Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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Lyin’ Eyes – Eagles

lyineyes(It’s been a bit quiet here lately, hasn’t it? Sorry about that, but holidays, festivals and other things have been getting in the way of things.Hopefully normal, semi-regular will be resumed as soon as possible)

Eagles were never a band that were high on my sightlines. Having been persuaded early on by the orthodoxies of punk / post-punk / new wave, they were a band that seemed to be everything that those scenes were kicking against. Even when, much later on, I started getting into country music, Eagles still felt too slick, too corporate, too watered down to be interesting. But over time I must have mellowed. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t go as far as considering myself a fan, I’ve grown to really enjoy some of the songs. There’s some great songwriting going on, that general country/rock vibe is something I’m a sucker for, and those harmonies help seal the deal.

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Lyin’ Eyes is a classic example. More country than rock (although it’s Grammy nomination was in the pop song category), it does one of the things I particularly like about many country music songs – it tells a story. Not a happy one, and not one that resolves itself in any satisfactory way. But it’s a story that takes you on a journey, one that’s undoubtedly human and which you can identify with, even if you haven’t been in the self-same situation. The song was a huge hit in the US, but only a relatively minor one in the UK, where the band never really established themselves as a singles band.

So here’s the song sheet. It’s quite straightforward, with a relatively simple rhythm and pattern, and a relatively straightfoward set of chords. Apart from that G9! It definitely sounds better with it, but if you struggle with it then you can get away with a G7. Enjoy!

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Love Is The Drug – Roxy Music / Bryan Ferry Orchestra

LoveIsTheDrug

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I came to Roxy Music the wrong way round. My first conscious exposure was via. the Summer of ’79 singles (Angel Eyes, Dance Away), and the first recording I owned was the Flesh + Blood album (Christmas present, 1980). I worked back to Manifesto (second-hand record shop in Kingston Road, Portsmouth) and then forward to 1982’s Avalon (a truly gorgeous record).

But the early Roxy years were something I was blithely unaware of until I picked up a copy of For Your Pleasure in another Portsmouth second-hand record shop. I don’t know what I was expecting. But it wasn’t that!  From the bold statement of intent that is Do The Strand, through the totally rocking Editions of You (the guitar riff is my ring tone!) to the weird and somewhat unsettling In Every Dream Home A Heartache, this was a long way from the smooth Roxy of the early 80s. And the inside of that gatefold sleeve – who were these people? (the outside was pretty memorable as well)

That record grew on me, and remains probably my favourite of all of theirs. Subsequently I delved back into their past and discovered the even more “out there” sounds of the eponymous debut album (that must have sounded like aliens discovering rock and roll in 1972), and then followed the development of the Roxy sound from those adventurous beginnings to the cultured conclusions, and it kind of make sense.

Siren is the album that sits at the end of Roxy Phase 1, and for me sounds like the cross-roads between that early ground-breaking sound, and the later more mature work. Love Is The Drug is the opening track, and the lead-off single, and is rightly regarded as a classic. From the opening sounds of a footsteps and revving car, the song is a tight, concise construction, powered along by a classic bass line that Nile Rodgers of Chic claims was a big influence on their song “Good Times“. In fact the song itself has a loose disco feel to it that was probably instrumental in making it the world-wide hit it was (it was the band’s biggest hit in the US, who never really “got” the earliest incarnation of the band). It was probably Grace Jones who best demonstrated this in her cover version.

In 2012, Bryan Ferry surprised many by releasing “The Jazz Age“. An instrumental collection of Roxy Music songs recorded in the style of a 1920s Jazz band, some of the songs were almost unrecognisable, and some were hugely different in style and tone (Avalon being the most obvious example). Love Is The Drug was included on that album, and whilst a relatively faithful working of the original, it brings to the song a swing where the original was a strut. Better? Probably not. Good? Definitely.

So here are the chords to the song. It works for both versions – the straight-ahead original, or the swinging Jazz version. Personally, I think the ukulele suits the jazz version better, and that’s how I tend to play it. But hey! It’s a free world, and it’s your choice. Just enjoy!

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Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell

rhinestone<song sheet>

The 1970s is starting to feel like a long time ago. It was the decade of my youth (ages 5-15) and so holds fond memories, albeit I expect they are probably somewhat rose-tinted. I was relatively late getting into pop music, and so much of my experience of music before the age of 12 was via. my parents, whose taste were for extreme middle-of-the-road, Radio 2 fare. As a result there are songs from that time that operate as a warm comfort blanket to my soul, that summon up memories of Sunday afternoons with crumpets by the fire, Sing Something Simple, Family Favourites. Songs like Durham Town and The Last Farewell by Roger Whittaker, There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving by Guys and Dolls, Aria by Acker Bilk.

For a long while I kept Glen Campbell in that same box. But in the same way that I have slowly been able to appreciate the likes of The Carpenters and ABBA without the baggage of credibility hanging round by neck, so I’ve come to appreciate the impeccable quality of some of Glen Campbell’s songs. Sure, some of it really does cross the line into MOR blandness. But at it’s best it is quality songs, perfectly performed. There are the supreme Jimmy Webb songs, Galveston, Wichita Lineman and By The Time I Get To Phoenix. There is Gentle On My Mind. Try A Little Kindness. Country Boy. All of them wonderful tunes. And don’t be surprised if some of those crop up on here at some point soon.

But for now it is the perfect slice of Country Pop that is Rhinestone Cowboy that gets the attention. I guess it probably is a bit cheesy, But as a song, as a 3-minute piece of pop music, it works so well. The understated opening verse, slowly building, holding back the instrumentation in those few lines before the inevitable tumble into the chorus. This song isn’t about cool, about credibility, about edginess. It’s just a good song, a tune that can’t help but get under your skin and lodge there forever.

So enough of the song. Here are the chords. As usual these have been adapted from a number of sources, but seem to work for me (and are the same key as the recording).  You can choose to ignore most of the *sus4 chords if you wish. And I’m not sure whether the chord I’ve called Csus5 is actually called that, but the fingering (see bottom of the page) sounds right. I think this is a great song to belt out, either together or in the privacy of your own home. Either way, enjoy!

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P.S. Came across an interesting cover version by Radiohead. Maybe that makes it slightly coo? Nah, I didn’t think so!