Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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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!


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Tell That Girl To Shut Up – Holly & The Italians / Transvision Vamp


There’s something about the best of the songs from the punk / new wave / post-punk / power-pop explosion of the late-70s and early-80s that lend themselves well to the ukulele. I’ve already posted songs by the like of Blondie and Rezillos, and here’s another in that ilk.

I was listening to a random shuffle of punk, post-punk and new wave songs yesterday, when this song popped up and grabbed my attention. More well known, if it’s known at all, for the cover version by Transvision Vamp, the original version of this song came from a short-lived band called Holly & The Italians, fronted by Holly Beth Vincent. Originally from the US, they relocated to UK and garnered a certain amount of critical success in the early 1980s, although none of that every translated into any kind of commercial success. Tell That Girl To Shut Up is the one song that seems to have outlasted (and maybe overshadowed) their career. It’s the somewhat bitter retort of a young woman who has been spurned by her lover for the attractions of another, and the physical violence she wishes to inflict on the new woman as a result. Maybe not totally PC as a result, it’s still a great song, with a real blast of energy.

So here’s the song sheet. I hunted high-and-low online trying to find any kind of chords for this, and failed miserably. So using the wonderful Chordify as a starting point, I’ve managed to work up something that seems to work. As you would expect there’s nothing very complicated here, no tricky chords, weird timings, etc. It’s just a straight up rock/pop song that deserves to be sung with passion and energy. Enjoy!