Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Synthpop and New Romantics

Anybody who has had more than a cursory glance over the pages of this blog will realise that, though strictly speaking a child of the 1970s, my formative musical years were the early 80s. I’ve written elsewhere about how that was such a fertile time musically, about how there was just so much variety, and so much exciting new stuff both in the charts and in more obscure corners. And so it should come as no surprise that this songbook has finally found its way out there.

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A couple of musical threads which overlapped during that period were the rise of electronic music, particularly the more commercial brand that came to be referred to as synthpop, and the New Romantic movement. The latter grew initially out of the legendary Blitz club in London and, whilst borrowing from the anybody-can-do-it mindset that punk had unleashed a few years earlier, was in many ways a reaction to the often dour and black-and-white world that it had created. New Romantics were characterised by flamboyant, extravagant costumes and make-up, adopted a far more hedonistic lifestyle, and their music was all colour and drama. Whilst a relatively short-lived phenomenon, it gave a platform for a series of colourful characters (Boy George, Steve Strange, Marilyn), provided an lightning rod and incubator for a number of subsequently hugely successful bands (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet) and lent its sheen to a number of other artists who were on its periphery (not least of which was Adam Ant, who re-imagined himself in increasingly more glamorous and eccentric forms).

At the same time, the availability of cheaper electronic instruments created its own revolution, often inspired by true trailblazers such as Kraftwerk. The Human League were early out of the blocks, but initially had their thunder stolen by the upstart Gary Numan. But by 1980/81, you couldn’t move for electonic bands who were attempting to bring the left-field, subversive sounds that electronic music had originally rallied around into the charts. Bands like Depeche Mode, OMD, Soft Cell, Eurythmics, Yazoo, Tears for Fears, and many others rode on that wave. Often derided at the time, in a similar way to the way punk had been, for being talentless, one-finger keyboard operators, these artists often smuggled cutting edge contemporary themes into their songs and presentation.

On the surface, these songs and this genre are a thousand miles away from the world of ukulele. The sheer glamour of the New Romantics is not something that ukulele are renowned for. And the artificial, electronic sounds are not exactly what you associate ukulele with. But as has been proved in previous posts, and in a variety of ukulele groups around the country, these songs can actually translate quite well. Part of that comes down to the relatively straightforward nature of the songs, and the fact that – despite their origins – these are often classic, singalong songs. So I present you 30 songs that – to my mind, at least – are all classics of their kind, and translate really well to the humble ukulele. Give them a try, and enjoy!

Here is the songbook with all the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with links to each of the individual song sheets:


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The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie

In the diverse and unique career that was David Bowie, there are an astonishing number of albums that truly deserve the title “classic”. Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Station to Station, Low, Scary Monster. All are rightly held up as both ground-breaking and exemplary (the two don’t always go hand-in-hand). But if there was one record that can be held up as the archetypal David Bowie album, it has to be this one.

<Full Album Songbook>

The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (hereafter referred to as just plain Ziggy Stardust) was the album the truly launched Bowie into the stratosphere. A loose concept album whose theme was largely pieced together after many of the songs had been recorded, it follows the career arc of an androgynous, bi-sexual, alien rock star. Bowie, always fascinated by theatre and playing a part, immersed himself into the role, and over time it became impossible for the audience, or for Bowie himself, to separate the actor from the character. Eventually this led Bowie, little more than a year from the release of the album, to announce, live from the stage at Hammersmith Odeon, and to the evident shock of the audience, that this was “the last show that we’ll ever do”. In retrospect, this was interpreted as signifying the retirement of the Ziggy persona rather than Bowie himself. But the year spent as Ziggy took its toll on Bowie, it “wouldn’t leave [him] alone for years”, and arguably contributed to the downward spiral that Bowie’s personal life took in the subsequent years, something only stemmed by his move to Berlin in 1977.

The songs on Ziggy Stardust were recorded with the band that, in the same way that Bowie became Ziggy, became the Spiders from Mars, namely Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, and Woody Woodmansey in drums. In many ways a more conventional rock album than Bowie’s material that both preceded (Hunky Dory) and followed (Aladdin Sane) it, Ziggy was full-on Glam rock, but in a way that both took it to an extreme of “high-heeled boots, multicoloured dresses, extravagant makeup and outrageous sexuality”, yet also avoided the cartoon-ish elements that often came associated with that genre. The music also contained elements that made it both a template and inspiration for the sounds of punk that followed later in the decade.

Astonishingly for such a classic and influential album, Ziggy Stardust didn’t set the commercial world alight. Yes, it was a success, but the album only peaked at number 5 in the charts (number 75 in the US, where Bowie’s biggest success was to come later in the decade), and Starman was the only truly successful single from the album (written, apparently, when the record label – RCA – complained that there weren’t any single-worthy songs on the album), yet even that only peaked in the UK singles chart at number 10. But Ziggy went on to sell 1.5m copies in the UK, making it the biggest selling album of Bowie’s career in the UK, selling 1.5m copies here, 1m in the US, and 7.5m in total worldwide.

And so here is the ukulele song book, with every song from the album. All songs are in the original keys, and mostly they are quite playable. I think that the more straight-ahead rock nature of the songs, and their relatively simplicity, makes this a more do-able affair than something like Hunky Dory, great though that album is. Which is why we’re going to be doing this at one of our future “play the album” nights – everybody welcome, details here!

<Full Album Songbook>


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Queen – Songbook

One thing that constantly surprises me is how different young people’s attitude to music is now, compared to how it was when I was younger (we’re talking late 70s/early 80s here). In my day (!) it was all about the latest thing – what was new, what was “in”, was what mattered. And music that was even 3 or 4 years old was considered ancient, passe, past it. Anything that was more than 10 years old we wouldn’t have given the time of day.

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I contrast that attitude with what I see from young people now, and whilst new music is still important, it’s mixed into a melting pot of music from across the generations. That is, I’m sure, something driven by an internet and streaming environment where (almost) every music ever made is available in a few clicks. Overall I think that’s a good thing, although it can make it challenging for new bands and artists to break through, and for them to have the long-lasting presence and careers that artists of old might have had.

I mentioned all this in the context of this post because the subject of this post – Queen – is one band that I’m particularly conscious has been embraced in this way. That is in no small part due to the success of the film Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie that seems to have become something of a phenomenon, despite – or maybe because of – a decidedly mixed critical reception. But the rehabilitation of Queen goes back much further than that, probably to the Live Aid appearance that plays such a pivotal role in the film. Not to mention *that* scene in Wayne’s World – something that even got a sly reference in Bohemian Rhapsody. Whatever you think of their music, it has become timeless, a part of our culture, and something that feels like it’s going to be around for a long time to come.

A Queen evening has been something that has been both discussed and requested for a while for our run of ukulele album/themed nights. And to be honest it’s something I’ve put off. Not because I don’t like the songs (although I wouldn’t really call myself a fan, and my awareness really starts and ends with the singles). But because I wasn’t sure that we could do the songs justice. A few passing glances at the songs led me to think that we would really struggle to find enough songs that were half-way playable. But recently I thought I’d have another look, and give it a bit more effort, and … here  we are.

It is fair to say that the selection of songs here was – to a certain extent – pre-determined. There are a whole bunch of other songs that I’d include if playability weren’t such an issue (Now I’m Here and Somebody To Love being a couple of examples). But what has fallen out has been what I think is a good cross-section of songs that – totally coincidentally (I certainly didn’t plan it!) – cover the full range of the band’s career, touch every album apart from their first and last. Now I’m not going to pretend that all of these are straightforward – Queen songs have a habit of going off in odd keys (that make transposing into “easier” keys pointless), and having various timing issues. So some of these do take a bit of attention and working at. But I do think they work, something that I’m going to be putting to the test when we will be listening to and playing most of these at a Queen evening in December (click on the poster below for more details)!

Anyway, here is the Queen songbook, which includes the following songs:

  • Another One Bites The Dust
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Flash
  • Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
  • I Want It All
  • I Want To Break Free
  • Killer Queen
  • A Kind Of Magic
  • Radio Ga Ga
  • Seven Seas Of Rhye
  • These Are The Days Of Our Lives
  • Under Pressure
  • We Are The Champions
  • We Will Rock You
  • You’re My Best Friend

I’ve tried to strike a balance between being faithful to the originals, and keeping them relatively playable. So there are some simplifications, and I’ve also included some “optional” chords which can be skipped with minimal impact. I *had* to include Bohemian Rhapsody, and that (particularly the middle section) I’m still not sure about – but hey, even Queen didn’t play that bit live, so don’t feel too bad about struggling with that. And Flash was a bit of fun – I really don’t know if that would work at all! But all in all, I think this is a playable selection of well-loved songs that will be a bit challenging but will add something different to your ukulele repertoire. Enjoy!

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Glam Rock!!! Songbook!!!

As the sixties bled into the seventies, the almost constant innovation and excitement that had been a hallmark of that classic musical decade seemed to have petered out. Everything had all got very serious – beards, musicianship, extended guitar solos, double albums, introspective singer-songwriters, albums over singles. Whilst there were lots of real classics in there, it really seemed to have lost that original energy, fun and irreverence that had so characterised the best rock and roll and pop music for the previous fifteen years.

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So there was a real pent up demand, particularly at the teenage end of the market, for the sheer exuberance, simplicity and brashness that was Glam. Trail-blazed by Marc Bolan and his re-configured T-Rex (the previous Tyrannosaurus Rex incarnation had been a typical late-60s folky-hippy-mystical acoustic sound), for a couple of years in the early 70s you couldn’t move for glitter, platform boots and outrageous flares (in the UK and Europe, at least – Glam never really translated to the US). The likes of Slade, Mud and Sweet conquered the charts repeatedly, careers were resurrected (Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed), future national treasures tapped in to the spirit of it (Elton John), and art-rockers like Roxy Music, David Bowie and Sparks brought critical credibility to it as well.

In many ways Glam brought the kind of electrifying shock to the music scene that punk did later in the decade, but with decidedly less long-term credibility. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that (and I’d recommend Simon Reynolds exhaustive book, Shock and Awe, to give you all the insight you’ll ever need into the scene) those short few years left a legacy of songs – primarily singles (Glam was almost by definition about those short, sharp, 3 minute bursts of energy) – that are both evocative and sing-out-loud fun.

And so I present to you, the UkeTunes Glam Rock songbook! Here is a collection of 19 songs from that period that both sum up all that was best about it, and – to my mind – translate well to the humble ukulele. There’s very little subtlety in many of these songs – don’t go looking for deep lyrical insight, they’re designed to be thrashed, and sung / shouted at the top of your voice.  But that is where the fun is. Just like you can never take yourself too seriously when you’re playing a miniature, shrunken guitar, neither can you when singing yourself hoarse to these songs. So take these in the spirit they’re offered – go and have fun, and add a smidgen of glitter to your life.

Here is the songbook, with all of the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with a link to individual song sheets for each song:


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The Passenger – Iggy Pop

By the mid-70s Iggy Pop was going nowhere. Despite the legendary and influential position that his band The Stooges had achieved (a seminal garage rock band, and a huge influence on punk), and despite a helping hand from David Bowie on 1973’s Raw Power, The Stooges had fallen apart, and Pop had descended into a spiral of drug abuse.

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However, Bowie continued to support his friend, and took him along as a companion on the 1976 Station to Station tour. Bowie himself, at that time, was deep into a drug dependency, and when he relocated to Berlin afterwards to kick his addiction, Iggy came with him. Thus began an extraordinary period of creativity from Bowie, and Iggy benefited hugely from that.  In early 1977 The Idiot was released, Pop’s first solo album, written, recorded and produced in collaboration with Bowie. Later that same year (a year in which Bowie also released both Low and “Heroes”) came Lust For Life, Iggy’s most commercially successful album, once again a collaboration with, including co-writing and producing, David Bowie.

Best known for it’s opening title track (which itself achieved iconic status via. its inclusion in the opening sequence of the film Trainspotting), The Passenger is the most covered song on the album (the likes of Nick Cave, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and REM have all performed the song),  allegedly inspired (according to Pop’s former girlfriend Esther Friedmann) by a Jim Morrison poem that viewed modern life as a journey by car, as well as rides on the Berlin rapid transit railway, the S-Bahn. Written by guitarist Ricky Gardiner, it was originally released as the B-side of a single (“Success”), but has since come to be one of the defining songs of Iggy’s career.

And so to the song sheet. In terms of chords, there’s nothing tricky here – it’s just an Am / F / C / G / Am / F / C / E sequence repeated all the way through the song (with one or two subtle exceptions. The real key to getting the song sounding right is the strumming pattern. This YouTube guitar lesson gives a good sense of the pattern, but essentially it’s a mute-down-up-down-up pattern, repeated all the way through – effectively there is no chord played on the first (and third) beats. Give it a try. And enjoy!