Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Life Is A Rollercoaster – Ronan Keating

I love this song! I don’t care what anybody says, or where that puts me in your credibility league table. But this song is a cracker!

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Now don’t get my wrong – I really can’t abide Boyzone, or indeed any boyband stuff. And I’m not very partial to any other Ronan Keating songs either (although, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve really sought any of it out). However, this song stood out to me when I first heard it, and hasn’t lost its charm as far as I’m concerned.

I suspect that might have something to do with the song originating not from Mr Keating, but from the can-do-no-wrong-in-my-book pen of Mr Gregg Alexander. Who he, you say? Well he is none other that the frontman, songwriter and main driving force behind the late-90s one-hit wonders New Radicals. Breaking up after a single album (but my, what an album), Rollercoaster was actually scheduled for their second album, but was never recorded by the Radicals.

(Note, another Gregg Alexander song appears elsewhere on here, in the form of Lost Stars from the movie Begin Again. And that is just as wonderful!)

So the song sheet is pretty straight forward. A standard song structure, pretty reasonable chords (you can go with a Dm instread of the Dm7 if that is a problem for you), and just a feel-good, sing-along. Enjoy!

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Beautiful Day – U2

beautiful-dayU2 seem to be something of a marmite band, to say the least. As I’ve said before, I can understand that. But one or two songs seem to rise above that and have become bona fide classics. Beautiful Day is, I would say, in that category.

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Beautiful Day was the first track from the band’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. In many ways the song was a throw-back to the sound of their early days, coming as it did after the band’s adventures during the 1990s which saw them embracing a more contemporary, radical sound influenced in part by the electronic and dance-culture of the day. It was a move that the band were wary of and debated for a long time before finally convincing themselves it was a good thing. In reality, whilst clearly echoing that early sound, the song wouldn’t have been what it was without the band having been through those 1990s – the electronics, textures, drumbeat, whilst more subtle, are clearly an extension of that experimentation.

Lyrically the song is a little ambiguous, a not uncommon trait amongst the bands songs, living at that intersection of spirituality, romance and self-help, and has been described by Bono as being about “a man who has lost everything, but finds joy in what he still has”.  Whatever the specifics of the lyrics, though, this is clearly a song designed (some might say cynically so) to uplift, and for me it does that in spades.

Over the years Beautiful Day has established itself as a classic, reaching number 1 in many countries, garnering three Grammy awards in 2001 (including both song and record of the year), and becoming something of a mainstay for TV sport highlights. The song has been played at every U2 concert since.

So here’s the song sheet. In many ways its quite straightforward. But the sheet may be a little misleading in that respect. They key is getting the rhythm of the main riff right. The timing indicated in the sheet is a rough approximation, and the best thing today is to listen to the original and get the feel from that. However, to help with that I’ve recorded an excerpt of the song that you can listen to below – essentially this covers the main riff (x4) and the F#m “Touch me…” bridge section.  Hope it helps. Timing is something like:

[A] 1 2 [Bm7] 3 [D] 4 5 [G] 1 2 3 [D] 1 2 3 [A] 1 2 3 4 5;  and

[F#m] 1 2 3 [G] 1 2 3 4 5 [D] 1 2 3 [A] 1 2 3 4 5

Note that if you struggle with all of the main riff, you can get away without the [Bm7][D] chords.

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I Like Birds – Eels

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I was listening to my iPod on shuffle the other day, and suddenly this little ditty popped up. And I thought – you know what, that would make a great little ukulele song. And I think I was right!

Eels are not a band I really claim to know well. I only know one of their albums, Daisies of the Galaxy, from which this song is taken. They are essentially the brainchild of Mark Oliver Everett, better known as “E”, who is the son of famous physicist Hugh Everett III. Everett is a fascinating and thoughtful character, something that shines through in his songwriting which, whilst it certainly does touch on some of the staple subjects of rock and pop music, does so from a a uniquely oblique perspective.

I Like Birds is typical of that quirkiness, and combines that with a stripped-back winsomeness that always made this a stand-out track for me. A simple, repeated strummed guitar pattern, with little adornment, I’m sure that there is some deeper psychological intent behind this song (I came across this description, which cites it as being about his recently deceased mother, who loved watching birds, with the song being an attempt to stay connected to her). But the song works fine for me as a reflection on the simple pleasures and life of a bird, contrasted with the absurdities and complications of modern life.

As an aside, Everett’s autobiography, “Things The Grandchildren Should Know“, is a great read even if you’re not familiar with the band and its music.

And so here’s the songsheet. Nothing complicated – it’s a simple song, as I’ve said. Once you’ve got the strumming rhythm figured out (just listen to the song) you’re almost there. But you do have to get the pauses and the “knock, knock” at the end of each verse – that’s what makes it! Note that this songsheet is in the key of C, because I find it easier to sing in that key. If you want to play along with the original, that is in E, so instead of C / Bb / F you would play E / D / A. Enjoy!

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One – U2 / Johnny Cash

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U2 have been a part of my life for twice as long as they haven’t. In 1981 I was attending the Greenbelt festival, and sandwiched between the likes of Garth Hewitt and Cliff Richard (I forget the exact artists) a relatively unknown Dublin foursome blagged their way at short notice onto the running order.  As an impressionable 16 year old that brief, explosive set was my introduction to a band that have – for better or worse – become an integral part of my world.

Their journey has been an interesting one. From their beginnings as post-punk music paper favourties, rally-rousing christian rock, and then tub-thumbing, white-flag waving earnest young men, they took a detour via. Brian Eno to a more ambient textured sound which peaked with the phenomenal success of The Joshua Tree, turning them into true rock megastars. Moving on again after the critical mauling of Rattle and Hum, the band reinvented themselves for the 90s , become more playful and alive to the value of irony, broadening their musical pallette, loosing some of the early fans but gaining a new audience. By 2000 there was something of a retun to basics with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and if the last couple of albums have maybe shown a lack of adventure and/or songs, the sleek lines of their recent comeback song “Invisible” suggest good things for the future.

One is a pivitol song from their 90s reinvention masterpiece Achtung Baby. The band, desperately trying to find a way out of the cul-de-sac that was Rattle and Hum, were struggling to find a way forward. Whilst Bono and guitarist The Edge were pushing in more experimental directions, Larry and Adam (drums and bass respectively) were unsure, and the tension was threatening to pull the band apart. Then one day, during improvisations in the studio, this song suddenly emerged, almost fully formed. The band reaslied they could still do it.

What has always surprised me about this song is how misrepresented it often is. This is a song that people use for weddings, for goodness sake, yet The Edge described it on one level as a “bitter, twisted, vitriolic conversation between two people who’ve been through some nasty, heavy stuff”. It’s not as bleak as all that – there is hope in the song, a recognition of differences and the need to get on – but it is not a lovey-docey declaration of one-ness that some seem to use it as.

The song itself has become probably U2’s most covered song. There are a host of great versions out there, including this one by Mica Paris, but my favourite has to be the Johnny Cash version from his American Recordings series of albums. In fact this song was my first introduction to Johnny Cash, and I have fond memories of playing this on a jukebox in a San Diego bar whilst on a work trip, and really surprisring my colleagues that this somewhat unhip hasbeen (as he was perceived at the time) could make such great music.

And so to the song sheet. I know there are probably loads of versions of this out there, but I couldn’t quite find one that summoned up the sound of the Johnny Cash version. So this is my attempt to do that. After all, it seems to make more sense to try and emulate the stripped back sound of Johnny Cash with a ukulele than it does that of a rock band like U2. Nothing too tricky here, a few slighltly unusual chords but they’re quite straightforward and sound good (to these ears). Enjoy!

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