Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Spacer – Sheila B. Devotion

It’s the late 1970s, and disco has taken over the world. Yes, I know that in the critics-written history of pop it was all about punk, post-punk and new wave. But in terms of commercial success and popularity it was disco all the way.

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Now I understand that disco had (and still has) its detractors, something that reached something of a crescendo with the infamous Disco Demolition Night where a crate of disco records was blown-up in the middle of a baseball game in the US to chants of “Disco Sucks”. And yes, I will accept that the tacking on of a disco beat to anything became something of a plague (although I definitely have a soft spot for The Rolling Stones’ Miss You). But alongside the dross and bandwagon jumpers there were some truly sublime moments.

Not a small number of those sublime moments came from the hands of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Most famously known for being the power behind disco behemoths Chic, over a hugely productive period at the end of the 70s and early 80s the pair lent their not inconsiderable talents to the likes of Sister Sledge (Lost in Music, We are Family, etc.), Diana Ross (Upside Down, I’m Coming Out and more), Debbie Harry (KooKoo) and Carly Simon (Why). But one of the more overlooked collaborations was with a French former  Yé-yé artist originally just known as Sheila. Adopting a more contemporary disco style, she had a huge European hit with a disco version of Singing In The Rain in 1977. But it was Spacer, the first fruits of that collaboration with Rodgers and Edwards, for which she will always be known. Full of the trademark Chic funky guitar and bass, I defy anybody now to want to strut their stuff to this collision of two late 1970s phenomenons – disco and sci-fi.

Star Wars had woken Hollywood to the sudden realisation that sci-fi was a cash cow, and for five minutes there was a sudden spate of sci-fi / disco cross-overs. Spacer was by far the best of those (and check out the extended version for it at its best), but it was joined in the charts by the likes of I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper (Sarah Brightman, before Andrew Lloyd Webber credibilty), Automatic Lover (Dee D Jackson, who had worked with Giorgio Moroder), the awesome Space by Magic Fly, and even a disco version of the Star Wars theme.

Ukulele-disco I hear you say. Are you mad?! Well maybe, but as has possibly been proven previously it might just work. There’s nothing too tricky chord-wise here (the E7sus4 to Em7 change is reasonably straightforward once you’ve got used to it). But clearly getting a good, steady rhythm is key to making this one work. To that end I’ve had a go at recording this over the top of the original so you have some idea of how *I* think it could go (see below – you can obviously do your own thing) – I hope this helps.

 

 

 

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Never Can Say Goodbye – The Communards / Gloria Gaynor

communardsSorry, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Things going on I’m afraid (nothing significant, just general life stuff) which meant I haven’t got round to putting much up on here. But I do have a batch of stuff that I will post over the next few weeks, and here is the first.

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Depending on your generation, this is either a disco classic from the 1970s (Gloria Gaynor) or a classic hi-nrg cover from the 1980s (The Communards). Or possibly even a Jacksons classic from the early 1970s (I didn’t know anything about that one until I started looking into this). For me it’s the 1980s version that is the most evocative, although I do like the Gloria Gaynor one for it’s subtlety (The Communards version is *not* a subtle record!).

The Communards had already had a huge hit with a cover of a disco classic (Don’t Leave Me This Way) in 1986, and followed it the following year with this. Some might call it a cynical attempt to re-capture the success of the following year, and there is probably some justification for that (subsequent original songs had not really set the charts alight). But I don’t think you can fail to respond to the enthusiasm and clear love of the song that Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles (now the Rev. Richard Coles) brought to this recording. I particularly love the totally camp enthusiasm that Cole shows in the video (see 1:12) and Sommerville is obviously immensely enjoying himself (see 3:25).

And so to the songsheet. There’s a few unusual chords in there (although you could probably skip the Db if you struggle with it) but they do add something to the song. The rhythm is relatively straightforward and consistent throughout, although I have add a couple of counts where the timing might get a little tricky. Sing and play with enthusiasm an you can’t go far wrong.

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Venus – Bananarama / Shocking Blue

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There hasn’t been enough Dutch bubblegum-inspired 80s disco on this site of late, so here’s one to break that drought.

Venus was a song written by Robbie van Leeuwen, guitarist, sitarist and lead song-writer with the 60s/70s Dutch band Shocking Blue (another song of van Leeuwen / Shocking Blue, Love Buzz, was later covered by Nirvana on their Bleach album). The song was a huge global hit around 1970, reaching number 1 in 5 countries including the USA – the first dutch song to do so. Their are claims that the song was more-than-a-little inspired by “The Banjo Song” from US folk-group The Big 3, which included a pre-Mamas and Papas Cass Elliot. That is something that has never been pursued by The Big 3, but you can judged for yourself by taking a listen here. There’s certainly more than a little similarity!

Despite the huge success of the original version of the song, it now seems more associated in most people’s minds with the Bananarama cover version from 1986. Venus was their first collaboration with the Stock, Aitken and Waterman team, and it’s huge world-wide success (number one in eight countries, including the US) led to a long and fruitful relationship between the band and the production team.

And so here’s the song sheet. It’s a simple song, based around a recurring chord sequence. For opening little flourish (the B7sus4) listen to the intro to the Bananarama version to get the rhythm. I’ve also thrown in the little riff that fills the gap between the verse and the chorus – the riff itself is quite straightforward, although fitting it in and keeping going is sometimes a little tricky. Enjoy!

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