Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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A Perfect Miracle – Spiritualized

You’ll have noticed that ukulele-based songs are few and far between on this blog. That is kind-of deliberate, but also a reflection of the fact that, whilst I love playing the little 4-string wonder myself, it hasn’t let me towards wanting to listening to music made on the instrument. Call me a fraud if you like, a traitor if you want (in these febrile Brexit times, such accusations seem to get thrown around increasingly carelessly), but that is me.

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Now I don’t actually know that there is a ukulele playing as the backbone to this song. There’s no credit of a ukulele player in the album credits. But a number of other reviews of the song have suggested that’s what it could be, and to my ears that sounds totally plausible. So I’m going to go with it.

A Perfect Miracle is the opening song, and lead single, from Spiritualized’s most recent album, And Nothing Hurt. It’s a beautiful, hazy waltz-time lullaby that starts off with nothing much more than that strummed ukulele, but then builds and swells to an increasingly glorious crescendo – strings, choirs, the lot. Actually, when you peer behind the sounds the lyrical content of the song is not quite what it seems – yes, there’s lots of lovely sentiment towards a loved one, but as the song progresses there is a thread of uncertainty and ambivalence that creeps in. But there’s still glimmers of light, so let’s hope it all ends well, eh?

And the song sheet. Well, to be honest, this is such a simple song it’s almost embarrassing to have one! Basically the song is the same four chords, repeated in sequence throughout. I’ve transposed the song up a semi-tone, from B to C, to make it easier to play. But other than that there’s not much more to say (although you can thrown in the occasional Gsus4 if you wish, to give a bit more colour). I have included the backing choir lyrics which are sung in parallel with the last three verses, so if there are more than one of you doing this I’m sure that will sound lovely. Do enjoy!

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Twentytwo – Sunflower Bean

So here we with the second gig-inspired song in the last couple of months. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending a lovely evening with my daughter at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, in the company of New York band Sunflower Bean.

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Four months ago Sunflower Bean meant nothing to me. Since then, thanks to finally taking the plunge with a Spotify subscription (other streaming platforms are available), I’ve managed to catch-up on more new music than I’ve probably done in the last five years. And The Bean (as nobody calls them!) are one of my favourites. Whilst the band can certainly rock the house (new single Come For Me being a good example), one of the things that I love about the band is that they certainly don’t stick to a tried and tested formula. Indie in the original meaning of the word, the parent album for this song (Twentytwo in Blue) has moments of stomping Glam rock, Velvets-flavoured Garage rock, west-coast soft rock, dreamy psychedelics and shoe-gaze. And yet doesn’t come across as the stylistic ragbag that may suggest – there is a unified vision at the heart of the band that is all their own, and that gives them their own, unique identify.

Twentytwo is – I guess – the title track of the album. A twenty-something perspective on growing up and coming of age, the song packs a powerful combination of melancholy and defiance that has echoes Fleetwood Mac and the darker moments in the Abba catalogue. Luxurious and nostalgic, this is the sound of a band who know there mind and will follow the muse wherever it will take them.

And so to the song sheet. Nothing too clever or tricky here. This is a great song to belt out, but needs some textures and contrasts to bring it alive. Note that the song sheet is for the full version from the album – the video above is an edited version of the song that loses a verse and a few other nips and tucks. Enjoy!


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Making Plans For Nigel – XTC

Hot on the heels of the previous post, which featured the more pastoral, psychedelic side of XTC, here is one of – if not THE – songs that the band is known for.

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XTC were originally formed in Swindon in the early 1970s, taking a while to find their sound (early incarnations were of a more glam / glitter rock persuasion), ultimately emerging as part of the punk generation in 1977. However, XTC were never one to be pigeon-holed, and to be honest were somewhat smarter that your average punk band, and from the get-go refused to bow to the somewhat conservative conventions and year zero mindset that the punk scene often created.

Characterised by a jagged, angular sound, and smart, often ironic lyrics, the band were three albums into their recording career before they finally found some kind of significant success, a purple period from 1979 to 1982 that saw them regulars in the mid-reaches of the charts.

Making Plans For Nigel was the song that brought them that initial flurry of recognition and success, and it is a song that has weathered well. From the pen and voice of Colin Moulding, this song has become a mainstay of a hundred new wave compilations. A song that still sounds as fresh as the day it was conceived, a song full of spaces, it is underpinned by a distinctive drum pattern and sound, topped with sharp angular guitar riffs, and a lyric that mocks the entry into dull careerism to the titular Nigel, all wrapped in a production that is both crisp and sharp, and also owes more than a little to the dub sounds and effects that were entering the mainstream at the time from reggae.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s quite a straightforward song, the trick is getting a rhythm / strumming pattern that works. I’m not going to be prescriptive about that, just experiment and seems what works. The D / D4 / D5 run down can easily be replaced with a straight D, but otherwise it should all work as written. Enjoy!


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Grass – XTC

XTC have always been one of those bands that I kind of thought I should get, but never really did. Yes, I loved those late 70s / early 80s hits like Sgt Rock, Senses Working Overtime, and Making Plans For Nigel (more of which later). But I never really got beyond that.

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So I decided to put that right recently. But where to start? After  bit of dithering I ended up plumping for a copy of 1986’s Skylarking, prompted in part by having recently heard one of the albums track, That’s Really Super, Supergirl, on the radio. An album that was strongly rated, critically acclaimed, but of which I knew almost nothing.

So how did it go, I hear you ask? Well, if I’m honest, first listen I was little unsure, a little non-plussed. A few songs sounded good first time, but much of it felt indistinct and uncertain. But I got the sense that this might be one of those albums you need to work at a little to really extract its riches. And so it proved to be. A few weeks later and the subtle riches of the album are beginning to worm their way into my head and heart.

For those who don’t know it, Skylarking has a more pastoral, quintessentially English sound than you might have expected if all you’ve heard is the new wave / post-punk sounds of those early hits. Produced by Todd Rundgren, it is loosely themed around various cycles in life and nature, and as a result really hangs together as a whole piece.

Grass, a song written and sung by Colin Moulding, was the lead single from the album (the flip-side, Dear God, was later to become the most well-known song from this set, a minor hit in the US), and exemplifies the mood and feel of the whole album. A song that looks back in almost bucolic terms to romantic fumbles in the summer grass, with more than a hint to doing so under the influence of that other grass (marijuana), the song captures a time and space so perfectly that for three minutes you feel yourself right there.

So here’s the song sheet. The song is actually quite a simple one, both in terms of structure and chords, and feels like it demands to be sung under a late summer evening sky, basking in the the great outdoors. I’ve included two versions, one in D and one if F, both a little easier to play than the original in E (play the first version with capo 2 if you want to play/sing along to the original. Enjoy!


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(What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis (Full Album)

Well I have to say that these full album nights have really taken off. Having had two really successful evenings with 30-40 ukers listening to, and bashing their way through, Parallel Lines and Rubber Soul, we’re now planning a to make this a semi-regular event. Undoubtedly you’ll be seeing some of those popping up on here over time, but the next one is going to be Oasis’ sophomore classic, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.

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I must say up-front that this songbook is definitely (maybe!) not all my own work. Most of the credit for this must go to my good ukeing friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, Ian Rothwell, who has put in a massive amount of effort to pull this together. We road-tested it earlier this week, and we’re relatively happy with how it sounds, so here it is.

Released in October 1995, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory was the album that propelled from a very successful indie rock band at the vanguard of the Britpop scene (that album was the fastest-selling debut album of all time in the UK when it was released) to a world-wide phenomenon. World-wide the album has sold an estimated 22 million copies, it was number one in the UK for ten weeks on it’s release, and it spawned a swathe of classic singles, with two (Some Might Say and Don’t Look Back In Anger) reaching the coveted number one slot, and another two (Wonderwall and Roll With It) peaking at number two. The last of those, Roll With It, was the subject of the much-hyped Britpop battle with Blur, when they both famously released new singles on the same day, Blur releasing Country House. Blur won that particular battle and hit the top spot, but I think it fair to say that, at least if judged commercially, Oasis won the war.

Marking a move away from the rawer sound of the band’s debut, (What’s The Story) was marked out by slower tempos, songs more ballad like (although still swathed in loud rock-and-roll guitars) with huge sing-along choruses, and with richer instrumentation than on their first record. The critical reception the album received on its release was a little lukewarm, many comparing it less favourably to its predecessor, complaining that the album was derivative and simplistic, as well as being seen as prompting a major step-change in the loudness wars.  As ever though, timing can be everything with these things, and the emergence and mainstream embracing of the cultural phenomenon that was Britpop at the same time as this albums release allowed Oasis to surf its wave with massive success.

And so here it is – the songbook. As I said earlier, the hugest of thanks to Ian Rothwell for doing most of the work on this one. As you’ll see the format is slightly different to previous songbooks, but the content is all there. Only one of the songs (She’s Electric) is not in the same key as the original (that has been upped from F# to G for obvious reasons!), so all the rest are definitely play-along-able. As far as possible we’ve tried to keep the arrangements faithful to the originals. We haven’t tabbed any solos or the like – in actual fact there aren’t that many – but feel free to work those out yourselves. Sing loud, with great enthusiasm. And most of all, enjoy!

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P.S. If you’re interested, and in the Southampton area on the 17th May, this (see below) is the event where we’re going to be playing this one through.


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Innocence – Kirsty MacColl

If judged solely by commercial success, Kirsty MacColl doesn’t rank highly in the pantheon of singers or songwriters. But fortunately that isn’t the only way to measure these things, and when rated by the quality of her work, and the love felt for her and her songs, then Kirsty is right up there.

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Clearly she had something of a head start, being the daughter of the esteemed folk singer Ewan MacColl, who wrote “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. But after being spotted singing backing vocals in a punk band by Stiff Records, she was signed and released her first single in 1979, They Don’t Know. From that point on it’s fair to say that her success was patchy. Whilst she scored a hit with an early single (There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis), and her appearance on the Christmas perennial Fairy Tale Of New York with The Pogues, her own songs seemed to struggle, although there was some success in the early 80s when comedienne Tracey Ullman had a hit with They Don’t know during her brief pop career. It’s somewhat ironic that for all the acclaim that she received as a songwriter, her biggest successes seemed to come with other people’s songs (Billy Bragg’s A New England, Ray Davies’ Days, and The Pogues).

MacColl released a number of albums over the years, somewhat sporadically, but every one was chock full of quality songs. 1989’s Kite probably came closest to being a big success, and its from that album that Innocence is taken. With a jangle guitar reminiscent of The Smiths (ironic in that whilst Johnny Marr was a big contributor to the album – both playing and writing – this is one song he *didn’t* play on), Innocence is classic Kirsty – sharp lyrics, melodic, gorgeous harmonies, perfectly packaged pop. The video (below) is also great fun, well worth a watch, including a cameo from Ed Tudor-Pole.

And here is the song sheet. It’s a fairly faithful translation, in the same key as the original. Nothing tricksy chord wise, or rhythmically for that matter. There are quite a lot of words to fit in, but they’re good ones, so worth pursuing.

Enjoy!


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Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow – Felt

I’ve kind-of giving up worrying about the preponderance of 80s tunes from my youth that I post on these pages. The songs that I post have always been influenced by the music that I’m listening to at any point of time, and – in no small part thanks to Decade, a wonderful event that happens not for from me that plays alternative music from 77-87 – I’ve been listening to a lot of music from that era, both songs that I’m familiar with, as well as tunes and artists that passed me by at the time.

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So this is a stone-cold classic from that era. Felt could be considered the quintessential 80s indie band. Essentially the platform for the artistic vision of the enigmatic Lawrence (no surname was ever used), Felt’s original jangle style was influenced by the likes of Television, but taken in a more fragile and luminescent direction. Early albums were resolutely low-fi and contained as many instrumentals as vocal songs, but through the 80s the Felt project grew and evolved, adding a bright and bubbling organ to the mix, branching off into lounge-style mini-instrumentals and kitsch-jazz before concluding (after 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years – all part of the masterplan) in 1989 with the vastly underrated, almost professional sounding Me and a Monkey on the Moon.

Top of the pile of all those songs, for me, is the swooningly gorgeous Primitive Painters, a duet with Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser (one of the few records I’ve ever brought on-spec after one hearing in a record shop). But that doesn’t translate too well to ukulele! So instead here is a song that scales pretty close to those dizzy heights, the 1984 single Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow. With a title like that how could a song fail (I’d love Felt just for their song and album titles, even without hearing the music – Rain of Crystal Spires, The World is as Soft as Lace, Evergreen Dazed, Sapphire Mansions, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, Ignite the Seven Cannons and Set Sail for the Sun – the list is endless!). A resolutely up-beat sounding song that would appear to be a somewhat stinging observation of a friend, with the pretentiousness meter turned up high (the single and album versions differently reference a poem by Rimbaud or an Egyptian funerary text), the song is soaked in gorgeous shimmering and chiming guitars courtesy of Maurice Deebank, who was instrumental (literally) in the bands sounds for the first half of their career.

So translate this gloriousness to ukulele? Well, clearly its not going to sound *quite* like the original. But underneath all those wonderful sounds is a great song, and so I think it works. I’ve transcribed the ringing intro, solo and outro sections as well – Maurice Deebank never went in for guitar gymnatics, so these are definitely playable. It’s a great song, one that deserves more exposure. Enjoy!