Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


Leave a comment

Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness – John Prine / Nanci Griffith

John Prine is songwriters songwriter. Somebody who amassed a substantial body of work that influenced a raft of far more commercially successful songwriters from across the musical spectrum, but particularly those operating in a country and folk vein.

<songsheet>

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Prine. Nor necessarily a fan. I’ve come to him more via. those he has influenced, including contemporary singers such as Jason Isbell, Kasey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson, as well as those legends that revere him such as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. But Nanci Griffith would have been my initial introduction to him, via. her cover of this beautiful song on her 1993 covers album, Other Voices, Other Rooms. On that album Griffith, already established as a respected country folk (too country for folk, too folk for country) songwriter and performer, recorded a collection of songs by her favourite songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, and Tom Paxton. And this gem by John Prine.

Described by critic David Fricke as “a hypnotic song of lovesick melancholia set to a simple, mid-tempo rhythm that sounded like the desolate ticking of a hall way clock”, Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness become an instant classic, something acknowledged by Prine when he later reflected “Jesus, that’s beautiful. I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was just pouring out of me”. Griffith had already performed the song as a duet with Prine, and so it made a lot of sense to record it for this project, particularly when joined by Prine on harmony vocals for the recording.

I was reminded of this song, and Griffiths recording of it, by a cover version by Kurt Vile on his recently released EP “Speed, Sound, Lonely KV”. Proof, if proof were needed, that a classic song is timeless.

Like many a classic song from this genre, this is a very straightforward song that shouldn’t prove too taxing. 3 chords (or 4 if you include the optional 7ths, which aren’t strictly part of the song but do add something), I’ve included two version – one in G as per Prine’s original, and one in C as per Griffith’s cover. Enjoy!

<songsheet>

 


Leave a comment

How Long – Iris DeMent

A long time ago, in the early days of this blog, I posted an Iris DeMent song. You can read about her, her music and her background in that post – I won’t repeat myself here. But Iris has recently released a song – one that she has had written for a while but I don’t think has recorded – that has been in part inspired by Black Lives Matter, and is raising funds for the Poor People’s Campaign, a US-based campaign focussed on addressing system racism, poverty and inequality, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism.

<songsheet>

How Long takes some words cited by Martin Luther King, Jr (let justice roll down like water), themselves a biblical quote (Amos 5:24 if you’re interested) as the basis of a cry for justice, against a background of “power, greed and profit”. With its call for compassion, understanding and living life for the benefit of all, How Long is part of a long tradition of folk music railing against injustice, standing up for the underdog and speaking truth to power.

Being as DeMent loosely comes from a country music background, she has taken some stick for this – and other songs – which probably don’t sit well with your more traditional country audience. But that has never stopped her shying away from what she believes and what she feels needs to be said. DeMent is fearless in that regard, and all power to her.

Here’s the song sheet. It’s a fairly simple, traditional gospel / country structured song. I’ve transcribed it in the original key, which I think works OK for ukulele – it’s not a beginner song, but it’s not a really tricksy one either. Sing it loud, and sing it proud. Enjoy!


Leave a comment

1981

<songbook>

Well it’s been nearly two years since I did the 1979 songbook, and so it seemed about time to bring things bank up-to-date … with a 1981 equivalent. As mentioned previously, this is kind-of my era, and so I’m not one to be particularly balanced in an assessment of the musical qualities of the year.

As with last time, this is *my* selection, and takes a somewhat biased view on the musical output of the year. So sorry, but you won’t find any Shakin’ Stevens here. Nor will you find any Bucks Fizz, Joe Dolce, Julio Igelsias, Stars on 45 or The Birdie Song (all of whom were in the top 20 selling singles of the year). But what you will find is a selection that showcases some of the wide variety of music that was being made and – in most cases – being lapped up by the British music-buying public.

1981 was the year in which the New Romantics, and electronic music more generally, established itself in the charts. I’ve covered those genres off in more depth here, but included in this book are the likes of Soft Cell (whose cover of Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love was everywhere), The Human League (who came from also-ran has-beens following the earlier split in the band to be triumphant pop conquerors with their classic album Dare, and the omnipresent Christmas Number 1, Don’t You Want Me), the studio-based Visage, OMD (with their songs of dead French saints – x2), the upcoming scream-sensation that was/is Duran Duran, and Basildon’s finest, Depeche Mode. With their strong emphasis on visuals and style, these new artists were truly of the video age, a fortuitous timing that – with the launch of MTV in the US in this year – saw their music being eagerly gobbled up by young Americans, leading to the second “British invasion” which really got under way the following year.

The US were not to be outdone, though. And whilst classic American rock bands have often had a hard-time making a lasting presence in the UK (at least from a singles perspective) the year did see the likes of REO Speedwagon and Journey have some success. But even then, the more “new wave” artists from stateside, such as The Go-Go’s and Kim Carnes (a kind of new wave / classic rock hybrid) had success, alongside the reinvigorated rock-and-roll stylings of Stray Cats.

But these were somewhat of an exception. British Pop was in rude health, as evidenced in more classic ways by the fresh face of Kim Wilde, the songwriting powerhouse that was Kirsty MacColl, and the singles-juggernaut that was Madness. But there were some particularly skewed versions of pop appearing during the year. Most significantly (and if it was anybody’s year, it was probably his) Adam and his Ants took a bizarre amalgam of tribal drumming, punk attitudes, twangy guitars, and almost-pantomime dressing up, married with a constantly evolving but somehow consistent visual style, and won Britain’s playground over big style. This even gave an opportunity for posh punk has-been Eddie Tudorpole to have a hit with the medieval-themed Swords of a Thousand Men.

The graduates of the punk and new wave scenes were still around, albeit in matured ways. The Police were still massive, The Stranglers had a big hit with the relatively laid-back and un-punk Golden Brown (odd time signatures included), XTC continued to plough their own furrow, The Undertones started to grow up, and both Squeeze and Elvis Costello took an unexpected country by-road. In addition the vibrant and varied post-punk scene started to go overground, with the likes of The Teardrop Explodes, Altered Images, Toyah and Scritti Politti establishing themselves.

But the old guard wasn’t to be outdone. Phil Collins took time out from Genesis to begin a parallel (and hugely successful) solo career, Dire Straits were further laying claim to their position as grown-up rock superstars, 10cc’s Godley and Creme broke away with their own brand of quirky pop, and even The Who returned from a few years away as if nothing much had changed (although clearly it had). And not to forget Olivia Newton-John having another gym-based makeover.

Anyway, here’s the book. I’m sure you’ll disagree with the selection of what is or should have been in the book. I’m in no way claiming this to be a definitive record of the year. But it is *my* selection. And I love every song here.

<songbook>

Also, see below for a list of the songs included in the book, along with links to individual song sheets:


1 Comment

The Johnny Cash Songbook

The words “legendary” and “iconic” tend to get thrown around very liberally when it comes to musicians. But in a small number of cases, the terms are warranted. And Johnny Cash is one of those artists.

<songbook>

Over a career that spanned 50 years, Johnny Cash built up a body of work that will last for the ages. From the rip-roaring early singles that he recorded for the legendary Sun records, through the live albums that he recorded in prisons in the 1960s, all the way through to the “American Recording” albums that he did with Rick Rubin towards the end of his life which rejuvenated both his career and his reputation, Johnny Cash casts a monumental shadow over not just country music, but popular music in general.

The country artist that non-country fans love, the proud standard-bearer of the disposseed and underclasses, Johnny Cash was certainly not flawless (listen to The Chicken In Black for evidence of that!). And yet he was a man and an artist of true integrity and humility who bestrode country music like the colossus he was. Born and raised in the dirt-poor recession-torn Arkansas of the 1930s, like his close friend Dolly Parton he knew real poverty and deprivation, and never forgot those roots throughout a hugely successful career.

Both a songwriter in his own right, and a proud interpreter of others songs, Cash certainly had his own style (that Boom-Chicka-Boom rhythm that his early recordings in particular). The self-declared Man in Black, even his sartorial style was a statement of solidarity with the poor and hungry, the “prisoner who has long paid for his crime”, something that he explained in the song of the same name. And he was also a man of deep faith, something that is often over-looked by those who are uncomfortable with such things, but something which is key to understanding the complex person that was Johnny Cash.

And so here is a collection of ukulele song sheets for 28 classic Johnny Cash songs. By-and-large Cash songs are not complicated beasts – there is a small number of chords, regular rhythms (mostly – Ghost Riders In The Sky and Ring Of Fire might be a little challenging on that front) and standard structures – so these should be good for beginners and experienced players alike. The songs are mostly in the original keys, but a few I have transposed for ease of playing – Cash often played with a Capo on the first fret, so no shame there. Enjoy!

<songbook>

List of songs included in the book (with links to individual song sheets):


4 Comments

Squeeze – Singles 45’s and Under

Squeeze are part of a long line of British observational songwriters/bands, taking their cure in particular from the likes of The Small Faces and The Kinks, with no small debt to The Beatles. Whilst never really making it big in the US, in the late 1970s and early 1980s they were constants in the UK charts, releasing classic single after classic single, the best of which were collected together onto a fabulous compilation album in 1982 called Singles – 45s and Under, released just after the band’s first split. It’s that collection (the UK version) that is contained in this songbook.

<Full Album Songbook>

At it’s heart, Squeeze songs were the product of a long-lasting (if sometimes fractious) songwriting partnership between Chris Difford (lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (music). Together with a band that included – for their first few albums – Jools Holland, Squeeze rode on the coat-tails of the late-70s New Wave scene, but were far more in the classic pop mould of their influences. Taking a particularly urban, British perspective, their songs were tightly observed vignettes of the life and characters that were part of their South London roots.

Whilst their first album, 1978’s self-titled debut, spawned a minor hit with Take Me I’m Yours, it was with 1979’s Cool For Cats that the band really broke through, scoring huge hits with the title track and Up The Junction, success that continued in the following year with Argybargy. 1981 brought arguably the bands masterpiece, the Elvis Costello-produced East Side Story, that saw the band’s sound broadening, exemplified by the country stylings of Labelled With Love (released at around the same time as Costello’s equally influenced single Good Year For The Roses). However, subsequent releases proved to be less successful, and increasing tension between Difford and Tilbrook, along with the stresses of touring, saw the band calling it a day in 1982.

This proved to be a temporary hiatus, however, and the band re-formed and extended in 1985, picking up where they left off with a series of albums that performed modestly, with the occasional breakout hit (Hourglass being the biggest). Splitting again in 1999, and then re-forming again in 2007, Squeeze continue as a fully-functioning band to this day, albeit in a somewhat more relaxed manner with the various members finding time for their own solo and side projects.

But for me, it is this collection of songs which really defining Squeeze. This is the ultimate collection of wonderful, witty, intelligent, concise songwriting that all aspiring songwriters should aspire to.

As to the songbook – well, you’ll notice that the songs get musically more sophisticated as they go on, but generally speaking these are *reasonably* straightforward songs that lend themselves well to both the ukulele and communal singing. There are one of two more challenging songs – Tempted, in particular – but nothing that won’t come with a little bit of practice. Enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>