). However, subsequent releases proved to be less successful, and increasing tension between Difford and Tilbrook, along with the stresses of touring, saw the band calling it a day in 1982.

This proved to be a temporary hiatus, however, and the band re-formed and extended in 1985, picking up where they left off with a series of albums that performed modestly, with the occasional breakout hit (Hourglass being the biggest). Splitting again in 1999, and then re-forming again in 2007, Squeeze continue as a fully-functioning band to this day, albeit in a somewhat more relaxed manner with the various members finding time for their own solo and side projects.

But for me, it is this collection of songs which really defining Squeeze. This is the ultimate collection of wonderful, witty, intelligent, concise songwriting that all aspiring songwriters should aspire to.

As to the songbook – well, you’ll notice that the songs get musically more sophisticated as they go on, but generally speaking these are *reasonably* straightforward songs that lend themselves well to both the ukulele and communal singing. There are one of two more challenging songs – Tempted, in particular – but nothing that won’t come with a little bit of practice. Enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>


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Tapestry – Carole King (Full Album)

When it comes to women who have trail-blazed in the music industry, it’s often the critical darlings that take the limelight. People like Patti Smith, Aretha Franklin, Debbie Harry and Bjork are regularly cited – quite rightly – as paving the way for many that followed. But the first solo female artist to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Song of the Year, the first woman to be awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the creator of – until the late 90s – the best-selling female solo artist album of all time (and still in the top 50, with 25 million sales) – the recipient of all of these operated as an initially backroom creator of 60s pop songs, and found fame with the down-home warmth of melodic, piano-based soft rock. Carole King was never gunning for critical credibility.

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Starting out as a songwriter at the legendary Brill building in the late-1950s, Carole King was the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the US, having written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and wrote 61 UK chart hits, making her the most successful female songwriter on the UK singles charts in the 20th century. Writing with then-husband Gerry Goffin, the Goffin-King partnership was responsible for a slew of classic songs that are considered standards to this day – The Loco-motion, It Might As Well Rain Until September, Up On The Roof, I’m Into Something Good, Pleasant Valley Sunday, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, Goin’ Back, amongst many others.

But in 1968 King and Goffin divorced, and she headed to Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, at the time an artistic hub that was home to musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, The Byrds, James Taylor and many others. King decided to re-invigorate what had been a stalled recording career, releasing her first solo album, Writer, in 1970. But it was Writer’s follow-up that was to be the making of the her.

On Tapestry King wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, including a number that were resurrected and reinterpreted from her earlier songwriter career. Recorded simultaneously with James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon album, and using the same bunch of musicians, Tapestry inadvertently set a template – alongside Joni Mitchell’s Blue – for the confessional female singer-songwriter album. With it’s pastoral and homely vibe echoed in the iconic album cover and packaging, this was an album that eschewed the heaviness of the late ’60s rock generation, and instead took an deliberately more open, organic, and softer approach. But when allied to genuinely great songs (Tapestry is a fine example of an all-killer/no-filler album, where every song is a classic in its own right), it couldn’t fail. It’s not all domestic bliss – some of these songs have real pain at their heart – but there is a reassurance and comfort that comes from these songs that sucks you in and wraps you up. They are old friends that you always feel comfortable in the presence of. They are those ever-present reminders of an old home, memories filling every crevice. This is an album to treasure, forever.

So one of the challenges with this songbook is that King writes, and performs, with piano. Consequently there are more chords and changes than you might necessarily want. And sometimes the timing can get a little tricky, particularly as the singing gets somewhat loose over the backing. But if you know the record, many of these songs will be embedded in your brain, and that will carry you through. Throughout I’ve tried to strike a balance between something that is playable, and something that retains the nuances of the original.

<Full Album Songbook>


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Queen – Songbook

One thing that constantly surprises me is how different young people’s attitude to music is now, compared to how it was when I was younger (we’re talking late 70s/early 80s here). In my day (!) it was all about the latest thing – what was new, what was “in”, was what mattered. And music that was even 3 or 4 years old was considered ancient, passe, past it. Anything that was more than 10 years old we wouldn’t have given the time of day.

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I contrast that attitude with what I see from young people now, and whilst new music is still important, it’s mixed into a melting pot of music from across the generations. That is, I’m sure, something driven by an internet and streaming environment where (almost) every music ever made is available in a few clicks. Overall I think that’s a good thing, although it can make it challenging for new bands and artists to break through, and for them to have the long-lasting presence and careers that artists of old might have had.

I mentioned all this in the context of this post because the subject of this post – Queen – is one band that I’m particularly conscious has been embraced in this way. That is in no small part due to the success of the film Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie that seems to have become something of a phenomenon, despite – or maybe because of – a decidedly mixed critical reception. But the rehabilitation of Queen goes back much further than that, probably to the Live Aid appearance that plays such a pivotal role in the film. Not to mention *that* scene in Wayne’s World – something that even got a sly reference in Bohemian Rhapsody. Whatever you think of their music, it has become timeless, a part of our culture, and something that feels like it’s going to be around for a long time to come.

A Queen evening has been something that has been both discussed and requested for a while for our run of ukulele album/themed nights. And to be honest it’s something I’ve put off. Not because I don’t like the songs (although I wouldn’t really call myself a fan, and my awareness really starts and ends with the singles). But because I wasn’t sure that we could do the songs justice. A few passing glances at the songs led me to think that we would really struggle to find enough songs that were half-way playable. But recently I thought I’d have another look, and give it a bit more effort, and … here  we are.

It is fair to say that the selection of songs here was – to a certain extent – pre-determined. There are a whole bunch of other songs that I’d include if playability weren’t such an issue (Now I’m Here and Somebody To Love being a couple of examples). But what has fallen out has been what I think is a good cross-section of songs that – totally coincidentally (I certainly didn’t plan it!) – cover the full range of the band’s career, touch every album apart from their first and last. Now I’m not going to pretend that all of these are straightforward – Queen songs have a habit of going off in odd keys (that make transposing into “easier” keys pointless), and having various timing issues. So some of these do take a bit of attention and working at. But I do think they work, something that I’m going to be putting to the test when we will be listening to and playing most of these at a Queen evening in December (click on the poster below for more details)!

Anyway, here is the Queen songbook, which includes the following songs:

  • Another One Bites The Dust
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Flash
  • Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
  • I Want It All
  • I Want To Break Free
  • Killer Queen
  • A Kind Of Magic
  • Radio Ga Ga
  • Seven Seas Of Rhye
  • These Are The Days Of Our Lives
  • Under Pressure
  • We Are The Champions
  • We Will Rock You
  • You’re My Best Friend

I’ve tried to strike a balance between being faithful to the originals, and keeping them relatively playable. So there are some simplifications, and I’ve also included some “optional” chords which can be skipped with minimal impact. I *had* to include Bohemian Rhapsody, and that (particularly the middle section) I’m still not sure about – but hey, even Queen didn’t play that bit live, so don’t feel too bad about struggling with that. And Flash was a bit of fun – I really don’t know if that would work at all! But all in all, I think this is a playable selection of well-loved songs that will be a bit challenging but will add something different to your ukulele repertoire. Enjoy!

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Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel (Full Album)

Whilst I’ve published a number of songbooks over the last few months, it’s been a while since I’ve done a whole album. That’s partly because the “album” nights that we’ve been doing with Southampton Ukulele Jam have morphed into a series of themed nights (Abba, Elvis, 1979, Glam), and also – and not coincidentally – because I’ve struggled a little to think of albums that would work. There are a ton of albums that I personally would love to do, but finding something where 75%+ is relatively well known, and that works on the ukulele for a broad audience, has proven a little tricky. But today’s post does – I think – tick all those boxes.

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Bridge Over Troubled Water was the final studio album recorded by the duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The American folk-rock duo had climbed a steady road to popularity since first getting together in the late 1950s as Tom and Jerry, and during the late 1960s achieved an unparalleled level of success. Despite a sound that remained remarkably consistent over their five albums, their recordings showed a gradual evolution and increased maturity and sophistication, something which reached a peak (and ultimately conclusion) on Bridge Over Troubled Water. Whilst still clearly rooted in the folk stylings of their early records (and the live recording of the Everly Brothers classic Bye Bye Love was a clear harking back to those early years), the album demonstrated a branching out. El Condor Pasa, based on an original Peruvian song, anticipated Paul Simon’s later excursions into world music, the title track owed a strong and clear debt to the Gospel sounds that Simon was listening to at the time, and Keep The Customer Satisfied adds a full-on brass section.

Whilst the release of the album met a mixed critical response (typically it was felt to be smooth and over-produced), the public response was anything but mixed. Despite their break-up, the album topped the charts in 10 countries, was the best selling album in the world in 1970, 1971 AND 1972, and remained CBS’s best-selling record until ultimately over-taken by Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the 1980s. In the UK the album was number one for 35 weeks, and remained on the charts for 285 weeks – no self-respecting household was without a copy. 25 million copies of the album have been sold world-wide. Clearly this was a record that struck a chord with its audience, and which has continued to do so ever since.

These are songs that have become part of the musical DNA of western culture, known and loved by people across the world, many of whom are far younger than these recordings (it will be 50 years old next year), and who will have very little context of where these songs came from. In that context these songs have truly become modern folk songs – owned and loved by the people as much as they are by those who created them. Songs like The Boxer, Cecilia, Song For The Asking, El Condor Pasa and the title track are the kind of songs that feel like they have always been there, and it feels hard to conceive of a time when these songs didn’t exist.

So here is the Bridge Over Troubled Water songbook. I’ll be upfront – despite their apparent simplicity, some of these songs aren’t necessarily as straightforward as they sound. The relatively less well-known So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright is the most obvious example of that, but others have their moments. That said, with a bunch of songs as wonderful and well-known as these, it’s hard to go too far wrong. Most of the songs I’ve ended up transposing from their original keys to ensure they are an easier set of chords. I’m not claiming that these are 100% correct, so any feedback on corrections, improvements, etc. appreciated. But most of all, enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>


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Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Sometimes ideas for these song sheets are hanging around for ages. And sometimes they just come from nowhere and have to be acted on. Today’s song definitely falls into the latter category.

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This morning Alex, a friend and stalwart of Southampton Ukulele Jam, posted this song on Facebook. But not the regular, 8+ minutes rock epic that we’ve all grown to know and love (we do all love it, don’t we? please don’t tell me any different). No, it was a version of the song performed by The Who (well, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend) together with The Roots, a hip-hop band who currently are the house band on the US TV show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

But this isn’t just any old cover version, oh no. Because the song – which appears to be part of a regular feature on the show – is performed with schoolroom instruments. And yes, that includes ukuleles. Along with a whole host of other, mainly percussion, instruments. And it works. It is *such* fun. [Turn away at the end, though, if you are averse to ukulele abuse – Pete Townshend performs one of his trademark stage moves on the poor little instrument]

So in this instance I haven’t gone for following the original arrangement, but instead have gone for the Jimmy Fallon show version. So this song sheet should work for playing along to the above video. It’s actually the same key as the original, so you could use it for that, although clearly I haven’t written out all the synth parts, solo parts, and there is a verse and chorus missing. But I do think that the conciseness of this joyous version is part of what makes it so special. So there (or here) it is. Enjoy!


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A Gallimaufry of Songs

I’ve been pulling together my annual update to the UkeTunes songbook. And in the process I’ve come across a number of songsheets that I’d put together over the last twelve months for various reasons, and which haven’t made it on to this site. So I thought I’d collect them all together into a single post, in an attempt to clear the decks. Here they are – click on the song titles for the song sheets:

 

  • Andante Andante – Abba
    Another movie-inspired song, this slightly obscure Abba album track (from 1980’s Super Trouper) found its way into the Mamma Mia sequel, and as a result has had a new lease of life breathed into it.

 

 

  • I Wish – Stevie Wonder
    Another great song from a classic album, this time Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. Funky.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The Lucky One – Alison Krauss
    A beautiful, sublime ballad from the rather lovely Alison Krauss. This was one of the first tracks that got me into country music.

 

 


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Glam Rock!!! Songbook!!!

As the sixties bled into the seventies, the almost constant innovation and excitement that had been a hallmark of that classic musical decade seemed to have petered out. Everything had all got very serious – beards, musicianship, extended guitar solos, double albums, introspective singer-songwriters, albums over singles. Whilst there were lots of real classics in there, it really seemed to have lost that original energy, fun and irreverence that had so characterised the best rock and roll and pop music for the previous fifteen years.

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So there was a real pent up demand, particularly at the teenage end of the market, for the sheer exuberance, simplicity and brashness that was Glam. Trail-blazed by Marc Bolan and his re-configured T-Rex (the previous Tyrannosaurus Rex incarnation had been a typical late-60s folky-hippy-mystical acoustic sound), for a couple of years in the early 70s you couldn’t move for glitter, platform boots and outrageous flares (in the UK and Europe, at least – Glam never really translated to the US). The likes of Slade, Mud and Sweet conquered the charts repeatedly, careers were resurrected (Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed), future national treasures tapped in to the spirit of it (Elton John), and art-rockers like Roxy Music, David Bowie and Sparks brought critical credibility to it as well.

In many ways Glam brought the kind of electrifying shock to the music scene that punk did later in the decade, but with decidedly less long-term credibility. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that (and I’d recommend Simon Reynolds exhaustive book, Shock and Awe, to give you all the insight you’ll ever need into the scene) those short few years left a legacy of songs – primarily singles (Glam was almost by definition about those short, sharp, 3 minute bursts of energy) – that are both evocative and sing-out-loud fun.

And so I present to you, the UkeTunes Glam Rock songbook! Here is a collection of 19 songs from that period that both sum up all that was best about it, and – to my mind – translate well to the humble ukulele. There’s very little subtlety in many of these songs – don’t go looking for deep lyrical insight, they’re designed to be thrashed, and sung / shouted at the top of your voice.  But that is where the fun is. Just like you can never take yourself too seriously when you’re playing a miniature, shrunken guitar, neither can you when singing yourself hoarse to these songs. So take these in the spirit they’re offered – go and have fun, and add a smidgen of glitter to your life.

Here is the songbook, with all of the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with a link to individual song sheets for each song: