Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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 Jill 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!


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Forest Fire – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

More back to the 80s, I’m afraid. But no excuses for this one, for this song is just pure class.

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Taken from their debut album, Rattlesnakes, Forest Fire is a gem amongst an album of ridiculous riches. Lloyd Cole and his Commotions may have had a reputation for pretentiousness (to be fair, a not undeserved criticism, given it contains lyrical references to Renata Adler, Simone de Beauvoir and Norman Mailer) and a somewhat affected vocal style, but this was an album that crammed more ideas and tunes into its 35 minutes than many bands manage in their whole career.

Forest Fire was a little different to the rest of the album, being something of a brooding slow-burner, replete with an almost rock-ist guitar solo. But what a track! Time and again, when I come back to this song, I’m reminded of what a gorgeous experience it is. Not a minute of its 5 minutes and 15 seconds (always go for the album version, anything else and you’re just being short-changed) is wasted, gradually turning up the emotional heat until it bursts with a guitar solo of both grace and grit.

And so to the song sheet. It’s basically just verses, a repeated chord sequence that isn’t too stretching. I haven’t included the solo – you can work that out if you like, but I think it still holds up without. Rhythm might be a little tricky, but check out this solo acoustic version by Lloyd here for some ideas on that front. Enjoy!


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The Way Old Friends Do – ABBA

It’s strange how songs crop up in the most unlikely of places.

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Yesterday I attended the Wickham Festival. It’s a local festival, just down the road, and I was attending because Southampton Ukulele Jam had been asked to perform, somewhat at the last minute. We had a blast (here’s a clip of us doing Blitzrieg Bop – that’s me at the back in the straw hat!), and got a great reaction from the audience. But it meant we had a free day ticket, so got to enjoy some great music, largely of the folk variety, from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Gaz Brookfield, Imar and Brighde Chaimbeul. Anyway, inbetween sets there was an interesting mix of music being played, often with something of a 70s soft rock flavour (blatantly appealing to the majority demographic in attendance). And then this song popped up. It somewhat surprised me that something from a hyper-polished Swedish pop group would crop up during an English folk festival. But on reflection, it actually fitted really well.

Pre-Abba, each of the band members, in particular Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, had established themselves in various parts of the Swedish folk scene. And there has often been elements of folk music creeping in to their music over the years. The Way Old Friends Do is certainly one of those songs, initially just accompanied on the accordion, there is something pure and honest about this lovely song. Never recorded in the studio, the version that found its way onto 1980’s Super Trouper album was recorded live during the band’s tour in 1979, and the simple sounds of voices and accordion show that, for all the studio wizardry and perfectionism that went into ABBA’s music, cut to the core they were four great musicians.

There is *nothing* complicated in this songsheet. The song only has one verse, repeated. The chords are as straightforward as they could be. The only slightly tricky thing if you try to play along (the songsheet is in the same key) is that the recording is not in any kind of regular tempo. When played alone, it’s easy to give it that regular tempo, though. So enjoy!