Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Robot Man – The Gymslips / Connie Francis

From the sublime (step forward, Brandy Clark) to the faintly ridiculous. Never let it be said that you don’t get variety around here!

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So here’s a song that I’ve lived with for 30 odd years, only to find a couple of hours ago that it wasn’t quite what I’d thought. The origin of this one for me was a purchase in an Edinburgh record shop of a shrink-wrapped bundle of 5 singles. It was bargain-basement time, and though you could see the covers of the two outside records, I didn’t have a clue what was inside. To be honest, I don’t remember all the records that were in that pack, but I do remember that one was the great double-sider by The Rezillos I Can’t Stand My Baby / I Wanna Be Your Man, and another was this slice of kitsch punk from The Gymslips.

Now I never knew anything else about The Gymslips, but really loved the definitely tongue-in-cheek, bubblegum punk that sprang from the turntable when I played this song. It’s only after the last year or so that I rediscovered this song and this band, primarily through a copy of their only album, Rocking With The Renees. An all-female punk band from London (and there’s no transatlantic twang here, the accents are full-on London), The Gymslips were never one to take the music business that seriously, and clearly had a blast doing what they were doing. This is sheer good time punk, replete with plenty of lyrics references to bums and getting pissed (there’s a very definite strain of English humour running through it all), a cartoon image exemplified in that album cover.

So Robot Man seemed to fit into that category without any trouble, a 2-minute blast of tuneful fabulousness. But it wasn’t until I was looking online for the chords and lyrics for this song (where there are zero references) that I accidentally discovered that actually this is a cover of a song originally recorded back in the 1960s by Connie Frances, part of a double-sided single that made it to number 2 in the UK charts. So not so obscure after all. Actually, thinking about it the lyrical content (a robot lover, somehow strangely back in vogue) is obviously such a theme of the late 50s / early 60s it’s quite obvious really. But The Gymslips version gives the original a spirited kick up the arse (as I’m sure the band would say!) and is just a pure joy to listen to.

So here’s the song sheet. As to be expected from such a straight-ahead punk song, it’s not tricky. Four chords (surely that’s one more than necessary!) and a lot of attitude. This version is in the same key as the Gymslips version, the Connie Francis version being a semi-tone lower. Oh, and I’ve thrown in the four note opening riff as a bonus. Enjoy!

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Top Of The Pops – The Rezillos

topofthepops

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From the sublime to the…

Only three years separate Rhinestone Cowboy from Top Of The Pops. But these songs *appear* to come from totally separate universes. In that time punk had happened, and with its year zero ethic sought to sweep away the past and start again. That it was a sound and an ethic for which there was a strong, albeit underground, lineage – from the tougher sound of 60s groups such as The Kinks (check out “You Really Got Me” or “All Day And All Of The Night” as a prototype for the punk sound) and The Who, through the US garage bands, The Stooges, New York Dolls, and the UK pub rock scene of the early 70s with bands like Dr Feelgood – seemed to have passed some of the revisionists by.

But whatever the background, it is undoubtedly true that punk was a breath of fresh air into a music scene that was becoming increasingly divorced from its raw roots, either in the polished sheen of disco, the middle-of-the-road blandness of mainstream pop, or the indulgent and tedious world of prog rock. And it was fun! Yes, there was obviously the political intensity of bands like The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. But there was also a collection of punk bands who didn’t take them to seriously – something you could term day-glo punk. Step forward The Damned, X-Ray Spex (whose “Day The World Turned Day-Glo“could be this non-existent movements anthem!). And step forward The Rezillos.

The Rezillos hailed from Edinburgh, and were influenced as much by Glam Rock and 60s pop as the punk sound. They weren’t hugely successful in commercial terms, and Top Of The Pops was  their only top 40 single, peaking at 17. But it is a great song that hasn’t aged at all. An explosion of energy and colour that blasts breathlessly through it’s 2 minutes and 58 seconds, leaving you wanting to go straight back to the beginning and play the thing over again. The hallmark of a great single. Here’s a performance from – where else – Top Of The Pops.

Ukulele groups up and down the country seem to have taken a shine to some of the classic two-and-a-half minute punk singles from this era. Whether it is the lean structure of the songs, the three-chord thrash, or just a reflection of the demographics of those in these groups, it is true that some of these songs work really well on the ukulele.  So I thought that Top Of The Pops might maybe join the ranks of Teenage Kicks and Ever Fallen In Love… a ukulele staple. And as if to confirm it, I came across this wonderful version by Gus & Fin…

So buoyed by that  I pulled together a set of chords that seemed to work and reflect (as close as feasible) the original. Also included is the little riff that goes before each line in the chorus. Tabbed for ukulele (the two notes in brackets can be omitted and you still get the right feel). Or else you can do as Gus & Fin did and whistle it! Works for me.

Enjoy!

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