Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Pete Shelley

In memory of Pete Shelley. Founder member, lead singer, key songwriter and singer with the Buzzcocks. Subsequent solo artist and electronic music pioneer.

Here are two songs reflecting those two periods of Shelley’s creativity. From Buzzcocks comes the 1979 single, You Say You Don’t Love Me – a classic Buzzcocks 3 minute song of unrequited love. And from his solo career, the debut solo single Homosapien, banned by the BBC but a classic combination of acoustics and electronics.

<You Say You Don’t Love Me>      <Homosapien>


       

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Olivia Newton-John – Physical / Xanadu

Two for the price of one today. And a double-dose of the Australian songstress Olivia Newton-John, somebody who I wouldn’t be going too if I was trying to establish any critical credibility for this blog. But who I would go to it I was after some cracking pop tunes.

<Physical> <Xanadu>

Actually, truth be told the roots of this post didn’t actually start with ONJ herself, but with the alternative artist Juliana Hatfield. Earlier this week I cam across an album she released earlier this year which is all Newton-John covers. Hatfield was – and remains – a big fan, and had decided to record her version of 13 of her favourite songs. Running the gamut of the obvious (these two included) to more obscure album tracks, these aren’t radical re-interpretations, but clearly demonstrate a love and a respect for the original material, albeit roughing them up a little and giving them a slightly grungy makeover.

Newton-John herself was a huge star, particularly in the US and her native Australia. Originally breaking through with a country pop sound, her role in the hugely successful movie Grease, which saw her character Sandy move from a goody-goody character to spandex-clad vixen, prompted her to undertake a similar transformation of her own image, moving towards a (relatively speaking) raunchier appearance, taking her music into more of a pop/rock direction. In 1980 that led her to star in the film Xanadu which, whilst a critical and commercial flop, did spawn a successful soundtrack which she featured prominently in, including the huge international hit which was the Jeff Lynne-penned title track, performed with Electric Light Orchestra.

The immediate follow-up album to the Xanadu soundtrack was the biggest of Newton-John’s career, spawning a series of hit singles, of which the title track was the biggest. Ten weeks at number one in the US (the longest run for any song during the 1980s), achieving a similar feat in many other countries, the song was doubtless helped by it’s tongue-in-cheek video and the very recent launch of MTV, which gave song and video massive exposure. Yes, its a little corny, and maybe somewhat of its time, but it’s still a great song, as Juliana Hatfield’s cover faithfully demonstrates.

So two song sheets for the price of one. Physical is quite a straightforward song – simple chords, simple structure – nothing really much to say for this one. Xanadu, as befits an ELO song, has a bit more going on in it, both in terms of chords and in terms of the structure / timing. But listen and play along to the originals (both are in the same key as those originals) and you’ll get the picture (although good luck on those last notes on Xanadu!).

Enjoy!

<Physical> <Xanadu>

 


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Souvenir – OMD

This blog has had its fair share of OMD songs, its true. But personally I’m a sucker for their music – as I’ve blogged earlier I love the way that these little synthpop riffs translate to the uke.

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And if a song were ever to be defined by its riff, this has to be one of those. Coming from their left-field, avant-garde electronic roots (beyond the singles, there is lots of weirdness across their back-catalogue, at least until the career jolt that was Dazzle Ships), Souvenir could be perceived as something of a sell-out – a lush, romantic ballad, voiced by the softer tones of Paul Humphries, a sure-fire attempt to make a huge hit. And in many ways it is those things – certainly it became one of their biggest selling singles, and most recognised recordings. Yet this is a far-from-standard hit-single – just two verses, no chorus to speak of (the riff performs that function, an approach that their previous hit, the class Enola Gay, had also done), an opening 10-seconds of just sampled choral sounds (there’s an interesting piece here on how that was achieved).

But for all that, it is a beautiful piece of music that revealed a softer side of these machine loving pioneers (previous songs having paid homage to telephone boxes, nuclear bombs and electricity), and which will immediately make those of a certain age go all wistful, transported back to another time and another place.

So here is the songsheet. The song itself is simple and straightforward – two verses, three chords, and then it’s gone. I’ve tabbed all of the riffs as best I can – they’re all variations on a similar theme, with some subtle variances throughout the song – and tried to indicate where the various sections fall. I’ve also transposed the song down a semi-tone (from F# to F) just to simplify the playing – capo 1 to play along with the original. 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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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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The Great Dominions – The Teardrop Explodes

WilderIt’s been a little while since there’s been some Julian Cope magic on here, so it’s about time that was rectified.

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As with a previous post, this one takes us back to their second (and final) album, 1981’s Wilder. Their first album, the previous year’s Kilimanjaro, had a classic post-punk, 60s-garage-band-inspired, psychedelic-influenced scratchy sound, but was also strong on melody, tunes, and threw in a bit of brass to give it a real kick. Wilder, on the other hand, was an altogether more colourful, eclectic, experimental collection, and clearly one where the drug influences (Cope and the band were on a real long rock-and-roll bender by this time) shine through. From the sunshine-pop of Passionate Friend (all ba-ba-bas and horns) to the clipped funkiness of The Culture Bunker and the psychedelic wanderings of Like Leila Khaled Said, this is a more varied and rambling album than its predecessor, and one which – from my perspective – is all the richer because of that.

The Great Dominions is one of a clutch of slower songs on the album (Tiny Children and …and the fighting takes over being the others) that – in my mind – turn this into a classic. I haven’t a clue what it’s all about – I’m not really sure that Julian had much of an idea either, given the amount of drugs he was consuming at the time (“I’m still stuck in this pickle jar on a paper carpet” anyone?!) – but for all that it is a beautiful and touching hymn that suggests a yearning for lost innocence.

I couldn’t find any chords anywhere for this lovely song, so I’m hoping that what I’ve transcribed works OK. Personally I think it transfers well to the ukulele, but then I would. Nothing tricksy here – it’s just a continuing D / C / G chord loop – and the tune is almost nursery-rhyme like in its simplicity and innocence. Enjoy!

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Lawnchairs – Our Daughters Wedding

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I’ve been clearing the garden today. It has got horribly overgrown, so I’ve been uprooting weeds, brambles and other horrors. Not my idea of fun, but it’s quite satisfying seeing a somewhat clearer and tidier garden at the end of the day.

Anyway, to while away the time and motivate me I was listing to a compilation album called “The Mix Tapes: Alternative Music From The Late 70s And 80s“. It does what it says on the tin, and I guess this was really my era – the formative years of my musical journey, and as such music that has stayed with me and special to me ever since. One of the tracks that popped up was this somewhat neglected little gem from American synthpop trio Our Daughters Wedding.
This song takes me straight back to the summer of 1981. It was what was called a radio hit – i.e. played to death over the airwaves, but largely ignored by the great British record playing public. But it’s ubiquity at the time did enough to earn me a nickname of “Lawnchairs” due to my predilection for a rather fetching short-sleeved shirt in broad green and blue vertical stripes, interspersed with thin white stripes. Yes, in hindsight it did look something like a deckchair, but I loved it. As I did this record.

It’s one of those extremely basic synthpop songs that proliferated in the early 80s – in many ways similar to early songs by the likes of Depeche Mode and Orchestral Maoeuvres In The Dark (whose Messages has an introduction uncannily similar to this). I guess you an think of these as the synthpop equivalents of those early punk singles – spirit and attitude was everything, electronic equivalents of the two-chord thrash. Our Daughters Wedding never really made it – this was the peak of their success, and it didn’t get any higher than #49 in the UK singles chart – and if only for this song they are fondly remembered, if the number of appearances of this song on alternative 80s compilation albums is anything to go by.

So a suitable song for ukulele?! Well maybe not the most obvious of choices, I’ll grant you. But yes, I think it actually works quite well. It’s hugely straightforward, at least in terms of largely just being two chords all the way through. And the simple and straightforward nature of the song makes it something that seems to work well with four strings and a few bits of wood (and whilst it’s an acoustic guitar rather than a uke, here’s some kind of proof). [Note that the song sheet contains the song in two keys – the original, plus a version in E which I personally find it a lot easier to sing] Enjoy!

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