Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order

bizarreWe’ve already had a smattering of New Order on the site (see in the shape of both sides of the True Faith single), but nothing for a while, so when this little ditty popped up recently it seemed worth giving it a try. And what do you know, it works!

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Bizarre Love Triangle is New Order at their prime. The full length 12″ version is – in my books – just a perfect record, something that was amplified when I saw Peter Hook’s The Light perform it recently as part of a stunning concert where they performed both the Low-Life and Brotherhood albums in their entirety. Even cut down to the standard single version it is an amazing piece of music. And to prove it’s not just the recording that is strong, but there is a quality song at the heart of it, an acoustic version by Frente! (apparently a moderate hit in the US in the 1990s) gave a new perspective on the song.

A quick YouTube search reveals quite a few ukulele-based covers of the song. So it does work. You can either do it as a gentle finger-picked version (a la the Frente! cover) or give it a bit of wellie and go for the feel of the original (although be warned – try it too fast and you’ll run out of breath quite quickly!). It’s a simple, repeated chord sequence all the way through, and whilst the Fmaj7 may not be totally in line with the original I personally think it gives the song some additional colour. Enjoy!

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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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Femme Fatale – Velvet Underground

velvetundergroundadistantshoreWhilst it is often true that the best version of songs are the originals, by the original writers, that isn’t always the case. Bob Dylan is probably a case in point – great songwriter that he is, his own recordings of his own songs aren’t always best, and covers (taking The Byrds as a case in point) can add to and improve on the originals.

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Femme Fatale is – for me – another song that falls into that category. The song was originally written by Lou Reed, and appeared on the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, sung by Nico. I guess it’s that “sung by Nico” bit that does it for me – her voice is definitely an acquired taste, and not one that I’ve acquired!

Still, you can’t keep a good song down. My first (and best loved) exposure to this song was via. a version on Tracey Thorn’s gorgeous debut solo album, A Distant Shore. I’ve loved Tracey’s voice from the first time I heard it on a couple of tracks on the Cherry Red “99p or less” compilation album “Pillows and Prayers”, and it is perfect on this version of the song (check out the rest of A Distant Shore as well, it really is beautiful, and a real autumn feeling album). But the song has been covered extensively (see the Wikipedia page for details), including a surprisingly good version by Duran Duran. Here’s the Tracey Thorn version..,

Not much to say about the song sheet. It’s a very simple song, and with all those maj7 chords it can’t fail to go wrong. Enjoy!

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As can be expected for such a classic song, there are plenty of ukulele versions out there. Some good, some bad. But this is my favourite, as I think it really captures the feel of the original (but with a decent vocal!).


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Just Like Heaven – The Cure

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I’m conscious that there’s been a lot of 80s stuff on here lately. And here comes another one. I guess it’s no surprise given it’s the era when I was growing up, and that is an age at which music seems to have such a significant impact. The music you love at at that time lives with you forever, and it’s often hard to be objective about it. It becomes part of who you are, somehow written through you and in you.

Just Like Heaven is an 80s song, from a band who were undoubtedly most prolific and creative during that period. My first awareness of The Cure was when their song Charlotte Sometimes (still a favourite) appeared on the early 80’s compilation album Modern Dance. I can’t say it turned me into a huge fan, but there was a run of singles through the 80s that was very impressive – songs like The Lovecats, Inbetween Days and Close To Me were all great singles, and there was a real sense of creativity and variety that came through what The Cure did, despite their being tarred with the “Goth” badge. Recently I’ve been digging back into some of the music of the early -80s that I missed, some of the post-punk music of the time, and along with bands like Magazine, Josef K and the B-52s, I’ve discovered that I *did* miss something with The Cure – albums like Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Disintegration are records I really love.

Just Like Heaven is from the band’s 1987 album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which is probably at the poppier and more accessible end of the spectrum of the bands music (those terms are relative – this isn’t Bros or One Direction!). Apparently it is considered by the band’s singer and main songwriter Robert Smith to be one of the bands strongest songs. I don’t think anybody would much argue with that. It’s a simple and effective pop song, albeit one with a slightly opaque lyric which, according to Smith, is about “hyperventilating—kissing and fainting to the floor”.

The Cure songs seem to translate well to the ukulele. The ukulele group of which I am a part, Southampton Ukulele Jam, regularly perform a version of Inbetween Days (listen here), and sometimes have a bash at Friday I’m In Love. Just Like Heaven scores quite a few hits on YouTube for ukulele covers, of which I think this has to be the best. Although I think this one captures something of Robert Smith’s performance.

The song sheet is a relatively straightforward one. I’ve added in a transcription of the two solo sequences in the song as well, the first over the intro and the first instrumental break, the second combining guitar and keyboard solos over the second instrumental breaks. Enjoy!

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True Faith – New Order

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It seems I’ve been doing this little blog for just over a year now. The very first song I posted was a slightly obscure New Order b-side (1963) and I promised at the time that I’d publish the slightly better known a-side at some point as well. So, it’s been a little while coming, but here it is.

True Faith is probably New Order at their pop-iest, and certainly was something of a commercial peak for the band. Produced by Stephen Hague, at the time on a roll with the early success of Pet Shop Boys, the song is a further move towards dance-oriented songs. From the opening clatter of electronic drums the recording is a full on, wall-of-sound type production, which contrasts with the slightly fragile vocals of Bernard Sumner. But if anything the song is best remembered for the surreal video that accompanied it.

The songsheet is quite straightforward. The key is getting a good steady strumming pattern behind it. I prefer something which mirrors the rhythm of the original, which is a little difficult to describe (something like ddddu-ud-dudu) but is best worked out playing along to the origianl (the song sheet is in the same key). Enjoy!

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A Song From Under The Floorboards – Magazine

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I’ll be honest. Magazine aren’t a band that I’ve ever been a huge fan of, or know too much about. Not because I don’t really like them, but more through ignorance. There’s a lot of music out there, and catching up on all of it is a hopeless task. But recently I’ve been listening to quite a lot of post-punk-type compilations, and Magazine crop up on a number of those quite regularly. This song in particular (alongside Shot By Both Sides) seems to crop quite frequently, and has wormed its way into my head.

Magazine were formed in 1977 when lead singer Howard Devoto left the influential Manchester punk band Buzzcocks after their first EP. They are often considered one of the first post-punk bands, thought of as an artsier and more experimental form of punk. Song From Under The Floorboards was taken from their 1980 album The Correct Use Of Soap. Lyrically, this is a somewhat intruiging song, and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s all about, but it has been suggested that it is based on ‘Notes From the Underground’, a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in which the main character debates the concept of free will, regrets his lack of direction in life, and glorifies himself as a product of society, in turn condemning that society.

Released as a single in 1980, the song has been recently covered by Morrisey, as well as by Simple Minds.

Here’s the song sheet. There’s quite a bit of guitar tab out there for this song, but (unsurprisingly!) nothing for ukulele. It’s fair to say that this is an approximation of the original, and could probably do with some work and verification. But I’m putting it out there in the hope that somebody somewhere might be interested. Note that I’ve also included some tab for the guitar riff introduction – that again is an approximation as the limited range of the ukulele makes it difficult (impossible) to do it properly. But I think it sounds OK. Enjoy!

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Duel – Propaganda

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It’s the mid-80s, and the phenomenon that is Frankie Goes To Hollywood is everywhere. This isn’t a time for subtlety – Frankie reflect the times and are big, loud and brash. Relax, Two Tribes, even the ballad The Power Of Love are not exactly wallflowers. Thanks to Trevor Horn’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink production these songs are huge, in-your-face efforts that are reinvented each week with a new re-mix and new pseudo-intellectual posturingfrom Paul Morely. This isn’t necessarily bad – I like these records, Two Tribes in particular is wonderful, and the whole Frankie thing certainlty made for colourful times.

The label that Frankie emerged on, ZTT, was the brainchild of Morley, Horn and Jill Sinclair, and was hugely distinctive in both its music (Horn’s production fingers were all over it) and in the way it presented the music. Amongst the roster of other artist on the label at the time was the German synthpop group Propaganda. In it’s original incarnation the band only managed a single album, 1985’s A Secret Wish. But what an album that was. More musically capable and coherent than Frankie Goes To Hollywood, this was definitely a ZTT record, but had much more of an experimental European sound to it.

Duel was a single from that album, and gave the band their only Top Of The Pop performance. It was by far their most poppy effort, although alternative version Jewel is a far a more aggressive, industrial style take on the same song, at times unrecognisable compared to the original (there is also a remix version which combines the two).

Ultimately Propaganda suffered from the huge success of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which diverted effort and resources away from promoting them, and so seem to languish in the twilight world of 80s almost-made-its. That is a shame, because for a short time at least Propoganda had something original and exciting to offer.

And this on ukulele? Well why not! As I said earlier, this is probably Propaganda at their most popy and tuneful, so it really is a good sing-a-long. The song comes with quite a few chords, one or two not too common, but nothing too tricky. Probably best to forget that huge Trevor Horn production and trim it back to the basics of the tune, and there you’ll find something very lovely. Enjoy!

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