Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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Autobahn – Kraftwerk

So I think this must be something of an apogee for synthpop arranged for ukulele!

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I hadn’t intended doing this one, in fact I was just tidying up all the recent songs for inclusion in the next edition of the songbooks (coming soon). But then this popped up on my shuffle on my ipod, and it just seemed to be crying out for doing. So here it is.

Autobahn is one of those songs that can genuinely be called seminal. Can be seen as a genuine game-changer. A song that was like nothing else that had ever gone before it. Kraftwerk themselves had recorded a few albums before this one, but with Autobahn they toned down some of their more experimental side and conceived a song that was truly groundbreaking. Emulating the rhythmic, hypnotic sounds of a car journey on Germany’s autobahns, the album version clocked in at 22 minutes, a subtly and constantly evolving electronic soundscape. The first Kraftwerk song to feature lyrics, the “fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn” phrase is clearly a homage to the Beach Boys “Fun, Fun, Fun”, so much so that it is often mis-heard as “fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn”.

Fortunately (for these purposes) the song was cut down to a more manageable 3-and-a-half-minutes single version, and that is what I’ve based this songsheet on.

So yes, the songsheet. Well, clearly this isn’t your usual sing-along ukulele song, is it. Firstly, the arrangement is primarily based on the single version, as per the YouTube link above. I’ve tabbed out the main synth lines that run throughout the song, and indicated (hopefully clearly) where the various bits fit in. None of them are too tricky, but if you struggle you can play along, as the song sheet is in the same key as the original. So probably best played with two – one for the strumming, one picking the synth lines. At some point I’ll try and get around to recording a version so you can hear what it sounds like. 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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Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You've GotTo my shame, this is a song that I wasn’t even consciously aware of until about a month ago. I first came across via. Massive Attack’s cover on their Blue Lines album, and whilst checking that out online for the chords came across this – the original – on YouTube, and was hooked. The hypnotic trance-like groove just sucks you in and suddenly you’re in another world where the concept of time dissappears – I could (and have) listened to this over and over again.

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Despite the song being huge in the US (it was only a minor hit here in the UK) William DeVaughn, who wrote and sung the song (it’s often mistakenly credited to Curtis Mayfield) wasn’t able to capitalise on its success, despite a first-rate album to accompany the song. That may have had something to do with his preaching and admonishing of the audience during gigs (DeVaughn was a Jehovah’s Witness when the song was written), and eventually he walked away from the music business, with occassical sporadic re-appearances.

None of that, however, detracts from the quality of *this* song. Recorded with the legendary MFSB, responsible for the Philly sound that was the foundation of the success of the likes of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, and The Stylistics, the song is essentially one long laid-back groove, over which DeVaughn’s silky vocal intones a (preobably religiously influenced) paean that acknowledges that, despite what you don’t have, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

So this on the ukulele. Hell, why not! It’s only two chords, after all. It *is* about the groove, and that’s not easy to teach, let alone describe. Listen to the song, particularly where it’s in instrumental mode, you can clearly hear the guitar chopping away, just put it on a loop and play along – over time you’ll get it. Despite the fact that it’s only two chords, those are best played – as indicated on the sheet – as barre chords on the 9th and 7th frets. That way you can really get that choppy rhythm working. I’ve also included a brief little riff that you can play over those chords as well. Again, listen to the original and you’ll work it out. This one is all about feel.

Enjoy!

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(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding – Brinsley Shwarz / Elvis Costello

PeaceLove

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I always thought this was an Elvis Costello song. It wasn’t until recently watching one of those great BBC4 music documentaries (on pub rock, or the pre-punk-scene, or something like that) that I came across Brinsley Schwarz, and realised that this was a song penned by Brinsley’s bassist and vocalist Nick Lowe. I didn’t even realise that Nick Lowe (who I was only familiar with from solo songs such as “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” and “Cruel To Be Kind“) had a pre-history. What do I know, eh.

Anyway, it turns out that it is all a bit more incestuous. Lowe was the producer of the Costello version, and it was originally released as the B-side of a Nick Lowe single. Both were originally on Stiff Records, but both artists had moved on by the time of the releases (the Costello version surfaced as the b-side of My Funny Valentine).

There’s quite a few ukulele versions out there. This one is probably my favourite.

The song is quite a straightforward one – no strange chords or anything in there. It definitely benefits from getting a good driving rhythm going, particularly for the [G] [D] [C] introduction / interludes. Sing loud and with energy. Enjoy!

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