Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Living By Numbers – New Musik

Reputations are usually sealed in hindsight. And as with history, where it is usually acknowledged that it is written by the victors, musical history and reputations are usually written by the taste-makers. So as we look back there is increasingly a musical pantheon, a set of classic and set texts that become a self-reinforcing by-word for goodness and excellence.

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New Musik will never be part of that canonical grouping. Coming to prominence in the late 70s, and embracing aspects of New Wave and the emerging futurist / synth-based sounds, leader, songwriter, singer and producer Tony Mansfield clearly had a pop mentality that he melded to great productions whilst still pursuing an experimental agenda. Yet in a the musically rich and diverse climate of the times, New Musik were seen as neither one thing nor the other – not edgy enough to be cool in the alternative scenes, too weird to be accepted as straight-up pop. As with The Buggles, another band similar in style and temperament, a degree of success was achieved with what came to be perceived as novelty hits (New Musik with Living By Numbers, The Buggles with the somewhat more successful Video Killed the Radio Star). In my book, though, this is shame, because both bands brought a different, intelligent, edgy yet melodic approach to pop music that should have been far more successful than it was.

Living By Numbers was the bands sole top 20 hit, it’s success in part driven by its adoption by Casio for use in a TV advertising campaign for pocket calculators. Subsequent singles (including the excellent Sanctuary) grazed the Top 40, but further success eluded them with subsequent albums, and eventually Mansfield called it quits, going on to more success as a producer with the likes of The B-52s, A-ha and other bands of the era (Vicious Pink, Captain Sensible, etc.). Vastly under-rated (in my books) Living By Numbers does at least still keep the New Musik flag flying in its use in multiple 80s-era compilations.

So here’s the songsheet. A fairly straightforward strum-along that – if you’re familiar with the original (it’s in the same key so you can play along) – should make sense and work without any problems. Enjoy!

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Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow – Felt

I’ve kind-of giving up worrying about the preponderance of 80s tunes from my youth that I post on these pages. The songs that I post have always been influenced by the music that I’m listening to at any point of time, and – in no small part thanks to Decade, a wonderful event that happens not for from me that plays alternative music from 77-87 – I’ve been listening to a lot of music from that era, both songs that I’m familiar with, as well as tunes and artists that passed me by at the time.

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So this is a stone-cold classic from that era. Felt could be considered the quintessential 80s indie band. Essentially the platform for the artistic vision of the enigmatic Lawrence (no surname was ever used), Felt’s original jangle style was influenced by the likes of Television, but taken in a more fragile and luminescent direction. Early albums were resolutely low-fi and contained as many instrumentals as vocal songs, but through the 80s the Felt project grew and evolved, adding a bright and bubbling organ to the mix, branching off into lounge-style mini-instrumentals and kitsch-jazz before concluding (after 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years – all part of the masterplan) in 1989 with the vastly underrated, almost professional sounding Me and a Monkey on the Moon.

Top of the pile of all those songs, for me, is the swooningly gorgeous Primitive Painters, a duet with Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser (one of the few records I’ve ever brought on-spec after one hearing in a record shop). But that doesn’t translate too well to ukulele! So instead here is a song that scales pretty close to those dizzy heights, the 1984 single Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow. With a title like that how could a song fail (I’d love Felt just for their song and album titles, even without hearing the music – Rain of Crystal Spires, The World is as Soft as Lace, Evergreen Dazed, Sapphire Mansions, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, Ignite the Seven Cannons and Set Sail for the Sun – the list is endless!). A resolutely up-beat sounding song that would appear to be a somewhat stinging observation of a friend, with the pretentiousness meter turned up high (the single and album versions differently reference a poem by┬áRimbaud or an Egyptian funerary text), the song is soaked in gorgeous shimmering and chiming guitars courtesy of Maurice Deebank, who was instrumental (literally) in the bands sounds for the first half of their career.

So translate this gloriousness to ukulele? Well, clearly its not going to sound *quite* like the original. But underneath all those wonderful sounds is a great song, and so I think it works. I’ve transcribed the ringing intro, solo and outro sections as well – Maurice Deebank never went in for guitar gymnatics, so these are definitely playable. It’s a great song, one that deserves more exposure. Enjoy!


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More Than This – Roxy Music

For many people Roxy Music were on a downhill trajectory from start. Understandable in some ways, because that debut album, and the hit single that sat alongside it (Virginia Plain) are such extraordinary records, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

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And in those people’s eyes, Avalon, Roxy’s swansong, became the epitome of everything that they had lost – smooth, bland, featureless, a triumph of style over substance. Well, I’m not one of those people, and I see it quite differently. Yes, Bryan Ferry would appear to have spent much of the rest of his career circling around and repeating that Avalon sound, but there are worse things to repeat. And that record, Avalon, is in my mind a classic, a subtle, sophisticated record that is a world away from songs like Editions of You and All I Want Is You, and yet retains much of the mysterious DNA that marked those early records out from the crowd.

More Than This was the lead single from Avalon, and landed at a time (Spring, 1982) when Roxy’s influence over other artists had never been stronger. Both musically and aesthetically, the sounds of the early 80s were indebted to the path that Roxy had pioneered, with groups like Duran Duran, Associates, Spandau Ballet and many others from that post-punk / new romantic era openly citing Roxy as a prime influence. That the rich, sophisticated sound that Avalon inspired may have resulted in some of the more vacuous, hollow, style-first content that followed later in the decade is hardly Roxy’s fault. This was a record that was taken to the heart (and bedroom!) of many that heard it, and to my ears is one of the bands masterpieces.

So here’s the songsheet. I’m aware that there are other ukulele versions floating about out there. But they didn’t quite cut it for me. Chords are relatively straightforward, the structure is pretty standard. I’ve included the opening riff as well, which definitely enhances the song. Not much more to say, really, other than enjoy!


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Open Your Heart – The Human League

So here we are again, back to the 80s, and back to shiny, streamlined synthpop. And what better example of that than The Human League at their peak.

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1981’s Dare was the album that made The Human League, a commercial triumph that seemed all-but-impossible a year earlier. In the autumn of 1980 the band were seen as something of a cult success, having achieved critical plaudits and a degree of recognition with their first two albums Reproduction and Travelogue. But tensions within the band resulted in a split on the eve of a UK and European tour. At the time, the smart money would have been on Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, often seen as the musical talent within the band, to be the ones that made the commercial break when they formed Heaven 17. Phil Oakey was left holding band name and little else, and with the threat of being sued for not meeting contractual commitments, Oakey quickly pulled together a band made of two girls he found on a Sheffield dance floor (Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall – no previous singing or performing experience) and a professional musician (Ian Burden) to play keyboards. They survived the tour, but it was when Oakey and the band were put together with producer Martin Rushent that things really sparked, and it was that relationship that produced Dare, and which ultimately established the band, particularly via. the hit singles that it spawned – The Sound Of The Crowd, Love Action, Open Your Heart and Don’t You Want Me.

Open Your Heart was the third single from the album, a co-write between Oakey and new band member Jo Callis (ex-Rezillos), immediately preceded the album’s release, and was a huge hit in the autumn of 1981.

Chord-wise this isn’t a complex song, as you would expect. So there’s nothing much to explain there. I’ve included some tab, for the opening bass riff (C x 32!), for the synth riff in the chorus (playable up high or down low) and for the bridge. I think this is a great song to sing, so enjoy!


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Black Man Ray – China Crisis

It’s 1985, and having gained a reputation as a slightly wimpy synthpop band via. a couple of hits (Christian and Wishful Thinking), China Crisis hook up with Steely Dan’s Walter Becker to produce their next album, Flaunt The Imperfection.

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The result is an career high for the band, combining the bands trademark wistful melodies with a sophisticated Dan-esque production that could have come across as a little cold and aloof, but thankfully ends up as a warm cloak that soaks a quality song with a crystal-clear sheen. And in so doing manages to avoid the worst excesses of 80s production.

Black Man Ray was the albums lead single, and a classy choice it was too. Giving the band their third top 20 hit, I can’t really be sure what the song is actually about, other than references in the songs title and the single cover to Man Ray, an American visual artist who spent most of his career in France, and who was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements.

So the basic structure and chords for the song are reasonably straightforward, and there’s nothing too challenging here rhythmically either. I’ve tabbed out the little synth riff in the intro (that also re-appears at the end of the first chorus), and also the picking pattern that accompanies the songs fade-out as well as the end of the second chorus. This is a lovely song, so enjoy!

 


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Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade

Remembered as a one-hit wonder, Strawberry Switchblade emerged from the Glasgow’s post-punk scene in the early 1980s and left us with this slice of glorious pop-goth.

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Taken under the wing of managers David Balfe and Bill Drummond, who both had Teardrop Explodes connections (Drummond later going on to huge success with The KLF), and releasing their first single on the label of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sargent, Strawberry Switchblade (essentially a duo of┬áJill Bryson and Rose McDowall) took their time to become overnight successes, and when it came were almost as famous for their costumes (all ribbons and polka-dots) as their songs. To be honest they probably suffered from being neither Goth enough nor poppy enough, but their one album is a great mix of those extremes (the name Strawberry Switchblade was designed to reflect the juxtaposition of sweetness and darkness), although may be a bit too much on the catchy, sweet side for some. Since Yesterday was a huge, deserved hit, and one that takes you right back to the mid-80s.

There’s nothing too much to say about the song sheet. It’s a simple 4 chord song, basic structure, and lots of la la las, just something to strum and sing. Enjoy!


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Joan Of Arc – OMD

So here we are going full circle in the series of recent posts, back to some synthpop, back to the 80s, and back to OMD.

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OMD (or Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, or Orchestral Manoeuvres as the sleeve for this song described them) had always straddled the line between experimentation and commerciality. Sometimes they went further in one direction than the other, but they are arguably at their best we they manage to hold those two tendancies in tension. As an album, 1981’s Architecture and Morality could be seen as a career highlight in achieving that, birthing three hit singles, hit still with enough elements of outright weirdness and oddity to make it interesting.

Two of those three singles focussed on the French heroine Joan of Arc (nicknamed Maid of Orleans, the title of the second such song). Having been in receipt of many religious visions in her early years, Joan was famed for her role in influencing the outcome of battles with the English in the 15th Century. She was ultimately handed over for trial and burnt at the stake at the age of 19, but it was not until the early 19th century that she was declared a national symbol, and not until the early 20th century that she was made a saint.

So it’s just a simple three-chord song, chorus-less but with a bridge-like interlude before the final verse. The original is unaccompanied (just a drum machine) at the beginning, but I’ve chorded it. Works both strummed or picked. Enjoy!