Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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The Great Dominions – The Teardrop Explodes

WilderIt’s been a little while since there’s been some Julian Cope magic on here, so it’s about time that was rectified.

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As with a previous post, this one takes us back to their second (and final) album, 1981’s Wilder. Their first album, the previous year’s Kilimanjaro, had a classic post-punk, 60s-garage-band-inspired, psychedelic-influenced scratchy sound, but was also strong on melody, tunes, and threw in a bit of brass to give it a real kick. Wilder, on the other hand, was an altogether more colourful, eclectic, experimental collection, and clearly one where the drug influences (Cope and the band were on a real long rock-and-roll bender by this time) shine through. From the sunshine-pop of Passionate Friend (all ba-ba-bas and horns) to the clipped funkiness of The Culture Bunker and the psychedelic wanderings of Like Leila Khaled Said, this is a more varied and rambling album than its predecessor, and one which – from my perspective – is all the richer because of that.

The Great Dominions is one of a clutch of slower songs on the album (Tiny Children and …and the fighting takes over being the others) that – in my mind – turn this into a classic. I haven’t a clue what it’s all about – I’m not really sure that Julian had much of an idea either, given the amount of drugs he was consuming at the time (“I’m still stuck in this pickle jar on a paper carpet” anyone?!) – but for all that it is a beautiful and touching hymn that suggests a yearning for lost innocence.

I couldn’t find any chords anywhere for this lovely song, so I’m hoping that what I’ve transcribed works OK. Personally I think it transfers well to the ukulele, but then I would. Nothing tricksy here – it’s just a continuing D / C / G chord loop – and the tune is almost nursery-rhyme like in its simplicity and innocence. Enjoy!

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Head Hang Low – Julian Cope

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Second-up in the Julian Cope double-bill is this gorgeous song from his 1984 debut solo album World Shut Your Mouth. The Teardrop Explodes disintegrated during the recording of a third-album that would eventually see the light of day many years later as “Everybody Wants To Shag … The Teardrop Explodes“. Julian retreated close to his childhood home of Tamworth, and the resulting solo album feels like a retreat from the madness of latter-day Teardrop’s into a cocoon-like world that probably only made sense in Julian’s head. Now perceived as a bona fide acid-casualty eccentric, Julian’s music was so out-of-step with the mood of the time that this album (and it’s follow-up a few months later, Fried, whose tortise-shell wearing cover didn’t do anything to assuage the public’s perception of him as lost and wasted) were largely ignored. But for me this is a real high-point of his back-catalogue.

Taking a resolutely low-fi approach to recording (I remember him in an interview at the time saying how the cost of recording the whole album had been less than half that of label-mates Tears For Fears current single The Way You Are) the album is chock-full of wonderful songs and vivid imagery. Elegant Chaos is a particular favourite (“People I see / Just remind me of mooing like a cow on the grass / And that’s not to say / That there’s anything wrong with being a cow anyway”!).

But the song I’m highlighting here is a particularly poignant one called Head Hang Low. Opening with a beautiful oboe line from Kate St John (later to be part of Dream Academy, famous for Life In A Northern Town) the instrumenation on song consistst of that oboe line, a reptative drum machine and a cheap Casio keyboard rhythm. Hardly promising fayre, and yet this is a hauntingly beautiful song of loss and confusion.

As with Tiny Children, there is a simplicity to this song which lends itself well to the humble ukulele. Nothing complicated, just a few basic chords with a simple strumming pattern (I use the same d-du-udu pattern 2 as on Tiny Children) this lovely lullaby is a joy to sing. Enjoy!

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Tiny Children – The Teardrop Explodes

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So here’s the first in a double-bill of Julian Cope ballads (lucky you!).

Julian is largely remembered, if he is remembered at all, in the guise of the leather flying jacketed (oh, how I wanted one of those jacket!) star of The Teardrop Explodes, performing Reward on Top Of The Pops. Something of a staple of early-80s compilations, the blast of sheer energy that song exudes has never waned, and has rightly become something of an alternative classic.

But one of the reasons (other than the obvious one of copious amounts of drugs) that the Teardrops didn’t become top 40 mainstays was that Julain was never really one for the obvious. In fact he was really one for the downright weird, strange and eccentric. Those eccentricities became more obvious in his solo career (more of which in the next post). But they were certainly there below the commercial underbelly of his early ’80s hits. One of the b-sides of Tiny Children was a 9 minute live version of their debut single, Sleeping Gas, which demonstrates perfectly how off-the-wall Cope could go.

That eccentricity didn’t just manifest itself in weird psychedelic wig-outs. Another consistent trend has been for simple, naive, nursery-rhyme-like songs that provide a space for breath amongst the surrounding weirdness. These songs didn’t usually crop-up as singles, but Tiny Children was the one exception (unsurprisingly it didn’t really bother the shiny-pop absorbed charts of the summer of 1982). Consisting of nothing but Julian’s little-boy voice set against a single-finger synth riff, this is a truly haunting and beautiful song. A song I have loved since I first heard it as part of the band’s desperately under-rated second album, Wilder.

So sing this on a ukulele? Well yes, actually. I think it works rather wonderfully. Not an obvious choice, I’ll grant you. And not one that all your friends are likely to instantly respond to in nostalgic recognition. But it works, all the same. In some ways similar to the blissed-out, trance-like vibe of  the last post (Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio), I find this best sung to a gentle repetitve strum pattern of d-du-udu (see pattern 2 here). Enjoy!

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Sunspots – Julian Cope

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I’ve partly got my sister to blame for this one. For what must have been her 14th birthday she was given a number of 7″ singles. One of them I remember being Do The Hucklebuck by Coast to Coast (I’m not going to dwell on that one!), and one was Reward by The Teardrop Explodes. I loved it.  [I believe I annexed my sister’s copy of Reward some time ago, and it still sits amongst my collection of vinyl up in the loft]. From the full-on brass section that detonates the song, the mannered vocals of Mr Julian Cope, the constant pulsing bass, this was a song that defined energy and excitement. And so was born my first, proper “favourite group”  (my selective memory erasing all those years as an Abba fan!).

I saw them at Portsmouth Guildhall the following year after the wonderful “Wilder” album had been released, a record that moved the band away from the psychedelic rock sound into a more distorted, parallel pop universe. The band was on the verge of a chronic meltdown (due in no small part to Julian’s prodigious drug habit) but I remember that concert as a celebratory one, full of glorious weird pop sounds.

After the band fell apart towards the end of 1982, Julian took a little while to re-group, but in 1984 returned with not one but two wonderful, wilfully weird albums. The first, World Shut Your Mouth, was a breath of fresh air – obviously recorded on the cheap but full of great songs, weird songs, and crack-pot lyrics (“Elegant Chaos” being my favourite in that respect – “People I see / Just remind me of mooing like a cow on the grass / And that’s not to say / That there’s anything wrong with being a cow anyway”!).

The second album, Fried, with it’s infamous cover of Julian naked under a huge tortoise shell, seemed to confirm his acid-casualty credentials. Now a fully-fledged English eccentric in the tradition of Syd Barrett et al, Fried was recently cited by Rob Young in his excellent book “Electric Eden” as a continuation of the back-to-the-earth, rooted-in-an-english-locale visionary sounds of the likes of Incredible String Band. This is a record that dives into the Cope psyche without a care about who is watching or what might be found there.

The album was not what you would call a huge commercial success. Not exactly in tune with the mid-80s preference for Linn drums, hyper-production and shoulder pads, it created it’s own little world, perversely different from the one in which it existed. Sunspots was the one and only single from the album and vanished without trace. Your loss, world. A trashy guitar-riff led nursery rhyme, a paen to his love for his very best friend(?), this is trade-mark Julian Cope.

And so here is the songsheet. As with all Julian Cope songs, there is nothing tricky here in terms of chords. Listen to the song and you’ll get the feel for the riff, which is important ‘cos it kind-of makes the song. You could even try a nice recorder solo during the instrumental verse – I’m sure that will sound good.

Oh, and the “Meeeeeeeeeeoh” bit in the chorus is like the sound a car makes as it whizzes past. Not a cat noise!

Enjoy!!

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