Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Rio – Duran Duran (Full Album)

Never let it be said that you don’t get variety here! From the acoustic loveliness and down-home earthiness of the last post, here we are with what could be seen as the archetypal surface-and-sheen of vacuous 80s pop – all style, glamour and no substance.

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And whilst there is some truth in those accusations, the reality – as ever – is more complex. Emerging out of the nascent new romantic scene in (decidedly unromantic) Birmingham, Duran Duran (the name taken from a character in the cult classic 1968 sci-fi film, Barbarella) were effectively the house band for the city’s Rum Runner nightclub. From the outset, the notion of the band was to combine the sounds and ethos of disco and punk, equal parts Sex Pistols, Blondie, Gary Numan and Chic, and to be huge. There was no hiding that ambition, and for a group of lads growing up in late 70s urban Britain, the idea of becoming the biggest pop band on the planet, of being able to travel the world and partake in the glamorous jet-set lifestyle made perfect sense.

So whilst Duran Duran struck gold with their first album (spawning the hits Planet Earth and Girls On Film), it was 1982’s Rio that launched them into the stratosphere. With three huge singles accompanied by the infamous exotic videos (Hungry Like The Wolf, Rio and Save A Prayer), the band were perfectly positioned to capitalise on the musical revolution that was ushered in by MTV.

But this was pop with a twist. Not only were the band self-made – growing organically from the local music scene – and writers of their own material, the band managed create a unique amalgam of styles that took somewhat underground influences and art-rock influences (Japan, Roxy Music and David Bowie) and fashioned them into a mainstream phenomena that had teenage girls in paroxysms. In times when pop bands are just expected to be focus-grouped conceptions of marketing departments, performing material from the same bunch of face-less songwriting teams that is aimed at the same narrow commercial radio playlists, it is easy to forget that this wasn’t always the way things were. And for all their faults, Duran Duran were more intelligent than that, spikier than that, and certainly more capable and original as musicians than that.

It may be the big singles that Rio is remembered for. And rightly so. But dig beyond that and there are gems a plenty. Whether it be the post-punk funk of New Religion, the Voltaire-citing Last Chance On The Stairway, or the stately, cryptic, arpeggiated closer that is The Chauffeur (I’m not seeing any boy band getting away with a video like this today) this is a band at arguably both their commercial and artistic peak.

And so here we are with the songbook. The full album, all nine tracks, when you strip the production away these are for the most part great songs. All of these are in the same key as the originals, so playing along is possible (and to be encouraged). Shoulder pads and yachts are optional. Enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>

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The King Of Rock and Roll – Prefab Sprout

I’ve posted before about the insane wonderfulness of Prefab Sprout. In many ways its a shame that the only song of theirs that made any real impression on the record-buying public was this throwaway slice of meta-pop. But that’s only a shame because of the ridiculously high standards that they set elsewhere.

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Hailing from the County Durham, Prefab Sprout emerged in the early 80s with a sound that blended classic pop, jazz and scratchy post-punk influences (debut album Swoon in particular) with literate lyrical aspirations. Not alone in those kind of influences and sound (the likes of Aztec Camera, The Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole and Orange Juice would at times be bracketed together with the Sprouts in what has retrospectively – and somewhat clumsily – come to be known as sophisti-pop), main man Paddy McAloon ploughed a steadfast furrow with a vision all his own that introduced a sophistication to songwriting and musicianship that harked back to the likes of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson in its ambition.

1988’s From Langley Park To Memphis was their commercial high-water mark, a record that added more gloss to the sound that they had refined (with produced Thomas Dolby) on 1985’s Steve McQueen. But this wasn’t a surface sheen to hide a lack of content and inspiration, rather it was a polish that complimented a collection of perfect (in a left-field kind of way) pop songs, songs whose seeming simplicity belied (much like Abba, another McAloon inspiration, whose Agnetha Faltskog was the inspiration behind The Ice Maiden) an underlying complexity, richness and ingenuity.

The King Of Rock And Roll was the second single from the album (following the Springsteen-baiting Cars and Girls), and gave the band their only top 10 single. Described later by McAloon as “novelty” effort, it is somewhat ironic – in a way that McAloon would undoubtedly appreciate – that a song which focusses on a washed-up pop star who is now only remembered for his one-hit novelty song should acquire the same status in the band’s back catalogue. Yet it’s apparent inanity lies its intelligence. For beneath the – undoubtedly deliberate – senseless chorus and relentlessly jaunty musical backing (watch the video for jumping frogs and dancing hot dogs!) is a song laced with poignancy and melancholy – “All the pretty birds have flown, now I’m dancing on my own”, anybody?

So here’s the songsheet for this deceptively trite piece of classic 80s pop! I don’t think there’s too much to say about it – it’s relatively straightforward, primarily as it’s transposed down half a tone (so capo 1 if you want to play along with the original). Timing should be no big problem, and whilst I’ve cut a couple of the “Hot dog…” lines from the end to fit the page, I don’t think it loses anything. Enjoy!

 


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Making Plans For Nigel – XTC

Hot on the heels of the previous post, which featured the more pastoral, psychedelic side of XTC, here is one of – if not THE – songs that the band is known for.

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XTC were originally formed in Swindon in the early 1970s, taking a while to find their sound (early incarnations were of a more glam / glitter rock persuasion), ultimately emerging as part of the punk generation in 1977. However, XTC were never one to be pigeon-holed, and to be honest were somewhat smarter that your average punk band, and from the get-go refused to bow to the somewhat conservative conventions and year zero mindset that the punk scene often created.

Characterised by a jagged, angular sound, and smart, often ironic lyrics, the band were three albums into their recording career before they finally found some kind of significant success, a purple period from 1979 to 1982 that saw them regulars in the mid-reaches of the charts.

Making Plans For Nigel was the song that brought them that initial flurry of recognition and success, and it is a song that has weathered well. From the pen and voice of Colin Moulding, this song has become a mainstay of a hundred new wave compilations. A song that still sounds as fresh as the day it was conceived, a song full of spaces, it is underpinned by a distinctive drum pattern and sound, topped with sharp angular guitar riffs, and a lyric that mocks the entry into dull careerism to the titular Nigel, all wrapped in a production that is both crisp and sharp, and also owes more than a little to the dub sounds and effects that were entering the mainstream at the time from reggae.

So here’s the songsheet. It’s quite a straightforward song, the trick is getting a rhythm / strumming pattern that works. I’m not going to be prescriptive about that, just experiment and seems what works. The D / D4 / D5 run down can easily be replaced with a straight D, but otherwise it should all work as written. Enjoy!


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Grass – XTC

XTC have always been one of those bands that I kind of thought I should get, but never really did. Yes, I loved those late 70s / early 80s hits like Sgt Rock, Senses Working Overtime, and Making Plans For Nigel (more of which later). But I never really got beyond that.

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So I decided to put that right recently. But where to start? After  bit of dithering I ended up plumping for a copy of 1986’s Skylarking, prompted in part by having recently heard one of the albums track, That’s Really Super, Supergirl, on the radio. An album that was strongly rated, critically acclaimed, but of which I knew almost nothing.

So how did it go, I hear you ask? Well, if I’m honest, first listen I was little unsure, a little non-plussed. A few songs sounded good first time, but much of it felt indistinct and uncertain. But I got the sense that this might be one of those albums you need to work at a little to really extract its riches. And so it proved to be. A few weeks later and the subtle riches of the album are beginning to worm their way into my head and heart.

For those who don’t know it, Skylarking has a more pastoral, quintessentially English sound than you might have expected if all you’ve heard is the new wave / post-punk sounds of those early hits. Produced by Todd Rundgren, it is loosely themed around various cycles in life and nature, and as a result really hangs together as a whole piece.

Grass, a song written and sung by Colin Moulding, was the lead single from the album (the flip-side, Dear God, was later to become the most well-known song from this set, a minor hit in the US), and exemplifies the mood and feel of the whole album. A song that looks back in almost bucolic terms to romantic fumbles in the summer grass, with more than a hint to doing so under the influence of that other grass (marijuana), the song captures a time and space so perfectly that for three minutes you feel yourself right there.

So here’s the song sheet. The song is actually quite a simple one, both in terms of structure and chords, and feels like it demands to be sung under a late summer evening sky, basking in the the great outdoors. I’ve included two versions, one in D and one if F, both a little easier to play than the original in E (play the first version with capo 2 if you want to play/sing along to the original. Enjoy!


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(What’s The Story) Morning Glory – Oasis (Full Album)

Well I have to say that these full album nights have really taken off. Having had two really successful evenings with 30-40 ukers listening to, and bashing their way through, Parallel Lines and Rubber Soul, we’re now planning a to make this a semi-regular event. Undoubtedly you’ll be seeing some of those popping up on here over time, but the next one is going to be Oasis’ sophomore classic, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.

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I must say up-front that this songbook is definitely (maybe!) not all my own work. Most of the credit for this must go to my good ukeing friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, Ian Rothwell, who has put in a massive amount of effort to pull this together. We road-tested it earlier this week, and we’re relatively happy with how it sounds, so here it is.

Released in October 1995, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory was the album that propelled from a very successful indie rock band at the vanguard of the Britpop scene (that album was the fastest-selling debut album of all time in the UK when it was released) to a world-wide phenomenon. World-wide the album has sold an estimated 22 million copies, it was number one in the UK for ten weeks on it’s release, and it spawned a swathe of classic singles, with two (Some Might Say and Don’t Look Back In Anger) reaching the coveted number one slot, and another two (Wonderwall and Roll With It) peaking at number two. The last of those, Roll With It, was the subject of the much-hyped Britpop battle with Blur, when they both famously released new singles on the same day, Blur releasing Country House. Blur won that particular battle and hit the top spot, but I think it fair to say that, at least if judged commercially, Oasis won the war.

Marking a move away from the rawer sound of the band’s debut, (What’s The Story) was marked out by slower tempos, songs more ballad like (although still swathed in loud rock-and-roll guitars) with huge sing-along choruses, and with richer instrumentation than on their first record. The critical reception the album received on its release was a little lukewarm, many comparing it less favourably to its predecessor, complaining that the album was derivative and simplistic, as well as being seen as prompting a major step-change in the loudness wars.  As ever though, timing can be everything with these things, and the emergence and mainstream embracing of the cultural phenomenon that was Britpop at the same time as this albums release allowed Oasis to surf its wave with massive success.

And so here it is – the songbook. As I said earlier, the hugest of thanks to Ian Rothwell for doing most of the work on this one. As you’ll see the format is slightly different to previous songbooks, but the content is all there. Only one of the songs (She’s Electric) is not in the same key as the original (that has been upped from F# to G for obvious reasons!), so all the rest are definitely play-along-able. As far as possible we’ve tried to keep the arrangements faithful to the originals. We haven’t tabbed any solos or the like – in actual fact there aren’t that many – but feel free to work those out yourselves. Sing loud, with great enthusiasm. And most of all, enjoy!

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P.S. If you’re interested, and in the Southampton area on the 17th May, this (see below) is the event where we’re going to be playing this one through.


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Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (Full Album)

I freely admit that I was a child of the punk revolution. I fully brought into the Year Zero mindset that trashed everything that came before punk. As a result bands like Fleetwood Mac were anathema – self-indulgent west-coast soft rock that had no relevance to a late 70s urban teenager.

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So it was a long journey to come around to embracing Rumours. For me, that journey was one I can trace for an opening up to country music (via. the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack), which led via. Gram Parsons and The Byrds to the soft rock sounds of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the sounds of late 60s/early 70s Laurel Canyon, and ultimately to this polished slice of perfect grown-up West Coast pop/rock.

Fleetwood Mac had a varied and convulted evolution. Emerging in the late 1960s as a UK-based blues band, the group has a significant measure of success, but somewhat lost their way in the early 1970s. It took a significant re-jig of the line up in 1974, and an evolution into a US/UK hyrid, for those fortunes to be turned around. 1975’s eponymous album, Fleetwood Mac, set the tone, with songs like Rhiannon and Say You Love Me establishing the band with hit singles, as well as racking up huge sales in the US.

But that success was dwarfed by its follow up, Rumours. Not that the circumstances of its birth were promising. The band – now comprising guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood, keyboard player and vocalist Christine McVie, bass guitarist John McVie, and vocalist Stevie Nicks – were going through the most intense relationship breakdowns. The McVie’s were divorcing after eight years of marriage. Buckingham and Nicks were having a stormy on/off relationship. And Fleetwood was dealing with the discovery of his wife having an affair with his best friend. That a collection of such perfect songs should emerge from this maelstrom is nothing short of miraculous. With writing credits shared across the whole band, and singing duties likewise shared, this was a truly collaborative effort that captured a band at the height of their powers, at the same time their personal lives were falling apart, awash in a sea of cocaine excess.

With classics like Dreams, Go Your Own Way, The Chain and Don’t Stop, Rumours was the album that sent Fleetwood Mac into the stratosphere. Epitomising the smooth sun-drenched soft-rock California sound, Rumours was both a critical and commercial success. While clearly a product of its time, it has since transcended those times, becoming one of those albums that just goes on and on giving, a timeless record whose perfect sounds belie the raw emotions within. Topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, it sold 13 million copies in its first three years, and by 2013 world-wide sales were over 40 million.

The songbook includes all the songs in the album. Most are in the same key as the originals, but a few I’ve transposed to make a little easier to play. At heart these are actually mostly deceptively simple songs, and translate well – to my ears – to the uke. The one song that I’ve probably fudged a little is the finger-picked Never Going Back Again. There are some great ukulele versions of this out there (watch here, see tab here), so feel free to check those out.

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You Do Something To Me – Paul Weller

Who’d have thought when The Jam burst onto the 1977 music scene – a mix of stark dappy mods and punk aggression – that the songwriter and guitarist at the heart of that sound would have become a national icon 40 years later.

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But Weller was clearly more than your average punk opportunist – the lyrics, sound and image were all sharp and biting, and here was clearly a young man (he was only 19 when The Jam had their first hits) who had a vision and the drive to realise it. The Jam were a phenomenon , blazing a trail through the late 70s and early 80s, growing and evolving over their 6 albums in 5 years before Weller broke up the band in 1982 at the height of their success.

Ever restless, Weller returned the next year with The Style Council, a more sophisticated soul-influenced sound that continued the success without compromising on his core values (if anything The Style Council were even more political than The Jam) before the band finally fell apart at the end of the 80s, having had their house-influenced album rejected by the record label.

Taking some time off, Weller slowly started out again, this time as a solo artist. Initially low-key, he started to make headway, with the more pastoral second solo album Wild Wood starting to spawn hits whilst garnering a Mercury nomination for itself. But it was that albums follow-up, 1995’s Stanley Road, that really re-established Weller in the public consciousness. Appearing at the same time as BritPop was turning into the scene that it became, Weller was almost seen as an honorary god-father for that scene, back at the top end of the charts with songs like The Changingman, Out Of The Sinking, and this gorgeous, soulful mid-tempo ballad, You Do Something To Me. Opening with circling piano chords, the song gradually layers warm organ sounds and guitar riffs under a wistful vocal expressing a yearning love. I’m sure this must have been “our song” for countless couples over the years.

And so to the songsheet. Looks like a lot of chords, but it’s not really. A basic four chord sequence throughout the verses, the timing may take a little getting used to if you don’t know the song, but play along (it’s in the same key) and you’ll get the hang of it. The Em / Em6 / Em7 sequence at the beginning and end is designed to emulate those piano chords, but you can get away with just Em if you want. And that C/D at the end of the bridge/chorus is just a passing, one beat chord. But whatever you do, enjoy!