Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Two Bouncing Babies

Obscurity knocks! I’m pretty sure that I’m only doing this post for my own personal satisfaction. This post isn’t going to get me lots of hits on the blog, but any regular reader will recognise that’s not really my motivation here.

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A little while back I posted a song sheet for The Freshies forgotten classic “I’m In Love With The Girl On The Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk“. I was reminded of that song again yesterday, which itself reminded me of one of The Freshies other songs that I really loved – the only slightly shorter titled “I Can’t Get Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes”. Anybody who has browsed these pages will have noticed that I am a big fan of The Teardrops (and later solo material by Julian Cope), and so I thought it would be a good idea to bring both of those songs to these pages.

Bouncing Babies was an early single from The Teardrop Explodes, released on legendary Liverpool record label Zoo. A song that mines a rich vein of garage band psychedelia (there’s a great write-up about it here), it’s release on an independent label meant that – in pre-internet days – tracking down a copy of the record was an adventure in itself. In this respect, the record became a totemic instance of the wider record collector obsession with finding obscure independent records, something enshrined in The Freshies song that explicitly references it.

(In an even more self-referential twist, The Freshies record has inspired it’s own tribute from a chap called Mark Cottrell, who has written and recorded “I Can’t Get ‘I Can’t Get “Bouncing Babies” By The Teardrop Explodes’ By The Freshies“)!

And so here’s two song sheets for you. Bouncing Babies is a simple song – circling between an A/F first section and an E/G second section. The Freshies song is a little more complex, but is straightforward chords. I’ve followed the end section / outro as per the record, but it might stretch out a bit too long for you, so feel free to shorten if you want to.

Enjoy!

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<I Can’t Get “Bouncing Babies” By The Teardrop Explodes>


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Billy Bragg Songbook

In certain quarters, Billy Bragg must surely have obtained that most highly coveted status of National Treasure. But it’s probably fair to say that Bragg’s political activism and agitation will always mean that title is one that will never be fully bestowed. And that’s just the way Stephen William Bragg would want it.

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Over a career spanning nearly 40 years, Bragg has certainly forged his own unique path. Following failed attempts in a punk/pub rock band in the late 70s, followed by a fleeting period in the British Army, Bragg started playing solo concerts and busking with just his electric guitar for accompaniment, eventually securing a contract that saw the release of his debut solo mini-LP, Life’s A Riot with Spy vs. Spy (pay no more than £2.99!). With support from John Peel, and something of a music press favourite, Bragg emerged on to the public stage as a breath of fresh air – in a music scene that was becoming increasingly electronic and over-produced, the simplicity of Bragg’s format, and the direct nature of his songs, cut through. Musically harking back to punk, lyrically reflecting the reality of early 80’s Britain, the Bard of Barking caught the spirit of the times for a particular section of the country.

Political activism, of a decidedly left-wing nature, has always been a part of Bragg’s music from the beginning. And that has spilled over into various other initiatives, including the Red Wedge movement of the mid-80s and involvement in multiple campaigns and causes. That is a full-on part of the Bragg package. But what is often overlooked is that whilst Bragg’s songs do indeed reflect his political world-view, there are just as many – if not more – which reflect on the personal. Not just relationship songs (although those are there for certain) but songs that cover the wide spectrum of human experience. It is probably the combination of these two perspectives – the political and the personal – combined with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, which makes Bragg the interesting and much-loved character that he is.

As his career has developed, so have the avenues that Bragg has chosen to pursue. Musically he has branched out by recording a series of records with Wilco where they put unused lyrics of Woody Guthrie to new tunes and arrangements, performing with The Imagined Village (a constantly morphing folk music project), and an album of train-themed songs with Joe Henry that were recorded in various locations on a train journey across America. And he has recently been prevalent as an author, with both a musical (Skiffle) and political focus.

But it is for the music that you are here, right? And so here is a Billy Bragg ukulele song book. 30 songs spanning his career. Similar to the Johnny Cash songs, Bragg songs are – by and large – not complicated beasts. And obviously by-and-large they have been written for – and certainly performed in – a stripped down, solo context. So I think these songs translate well to a ukulele context, and are (mostly) designed to be sung loud and proud.

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Also, see below for a list of the songs included in the book, along with links to individual song sheets:


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Synthpop and New Romantics

Anybody who has had more than a cursory glance over the pages of this blog will realise that, though strictly speaking a child of the 1970s, my formative musical years were the early 80s. I’ve written elsewhere about how that was such a fertile time musically, about how there was just so much variety, and so much exciting new stuff both in the charts and in more obscure corners. And so it should come as no surprise that this songbook has finally found its way out there.

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A couple of musical threads which overlapped during that period were the rise of electronic music, particularly the more commercial brand that came to be referred to as synthpop, and the New Romantic movement. The latter grew initially out of the legendary Blitz club in London and, whilst borrowing from the anybody-can-do-it mindset that punk had unleashed a few years earlier, was in many ways a reaction to the often dour and black-and-white world that it had created. New Romantics were characterised by flamboyant, extravagant costumes and make-up, adopted a far more hedonistic lifestyle, and their music was all colour and drama. Whilst a relatively short-lived phenomenon, it gave a platform for a series of colourful characters (Boy George, Steve Strange, Marilyn), provided an lightning rod and incubator for a number of subsequently hugely successful bands (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet) and lent its sheen to a number of other artists who were on its periphery (not least of which was Adam Ant, who re-imagined himself in increasingly more glamorous and eccentric forms).

At the same time, the availability of cheaper electronic instruments created its own revolution, often inspired by true trailblazers such as Kraftwerk. The Human League were early out of the blocks, but initially had their thunder stolen by the upstart Gary Numan. But by 1980/81, you couldn’t move for electonic bands who were attempting to bring the left-field, subversive sounds that electronic music had originally rallied around into the charts. Bands like Depeche Mode, OMD, Soft Cell, Eurythmics, Yazoo, Tears for Fears, and many others rode on that wave. Often derided at the time, in a similar way to the way punk had been, for being talentless, one-finger keyboard operators, these artists often smuggled cutting edge contemporary themes into their songs and presentation.

On the surface, these songs and this genre are a thousand miles away from the world of ukulele. The sheer glamour of the New Romantics is not something that ukulele are renowned for. And the artificial, electronic sounds are not exactly what you associate ukulele with. But as has been proved in previous posts, and in a variety of ukulele groups around the country, these songs can actually translate quite well. Part of that comes down to the relatively straightforward nature of the songs, and the fact that – despite their origins – these are often classic, singalong songs. So I present you 30 songs that – to my mind, at least – are all classics of their kind, and translate really well to the humble ukulele. Give them a try, and enjoy!

Here is the songbook with all the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with links to each of the individual song sheets:


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World Shut Your Mouth – Julian Cope

Another gig inspired song, although this one didn’t actually get played on the night.

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I’ve been a long-time fan of Julian Cope, stretching right back to when The Teardrop Explodes Reward blasted out of the Top of the Pops studio (no, I wasn’t cool enough to be a pre-fame fan). The Teardrops imploded an album later in a haze of drug-fuelled paranoia, an event that set in train a wild and varied career that I’ve written about a number of times on this blog.

But somewhere in the late 1980s, Julian Cope the leather-clad rock star emerged blinking into the light, and for a fleeting moment it looked like mainstream success was beckoning, something that the resolutely lof-fi, whimiscal and surreal nature of the previous two albums had made look all but impossible. But this was Julian Cope we are talking about here, and those ambitions were resolutely dashed as Cope’s future headed off into even more arcane and defiantly un-commercial avenues, a direction from which he has never returned. But for those who like there pop stars unpredictable but errudite, wayward but smart, Julian has carved out a niche for himself that would have made his very own cult heroes proud.

World Shut Your Mouth comes not from the album of the same name (how boring and predictable would that be!) but from the messiah-like St Julian, the point at which his commercial star briefly shined. It’s one of those songs whose presence seems to have grown since its day (it only peaked at 19 in the UK singles chart), and is – if anything – the song that the vaguely interested general public know Mr Cope by.

World Shut Your Mouth is a top-class shouty anthem. It’s not subtle, and so is great for thrashing and singing at the top of your lungs. Its simple and straightforward (I’ve transposed it down from the original B to A to make it easier to play), and clearly needs to be played loud. Enjoy!


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People Have The Power – Patti Smith

Artists don’t come more iconic than true original Patti Smith. Deserving of the “high priestess of punk” banner that often gets thrown her way, that label also does her a disservice, as she as something of a renaissance woman, with her talents variously pursued in music, poetry, writing, visual arts and activism.

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But it is definitely for her music that she is best know. Starting with the fusion of punk and spoken word that was her debut album “Horses” (introducing herself to the world with the infamous line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”), Smith’s musical vision was always her own, and even when she achieved a level of mainstream success (with Bruce Springsteen’s Because The Night) it’s parent album (Easter) was hardly easy going.

After 1979’s Wave, Smith was largely quiet for the rest of the 1980s. But in 1988 she emerged with Dream of Life, an album that – whilst musically less ground-breaking – still waved the Patti Smith flag. It’s not a record whose reputation has grown over time. But this song – open track, lead single – definitely has. Used by Bruce Springsteen as a theme song for the 2004 Vote For Change campaign, it’s lyrical themes and anthemic chorus have given it a life of it’s own.

I was reminded of this when watching the recent Stewart Copeland fronted series on BBC, Adventures in Music, which included an excerpt of the song being performed by New Your community choir Choir! Choir! Choir, led on that instance by Patti Smith.

So here we have the songsheet. It’s a somewhat wordy song, but I managed to squeeze it all onto a single page. Nothing particularly tricky chord or timing wise, this is a song to play along to (it’s the same key as the original) and sing out loud. Enjoy.