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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Plain Sailing – Tracey Thorn

Sometimes the songs I post on here come as a sudden inspiration. Sometimes they come as a result of a lot of hard thinking. And sometimes they come through a somewhat random series of connections. This is one of the latter.

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In a couple of months time I’m going to see Ben Watt play at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. I’ve seen Ben a couple of times in recent years, and have really enjoyed both his shows and recent albums. It’s fair to say Ben’s music isn’t exactly edgy or raucous. But in my book it’s grown up music for grown ups, without being being boring, safe or retro.

Anyway, I was talking about this to a friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, who was also consider going, and the conversation got onto Pillows and Prayers. Pillows and what, I hear you say! Well if you know, you know. And if you don’t, you don’t! Pillows and Prayers was a compilation album released in 1982 by the Cherry Red label as a sampler of acts on its books. Famously priced at 99p, it topped the independent album charts for months, and was became a touchstone in certain independent music circles at the time. For me, it was my introduction to artists such as The Monochrome Set, Felt and The Nightingales, as well a collection of tracks that circled around Everything But The Girl (this was before their first album had even been recorded). Ben Watt had a solo track on there, Everything But The Girl had a track, and so did that other half of both EBTG and Ben Watt), Tracey Thorn. In fact, Tracey had two songs – one with here pre-EBTG band, The Marine Girls. And one solo song. This one.

Plain Sailing was taken from Tracey Thorn’s solo debut album, A Distant Shore. It was a sparse record – just Tracey and her acoustic guitar, seven original songs and one cover (The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale). Apparently recorded for just £138, A Distant Shore was a welcome antidote to the big noise and melodrama that was the sound of the early 80s. This was stripped back, bedsit confessionals, and that was clearly what a section of the public wanted, as it made number one on the UK Indie album charts, and went on to sell 100,000 copies across Europe.

And so to the song sheet. This one is in 6/8 time (or 3/4 – I’m not very good at telling the difference!), and whilst at first glance it might seem to have an esoteric collection of chords (Major 7ths and 6s, mostly), they’re mostly unusual, not difficult. This one’s definitely a strummer (just get that D-DUDU rhythm going) and good to sing. Enjoy!


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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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See You – Depeche Mode

Another 80s throwback, And another gig-inspired post. Although to be fair, it wasn’t as a result of seeing Basildon’s finest – I’m not expecting them anywhere near Southampton any time soon.

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No, last weekend I went to see Heaven 17 (second time in 6 months). It was a great gig, and maybe one day the Sheffield band that resulted from the fallout of the original The Human League may have their own post here. But the gig was preceded by a couple of DJs playing a great selection of early synthpop. And one of those was this often overlooked early single from Depeche Mode.

See You was actually quite a significant song for the band, marking as it did their first single since the departure of previous main songwriter Vince Clarke (who has had generous coverage on this site already). Clarke was the author of the bands first three singles (Dreaming of Me, New Life, Just Can’t Get Enough) but left the band towards the end of 1981, citing his unhappiness with the bands direction, with playing live and the toll that being a pop star was taking. Clarke went on to form the short-lived but highly influential Yazoo, before finding a long-term home with Andy Bell as Erasure,

So with Clarke gone, the band suddenly found itself needing to find both a new band member, and a new songwriter. Alan Wilder was found to do the former, and the songwriting duties were picked up by keyboard player and backing singer Martin Gore, who had been responsible for the couple of non-Vince Clarke songs on the band’s debut record, Speak and Spell. Any trepidation the band may have been feeling was soon set aside when See You peaked at a higher position in the charts (number 6) than any of the band’s previous songs.

So here we are with another synthpop song translated for the uke. It’s all relatively straightforward, and not a great deal to say on that front. I’ve also transcribed some of the various synth riffs, including the instrumental solo, should you want to embellish the song with those. Enjoy!


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All Of My Heart – ABC

So there was me just ready to publish an update to the Uketunes songbook. And then last night I put ABC’s The Lexicon of Love on (it was warm and sunny, and in my book Lexicon is a summer album – summer 1982, to be precise). And what should happen but this absolute corker of song comes up and gets my uke ears thinking, “Well that would work, wouldn’t it”. And I think it does. So here it is.

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Obviously playing this song on the humble ukulele was clearly far from the mind of Martin Fry, ABC and (particularly) producer Trevor Horn when The Lexicon of Love was conceived and recorded. After all, this is an album that was the epitome of the “New Pop” sound of the early 1980s, aspirational, lush, glistening music that sought to marry the ethos of post-punk and new wave with pure pop sounds and chart appeal. And so Sheffield band ABC emerged from the ruins of a previous electronic incarnation (Vice Versa), and moved towards a more disco/soul sound. Trevor Horn (formery of Buggles, later of ZTT, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, etc.) came on board after the minor chart success of debut single Tears Are Not Enough, and turned the bands aspirations and a collection of literate, heart-on-the-sleeve songs into an epic recording that set the bar so high for the band that arguably the rest of their career has been lived in the shadow of this record.

All Of My Heart was the last of four singles from the album, and if anything represents the “epic ballad” of the album. It’s actually quite up beat for a ballad, but here was a song swathed in the string arrangements of Anne Dudley, arguably the most wide-screen of songs on the album. Echoing themes from across the album, All Of My Heart is a tale of love lost, in turn reflective and bitter, this is most definitely *not* a song for walking down the aisle to!

So how does this bold and fearless classic translate to the uke? Well, quite well, I think. When it boils down to it, it’s only a four chord song, one that has a killer tune and leaves plenty of room for emoting. There’s one or two slightly tricky timing issues, primarily after the “All of my heart” lines at the end of the chorus, when an extra beat/pause is thrown in (which probably makes that a 5/4 bar). And the [D]/[G] sequence immediately after the second chorus “All of my heart” is 3 beats of D and 5 of G. But listen to the song (its in the same key as the songsheet) and you’ll get the hang of it. Enjoy!