Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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Well it’s been nearly two years since I did the 1979 songbook, and so it seemed about time to bring things bank up-to-date … with a 1981 equivalent. As mentioned previously, this is kind-of my era, and so I’m not one to be particularly balanced in an assessment of the musical qualities of the year.

As with last time, this is *my* selection, and takes a somewhat biased view on the musical output of the year. So sorry, but you won’t find any Shakin’ Stevens here. Nor will you find any Bucks Fizz, Joe Dolce, Julio Igelsias, Stars on 45 or The Birdie Song (all of whom were in the top 20 selling singles of the year). But what you will find is a selection that showcases some of the wide variety of music that was being made and – in most cases – being lapped up by the British music-buying public.

1981 was the year in which the New Romantics, and electronic music more generally, established itself in the charts. I’ve covered those genres off in more depth here, but included in this book are the likes of Soft Cell (whose cover of Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love was everywhere), The Human League (who came from also-ran has-beens following the earlier split in the band to be triumphant pop conquerors with their classic album Dare, and the omnipresent Christmas Number 1, Don’t You Want Me), the studio-based Visage, OMD (with their songs of dead French saints – x2), the upcoming scream-sensation that was/is Duran Duran, and Basildon’s finest, Depeche Mode. With their strong emphasis on visuals and style, these new artists were truly of the video age, a fortuitous timing that – with the launch of MTV in the US in this year – saw their music being eagerly gobbled up by young Americans, leading to the second “British invasion” which really got under way the following year.

The US were not to be outdone, though. And whilst classic American rock bands have often had a hard-time making a lasting presence in the UK (at least from a singles perspective) the year did see the likes of REO Speedwagon and Journey have some success. But even then, the more “new wave” artists from stateside, such as The Go-Go’s and Kim Carnes (a kind of new wave / classic rock hybrid) had success, alongside the reinvigorated rock-and-roll stylings of Stray Cats.

But these were somewhat of an exception. British Pop was in rude health, as evidenced in more classic ways by the fresh face of Kim Wilde, the songwriting powerhouse that was Kirsty MacColl, and the singles-juggernaut that was Madness. But there were some particularly skewed versions of pop appearing during the year. Most significantly (and if it was anybody’s year, it was probably his) Adam and his Ants took a bizarre amalgam of tribal drumming, punk attitudes, twangy guitars, and almost-pantomime dressing up, married with a constantly evolving but somehow consistent visual style, and won Britain’s playground over big style. This even gave an opportunity for posh punk has-been Eddie Tudorpole to have a hit with the medieval-themed Swords of a Thousand Men.

The graduates of the punk and new wave scenes were still around, albeit in matured ways. The Police were still massive, The Stranglers had a big hit with the relatively laid-back and un-punk Golden Brown (odd time signatures included), XTC continued to plough their own furrow, The Undertones started to grow up, and both Squeeze and Elvis Costello took an unexpected country by-road. In addition the vibrant and varied post-punk scene started to go overground, with the likes of The Teardrop Explodes, Altered Images, Toyah and Scritti Politti establishing themselves.

But the old guard wasn’t to be outdone. Phil Collins took time out from Genesis to begin a parallel (and hugely successful) solo career, Dire Straits were further laying claim to their position as grown-up rock superstars, 10cc’s Godley and Creme broke away with their own brand of quirky pop, and even The Who returned from a few years away as if nothing much had changed (although clearly it had). And not to forget Olivia Newton-John having another gym-based makeover.

Anyway, here’s the book. I’m sure you’ll disagree with the selection of what is or should have been in the book. I’m in no way claiming this to be a definitive record of the year. But it is *my* selection. And I love every song here.


Also, see below for a list of the songs included in the book, along with links to individual song sheets:

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August / Betty – Taylor Swift

Much to everybody’s surprise, Taylor Swift released a new album a couple of weeks ago. And much to my surprise, I really like it!

<august>  <betty>

It’s fair to say that I’m not really in Taylor Swift’s demographic. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. But when her new album – Folklore – appeared with less than 24 hours notice, I noticed one or two reviews which were very positive, in terms that intrigued me. Probably influenced as much by the title and the misty, back-to-nature monochrome cover, I thought I’d give it a go. And you know what – I really enjoyed it.

At heart it’s still a pop album, but the textures are vibe are much more of an indie folk feel, something that the involvement of The National’s Aaron Dessner, and Bon Iver, were clearly designed to bring to the project. Written and recorded during the Covid-19 lockdown, the album is a marked contrast from the shiny, polished and upbeat pop of Swift’s most recent releases, but harks back to the collaboration she did with The Civil Wars for “Safe & Sound” on The Hunger Games soundtrack.

August is one of those lost summer love songs, one of three songs that Swift says “explore a love triangle [alongside Cardigan and Betty] from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives”.

And so here’s the song sheets. August is mainly a simple cycle of chords all the way through, with a subtle variation between verse and chorus. A basic strumming pattern that I’ve used on this is something like (with occasional variations) DDD DU UD DUD for the verses, and D DUD DU UDUDUD for the chorus and bridge – if that makes any sense! Betty, on the other hand, has a strumming pattern that is a bit like D D D DU.

Nothing more really to say other to say give them a go. Even if you think you don’t like Taylor. Enjoy!

<august>  <betty>

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Dancing In The City – Marshall Hain / Love Is In The Air – John Paul Young

Two songs for the price of one today, two songs that are – in my mind, at least – always linked together. And two songs that will probably always be considered one-hit wonders.

<Dancing In The City>
<Love Is In The Air>

Marshall Hain were a duo, comprised of Julian Marshall (keyboards) and Kit Hain (vocals and bass). Dancing In The City was there only hit – something of a world-wide smash – but after their first album tanked, they quite and went their separate ways. Kit recorded a couple of solo albums before concentrating on song writing, where she had some success with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Chaka Khan and Cher, before more recently turning her attentions to writing. Julian continued in the music industry, and found further success as a member of Flying Lizards, who had a hit with their vert unique take on Barrett Strong’s Money.

John Paul Young was born in Scotland but raised in Australia, where he had a fair degree of success in the mid-to-late 1970s, regularly releasing albums through to the mid-80s. But it is fair to say that he only really garnered international success with this song. But what a song! Whilst definitely picking up a strong disco influence that positions it at a certain point in time, it is a timeless classic, revived in 1992 with a new mix as part of the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom. Most recently Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly has recorded and released a fantastic version of the song.

So why these two songs together? Well it was prompted by a recent Facebook conversation with a couple of friends, and that prompted me to look at why that was. It would appear that – in the UK at least – both tracks were in the charts at about the same time during 1978. Love Is In The Air entering on 29th April and hanging around for 13 weeks, and Dancing In The City on 3rd June and leaving 15 weeks. So I suspect that they were being played at the same time on Radio 1, and probably co-existing on a C90 tape of Top 40 songs that I recorded from the radio on Sunday evenings.

So two song sheets today. Of the two, Dancing In The City is the more straightforward, just four standard chords. Love Is In The Air throws in a few more unusual chords (the odd diminished and major 7) but none of them are tricky. Give them a go, and enjoy two classics from a more innocent time!

<Dancing In The City>   <Love Is In The Air>


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Updated ABBA Songbook

Our album / theme nights have been impacted by the strange circumstances we find ourselves in, and I’m really not sure when we’ll be doing another one. But I’m optimistic that we will, and trying to use the free time to build up a backlog of possibilities (hence the recent Synthpop and New Romantic songbook).


But I was thinking about what would be a good “goodbye to Coronavirus and all your restrictions” session. Doing an album of dystopian sci-fi (Ziggy Stardust, I’m thinking of you!) doesn’t feel like the kind of celebratory feel-good session that you’d want. But THIS does!

We did an Abba night a couple of years ago, and it was such fun. But there were a load of songs that we didn’t get round to, and so there is definitely mileage in a part 2, a “More Abba” session. But I thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit and update the songbook to add a few more songs – kind of “deep cuts”, particularly ones that – for many people – they will only have become aware of as a result of the Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again movie.

And so here it – an updated and extended version of the original songbook, with 7 new songs. The additions are:

  • Andante, Andante
  • Angel Eyes
  • I’ve Been Waiting For You
  • Our Last Summer
  • The Way Old Friends Do
  • When I Kissed The Teacher
  • Why Did It Have To Be Me?

And obviously all the other more well known songs are there as well. Enjoy!


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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.


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!