Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade

Remembered as a one-hit wonder, Strawberry Switchblade emerged from the Glasgow’s post-punk scene in the early 1980s and left us with this slice of glorious pop-goth.

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Taken under the wing of managers David Balfe and Bill Drummond, who both had Teardrop Explodes connections (Drummond later going on to huge success with The KLF), and releasing their first single on the label of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sargent, Strawberry Switchblade (essentially a duo of Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall) took their time to become overnight successes, and when it came were almost as famous for their costumes (all ribbons and polka-dots) as their songs. To be honest they probably suffered from being neither Goth enough nor poppy enough, but their one album is a great mix of those extremes (the name Strawberry Switchblade was designed to reflect the juxtaposition of sweetness and darkness), although may be a bit too much on the catchy, sweet side for some. Since Yesterday was a huge, deserved hit, and one that takes you right back to the mid-80s.

There’s nothing too much to say about the song sheet. It’s a simple 4 chord song, basic structure, and lots of la la las, just something to strum and sing. Enjoy!


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The Way Old Friends Do – ABBA

It’s strange how songs crop up in the most unlikely of places.

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Yesterday I attended the Wickham Festival. It’s a local festival, just down the road, and I was attending because Southampton Ukulele Jam had been asked to perform, somewhat at the last minute. We had a blast (here’s a clip of us doing Blitzrieg Bop – that’s me at the back in the straw hat!), and got a great reaction from the audience. But it meant we had a free day ticket, so got to enjoy some great music, largely of the folk variety, from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Gaz Brookfield, Imar and Brighde Chaimbeul. Anyway, inbetween sets there was an interesting mix of music being played, often with something of a 70s soft rock flavour (blatantly appealing to the majority demographic in attendance). And then this song popped up. It somewhat surprised me that something from a hyper-polished Swedish pop group would crop up during an English folk festival. But on reflection, it actually fitted really well.

Pre-Abba, each of the band members, in particular Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, had established themselves in various parts of the Swedish folk scene. And there has often been elements of folk music creeping in to their music over the years. The Way Old Friends Do is certainly one of those songs, initially just accompanied on the accordion, there is something pure and honest about this lovely song. Never recorded in the studio, the version that found its way onto 1980’s Super Trouper album was recorded live during the band’s tour in 1979, and the simple sounds of voices and accordion show that, for all the studio wizardry and perfectionism that went into ABBA’s music, cut to the core they were four great musicians.

There is *nothing* complicated in this songsheet. The song only has one verse, repeated. The chords are as straightforward as they could be. The only slightly tricky thing if you try to play along (the songsheet is in the same key) is that the recording is not in any kind of regular tempo. When played alone, it’s easy to give it that regular tempo, though. So enjoy!


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Life Is A Rollercoaster – Ronan Keating

I love this song! I don’t care what anybody says, or where that puts me in your credibility league table. But this song is a cracker!

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Now don’t get my wrong – I really can’t abide Boyzone, or indeed any boyband stuff. And I’m not very partial to any other Ronan Keating songs either (although, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve really sought any of it out). However, this song stood out to me when I first heard it, and hasn’t lost its charm as far as I’m concerned.

I suspect that might have something to do with the song originating not from Mr Keating, but from the can-do-no-wrong-in-my-book pen of Mr Gregg Alexander. Who he, you say? Well he is none other that the frontman, songwriter and main driving force behind the late-90s one-hit wonders New Radicals. Breaking up after a single album (but my, what an album), Rollercoaster was actually scheduled for their second album, but was never recorded by the Radicals.

(Note, another Gregg Alexander song appears elsewhere on here, in the form of Lost Stars from the movie Begin Again. And that is just as wonderful!)

So the song sheet is pretty straight forward. A standard song structure, pretty reasonable chords (you can go with a Dm instread of the Dm7 if that is a problem for you), and just a feel-good, sing-along. Enjoy!


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When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring) – Deacon Blue

Sorry, it’s been a bit quiet here lately, hasn’t it?! No excuses really, just life getting in the way. But here’s a couple of songs to make up for it.

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First up, a band that definitely have fallen on the wrong side of the “cool” divide, but who – for me – have consistently produced quality songs. Deacon Blue emerged in the mid-80s, taking their name from a Steely Dan song, adopting a sound that was a kind of pop / rock / soul hybrid that saw them bracketed with similar bands of the era such as Prefab Sprout and The Christians. Their debut album, Raintown, from which this song was taken, was steeped in the city of its birth (Glasgow), reflected in the albums title, its cover art, and many of the themes of the songs.

The song itself was a relatively minor hit, as were all the singles taken from the album – it wasn’t until the follow up, When The World Knows Your Name, that the band really broke through. Elements of 80s production creep through into the song (those snares!) but this is – in my books – a powerful and emotional example of Deacon Blue at their best.

So nothing particularly tricky here in the songsheet. It’s in the same key as the original, so you can play along(!). Note the C and D chords are best played as barre chords, both because they sounds better (to my ears), but also because it makes that nice little run in the chorus (C / Cm / Eb / D) nice and easy. Enjoy!


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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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Kiss Me – Sixpence None The Richer

kiss-meMostly remembered as a one-hit wonder (although – in the UK at least – this was successfully followed up by a cover of The La’s classic There She Goes) Kiss Me is one of those songs that has stood the test of time, being a song that has passed the rather haphazard selection process to become a staple of oldies radio.

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Sixpence None The Richer were that rare thing, a band that broke out of the Christian music scene to achieve some proper commercial success. Admittedly that success was mainly limited to a couple of singles and their corresponding album, but all the same such a breakout is unusual. With something of a jangle-y sound (which probably inspired the choice of There She Goes as a cover) Kiss Me is no more – and no less – than an encapsulation of a shimmering, golden moment in a romantic relationship. The world needs songs like this.

And so the song sheet. It’s a simple song that relies on that D / Dmaj7 / D7 rundown (I’ve taken it down a semitone to make it easier to play – use a capo on the first fret to play along) during the verses, and a similar rundown towards the end of the chorus. The strumming pattern can be a bit tricksy, but as usual listen to the original and get the feel from there.

Enjoy!

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Bonny – Prefab Sprout

SteveMcQueenNot only is Steve McQueen one of the albums of the 1980s, I would argue that it is one of the albums of all-time.

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Not that this seems to be a universally held truth. Despite a lot of love for it, it only manages to scrape in at number 434 on the NME list of the best 500 albums ever. And doesn’t appear at all on the equivalent Rolling Stone list. But in this case I can safely say that they are both wrong. Steve McQueen, the second album from Paddy McAloon and his erstwhile band Prefab Sprout, was/is pure genius.

Musically sophisticated  yet still totally accessible, lyrically witty whilst still emotionally resonant, melodies to die for, all given a superb pop sheen by producer Thomas Dolby. Oh, and the angelic backing vocals of Wendy Smith are (more than just) the icing on the cake.

From the opening meta-country of “Faron Young” (a country-tinged song taking “Four In The Morning” as its emotional reference point ) the standard is set. Side One then ploughs a furrow that, to my mind, is not excelled anywhere in pop music – Bonny, Appetite, When Love Breaks Down (released at least three times, and still only charting at #25!), Goodbye Lucille #1 (otherwise known as Johnny Johnny), Hallelujah (*not* the Leonard Cohen song!). And if Side Two is somehow less than the first, it is only because of the insanely high standards that have already been set – Moving The River, Horsin’ Around, Desire As, Blueberry Pies, When The Angels. Pure pop perfection in one single package.

Nobody could keep up that standard forever, but McAloon and Co. certainly didn’t let that stop them trying. Official follow-up From Langley Park To Memphis, the sprawling, ambitious, vaguely conceptual (Love, God, Elvis, Death!) Jordan: The Comeback, the more low-key Andromeda Heights, and the surprise solo (but still using the Prefab moniker) Crimson/Red all flew the flag for perfect, sophisticated pop (and McQueen’s predecessor, the slightly prickly Swoon, would be up there too). Yet Steve McQueen acts as a high water mark for just how perfect perfect pop can be.

So here is Bonny, a lyrically ambiguous tome (is it about a girl that’s left him, or a man that’s died) that is a perfect representation of the Steve McQueen sound. It was later covered very successfully in a more reflective, slowed down version by Editors (who – coincidence or not – were on the same record label – Newcastle-based Kitchenware – as the Prefab’s, at the time a veritable feast of goodness with stablemates including Hurrah!, Kane Gang and Martin Stephenson and the Daintees).

So can we do justice to this marvellous song on the ukulele? Probably not, but that won’t stop me or you trying. So here’s the songsheet. If it looks a little busy, don’t worry. Listen to the song, particularly the intro, to get the strumming pattern going which you can keeping going throughout the song. Some of the transition chords are very brief (e.g. the Asus4 at the beginning of the chorus lines, the A’s at the end of those lines, and all the Bm7’s) and could be skipped if you struggle with timing. But they do add to the colouring of the song. If in doubt at any time, just resort to that gorgeous major 7 chord! Enjoy!

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