Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Updated ABBA Songbook

Our album / theme nights have been impacted by the strange circumstances we find ourselves in, and I’m really not sure when we’ll be doing another one. But I’m optimistic that we will, and trying to use the free time to build up a backlog of possibilities (hence the recent Synthpop and New Romantic songbook).

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But I was thinking about what would be a good “goodbye to Coronavirus and all your restrictions” session. Doing an album of dystopian sci-fi (Ziggy Stardust, I’m thinking of you!) doesn’t feel like the kind of celebratory feel-good session that you’d want. But THIS does!

We did an Abba night a couple of years ago, and it was such fun. But there were a load of songs that we didn’t get round to, and so there is definitely mileage in a part 2, a “More Abba” session. But I thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit and update the songbook to add a few more songs – kind of “deep cuts”, particularly ones that – for many people – they will only have become aware of as a result of the Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again movie.

And so here it – an updated and extended version of the original songbook, with 7 new songs. The additions are:

  • Andante, Andante
  • Angel Eyes
  • I’ve Been Waiting For You
  • Our Last Summer
  • The Way Old Friends Do
  • When I Kissed The Teacher
  • Why Did It Have To Be Me?

And obviously all the other more well known songs are there as well. Enjoy!

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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.

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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!

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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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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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