Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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The Undertones – The Singles

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I’ve posted a number of times in the past about how well some of the punk and new wave classics translate to ukulele – if you give it enough enthusiasm and energy. The basic structure of the songs, the (usually) simple chord patterns, the repetitive sing-a-long nature of them, plus the fact that they’re often a but rough round the edges, lends them well to being played by ukulele groups who often treasure all those things. And so here is a song book from the masters of the form – Northern Ireland’s own legends, The Undertones. Teenage Kicks is a song that has been a staple of Southampton Ukulele Jam for many a year (and even got performed by us on BBC TV!), and more recently My Perfect Cousin has had a couple of appearances. So it seemed to make sense to try to widen out the possibilities.

The Undertones originally formed in 1974, but with the coming of the punk revolution in 1976 they shifted their focus and were soon plying their three-chord pop punk songs around Derry. Mostly eschewing the troubled political climate of 1970s Northern Ireland, the bands songs focussed more on the typical tropes of teenage growing up – girls, angst, girls, adolescence, and girls. Eventually getting noticed by Sire records (by way of ardent fan, the radio 1 DJ John Pee, who often cited Teenage Kicks as the best record ever), the band released a steady stream of classic singles, and four albums, before splitting in 1983 when lead singer Feargal Sharkey left, pursuing a brief solo career before moving into A&R and executive roles within the music industry.

The musical evolution of The Undertones is fascinating. Initially creating pop punk classics such as Teenage Kicks, Jimmy Jimmy and Here Comes The Summer, by the time of their second album, 1980’s Hypnotised, they had supplemented that with a more sophisticated 60s influenced sound as typified by hit single Wednesday Week. That trend continued in the band’s next album, Positive Touch, with their musical palette being extended with keyboards and brass, and lyrically a number of songs that did touch on the Troubles within Ireland. By the time of their final album, 1983’s The Sin Of Pride, full-on Motown influences can be heard (Got To Have You Back was original an Isley Brothers song), and whilst the album was a critical success the band’s commercial success had declined. Pressure from the record company, added to tensions and musical difference within the band, eventually led to the split later that year.

The band reformed in 1999, without Sharkey, and instead with Paul McLoone on lead vocals. Since they they have played and toured regularly and – from personal experience – I can highly recommend them. McLoone isn’t Sharkey, and doesn’t pretend to be, but it is a great night out. They have released a couple of albums in that time (I must admit I’ve never head them) but it will always be for the songs from that classic 5 year run that they will be known and loved.

For the song book, I’ve drawn together – in chronological order – the 13 singles that comprised their glory years. These are all fairly straightforward – there certainly aren’t any tricky chords in there (I’ve transposed a couple to make them a bit easier to play), and by and large they are structurally fairly standard. After their last hit, It’s Going To Happen!, there aren’t any chord sheets out there that I could draw on, so everything after that I’ve had to compile myself, via. the magic of Chordify. They sound OK to my ears, but I can’t vouch for them being perfect.

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List of songs, with links to individual song sheets, below:


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1981

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Well it’s been nearly two years since I did the 1979 songbook, and so it seemed about time to bring things bank up-to-date … with a 1981 equivalent. As mentioned previously, this is kind-of my era, and so I’m not one to be particularly balanced in an assessment of the musical qualities of the year.

As with last time, this is *my* selection, and takes a somewhat biased view on the musical output of the year. So sorry, but you won’t find any Shakin’ Stevens here. Nor will you find any Bucks Fizz, Joe Dolce, Julio Igelsias, Stars on 45 or The Birdie Song (all of whom were in the top 20 selling singles of the year). But what you will find is a selection that showcases some of the wide variety of music that was being made and – in most cases – being lapped up by the British music-buying public.

1981 was the year in which the New Romantics, and electronic music more generally, established itself in the charts. I’ve covered those genres off in more depth here, but included in this book are the likes of Soft Cell (whose cover of Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love was everywhere), The Human League (who came from also-ran has-beens following the earlier split in the band to be triumphant pop conquerors with their classic album Dare, and the omnipresent Christmas Number 1, Don’t You Want Me), the studio-based Visage, OMD (with their songs of dead French saints – x2), the upcoming scream-sensation that was/is Duran Duran, and Basildon’s finest, Depeche Mode. With their strong emphasis on visuals and style, these new artists were truly of the video age, a fortuitous timing that – with the launch of MTV in the US in this year – saw their music being eagerly gobbled up by young Americans, leading to the second “British invasion” which really got under way the following year.

The US were not to be outdone, though. And whilst classic American rock bands have often had a hard-time making a lasting presence in the UK (at least from a singles perspective) the year did see the likes of REO Speedwagon and Journey have some success. But even then, the more “new wave” artists from stateside, such as The Go-Go’s and Kim Carnes (a kind of new wave / classic rock hybrid) had success, alongside the reinvigorated rock-and-roll stylings of Stray Cats.

But these were somewhat of an exception. British Pop was in rude health, as evidenced in more classic ways by the fresh face of Kim Wilde, the songwriting powerhouse that was Kirsty MacColl, and the singles-juggernaut that was Madness. But there were some particularly skewed versions of pop appearing during the year. Most significantly (and if it was anybody’s year, it was probably his) Adam and his Ants took a bizarre amalgam of tribal drumming, punk attitudes, twangy guitars, and almost-pantomime dressing up, married with a constantly evolving but somehow consistent visual style, and won Britain’s playground over big style. This even gave an opportunity for posh punk has-been Eddie Tudorpole to have a hit with the medieval-themed Swords of a Thousand Men.

The graduates of the punk and new wave scenes were still around, albeit in matured ways. The Police were still massive, The Stranglers had a big hit with the relatively laid-back and un-punk Golden Brown (odd time signatures included), XTC continued to plough their own furrow, The Undertones started to grow up, and both Squeeze and Elvis Costello took an unexpected country by-road. In addition the vibrant and varied post-punk scene started to go overground, with the likes of The Teardrop Explodes, Altered Images, Toyah and Scritti Politti establishing themselves.

But the old guard wasn’t to be outdone. Phil Collins took time out from Genesis to begin a parallel (and hugely successful) solo career, Dire Straits were further laying claim to their position as grown-up rock superstars, 10cc’s Godley and Creme broke away with their own brand of quirky pop, and even The Who returned from a few years away as if nothing much had changed (although clearly it had). And not to forget Olivia Newton-John having another gym-based makeover.

Anyway, here’s the book. I’m sure you’ll disagree with the selection of what is or should have been in the book. I’m in no way claiming this to be a definitive record of the year. But it is *my* selection. And I love every song here.

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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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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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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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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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