Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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You Get What You Give – New Radicals

I’ve written a number of times before about what a great band New Radicals, and in particular frontman and songwriter Gregg Alexander, were. Both Ronan Keating (Life Is A Rollercoaster) and the soundtrack to the film Begin Again (Lost Stars) have been beneficiaries of his songwriting genius. But if anyone knows about Gregg, or New Radicals, it is because of this song.

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You Get What You Give was, at the time of it’s release, huge. It wasn’t a mega hit, but did pretty well. But it did feel like it was everywhere. And it is one of those songs that have lasted, in a way that a lot of what were potentially much bigger songs at the time haven’t. This song, and it’s parent album (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too) are enduring favourites of mine, and I really can’t fathom out why the rest of the songs from them haven’t been more widely appreciated – either at the time or since.

Alexander broke up the band the year after the success of You Get What You Give, citing his unhappiness with the demands of touring and promotion. And so the twelve songs that make up Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too remain the lasting legacy of a band that are – by the definition of the term – one-hit wonders, but whose title belies the collection of perfectly formed gems that sit behind that (admittedly wonderful) song.

And so to the songsheet. There’s a lot of words on this one, so unfortunately it stretches to two pages – I couldn’t really find a way of putting it on page that worked and was readable. Relatively simple chord-wise (that G5 is the only challenge, I think), it’s probably more the timing of it, and fitting the words in to the chords, that are the trickiest bits. But if you know the song as well as I do, that should be second nature. Enjoy!


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Plain Sailing – Tracey Thorn

Sometimes the songs I post on here come as a sudden inspiration. Sometimes they come as a result of a lot of hard thinking. And sometimes they come through a somewhat random series of connections. This is one of the latter.

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In a couple of months time I’m going to see Ben Watt play at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. I’ve seen Ben a couple of times in recent years, and have really enjoyed both his shows and recent albums. It’s fair to say Ben’s music isn’t exactly edgy or raucous. But in my book it’s grown up music for grown ups, without being being boring, safe or retro.

Anyway, I was talking about this to a friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, who was also consider going, and the conversation got onto Pillows and Prayers. Pillows and what, I hear you say! Well if you know, you know. And if you don’t, you don’t! Pillows and Prayers was a compilation album released in 1982 by the Cherry Red label as a sampler of acts on its books. Famously priced at 99p, it topped the independent album charts for months, and was became a touchstone in certain independent music circles at the time. For me, it was my introduction to artists such as The Monochrome Set, Felt and The Nightingales, as well a collection of tracks that circled around Everything But The Girl (this was before their first album had even been recorded). Ben Watt had a solo track on there, Everything But The Girl had a track, and so did that other half of both EBTG and Ben Watt), Tracey Thorn. In fact, Tracey had two songs – one with here pre-EBTG band, The Marine Girls. And one solo song. This one.

Plain Sailing was taken from Tracey Thorn’s solo debut album, A Distant Shore. It was a sparse record – just Tracey and her acoustic guitar, seven original songs and one cover (The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale). Apparently recorded for just £138, A Distant Shore was a welcome antidote to the big noise and melodrama that was the sound of the early 80s. This was stripped back, bedsit confessionals, and that was clearly what a section of the public wanted, as it made number one on the UK Indie album charts, and went on to sell 100,000 copies across Europe.

And so to the song sheet. This one is in 6/8 time (or 3/4 – I’m not very good at telling the difference!), and whilst at first glance it might seem to have an esoteric collection of chords (Major 7ths and 6s, mostly), they’re mostly unusual, not difficult. This one’s definitely a strummer (just get that D-DUDU rhythm going) and good to sing. Enjoy!


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Tricks – Stella Donnelly

One of the best albums of 2019, and one of the best gigs I went to this year, were courtesy of this lovely lady from Australia (via. old South Wales).

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If you’re asking “Stella who?”, then do not hesitate, go check her out. She released her debut EP, the wonderfully titled Thrush Metal, back in 2017, a record that contained a song called Boys Will Be Boys, which made some noise (unlike the song itself) and got her noticed in certain quarters. Described by Stella as her “attempt at making sense of society’s tendency to blame the victims of sexual assault and rape and make excuses for the perpetrators”, it’s a hard hitting song that delivers its message through a heartfelt vocal and a rather pretty solo acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Included on her debut album, this year’s Beware Of The Dogs, that pattern continues. Musically these song’s aren’t a difficult listen – sometimes jangly indie pop/rock songs topped off with Donnelly’s not-quite perfect but always engaging vocals. But the lyrics are another story – smart, biting tales from the perspective of a young woman, it has been described as a “musical encyclopedia of male assholes”. Whether that be the aforementioned Boys Will Be Boys, badly behaved men accustomed to relying on their power to protect them from consequences (“Old Man”), or this wonderful song (“Tricks”), which takes aim at male stereotypes and their expectation of her. It is typical of her lyrical directness, and includes half-way through a rather wonderful rhyme-that-isn’t.

And so to the songsheet. Firstly don’t be put off by those big-and-scary sounding chords – C#m7b5 is actually as easy as an F, and sounds even better. Secondly, just strum along to the track and it should all come into place – this is quite a straightforward song, despite the unusual chords, and is a joy to sing along to. Enjoy!


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The Cure – Songbook

I’ve been searching around for something a bit different for our album nights. Whilst we’ve done had some great evenings and covered some great records, we somehow seem to have got ourselves stuck in the 1970s. I guess that’s in part to do with the demographic of our group, and where that era was such a formative time musically for many of us. It’s also something to do with the undeniable fact that there were some really classic records that came out during that time, records that have survived and thrived over the years.

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But I felt that I was maybe playing it a little bit safe, and so felt that it would be good to branch out a little bit. One of the things that Southampton Ukulele Jam prides itself on is singing songs that no other ukulele group would try. I think some of the songs we’ve done at the album evenings definitely fall into that category, and I wanted to honour that objective. So this is a result of that. Admittedly it’s not Crass, Cocteau Twins or Kraftwerk (to name a few), and the bulk of these songs are relatively well-known and well-loved. Songs like In Between Days and Friday I’m In Love have fairly regular outings at Southampton Ukulele Jam, and are relatively uke friendly. Others here such as Just Like Heaven I’ve published previously, and Boys Don’t Cry was wheeled out for one of our 1979 nights. And I’ve definitely gone for the more accessible end of Robert Smith’s oeuvre. But songs like A Forest (from the band’s earlier, dark and gloom phase), the whispered, under-the-breath vocals of Lullaby (which, lyrically at least, is definitely not designed to lull you to sleep), the electronic-based attempt to break away from the captive Goth fans and find a pop audience that is Let’s Go To Bed, and the manic intensity of Why Can’t I Be You are songs that certainly aren’t your average ukulele fare. Add to that a selection of hypnotic, introspective, mid-tempo classics from the high-water mark that is Disintegration (Lovesong and Pictures of You) and I think this little collection hits the mark that I was aiming for. That said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – we will do this as an evening, and I’ll report back on how they work.

I don’t think I need to say much more about The Cure. They’ve now been going for over forty years, in various guises, and have built up an impressive body of work that has established themselves as the elder statesman of alternative rock (whatever that means). Variously gothic and gloomy, poppy and perky, but at all times original and not willing to plough the same tried and tested furrow, the band’s recent closing headline set at Glastonbury re-affirmed the credentials of a band that shouldn’t really have lasted this far.

Here’s the list of songs included in the songbook:

  • A Forest
  • Boy’s Don’t Cry
  • Close To Me
  • Friday I’m In Love
  • In Between Days
  • Just Like Heaven
  • Let’s Go To Bed
  • The Lovecats
  • Lovesong
  • Lullaby
  • Pictures Of You
  • Why Can’t I Be You?

The songs are mostly true to the originals. I’ve transposed one or two, and where there is a choice they adhere to the single versions. I’ve also included a selection of tab for the various riffs that crop up in some of the songs – many of which are such an integral part of the songs that it felt only right to add them. Enjoy!

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Something For The Pain – She Drew The Gun

She Drew The Gun are from Liverpool, and have been described as dreamy psych pop. That works for me.

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Fronted by / a vehicle for Louisa Roach, there’s more than a hint of the 60s, psychedelia and the like in the bands music. But this is also very much music for now. Winner of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent contest in 2016, She Drew The Gun aren’t exactly what you think of as a protest singer, or their songs as protest songs. But these are songs rooted in the reality of 21st century life, but not ones that are content to let that life wash over her. Take this line from the Resister, the opening track of last year’s Revolution of Mind:

All the underdogs, black sheep/Fighters of the powers that be/
In tenements, high rises/Freedom fighters, the outsiders…

Roach isn’t a newbie on the block, either. Although having played music since her early teens, she has lived a life (she has a 12 year old son, returned to academia as a mature student) and her songs reflect that – shot through with a considered maturity and life experience, but not worn down by it. An observer, but one that empathises and roots for the underdog against the powerful. Something For The Pain comes from that place.

So probably not a massively well known song. But a good one nonetheless. Maybe a great one. The song sheet is quite a straightforward, nothing tricky chord wise, and a consistent chugging rhythm that works nice strummed on the uke. It’s a bit wordy, but those words are important. Persevere. And enjoy!

 


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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!