Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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ABBA – Greatest Hits

 

ABBA SinglesABBA were my first band.

<Songbook> (link fixed!)

I was relatively late to pop music, it wasn’t a big thing for my parents – they were all radio 2, Sing Something Simple and military bands. So it wasn’t until January 1977 when I first sat down and watched Top Of The Pops. And the only reason for that was because David Soul was topping the charts with Don’t Give Up On Us, and my sister, with something of a crush on the Starsky and Hutch star, wanted to watch it. A somewhat fateful and life-changing event that led on to a whole lifetime of musical obsession for me.

Anyway, TOTP became something of a habit, and a few week’s later this bunch of Scandinavian pop stars turned up on the show with that iconic video for Knowing Me, Knowing You. And I was hooked. I can’t say at this remove in time what it was about that song that really clicked for me, but it’s interesting in many ways to me how a song that is shot through with a such a strong dose of melancholia caught the imagination of an 11-year old school boy. That has probably been a consistent thread in my musical tastes ever since.

Obviously ABBA are a global phenomenon. And one that has gone through various levels of acceptability over the years. It’s fair to say that they were never “cool”, and there was always a slight sense of awkwardness with how the band fitted into the British music scene. But that was never their intention. Abba were always about great songs, coupled with superb production and arrangements. If the visual image was sometimes a bit corny, the constant up-front (save for a few exceptions) presence of Agnetha and Anna-Frid more than made up for that. Personally I was always an Anna-Frid guy, but clearly the presence of the two girls was a significant factor in making the band attractive to a certain part of their audience.

But it is the songs, the songs, that are what ABBA are all about for me. And those are just great. For all those accusations of corny, feel-good, inanity that can get thrown at them, their songs are actually quite musically sophisticated and subtle, and whilst lyrically they’re not always Bob Dylan (Bang-A-Boomerang, anybody?!), there is a depth and emotional resonance to their songs, particularly in the later years, that lends a lie to those views. Listen to The Winner Takes It All, Slipping Through My Fingers, or One Of Us, and those songs strike right to the heart.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Artists as diverse as Brian Eno, Neil Tennant, Jarvis Cocker, Elvis Costello, Noel Gallagher, Pete Townsend, Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain have all extolled the virtues of these songs. The fact that ABBA Gold is one of the top 50 selling albums ever, and the continued success of the Mamma Mia film and stage show, illustrate that there is depth and quality in the ABBA cannon.

 

 

And so to the songbook. I’ve collected 26 of the most popular and well-know ABBA songs into one collection. There are a few “deep cuts” thrown in for good measure, but even those are – I think – relatively well known. I’ve tried to strike a balance between making these totally musically accurate and making them playable. The songs are actually quite complex and subtle in places, so I’ve tried to retain a balance between that richness and playability. The other slightly tricky aspect to these songs can be the timing – they’re not averse to throwing in the odd different-timed bar here and there, and that can throw you if you’re not careful. I think the saving grace is that – for a certain audience – these songs are so embedded in our consciousness that you just *know* how they go! Follow that feeling, and you won’t go wrong. But most of all, enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>

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Knowing Me, Knowing You – Abba

So I was talking with a friend about potentially doing a variation on the album evenings we’ve been doing recently, and wondered whether a greatest hits evening might work. And instead of playing the album on vinyl, bring playing those greatest hits as 7″ singles, in all they’re crackly glory. But who would we pick? Well the conversation soon turned towards this band, and so I thought I’d give a few of their songs a try and see whether they might work.

<songsheet>

My Abba journey has been a not untypical one, I suspect. This songs was – in fact – the first single that I ever brought, wrapped in the Epic orange sleeve. And the album from which it was taken, 1976’s Arrival, was likewise the first album I ever brought (from Landports department store in Portsmouth, if you’re asking!). Through the late 70s Abba were my band, and it wasn’t until 1981, when my musical interests started to broaden, and deviate somewhat from the mainstream, encouraged in no small part by my consumption of the music press, that the love affair with Abba began to wane. Clearly, at this point, the (apparently) cheesy, european, middle-of-the-road, mainstay of the middle-aged sounds were doing my musical credibility no good, something I remember being accentuated by Not The Nine O’Clock News’ Super Trouper parody. So the super Swedes were somewhat hastily jettisoned.

But years go by, we grow and up mature (a bit!), and in doing so we realise that some of the decisions of our youth were not always good ones. And slowly the rehabilitation followed. Obviously that re-discovery and re-evaluation was a more widespread phenomenon than just within my own head, because when 1992’s compilation Abba Gold was released it immediately became a huge best-seller, now ranked as the bands best-selling album ever, one of the top 50 selling albums across the world ever, with sales in excess of 28 million.

Knowing Me, Knowing You is – for me – a classic example why the music of Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid (I was always a Friday girl, myself!) has lasted down the years. For all the accusations of cheesiness and inanity that are thrown at the group (and there are definitely examples of that) there are plenty of examples of real emotional depth and deep melancholy in their songs. The state of the bands own internal relationships were often mirrored and played out in the dynamics of the songs, none more so than in the video for 1980’s The Winner Takes It All. And sometimes were predicted by the songs, as was the case with Knowing Me, Knowing You. Written and recorded at the time that the band were happy loving couples (Agnetha and Benny, Bjorn and Anna-Frid) the song’s rather bleak relating of the breakdown of a relationship, haunted by the memories of the good times that are forever lost, certainly isn’t for the feint-hearted. Yet the song was a huge success all around the world, helped in no small part by the classic video (directed – as were many of the bands videos – by Lasse Hallström, later to find fame with films like Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and The Shipping News), partly set in the certainly allegorical icy Swedish landscape.

So here is the song sheet. For all their familiarity, Abba songs are not always the most straightforward. This certainly fits into that category. There are quite a few chords in there, but nothing very tricky, and they give real colour to the song (note that the Bm* is not a new type of chord, it’s just to distinguish that particular playing of Bm at that particular point in the song). Sometimes the timing can be a little odd as well (there’s the odd 2/4 bar thrown in along the way). But to be honest, if you know the song (and who doesn’t!) that will see you through. Oh, and I’ve also tabbed out the classic solo that occurs throughout the song. Enjoy (in a slightly maudlin, melancholic Scandinavian way)!


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WARNING : Videos! Of me! Doing songs!

So this is a bit of an experiment, and to be honest one I’m not wholly comfortable with, but there was no point avoiding the inevitable.

I had a request today to post recordings of some songs, on the premise that it might be a bit tricky for some people to pick up some of the songs without any guidance. I do get that, and so below are a couple of attempts to do that.

The first thing to say is that I’m not making any great claims to the quality of the videos. For one, they’re just recorded using the webcam on my laptop. But more significantly, it’s *me* singing, and that definitely is not my forte. So treat these as a very rough guide to how *I* think the songs *could* be played. Obviously they’re not sacred texts, and so you can do what you want with the songs. But hopefully these will be taken in the spirit that they are delivered – a rough approximation to be used as a guide.

So the song? Well the first one was a request / challenge, based on a comment that “I couldn’t imagine how you could do it”! It’s Abba’s “The Way Old Friends Do”, and this is how I imagine doing it.

The second song was not the second one that requested (that was Robert Palmer’s Big Log) – that might take a bit more practice, and might need me to drag my friend Sarah in to do it, as that was who we originally did the song for. No, the second is one that I felt a little more comfortable doing, and it is U2’s Beautiful Day. The main riff all the way through is a little tricky timing wise, so hopefully this gives some sense of what it could possibly sound like.

Thanks to Perry for the original prompt. If it’s not too disastrous, I might do a few more. Requests?!


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The Way Old Friends Do – ABBA

It’s strange how songs crop up in the most unlikely of places.

<songsheet>

Yesterday I attended the Wickham Festival. It’s a local festival, just down the road, and I was attending because Southampton Ukulele Jam had been asked to perform, somewhat at the last minute. We had a blast (here’s a clip of us doing Blitzrieg Bop – that’s me at the back in the straw hat!), and got a great reaction from the audience. But it meant we had a free day ticket, so got to enjoy some great music, largely of the folk variety, from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Gaz Brookfield, Imar and Brighde Chaimbeul. Anyway, inbetween sets there was an interesting mix of music being played, often with something of a 70s soft rock flavour (blatantly appealing to the majority demographic in attendance). And then this song popped up. It somewhat surprised me that something from a hyper-polished Swedish pop group would crop up during an English folk festival. But on reflection, it actually fitted really well.

Pre-Abba, each of the band members, in particular Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, had established themselves in various parts of the Swedish folk scene. And there has often been elements of folk music creeping in to their music over the years. The Way Old Friends Do is certainly one of those songs, initially just accompanied on the accordion, there is something pure and honest about this lovely song. Never recorded in the studio, the version that found its way onto 1980’s Super Trouper album was recorded live during the band’s tour in 1979, and the simple sounds of voices and accordion show that, for all the studio wizardry and perfectionism that went into ABBA’s music, cut to the core they were four great musicians.

There is *nothing* complicated in this songsheet. The song only has one verse, repeated. The chords are as straightforward as they could be. The only slightly tricky thing if you try to play along (the songsheet is in the same key) is that the recording is not in any kind of regular tempo. When played alone, it’s easy to give it that regular tempo, though. So enjoy!