Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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Make You Feel My Love – Bob Dylan / Adele

bob_dylan_-_time_out_of_mindadele_-_make_you_feel_my_loveI remember the first few times of listening to Bob Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out Of Mind and being particularly struck by this song. I guess that, as a stark, piano led ballad it had a clear, distinctive sound amongst the swampy, Daniel-Lanois-produced songs.

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And yet I didn’t realise at the time how massive the song would become. Originally surfacing as a Billy Joel recording, and then the following year by Garth Brooks, the song has become something of a modern classic, covered by a myriad of artists from many genres. But I don’t think it was until Adele covered the song on here debut album 19 in 2008 that it really seemed to take off. In doing so she really made the song her own, with a simple, piano-led stripped back performance that gets to the emotional heart of the song. Personally I love them both – the Dylan original, with its slightly cracked vocal, has a world-weary feel, whilst the Adele version with just the vocal and piano works equally well. Both proving what a great song this is.

The song sheet is transposed from the originals, not just to make it easier to play but mainly so I could sing it! There’s nothing tricky chord wise here, just some lovely sounding changes. Clearly this isn’t designed for the ubiquitous ukulele strumming pattern, and so requires a bit more sensitivity. But this one is definitely a case of less is more. [Note : See the video in the comments for a suggestion for a simple accompanying picking pattern for this]

Enjoy!

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One Little Song – Gillian Welch

souljourneyLooking back it’s been over 18 months since I posted a Gillian Welch song on here. So it seemed time to rectify that.

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So this morning this little ditty popped up whilst the iPod was playing on shuffle. And I thought, “that’s nice” and “that would work on the ukulele”. So this evening I gave it a try. And I was right – it does work.

This is the third song from 2003’s Soul Journey album that I’ve posted on here (see also Look At Miss Ohio and No One Knows My Name). Which is odd, because as I said previously that album is probably my least favourite of her albums (which doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means that Gillian sets the bar *so* high). But in contrast to the fuller band sound of a number of the tracks, One Little Song is stripped back to the very basics – just haunting vocals and picked guitar. It is a brief but not inconsequential tune that is seemingly born of a struggle to write a new tune (Welch sets herself high standards, and has commented that songwriting can be a struggle, something that contributed to the 8 year gap between Soul Journey and it’s follow-up, The Harrow and the Harvest).

And here’s the songsheet. Nothing too complicated as far as the chords are concerned, although there are a number of barre chords in there. I’ve added in an Asus4 for the intro, and you can throw a few of those into the first couple of lines of the verses if you wish, to give it a bit more colour. Oh, and this is definitely one to try picking if you can – its not really a strummer. Enjoy!

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Lightning Bolt – Jake Bugg

LightningBoltIf his first album, and this song in particular, are anything to go by, Jake Bugg has (a) an old head on young shoulders, and (b) was born 50 years too late.

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Not that his sound is out of place. In fact, for me this song and that first album were a huge breath of air, a sound that – through its rawness, simplicity and back-to-basics approach – cut through so much machine-driven modern music. Obviously it’s not a radically new sound, it’s not going to win any awards for originality. But those qualities are highly over-rated in my book. What you get instead is the sound of young man (he was only 18 when this was released) reflecting on his own life growing up on a council estate in Nottingham, with an acoustic-based sound that takes in rock and roll, skiffle, folk and country influences, not a million miles from a young Bob Dylan at times.

Lightning Bolt is a classic example of that sound. A raw skiffle sound – strummed acoustic guitars, straight down-the-line drums and a cutting electric guitar solo – this will blow the cobwebs away.

All of which seems to make for a perfect ukulele strumming song. And it does (in my opinion at any rate). There’s only three chords here, and nothing tricky. I’ve transposed it up a semi-tone to F which (a) I find easier to sing, and (b) I think is easier to play. Try the Bb and C as barre chords, and it works really well. Note that I haven’t tried to fit all the chords in with the lyrics – I don’t think it helps and just clutters up the sheet. Just get that rhythym going, and it will all fall into place. Enjoy!

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P.S. If you want to have a listen to us playing this, here’a recording that The Flukes made of this last year.

 


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History – One Direction

HistoryOK, so this isn’t my usual kind of thing. I know that. And to be honest, this isn’t a song that I would ever knowingly choose to listen to or plan. But when it was recently suggested that The Flukes give this a bash for a wedding gig we’re playing soon it seemed churlish not to give it a go. And you know what? It works rather well!

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There’s not a great deal to say about this. One Direction, a product of the X Factor TV programme in 2010, became huge, a global sensation, managed to churn our five albums in five years that sold astonishingly well, and in the process made a huge amount of money. Inevitably things eventually started coming apart, and the group is currently taking an extended break whilst the various members pursue their own thing.

History was the bands’ final single before that hiatus, and whilst not the massive success that some of their other songs have been, it has still performed respectably.

And so to the song sheet. There’s nothing too tricky in here chord wise, but the rhythm may be a little challenging. It’s performed to a light 12/8 shuffle that takes a little while to get the hang of. But once you do, it’s effectively that same rhythm the whole way through. The songsheet is in F just to make it a bit easier to play – the original is in Gb, so play with capo 1 if you want to play along with the original.

Enjoy!

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My Zero – Ezra Furman

MyZeroEzra Furman only popped onto my radar back in July. Ezra was playing at The Joiners, a local venue, the following week, and a friend has posted a YouTube clip on Facebook to highlight this. I took a listen, liked what I heard, explored a bit more and thought that this sounded like an interesting proposition. So booked tickets for myself and my daughter.

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The following day it happened to be my birthday, and as a result of mentioning the gig to said daughter she ended up buying me a copy of Furman’s 2013 album Day Of The Dog. It’s that album that My Zero is taken from.

Furman is a hard act to categorise. There’s definitely a punk attitude behind the music that he makes. There are strains of rockabilly in there, touches of do-wop. He seems to be a relatively shy individual, but his performances and songs are in-your-face, heart-on-the-sleeve, visceral, dwelling on his Jewish roots and his mental health challenges amongst other things. Oh, and he can often be found – on stage and off – in a dress and make-up.

But there’s no doubting the man’s commitment. He’s certainly not blessed with the prettiest of voices, but more than makes up for it with edge and attitude, songs that are real punch of rawness, energy and emotion. Yet for all that these are songs with melody at their heart. He’s unlikely to be a major star, but who cares. This is a man who clearly has to make music, and has to make music like this. The world is a better place for that.

And so to the song sheet. The song is basically just a constant repeat of four chords. And they’re not difficult chords (I’ve transposed it down a semitone from the original, which is in G#). I’ve also added in a couple of riffs as well which play over the top of the instrumentals – the first performed on guitar on the original, the second by keyboards. There’s a distinctive strumming pattern which you hear on the intro to the original, that isn’t too hard to replicate – it goes something like duXuduXu, where X is a damping the strings, but probably best just to listen to it to get the feel.

Enjoy!

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Backhanded Compliment – Sunny Sweeney

sunnysweeneyI’ve been going through something of a country phase lately. Things tend to go like that for me, but certainly for the last 6 months or so there’s definitely been a country bias to my listening. Albums from Sturgill Simpson (Metamodern Sounds In Country Music), Suzy Bogguss (Lucky) and Willie Watson (Folk Singer Volume 1) have all been highly enjoyed, alongside older albums from Laura Cantrell and Rodney Crowell. But most recently it’s been Provoked by Texas singer/songwriter Sunny Sweeney that I’ve been really getting into.

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I hadn’t even heard of Sunny until very recently, but through one of those “if-you-liked-such-and-such-you-might-like-this” recommendations I gave her a go. And what a great little record it is. Provoked is fairly straight down the line country, and appears to be her first album since being dropped by her previous record company (home to Taylor Swift) and a divorce. Those events clearly had a strong influence on the songs on this album, but not in a woe-is-me kind of way, rather in a sassy, fighter / survivor kind of way. This is clearly not a woman to be messed with!

Backhanded Compliment is from that album, and is a very funny response to those kind of double-edged comments which we’ve probably all been subject to – which say one thing but clearly, intentionally or not, mean another. Set to a bouncing rhythm, it’s clearly written from a woman’s perspective, and she’s not shy with the comeback!

And so to the song sheet. Nothing particularly complicated in here, other than the fact that it’s in Bb, which results in some slightly unusual chords (if you want it in an easier key – to play – try this version in G). A nice chugga-chugga rhythm is all that’s needed (listen to the video to get an idea). And enjoy!

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