Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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.

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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>


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It’s Christmas!!

…and it’s time to roll out all the usual Christmas tunes. There’s always something reassuring about those old chestnuts (roasting on an open fire), and it is that recurring familiarity that wraps us in a comfort blanket of sound and memories. But those old standards were new once – hard as it seems to imagine – and their all pervasiveness hinders equally classic, but much less well-known songs, from getting the attention they deserve. So this post is a my small attempt to put that right, as I present four Christmas songs that – in my book – *are* classics, and deserve far wider attention than they get.

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Exhibit One. A Pretty Good Christmas, by The Disappointment Choir. I know *nothing* about this band, although I probably should investigate them further off the back of this absolutely gorgeous Christmas song. This falls into that slightly-miserable-but-ultimately-hopeful category of Christmas tunes. As I write this we’re awaiting the results of the UK 2019 General Election, and the words to this somehow chime relevant at the moment – “I don’t know what the first of the next year will bring / But it’s going to be a pretty good Christmas”.

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Exhibit Two. Christmas Day, by Kasey Chambers. Kasey Chambers is an Australian country singer and songwriter who, over the period of 20 years has established a solid body of work. Chambers was raised a a Seventh Day Adventist, and although she hasn’t aligned herself with the church for a long time, she retains a strong spiritual belief, something that comes through in Christmas Day (from her 2014 album, Bittersweet) which picks up on the religious aspects of Christmas, and offers a telling of the Christmas story.

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Exhibit Three. I Wish It Was Christmas Today, by Julian Casablancas. Former lead man from The Strokes, I Wish It Was Christmas Today was originally a novelty item on the US variety show Saturday Night Live. But Casablancas amped it up, gave it a new wave work-over, and from that emerged this real banger. There is just *no* reason why this song shouldn’t be up there on the Christmas repeat list.

<I Wish It Was Christmas Today>

 

Exhibit Four. Vegetarian Christmas, by Feet. Bang up to date, Vegetarian Christmas was – as I write – only released a week ago. But in my book this deserves to become a regular fixture on Christmas playlists. I’ve actually seen Feet a couple of times this year, firstly supporting Lauren Hibberd, the second time headlining themselves. And they were fab! Intelligent guitar-driven indie in a vein not dissimilar to Sports Team, this is a band that is full of character, imagination and variety. Vegetarian Christmas extols the virtues of a meat-free diet with a surprisingly traditional, family-centric view of the season.

<Vegetarian Christmas>


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Short Haired Woman Blues – Dave Rawlings Machine

So I’ve posted plenty of songs here from Gillian Welch. And with good reason – in my book she can do no wrong. But until now I haven’t posted anything from fellow partner-in-crime, Dave Rawlings. So ahead of a brand new album from him later this month, I thought it time to right that wrong.

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To be fair, it is somewhat artificial to make this split between Welch and Rawlings. The two have been inseparable in their recording and performing career, and are very much a democratic duo. It’s just that for each recording they have chosen one or other of them to act as the front to the other. True, Welch was four albums in before a Rawlings album appeared. But of late it has been Rawlings who has been more prolific, with the new album, Poor David’s Almanack, being the third in a period when Welch has only fronted one (albeit that was the totally sublime, career highlight that was The Harrow and The Harvest).

Together they plough a very traditionalist furrow, drawing on various roots traditions such as folk, bluegrass, country and old-time music, whilst at the some time having a sound that is all their own, and oddly contemporary. And in many ways the songs could interchange between the two of them. Short Haired Woman Blues, as an example, falls into that classic Welch/Rawlings stock of languid, stretched-out ballads that I just love. For me, these songs could go on forever and never outstay their welcome.

And so to the song sheet. A little more complicated this one, though not excessively so. There’s a batch of chords in there, not all of which are stricty accurate compared to the original, but ones which act as a (to my ears) reasonable sounding translation of the subtleties of the original guitar chords to the ukuele. In particular, that chord labelled and shown as B5 isn’t actually B5, but I think it fits OK into the song at that point. To my mind the song is best played pick (although I’m certainly not attempting to emulate Rawlings wonderful playing!), but it can be strummed as well. Timing can be a little tricky in places, but listen to the original and you’ll get the feel. Note the song sheet is in G, whilst the original is in G#. So capo 1 if you want to play along with the original. Enjoy!


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Homecoming Queen – Brandy Clark

I’m not great at keeping up with new music. But come December I’m often scouring and sampling the end-of-year best album lists to see what’s gone down well, and what might appeal. Let somebody else sort the wheat from the chaff, I figure.

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So it was whilst doing that at the end of last year that I came across an album that was consistently in the upper echelons of those lists, at least in the Country music variety, and sounded up my street. One play through the album and I was hooked. Many, many plays later and I regard it, and it’s immediate predecessor, as stone-cold classics of heartfelt, intelligent, incisive songwriting, coupled to performances that are sheer class. The album is Big Day In A Small Town. The artist is Brandy Clark.

Clark has been around Nashville for years, penning songs that have been recorded by the likes of Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, LeAnne Rimes and Kasey Musgraves, but it wasn’t until 2013 that she was able to record 12 Songs, her first collection of her own material. Critically lauded at the time, and hitting high in many of those end-of-year lists, 12 Songs did no more nor less than what it said on the tin. But what a collection of songs! Taking its cue from many of country music’s tried and tested themes, Clark treads a fine line between cliche and genuine insight, showing a real heart for the people of small-town america, without succumbing to some of the more reactionary viewpoints that can be associated with that.

Three years later she followed 12 Songs up with what is – in my mind – an even more impressive collection of songs. Again, doing what it says on the tin, Big Day In A Small Town is loosely themed around the ups and downs of life in such a small town. In that context (or indeed, any context) Homecoming Queen is a highlight, a poignant tale that looks back on how the life of a woman didn’t quite match the expectations that she might have had for herself when she finished high school. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking song, one that is full of humanity and compassion, and one that I’m sure everybody can relate to at some level.

The song was originally recorded by Sheryl Crow on her Feels Like Home album. Whilst it’s good, I prefer Clark’s version, which you can hear below, or alternatively listen to this stripped back acoustic version.

So here’s the song sheet. As with most country songs, there’s nothing too complicated here. I’ve thrown in a few little flourishes – the F4 in the intros and interludes that kind-of approximates to the original, and the C7s leading into the chorus, which are certainly optional and down to preferences. This is a great song (have I said that already!) so 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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Rainbow Connection

KermitDon’t ever let it be said that there’s no variety on this site. From 80s synthpop and soulful grooves, we now move on to a song made famous by a singing frog playing the banjo!

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Rainbow Connection, however, is not your average glove-puppet inspired tune. The work of two highly respected composers and arrangers, Paul Williams (“We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)”) and Kenneth Ascher, the song first came to the consciousness of the world via. The Muppet Movie, where it was performed by Kermit the Frog. Performing a similar role in that film to the similarly-themed “Over The Rainbow” in The Wizard Of Oz, the song is a surprisingly wistful song that looks yearns and dreams for, and holds out the hope for, a better life. Nominated for an Academy Award (it lost out to “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae – no, me neither!) it has over the years turned into a true standard.

Subsequently reprised in The Muppet Show in 1980 as a duet with Debbie Harry, it has since gone on to be covered by a whole host of artists including The Carpenters, Sarah McLachlan, Willie Nelson, Ed Sheerhan, and my personal favourite version by The Dixie Chicks.

There are quite a few Rainbow Connection song sheets out there, so why another one? Well this was put together for when our band, The Flukes wanted to perform it (you can see/hear it below – excuse the slightly fluffed intro and solo from yours truly!), and none of the versions out there quite worked for us. So firstly this version does away with the key change, thereby avoiding a host of horrible chords! Secondly, I’ve also include (a) the opening riff, and (b) a solo for the middle, which started off based on The Dixie Chicks version, and then morphed into some kind of amalgam of a number of versions. Anyway, I think the whole thing is better picked than strummed, but that’s my opinion, and you’re free to ignore it. Enjoy!
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Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry

OdeToBillyJoeSometimes a song arrives so perfectly formed that its difficult to believe that there was a time when it didn’t exist.  And sometimes a song becomes so iconic that it overshadows the artist that created and performed it. I think both of those things apply to this classic.

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Ode To Billy Joe is a song, like You’re So Vain or American Pie, that has created a huge amount of debate, discussion and speculation. Originally the b-side to her debut single, Mississippi Delta, Ode… started picking up US airplay and eventually topped the charts there. It’s sparse sound was a contrast to the country rock sound of Mississippi Delta, but it is the enigmatic lyrics that have given the song its long-lasting mystique. Exactly what did Billie Joe and his girlfriend throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? Why did Billie Joe commit suicide? I’m not going to add to the debate that has ensued endlessly since the songs original release (see here and here for a flavour of that) – suffice to say it is one of those debates that will run and run.

Gentry never really eclipsed this performance (hard to see how that could be possible) despite a series of classy releases. She had continued success in the late 60s and early 70s, but effectively dropped off the public radar by 1972 to focus on television production work, and disappeared entirely from public life in the early 1980s, lending to her own life a degree of the mystery that surrounded this her most iconic song.

There’s not much to say about the song sheet. It’s a simple set of blues-flavoured chords. Just keep the rhythm simple and sparse, and it will sound great.

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P.S. I love this photo (below) of Bobbie Gentry crossing the Tallahatchie Bridge

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