Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Parallel Lines – Blondie (Full Album)

I’d been promising to do this for a while – both to myself and to you good people – and a bit of spare time over the Christmas break has given me the opportunity. So ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a UkeTunes first – a songbook for a whole album, start to end, and all stations inbetween.

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When I’d previously done song sheets for Picture This and One Way Or Another, I’d suggested that it would be great idea – to me, at least – to do a ukulele-based full album show that was nothing but Parallel Lines, in sequence. Well the show hasn’t happened yet, but this is a step towards that – the full album transcribed (at least as far as the chords are concerned) for ukulele.

But why Parallel Lines (you may or may not be asking)? Well, for me it is one of those classic albums where every song could have been a single, a band at the top of their game, bashing our pop-punk gems (with the odd bit of disco thrown in) like there was no tomorrow. It is truly a classic, one that was of its time but which has outlasted its era, a touchstone of great songwriting, sharp production and strong performances. Each of the 12 song does just what it needs to do, never outstaying its welcome, bursting into life, burning brightly for the duration, and then gone, only for another gem to follow in its coat-tails.

The genesis and realisation of Parallel Lines is well-documented, and I’m not going to attempt to repeat those stories (try here and here, or the wonderful BBC documentary here, if you want to find out more). Suffice to say that this was the album that turned Blondie from a moderately successful New Wave band into the world-beating rock/pop phenomenon that they became (and, in many ways, remain). Bringing on board Australian producer Mike Chapman, who had had huge success in the 1970s with – amongst others – The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud, in hindsight would appear to be a deliberate attempt by the band to move beyond the constraints of the punk and new wave ghettos, and to become a pop band, albeit one that still retained that New York swagger, edge and attitude.

Chapman was clearly a significant part in creating the sound, but it would have been nothing without the songs. Here Blondie had clearly upped their game, with all the band contributing, along with a couple of covers (Hanging on the Telephone, by The Nerves, and I’m Gonna Love You To by Buddy Holly) – most of these songs were new, but some, such as Heart of Glass, harked back to the bands early days in the mid-70s. In the UK the album spawned two huge number one singles (Sunday Girl and the aforementioned Heart of Glass) as well as a couple of other huge hits. But it was in their homeland of the USA that Parallel Lines had arguably even more impact for the band, taking them from a somewhat hip but commercially unsuccessful band into the major league via. Heart of Glass’s ascension to the number one slot.

So here we have a songbook, not just a songsheet. All the songs from the album are included, in sequence. Most are in the same key as the originals, but a couple (11:59 and Just Go Away) I have transposed down by a semi-tone to make them a little easier to play – either play them as they are, or stick a capo on and play along in the same key as the originals. Most are largely faithful in arrangement to the originals.

Note that I’ve done my best to transcribe these as accurately as possible, whilst still remaining in the realm of playability. Most of the songs, with the exception of Just Go Away, had some online source of chords, so for the most part the arrangements aren’t original either. So if you find any mistakes, or potential improvements, let me know. But most of all, enjoy!

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Being Boiled – The Human League

beingboiledSo. It’s been a little quiet here lately. Apologies for that, but I’ve been busy with a number of things lately, not least of which is our little band The Flukes, who have been playing a few gigs and even doing some recording.

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But that’s not why you’re here, so time for some songs. And here’s one that probably falls into the “unexpected” category. The thought of doing this came to mind recently when Southampton Ukulele Jam had a go at The Undertones My Perfect Cousin. To be honest that didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped, but the song includes a pre-fame reference to The Human League (“…got the Human League into advise her..”). Rather flippantly I suggested that we should pair My Perfect Cousin with a Human League song, citing the most-obscure-yet-still-known-but-totally-unlikely-to-work-on-ukuelele League song I could think of, that of Being Boiled. But then I remembered this acoustic guitar version, and thought well maybe it might work. So I had a look. And here it is!

Being Boiled was a significant song in the history of electronic music. Recorded in 1978 by the first, pre-Dare incarnation of The Human League, the song was composed by future Heaven 17 members  Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, with lyrics from then new vocalist Phil Oakey. Lyrically it’s somewhat dark in its themes, focussing on the inherent cruely of sericulture, the raising of silk moth larvae for the production of silk, and its relationship to Buddhism. There probably aren’t too many songs on popular (or unpopular!) music that are addressing this issue! Whilst not achieving anything other than critical plaudits on its initial release, it was finally a hit in 1982 when released off the back of the success of Dare! and it’s associated singles.

Musically the song is built on a repetative drum patttern and bass-line, overlaid with simple synth riffs.So perfect for translating to the ukulele, then. Well, it’s probably not going to usurp the likes of Folsom Prison Blues or Bad Moon Rising anytime soon. But personally I think there’s something here that works. The basic chords are straightforward (Am, C and Em), although you’ll see that I’ve add an optional riff that you can use in various places throughout the song. It does some need a good strong rhythm (this is *not* one for the universal ukulele strum!), and maybe benefits from something relatively sparse. You’ll also see that I’ve added a bit of tab, both for an introduction and a verse accompaniment. Use (or ignore) this as you wish – it’s designed to accompany the chords rather than replace them.

Enjoy!

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One Way Or Another – Blondie

parallellinesA couple of days ago I finally got round to sitting down and watching the recent documentary on BBC4 about Blondie’s Parallel Lines. It’s worth seeing (watch it here), and re-ignitied my often dormant fantasy of trying to do a ukulele-based full-album show featuring Parallel Lines, in sequence! I don’t suppose that will ever come to fruition, but it did prompt me to have a go at this song, the second track from this album I’ve posted on here (see the previous post of Picture This). Surprisingly I couldn’t find a ukulele sheet for this song (that wasn’t polluted by 1D!) so here is one.

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It’s a mark of just how much a classic Parallel Lines is, that even an album track such as this is so well known. I’m not even going to entertain the notion that this is due to the ghastly One Direction mash-up with Teenage Kicks (it’s appearance in the Rugrats movie gives it more credibility than that!). One Way Or Another is a classic of the Debbie Harry “attitude” school, spat out with the venom of a (presumably somewhat aggrieved) stalker who’s going to see ya / meetcha / getcha / trick ya. You really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that treatment. There’s an interesting segment in that documentary (starting at 4:31) on the song, it’s genesis and recording.

So here’s the song sheet. For what might come across as a simple song there’s a lot of chords, but nothing too tricksy as long as you’re comfortable with barre chords. I’ve shown the chords as barre chords on the songsheet as they do work better that way, so if you can play them like that do. And if you can’t, practice! I found the little runs in the verse from D/C#/C/B and back again need a bit of concentration to get the timing right (it’s quite quick). The strumming pattern is something you need to listen to the original for, particularly in the verse where a nice bit of damping and scratching of the strings with the left hand gives it that chunky feel (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damping_(music) – I had to look the terms up!).  As ever, listen and play along to the original to get the overall feel and timing (it’s in the same key). And enjoy!

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Picture This – Blondie

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To be perfectly honest there’s a whole raft of Blondie songs I could have posted on here. OK, maybe not Rapture, and Heart of Glass might be a struggle, but much of the Blondie back catalogue just seems to work really well on ukulele. I guess that is testament to the fact that they wrote good strong songs, with good strong tunes – simple yet effective, and ear-worms that won’t loosen their grip for days on end.

Picture This is from the generally acknowledged highpoint of Blondie‘s career, Parallel Lines, an album that sold 20 million copies, spawned four hit singles in the UK (two of which were number one) and still sounds fresh and buzzing every time you play it. The album was produced by Mike Chapman, who was resonspible for a string of hit singles in the 1970s, particularly Glam Rock artists such as Mud, Sweet and Suzi Quattro. That crips, punchy, no nonsense sound permeates Parallel Lines, but obviously there is more to it than that.

And obviously there is Debbie Harry, who for many people was Blondie (unfairly but understandably so). The epitome of the sassy, spunky, sexy front woman, this was prime-era Harry, and whilst the songs are great, her presence fronting up these songs really makes them something else. I refer you to the video (below) for this song as evidence – essentially just long, lingering shots of Debbie backlit in a yellow dress again, peroxide blonde against a black backdrop. Cheap, simple, but totally effective and sexy as hell!

So what about the song. Well I don’t think there is too much that needs to be said about that . It is relatively simple and straightforward (apart from the occassional Ab chord), it has a little riff (which you can either sing! or play) and it powers on through from beginning to end. Play with attitude. Oh, and it needs a bit of a deep breath for a few lines in the chorus – you’ll find that out when you try to play it. Enjoy!

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Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty

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Ah. Back to the 70’s we go with this one. Probably most famous for it’s wonderful saxophone riff, this was probably one of those songs / artists that punk was meant to kill off. But a year after the Sex Pistol’s rose to public prominence, here is a classic piece of 70’s pop/rock that has weathered the years and established itself as a bona fide classic.

Gerry Rafferty was originally a member of folk/rock/pop group The Humblebums, which included comedian Billy Connolly in its ranks. In the early 1970s he was part of Stealers Wheel, most famous for their hit “Stuck In The Middle With You“. But by the mid 70s that had all folded, and he was out there as a solo artist. Baker Street was the first single from his second solo album, “City to City”, and was the song that got the solo Gerry into the public consciousness.

With a gentle opening, the song explodes into that classic saxophone refrain (by Raphael Ravenscroft), and takes a full minute before getting to the opening verse. For all the attention that the instrumentation gets in this song (and there is a great guitar solo in there as well towards the end), the song itself – verses and choruses – is, to my mind, the equal of the music, albeit somewhat more understated.

The song was voted best British single of 1978 in the forerunner to the British Rock and Pop Awards (although this is the only – somewhat bizarre – reference I can find to that). I can’t say I’ve been a huge Rafferty fan, although great songs like “Get It Right Next Time” and “Night Owl” remind me that I really should check out some more of his music, and are definitely sounds that transport me back to a certain time and place (late 70s, middle years of secondary school, and all that goes with that!).

Now with all that sax and lead guitar solos, I can understand why you might be raising your eyebrows at a ukulele version of this song. Hopefully this will show you that the songs works just great on the humble old uke. I think this version is stunning!

And so here is the song sheet. It follows the song arrangement fairly closely, and hence has lots of space for instrumental improvisation, if required. I guess you could try and replicate the saxophone parts on the kazoo, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve also included some tab for the intro and instrumental sections, which I stumbled across on Ukulele Underground. Worth giving a try, I think, if you want a bit of a challenge.

Enjoy!!

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Top Of The Pops – The Rezillos

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From the sublime to the…

Only three years separate Rhinestone Cowboy from Top Of The Pops. But these songs *appear* to come from totally separate universes. In that time punk had happened, and with its year zero ethic sought to sweep away the past and start again. That it was a sound and an ethic for which there was a strong, albeit underground, lineage – from the tougher sound of 60s groups such as The Kinks (check out “You Really Got Me” or “All Day And All Of The Night” as a prototype for the punk sound) and The Who, through the US garage bands, The Stooges, New York Dolls, and the UK pub rock scene of the early 70s with bands like Dr Feelgood – seemed to have passed some of the revisionists by.

But whatever the background, it is undoubtedly true that punk was a breath of fresh air into a music scene that was becoming increasingly divorced from its raw roots, either in the polished sheen of disco, the middle-of-the-road blandness of mainstream pop, or the indulgent and tedious world of prog rock. And it was fun! Yes, there was obviously the political intensity of bands like The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. But there was also a collection of punk bands who didn’t take them to seriously – something you could term day-glo punk. Step forward The Damned, X-Ray Spex (whose “Day The World Turned Day-Glo“could be this non-existent movements anthem!). And step forward The Rezillos.

The Rezillos hailed from Edinburgh, and were influenced as much by Glam Rock and 60s pop as the punk sound. They weren’t hugely successful in commercial terms, and Top Of The Pops was  their only top 40 single, peaking at 17. But it is a great song that hasn’t aged at all. An explosion of energy and colour that blasts breathlessly through it’s 2 minutes and 58 seconds, leaving you wanting to go straight back to the beginning and play the thing over again. The hallmark of a great single. Here’s a performance from – where else – Top Of The Pops.

Ukulele groups up and down the country seem to have taken a shine to some of the classic two-and-a-half minute punk singles from this era. Whether it is the lean structure of the songs, the three-chord thrash, or just a reflection of the demographics of those in these groups, it is true that some of these songs work really well on the ukulele.  So I thought that Top Of The Pops might maybe join the ranks of Teenage Kicks and Ever Fallen In Love… a ukulele staple. And as if to confirm it, I came across this wonderful version by Gus & Fin…

So buoyed by that  I pulled together a set of chords that seemed to work and reflect (as close as feasible) the original. Also included is the little riff that goes before each line in the chorus. Tabbed for ukulele (the two notes in brackets can be omitted and you still get the right feel). Or else you can do as Gus & Fin did and whistle it! Works for me.

Enjoy!

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Follow You, Follow Me – Genesis

Follow You, Follow Me

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Let’s get this straight from the start. I’m not a big Genesis fan. Never have been.

All that early prog-rock staff really leaves me cold (as does most prog rock, if truth be told), although I do actually quite like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. And much of the later stuff from the 1980s just feels pointless and soulless. But I do have a soft spot for some of the late-70s / early 80s singles – songs like Turn It On Again, Misunderstanding and Mama seemed to occur in that transition from prog to pop, and were all the better for it.

Follow You, Follow Me was probably my first exposure to Genesis, and is a song I have loved for as long as I can remember. Maybe pre-empting some of the early Phil Collins solo material (and I will argue with anybody the merits of “Face Value“) it is probably one of their more melodic offerings (original version here, really nice unplugged version here). So what better song for a little uke-ing.

This one is largely transcribed from guitar chords from a number of sources on the web, but then I found this on YouTube, which confirmed my suspicions that this would work on the ukelele. It really does!

Here are the chords (below). Enjoy!

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