Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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Hold Me Now – Thompson Twins

Thompson Twins were a strange one. Originally formed in the late 1970s as a somewhat anarchic and ramshackle collective, it took a deliberate change of direction off the back of the early 80s synthpop book for them to both shed their street-cred and to finally achieve success – huge success.

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Anybody coming to early Thompson Twins off the back of their huge pop success in the mid-80s is probably in for something of a shock. Strongly influenced by a lot of the post-punk sounds of the era, there’s scratchy guitar and world-music-inspired percussion all over this, reflecting the diverse nature of a 7-piece line-up. The band recorded a couple of albums in this mode – 1981’s “A Product Of… “,  and 1982’s “Set” – but it was in the opening track of the latter, a synth-heavy song called “In The Name Of Love“, that the seeds of the bands evolution were sown. The song was a huge hit in US clubs, and off the back of this a core set of the band – founder member Tom Currie, and percussionists Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway – broke away to form a new incarnation of the band. Their first fruits materialised as 1983’s Quick Step and Side Kick, which finally brought commercial success in the UK (including the hit single Love On Your Side). But it was that albums follow up, 1984’s Into The Gap, which finally broke the band world-wide, particularly in the US.

“Hold Me Now” was the first single from that album, and the first song to break through, top 10 across much of Europe, peaking at number 3 in the US. It’s a deceptively simple ballad, full of melancholy and longing, that gradually builds to a a final sustained, repeated choruses with soaring falsetto vocals overlaid. In many ways its a world away from those early sounds, and may seem to some a trite and corny commercial land-grab, but taken at face value is a lovely, enduring slice of sing-along pop.

And now for the songsheet. Basically the song is a simple repeated chord sequence all the way through (verse and chorus) of D / Bm / C / Asus4. I’e added a few optional “grace” chords in to the chorus – these are entirely optional, and the song doesn’t lose anything by not including them, but to my ears they do add something. Other than that just play away, and enjoy!


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Living By Numbers – New Musik

Reputations are usually sealed in hindsight. And as with history, where it is usually acknowledged that it is written by the victors, musical history and reputations are usually written by the taste-makers. So as we look back there is increasingly a musical pantheon, a set of classic and set texts that become a self-reinforcing by-word for goodness and excellence.

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New Musik will never be part of that canonical grouping. Coming to prominence in the late 70s, and embracing aspects of New Wave and the emerging futurist / synth-based sounds, leader, songwriter, singer and producer Tony Mansfield clearly had a pop mentality that he melded to great productions whilst still pursuing an experimental agenda. Yet in a the musically rich and diverse climate of the times, New Musik were seen as neither one thing nor the other – not edgy enough to be cool in the alternative scenes, too weird to be accepted as straight-up pop. As with The Buggles, another band similar in style and temperament, a degree of success was achieved with what came to be perceived as novelty hits (New Musik with Living By Numbers, The Buggles with the somewhat more successful Video Killed the Radio Star). In my book, though, this is shame, because both bands brought a different, intelligent, edgy yet melodic approach to pop music that should have been far more successful than it was.

Living By Numbers was the bands sole top 20 hit, it’s success in part driven by its adoption by Casio for use in a TV advertising campaign for pocket calculators. Subsequent singles (including the excellent Sanctuary) grazed the Top 40, but further success eluded them with subsequent albums, and eventually Mansfield called it quits, going on to more success as a producer with the likes of The B-52s, A-ha and other bands of the era (Vicious Pink, Captain Sensible, etc.). Vastly under-rated (in my books) Living By Numbers does at least still keep the New Musik flag flying in its use in multiple 80s-era compilations.

So here’s the songsheet. A fairly straightforward strum-along that – if you’re familiar with the original (it’s in the same key so you can play along) – should make sense and work without any problems. Enjoy!


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Open Your Heart – The Human League

So here we are again, back to the 80s, and back to shiny, streamlined synthpop. And what better example of that than The Human League at their peak.

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1981’s Dare was the album that made The Human League, a commercial triumph that seemed all-but-impossible a year earlier. In the autumn of 1980 the band were seen as something of a cult success, having achieved critical plaudits and a degree of recognition with their first two albums Reproduction and Travelogue. But tensions within the band resulted in a split on the eve of a UK and European tour. At the time, the smart money would have been on Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, often seen as the musical talent within the band, to be the ones that made the commercial break when they formed Heaven 17. Phil Oakey was left holding band name and little else, and with the threat of being sued for not meeting contractual commitments, Oakey quickly pulled together a band made of two girls he found on a Sheffield dance floor (Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall – no previous singing or performing experience) and a professional musician (Ian Burden) to play keyboards. They survived the tour, but it was when Oakey and the band were put together with producer Martin Rushent that things really sparked, and it was that relationship that produced Dare, and which ultimately established the band, particularly via. the hit singles that it spawned – The Sound Of The Crowd, Love Action, Open Your Heart and Don’t You Want Me.

Open Your Heart was the third single from the album, a co-write between Oakey and new band member Jo Callis (ex-Rezillos), immediately preceded the album’s release, and was a huge hit in the autumn of 1981.

Chord-wise this isn’t a complex song, as you would expect. So there’s nothing much to explain there. I’ve included some tab, for the opening bass riff (C x 32!), for the synth riff in the chorus (playable up high or down low) and for the bridge. I think this is a great song to sing, so enjoy!


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Caravan Girl – Goldfrapp

I was a bit late to Goldfrapp, if truth be known. It wasn’t until the more acoustic sounds of their fourth album, Seventh Tree, caught my ears that I started to pay attention.

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From the cinematic soundscapes of the debut Felt Mountain, to the glam-meets-dance of Black Cherry and Supernature, the folk-meets-electronica sounds of Seventh Tree, the 80s-revisited vibe of Head First, and the lush orchestral mood of Tales Of Us, Goldfrapp have always taken a highly-stylised and deliberate approach to the twists and turns of their musical career. Seventh Tree took inspiration from paganism and surreal childrens books, and marked a more earthier sound that was a deliberate contrast to the glamour and synthetic feel of their previous releases. Despite the folk stylings this was still a pop record, with songs like A&E and Caravan Girl having a commercial appeal that saw them become hits. Caravan Girl is a great song, a lovely, bouncing late-summer song that can’t help bringing a smile to the face.

And so to the songsheet. Nothing too tricksy here. It definitely needs a good, driving rhythm to keep it moving. Chord wise, all relatively straightforward, with the possible exception of the F/C – I don’t think that’s the right name for it, but basically it’s an F with a C on the top string. An F (or C) by itself will do if you feel so inclined. Finally, I think this would definitely benefit from lots of oooh-ing, la-ing and lovely harmonies. Enjoy!


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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!