Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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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.


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.

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The King Of Rock and Roll – Prefab Sprout

I’ve posted before about the insane wonderfulness of Prefab Sprout. In many ways its a shame that the only song of theirs that made any real impression on the record-buying public was this throwaway slice of meta-pop. But that’s only a shame because of the ridiculously high standards that they set elsewhere.


Hailing from the County Durham, Prefab Sprout emerged in the early 80s with a sound that blended classic pop, jazz and scratchy post-punk influences (debut album Swoon in particular) with literate lyrical aspirations. Not alone in those kind of influences and sound (the likes of Aztec Camera, The Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole and Orange Juice would at times be bracketed together with the Sprouts in what has retrospectively – and somewhat clumsily – come to be known as sophisti-pop), main man Paddy McAloon ploughed a steadfast furrow with a vision all his own that introduced a sophistication to songwriting and musicianship that harked back to the likes of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson in its ambition.

1988’s From Langley Park To Memphis was their commercial high-water mark, a record that added more gloss to the sound that they had refined (with produced Thomas Dolby) on 1985’s Steve McQueen. But this wasn’t a surface sheen to hide a lack of content and inspiration, rather it was a polish that complimented a collection of perfect (in a left-field kind of way) pop songs, songs whose seeming simplicity belied (much like Abba, another McAloon inspiration, whose Agnetha Faltskog was the inspiration behind The Ice Maiden) an underlying complexity, richness and ingenuity.

The King Of Rock And Roll was the second single from the album (following the Springsteen-baiting Cars and Girls), and gave the band their only top 10 single. Described later by McAloon as “novelty” effort, it is somewhat ironic – in a way that McAloon would undoubtedly appreciate – that a song which focusses on a washed-up pop star who is now only remembered for his one-hit novelty song should acquire the same status in the band’s back catalogue. Yet it’s apparent inanity lies its intelligence. For beneath the – undoubtedly deliberate – senseless chorus and relentlessly jaunty musical backing (watch the video for jumping frogs and dancing hot dogs!) is a song laced with poignancy and melancholy – “All the pretty birds have flown, now I’m dancing on my own”, anybody?

So here’s the songsheet for this deceptively trite piece of classic 80s pop! I don’t think there’s too much to say about it – it’s relatively straightforward, primarily as it’s transposed down half a tone (so capo 1 if you want to play along with the original). Timing should be no big problem, and whilst I’ve cut a couple of the “Hot dog…” lines from the end to fit the page, I don’t think it loses anything. Enjoy!


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Stop! – Erasure

stopA couple of Vince Clark songs have made it to this blog over the years, but this is the first time I’ve posted one from the band that he had most success with, namely Erasure.


The 1980s was clearly synthpop’s heyday. The availability of relatively affordable synthesizers, coupled with the anybody-can-do-it over-spill from punks formative years, with the added impetus of the new romatic / new pop era of resulted in a stream of wannabes-with-eyeliner having a go. Over the years many of those artists (China Crisis, Eurythmics, OMD, Tears for Fears) evolved their sounds to a fuller, richer, more “traditional” sound, others stubbornly stuck to their roots. Vince Clark is the epitome of that.

From his first brush with pop stardom in Depeche Mode, through the successful collaboration with Alison Moyet as Yazoo (see Situation) and a number of one-offs with the likes of Paul Quinn and Feargal Sharkey (see Never, Never), he eventually ended up as another duo with Andy Bell as Erasure. During the late 80s and early 90s they achieved a phenomenal run of success, both as a singles and albums band.

Stop! was the lead track from the band’s first EP, Crackers International, released around Christmas 1988 and peaking at number 2 in the UK singles chart.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple little synthpop song, so there’s nothing tricky or clever here – it’s a real strumfest so just give it plenty of energy and have fun. Enjoy!

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The Only Way Is Up – Yazz via. Stornoway

yazzstornoway-bonxieA couple of weeks ago I went, with my daughter, to see Stornoway play the opening night of their tour here in Southampton. It was a great gig, leaning heavily on songs from their most recent album Bonxie (go get it, it’s great!) but also taking in the best of their first two albums as well. Coming back on for the encore, they started up what sounded like a simple country-ish strum for a song I didn’t immediately recognise, but which at the same time felt kind-of familiar. It wasn’t until those “hold on” refrains just before the chorus that the mist clear and the song came into focus. Here was Yazz’s late-80’s dancefloor anthem reimagined. And I thought, “that would work well on the ukulele”!


So here it is. The song originally started life in 1980 as a single by soul singer Otis Clay, with a funky,disco-influenced sound. The Yazz version, a poppy take on the acid house sound that was emerging at the time, was a *huge* omnipresent hit in 1988, the second best selling song of the whole year in the UK (beaten only by Cliff Richard’s execrable Misltoe and Wine!), and massive across the rest of Europe.

And then, 27 years later, new life is breathed into it by a folk-and-ornithology-influenced band from Oxford. And the song breathes.

So here’s the songsheet. This is very much the Stornoway version, and I haven’t tried to play this like Yazz or Otis Clay. I think it’s fairly straightforward – each chord on the sheet representa a bar – and play it with a simple strumming pattern (either d-du-du-du or d-d-du-du, or some combination of the both). Enjoy!


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Crash – The Primitives


By the late-80s it seemed that the indie music scene had started its shift from its hugely eclectic post-punk roots of the late 70s and early 80s, when the Independent charts had first been established, into a specific and definable sound. The NME-cassette inspired C86 scene could be heralded as the beginning of this shift, with it’s emphasis on jangly guitars and power-pop.  This shift would ultimately lead to the nadir of “landfill indie”, but at the time there was still enough pzazz, energy and inventiveness for it to be an interesting and vibrant scene.

And even some glamour. Bands like Transvision Vamp (admitidly not on an indie label, but indie in spirit), The Darling Buds and The Primitives all combined that jangly power-pop sound with a striking peroxide-blonde female vocalist. A superficial commonality, maybe, but together they provided a pop / indie crossover that was refreshing in the late-80s, post-Live Aid music scene. Whilst not able to sustain a long-term career, while thesebands bloomed they brought a welcome sense of energy, fun and glamour to an indie scene that doesn’t always embrace some of those concepts.

The Primitives I remember seeing in a thrilling gig in the late 80s at Southampton University. I remember being part of a seething, constantly churning crown who pogoed and slam-danced to a constant succession of short, sharp 2 minute pop songs with punk energy and style. Crash was the epitome of the bands repetoire, their biggest hit and the one song that has probably outlived their brief career. Opening with that jangly riff, it bursts into life with lead singer Tracey Tracey’s vocals and doesn’t give up its thrills until two-and-a-half minutes later, fading away on a trail of na-na-nahs. Long enough to get hooked, short enough to want to put it on again, this is the sound of pure adrenalin pop in my book.

And so here’s the song sheet. As I’ve mentioned before these simple punk / new wave / indie three-chord pop songs seem to work really well on the uke, and this is no exception. The song sheet is simple and straightforward, just the chords (if you want to try transposing the guitar riff’s then you can find the guitar originals here!). I’ve also provided it in two keys – the original in B, but also a version in A which (a) is a little easier to play, and (b) I find easier to sing. Play with spirit and attitude, and enjoy!