Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Stop! – Erasure

stopA couple of Vince Clark songs have made it to this blog over the years, but this is the first time I’ve posted one from the band that he had most success with, namely Erasure.

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The 1980s was clearly synthpop’s heyday. The availability of relatively affordable synthesizers, coupled with the anybody-can-do-it over-spill from punks formative years, with the added impetus of the new romatic / new pop era of resulted in a stream of wannabes-with-eyeliner having a go. Over the years many of those artists (China Crisis, Eurythmics, OMD, Tears for Fears) evolved their sounds to a fuller, richer, more “traditional” sound, others stubbornly stuck to their roots. Vince Clark is the epitome of that.

From his first brush with pop stardom in Depeche Mode, through the successful collaboration with Alison Moyet as Yazoo (see Situation) and a number of one-offs with the likes of Paul Quinn and Feargal Sharkey (see Never, Never), he eventually ended up as another duo with Andy Bell as Erasure. During the late 80s and early 90s they achieved a phenomenal run of success, both as a singles and albums band.

Stop! was the lead track from the band’s first EP, Crackers International, released around Christmas 1988 and peaking at number 2 in the UK singles chart.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple little synthpop song, so there’s nothing tricky or clever here – it’s a real strumfest so just give it plenty of energy and have fun. Enjoy!
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Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order

bizarreWe’ve already had a smattering of New Order on the site (see in the shape of both sides of the True Faith single), but nothing for a while, so when this little ditty popped up recently it seemed worth giving it a try. And what do you know, it works!

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Bizarre Love Triangle is New Order at their prime. The full length 12″ version is – in my books – just a perfect record, something that was amplified when I saw Peter Hook’s The Light perform it recently as part of a stunning concert where they performed both the Low-Life and Brotherhood albums in their entirety. Even cut down to the standard single version it is an amazing piece of music. And to prove it’s not just the recording that is strong, but there is a quality song at the heart of it, an acoustic version by Frente! (apparently a moderate hit in the US in the 1990s) gave a new perspective on the song.

A quick YouTube search reveals quite a few ukulele-based covers of the song. So it does work. You can either do it as a gentle finger-picked version (a la the Frente! cover) or give it a bit of wellie and go for the feel of the original (although be warned – try it too fast and you’ll run out of breath quite quickly!). It’s a simple, repeated chord sequence all the way through, and whilst the Fmaj7 may not be totally in line with the original I personally think it gives the song some additional colour. 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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Bonny – Prefab Sprout

SteveMcQueenNot only is Steve McQueen one of the albums of the 1980s, I would argue that it is one of the albums of all-time.

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Not that this seems to be a universally held truth. Despite a lot of love for it, it only manages to scrape in at number 434 on the NME list of the best 500 albums ever. And doesn’t appear at all on the equivalent Rolling Stone list. But in this case I can safely say that they are both wrong. Steve McQueen, the second album from Paddy McAloon and his erstwhile band Prefab Sprout, was/is pure genius.

Musically sophisticated  yet still totally accessible, lyrically witty whilst still emotionally resonant, melodies to die for, all given a superb pop sheen by producer Thomas Dolby. Oh, and the angelic backing vocals of Wendy Smith are (more than just) the icing on the cake.

From the opening meta-country of “Faron Young” (a country-tinged song taking “Four In The Morning” as its emotional reference point ) the standard is set. Side One then ploughs a furrow that, to my mind, is not excelled anywhere in pop music – Bonny, Appetite, When Love Breaks Down (released at least three times, and still only charting at #25!), Goodbye Lucille #1 (otherwise known as Johnny Johnny), Hallelujah (*not* the Leonard Cohen song!). And if Side Two is somehow less than the first, it is only because of the insanely high standards that have already been set – Moving The River, Horsin’ Around, Desire As, Blueberry Pies, When The Angels. Pure pop perfection in one single package.

Nobody could keep up that standard forever, but McAloon and Co. certainly didn’t let that stop them trying. Official follow-up From Langley Park To Memphis, the sprawling, ambitious, vaguely conceptual (Love, God, Elvis, Death!) Jordan: The Comeback, the more low-key Andromeda Heights, and the surprise solo (but still using the Prefab moniker) Crimson/Red all flew the flag for perfect, sophisticated pop (and McQueen’s predecessor, the slightly prickly Swoon, would be up there too). Yet Steve McQueen acts as a high water mark for just how perfect perfect pop can be.

So here is Bonny, a lyrically ambiguous tome (is it about a girl that’s left him, or a man that’s died) that is a perfect representation of the Steve McQueen sound. It was later covered very successfully in a more reflective, slowed down version by Editors (who – coincidence or not – were on the same record label – Newcastle-based Kitchenware – as the Prefab’s, at the time a veritable feast of goodness with stablemates including Hurrah!, Kane Gang and Martin Stephenson and the Daintees).

So can we do justice to this marvellous song on the ukulele? Probably not, but that won’t stop me or you trying. So here’s the songsheet. If it looks a little busy, don’t worry. Listen to the song, particularly the intro, to get the strumming pattern going which you can keeping going throughout the song. Some of the transition chords are very brief (e.g. the Asus4 at the beginning of the chorus lines, the A’s at the end of those lines, and all the Bm7’s) and could be skipped if you struggle with timing. But they do add to the colouring of the song. If in doubt at any time, just resort to that gorgeous major 7 chord! Enjoy!

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Whistle Down The Wind – Nick Heyward

WhistleDownTheWindNick Heyward is one of those classic instances of a songwriter who the public won’t let grow up.

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First shooting to prominence in the early 1980s with his band Haircut 100, Heyward took some of the hip sounds of the time (the jangly guitars of Orange Juice, the white-boy funk that was everywhere at the time), added a melodic pop sensibility, and cleaned up with some classic singles (Favourite Shirts, Love Plus One, Fantastic Day, Nobody’s Fool). The band didn’t last long though, and only recorded one album together (Pelican West). Heyward subsequently launched a solo career, kicking off with this classic pop song, a song that had originally been slated as a Haircut 100 single. Whilst his first album, North of  a Miracle, did quite well, Heyward soon fell off the pop radar (something probably not helped by having acquired a devoted but fickle young female fan base with Haircut 100). Albums struggled to be heard, and have been sporadic over the years. His last was in 2006, but it looks like there may be new material later this year. However don’t take that as any signifier of a lack of quality. Heyward is a dedicated and focussed songwriter, working in a classic british pop vein, and his lack of success or visibility says more about the fickle state of pop than it does about his talents.

Whistle Down The Wind takes its title from a 1961 British film that starred Hayley Mills, Bernard Lee and Alan Bates in a touching story of three young children finding a fugitive in a barn, mistaking him for Jesus Christ, unbeknown that he is wanted on suspicion of murder. The song only tangentially touches on these themes, and is a slightly more mellow sound than the Haircut 100 sounds that preceded it. I’ve only recently discovered the album this is from, North of  a Miracle, but it is a superb collection of classic pop sounds that is vastly underrated.

So here is the songsheet. Nothing too complicated, although a few unusual chords are thrown in there. But they do give the song its colour. Enjoy!

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Happy Hour – The Housemartins

HappyHourThese days The Housemartins seem to be considered more as the prelude and launch pad for the careers of Paul Heaton (via. The Beautiful South) and Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).

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But when they emerged in the mid-1980s, the self-styled “fourth best band in Hull” were a breath of fresh-air. Not exactly original in their music (their is undoubtedly a debt to the likes of The Smiths, Aztec Camera and the contemporary “jangle” indie pop sound) they nevertheless delivered a sound and an attitude that cut through some of the po-faced posturing of the time (they also had a love of acapella singing, something that often came out on b-sides). And whilst they were certainly very politically aware, something that would often spill into their songs, they were also no afraid to send themselves up.

Happy Hour was their breakthrough single. As was fairly typical of the band, the bouncy sound of the song was something of a contrast to the lyrical content of the song, which addressed the hypocrisy and sexism of young British males, particularly what was perceived to be the office culture of the time. The song peaked high in the charts (number 3), only bettered for them by their Christmas-time accapella version of Caravan Of Love.

So here’s the songsheet. I’ve kept this in the same key as the original. Whilst that means its not the most straightforward chords, I don’t think there is anything too tricky in here that justifies transposing it. Essentially it’s the same chord sequence all the way through – make sure you give it a bouncy, choppy rhythm all the way through.

Enjoy!

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