Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Message In The Box – World Party

In the mid-1980s The Waterboys did a classic swerve away from a trajectory that was taking them towards full-on 80s stadium rock and into the fertile avenues of Irish folk, ultimately resulting, after many, many studio sessions, in the classic album that is Fisherman’s Blues.

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Nestled in the middle of the first (“Dublin”) side of that record was a song called World Party, a co-write between the band’s leader Mike Scott, and Trevor Hutchinson and Karl Wallinger. Wallinger had joined The Waterboys a couple of albums earlier, initially as a keyboard player, but increasingly contributing his wide range of instrumental skills. However by the end of the This Is The Sea (Fisherman’s Blues predecessor) tour, Wallinger had decided he wanted to spread his wings, and left the band. World Party (the song) had already been written, but hadn’t made it onto This Is The Sea, and so by the time the band came to record the song Wallinger was no more a part of the band.

However that song obviously had a resonance for Wallinger, as it soon became the name of his new project, the band World Party. Making its public appearance a couple of years before Fisherman’s Blues finally emerged, World Party were a stew of influence – rock, folk, funk, soul – that Wallinger ushered into a cohesive and distinctive sound that – to my ears – owned more than a little to what Prince was doing at the time. By the time of the bands second album, Goodbye Jumbo, they were hitting their stride, an underrated classic that contained a smorgasbord of styles yet still felt of a piece. Message In The Box was the “hit” single from the album, hit as in scraping to #39 in the UK singles chart, but deserving of far more.

So here’s the song sheet. I’d been thinking of doing this one for while, but for whatever reason took a while to get around to it. Nothing too tricky – one unusual chord (the C6) but nothing too taxing. I’ve also transcribed / approximated the guitar solos at the beginning, after the chorus and at the end – I think they’re fairly close to the original, although maybe not perfect. Enjoy!


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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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Rockin’ In The Free World – Neil Young

One of my favourite songwriters, Martyn Joseph, often comments how when you release a song you have to set it free, because at that point the songwriter has to hand over control as to exactly what that song is an means.

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Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World is a good example of that. Written and released at the end of the 1980s, it was a response to the early days of the George W Bush administration, and a comment on the social ills of contemporary America. And yet in 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell and communism across eastern Europe imploded, the song took on a life of its own as an anthem for the collapse of communism. Ironic, given that the song was actually a criticism of the failing state of the USA, communism’s greatest nemesis.

Released on Young’s album Freedom, marking something of a return-to-form after a patchy 1980s, Rockin’ In The Free World book ended that album in two forms – a live acoustic version, and a cranked up studio electric version. Young famously reprised the song a few years later at the MTV Awards in a collaboration with Pearl Jam that ended up in a destructive, guitar-fuelled freak-out.

So here’s the song sheet. I’ve used the acoustic version as a basis, principally because its lower and I find it easier to sing. But I’ve also included the third verse of the song, which was only used in the electric version. Chords are pretty straight-forward, rhythm is pretty simply. This isn’t a subtle song, its one to belt out at the top of your voice. 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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Beautiful Day – U2

beautiful-dayU2 seem to be something of a marmite band, to say the least. As I’ve said before, I can understand that. But one or two songs seem to rise above that and have become bona fide classics. Beautiful Day is, I would say, in that category.

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Beautiful Day was the first track from the band’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. In many ways the song was a throw-back to the sound of their early days, coming as it did after the band’s adventures during the 1990s which saw them embracing a more contemporary, radical sound influenced in part by the electronic and dance-culture of the day. It was a move that the band were wary of and debated for a long time before finally convincing themselves it was a good thing. In reality, whilst clearly echoing that early sound, the song wouldn’t have been what it was without the band having been through those 1990s – the electronics, textures, drumbeat, whilst more subtle, are clearly an extension of that experimentation.

Lyrically the song is a little ambiguous, a not uncommon trait amongst the bands songs, living at that intersection of spirituality, romance and self-help, and has been described by Bono as being about “a man who has lost everything, but finds joy in what he still has”.  Whatever the specifics of the lyrics, though, this is clearly a song designed (some might say cynically so) to uplift, and for me it does that in spades.

Over the years Beautiful Day has established itself as a classic, reaching number 1 in many countries, garnering three Grammy awards in 2001 (including both song and record of the year), and becoming something of a mainstay for TV sport highlights. The song has been played at every U2 concert since.

So here’s the song sheet. In many ways its quite straightforward. But the sheet may be a little misleading in that respect. They key is getting the rhythm of the main riff right. The timing indicated in the sheet is a rough approximation, and the best thing today is to listen to the original and get the feel from that. However, to help with that I’ve recorded an excerpt of the song that you can listen to below – essentially this covers the main riff (x4) and the F#m “Touch me…” bridge section.  Hope it helps. Timing is something like:

[A] 1 2 [Bm7] 3 [D] 4 5 [G] 1 2 3 [D] 1 2 3 [A] 1 2 3 4 5;  and

[F#m] 1 2 3 [G] 1 2 3 4 5 [D] 1 2 3 [A] 1 2 3 4 5

Note that if you struggle with all of the main riff, you can get away without the [Bm7][D] chords.

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Mulder and Scully – Catatonia

mulder-and-scullyRiding on the back on the mid-90s phenomenon (or over-hyped, media-defined throw-back, dependent on your perspective!) that was Britpop, Catatonia briefly shined at the end of that decade.

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Hailing from Cardiff, Wales, and always proud of their nationality (singer Cerys Matthews welsh accent is fully in evidence), Catatonia were seen as part of an upsurge in popular music in Wales at the time that included the likes of Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics and Super Furry Animals, which received the slightly dodgy epithet of “Cool Cymru“. It was with their second album, 1998’s International Velvet, that the band really broke through big time, spawning two classic singles in the shape of the excellent Road Rage (my personal favourite) and this one.

Making a direct reference to the at-the-time hugely popular “X Files” sci-fi TV series staring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, here was a pop-culture collision that couldn’t fail to be a success. Whilst the references to the series were more incidental to the actual content of the song than direct, the references clearly made the song stand out at the time and would certainly have contributed to getting it noticed, ultimately resulting in the song peaking at number 3 in the single charts.

And so to the song sheet. First things first, it’s not quite as straightforward as it might come across. There’s a few more chords than you might expect, but nothing too tricksy as long as you’re comfortable with barre chords. Otherwise it’s just a question of bashing through it! I’ve made an approximation of the opening (and occasional occurrence in the song) riff which (a) may or may not be right, and (b) you may or may not include. Enjoy!

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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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