Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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The Passenger – Iggy Pop

By the mid-70s Iggy Pop was going nowhere. Despite the legendary and influential position that his band The Stooges had achieved (a seminal garage rock band, and a huge influence on punk), and despite a helping hand from David Bowie on 1973’s Raw Power, The Stooges had fallen apart, and Pop had descended into a spiral of drug abuse.

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However, Bowie continued to support his friend, and took him along as a companion on the 1976 Station to Station tour. Bowie himself, at that time, was deep into a drug dependency, and when he relocated to Berlin afterwards to kick his addiction, Iggy came with him. Thus began an extraordinary period of creativity from Bowie, and Iggy benefited hugely from that.  In early 1977 The Idiot was released, Pop’s first solo album, written, recorded and produced in collaboration with Bowie. Later that same year (a year in which Bowie also released both Low and “Heroes”) came Lust For Life, Iggy’s most commercially successful album, once again a collaboration with, including co-writing and producing, David Bowie.

Best known for it’s opening title track (which itself achieved iconic status via. its inclusion in the opening sequence of the film Trainspotting), The Passenger is the most covered song on the album (the likes of Nick Cave, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and REM have all performed the song),  allegedly inspired (according to Pop’s former girlfriend Esther Friedmann) by a Jim Morrison poem that viewed modern life as a journey by car, as well as rides on the Berlin rapid transit railway, the S-Bahn. Written by guitarist Ricky Gardiner, it was originally released as the B-side of a single (“Success”), but has since come to be one of the defining songs of Iggy’s career.

And so to the song sheet. In terms of chords, there’s nothing tricky here – it’s just an Am / F / C / G / Am / F / C / E sequence repeated all the way through the song (with one or two subtle exceptions. The real key to getting the song sounding right is the strumming pattern. This YouTube guitar lesson gives a good sense of the pattern, but essentially it’s a mute-down-up-down-up pattern, repeated all the way through – effectively there is no chord played on the first (and third) beats. Give it a try. And enjoy!

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A Perfect Miracle – Spiritualized

You’ll have noticed that ukulele-based songs are few and far between on this blog. That is kind-of deliberate, but also a reflection of the fact that, whilst I love playing the little 4-string wonder myself, it hasn’t let me towards wanting to listening to music made on the instrument. Call me a fraud if you like, a traitor if you want (in these febrile Brexit times, such accusations seem to get thrown around increasingly carelessly), but that is me.

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Now I don’t actually know that there is a ukulele playing as the backbone to this song. There’s no credit of a ukulele player in the album credits. But a number of other reviews of the song have suggested that’s what it could be, and to my ears that sounds totally plausible. So I’m going to go with it.

A Perfect Miracle is the opening song, and lead single, from Spiritualized’s most recent album, And Nothing Hurt. It’s a beautiful, hazy waltz-time lullaby that starts off with nothing much more than that strummed ukulele, but then builds and swells to an increasingly glorious crescendo – strings, choirs, the lot. Actually, when you peer behind the sounds the lyrical content of the song is not quite what it seems – yes, there’s lots of lovely sentiment towards a loved one, but as the song progresses there is a thread of uncertainty and ambivalence that creeps in. But there’s still glimmers of light, so let’s hope it all ends well, eh?

And the song sheet. Well, to be honest, this is such a simple song it’s almost embarrassing to have one! Basically the song is the same four chords, repeated in sequence throughout. I’ve transposed the song up a semi-tone, from B to C, to make it easier to play. But other than that there’s not much more to say (although you can thrown in the occasional Gsus4 if you wish, to give a bit more colour). I have included the backing choir lyrics which are sung in parallel with the last three verses, so if there are more than one of you doing this I’m sure that will sound lovely. Do enjoy!


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Twentytwo – Sunflower Bean

So here we with the second gig-inspired song in the last couple of months. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending a lovely evening with my daughter at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, in the company of New York band Sunflower Bean.

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Four months ago Sunflower Bean meant nothing to me. Since then, thanks to finally taking the plunge with a Spotify subscription (other streaming platforms are available), I’ve managed to catch-up on more new music than I’ve probably done in the last five years. And The Bean (as nobody calls them!) are one of my favourites. Whilst the band can certainly rock the house (new single Come For Me being a good example), one of the things that I love about the band is that they certainly don’t stick to a tried and tested formula. Indie in the original meaning of the word, the parent album for this song (Twentytwo in Blue) has moments of stomping Glam rock, Velvets-flavoured Garage rock, west-coast soft rock, dreamy psychedelics and shoe-gaze. And yet doesn’t come across as the stylistic ragbag that may suggest – there is a unified vision at the heart of the band that is all their own, and that gives them their own, unique identify.

Twentytwo is – I guess – the title track of the album. A twenty-something perspective on growing up and coming of age, the song packs a powerful combination of melancholy and defiance that has echoes Fleetwood Mac and the darker moments in the Abba catalogue. Luxurious and nostalgic, this is the sound of a band who know there mind and will follow the muse wherever it will take them.

And so to the song sheet. Nothing too clever or tricky here. This is a great song to belt out, but needs some textures and contrasts to bring it alive. Note that the song sheet is for the full version from the album – the video above is an edited version of the song that loses a verse and a few other nips and tucks. Enjoy!


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War Baby – Tom Robinson

There’s been a few songs on here recently that have been inspired by gigs that I’ve either been to are going to. And you know what? Here comes another.

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In popular consciousness, when people think of Tom Robinson (if they think of him at all) there’s one, maybe two, songs that comes straight to the front of the queue. But they’re wrong! That’s not to say that 2-4-6-8 Motorway is a bad song – it’s a head-down pile-driver of a fist-pumping sing-along song that deserves to be up there in the pantheon of punk-inspired greats. Neither is Glad To Be Gay – a somewhat controversial (at the time) song that probably wasn’t the best career move Robinson ever made.

But if you’re looking for a sublime classic that represents quality songwriting, a timeless, emotionally brutal stream-of-consciousness evocation of nostalgia and regret, then look no further. This – for me – is peak Tom Robinson. This is such a gorgeous wonder of a song, very different to the rawness, aggression and political bite of his earlier sounds, but retaining the ferocious honesty that has been a hallmark of his whole career.

So last night there I was at the 1865 in Southampton (incidentally, the new home of Southampton Ukulele Jam) watching Tom Robinson perform, in full, his powerful debut album Power In The Darkness. It was a great show, with a great band, and a 68-year old Robinson in great form as singer, bass-player, band leader and host. The album played, the encore was made of the contemporaneous classics Martin, Glad to be Gay and a stretched-out rousing 2-4-6-8 Motorway. So job done, and what a good evening that would have been. But the best, the peak was yet to come. Responding to an audience who clearly wanted more, the unexpected gift to close out the evening was a wondrous version of this here classic. This boy couldn’t have been happier.

So how does it work for the ukulele? Well quite well, I think. There’s some lovely chords in here, and some lovely progressions. I’ve tried to simplify down from the original to something playable, but still retain the essence of the original song. So there are one or two slightly unusual chords in here, but persevere because it is those that make it.  Fitting the words in can be a little tricky (this is quite a verbose song) but if – like me – you know the song like the back of your hand, it will flow. Just enjoy!


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The Sound Of The Suburbs – The Members

“Inspiration” for the songs posted on this blog comes from many and varied places. Today’s came a bit out of the blue with the notification that The Members are playing a gig in my home town (Southampton) early next year.

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Now The Members aren’t a band that I’m massively familiar with. This single, obviously, a perennial that crops up on almost every Punk / New Wave compilation album you care to mention, is one that nobody of a certain age will be ignorant of (although it never even made the top 10 at the time). Alongside that I have strong memories of a great couple of later singles (Working Girl, Radio) which were what was referred to at the time as “radio hits” (loads of airplay, nobody brought it). But I hadn’t dug much further than that.

Turns out that “The Sound of The Suburbs” is an anthem in more ways than one. As well as being a pogo-tastic punk/pop phenomenon, it’s lyrical focus (life in the suburbs – the band came from Camberley, songs of humdrum reality, rather than the big, exciting city) was something that was reflected across the band’s output. I love this quote from the inimitable Paul Morely in a 1979 edition of the NME:

The Members sing about silly, simple things, and do it with style. Their lyrics deal with pathetic characters, trivial frustrations, minor irritations, unimportant failures; so if you’re lonely or spotty, you daydream a lot, the beard won’t come, the figure won’t fill out, your mum won’t leave you alone, the girls/boys all laugh at you, you can’t do anything right, your life’s intolerably dull – then the Members are the band for you. 

The band combined both punk and reggae styles in their music, but The Sound of the Suburbs definitely falls into the former category – full on punk power-chords, brief and concise solos, vocals that verge on the shouty, but with lyrics that demonstrate a wit and wisdom that echoes some of the theatrical, music hall influences that contemporaries like Ian Dury and Madness also brought to the music scene of the time.

So an obvious candidate for a ukulele song! Well yes, obviously. And so here is the songsheet. Chord-wise there isn’t anything too tricky here – a C5 power chord being the only unusual one. Although that said, there is a run up the fret-board at the end of the instrumental section in the middle of the song that is a little unusual – however all it is is a D bar chord (2225) going up the fret board one fret at a time. I’ve also included some tab for the solos – the opening riff, the solo in the instrumental section, and the outro. But most of all, this is a song to be bashed and shouted out. Have fun. And enjoy!


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Come As You Are – Nirvana

I must admit that by the early 90s my interest in popular and alternative music had somewhat dissipated. This probably had something to do with the advent of a family of my own, as well as the rise to dominance of the rave scene (which I just never connected with), but by that time my musical interests were headed off in a more rootsy, country, folky direction (Bruce Cockburn, Van Morrison, Nanci Griffth and others), and as a result I really lost touch with what was happening in mainstream music.

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So whilst Nirvana were definitely on my radar (it would be hard for them not to be, so ubiquitous were they at the time), they weren’t somebody that I really paid that much attention to. And I’m not going to stand here and say that I had a subsequent life-changing revelation and realised everything that I’d missed. But without you even trying certain songs just ooze into your consciousness, and become part of the background of your life. Come As You Are is one such song.

Released as the second single from the bands huge, iconic album Nevermind, Come As You Are was a more obviously commercial song than the surprise initial hit from the album, Smells Like Teen Spirit. Whilst still obviously retaining the sounds and template of grunge, this was clearly a song that would build on that success and establish Nirvana as more than just a one-hit wonder. That it did, but that success was – to a certain extent – part of what ultimately resulted in Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.

And so to the songsheet. There are other versions of this out there, not much different from this. This is the same key as the original recording (but  not the MTV Unplugged version), and I’ve tabbed both the main riff (which plays throughout the song) and the solo. Enjoy!


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Transformer – Lou Reed (Full Album)

In the early 1970s, Lou Reed’s career was floundering. Having walked away from the Velvet Underground (possibly the hippest, most influential rock band of all time, albeit one who had almost zero commercial success in their lifetime) he had recorded a debut solo album that had followed the Velvet’s route to success (i.e. none). But he had established a reputation as a literate, alternative (before the term had even been invented) musician who was unafraid to tackle potentially controversial topics, with a particular focus on the seedy side of his home town, New York.

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It was that reputation that led to him hooking up with David Bowie, a long-time fan of Velvet Underground, and Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson. At the time of recording Bowie’s star was in the ascendant, having just broken through with Starman, via. his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, but he was far from the superstar that he was to become over the following year. Bowie and Ronson came on board to produce the album that would become Transformer, and arguably brought a focus and clarity to proceedings that reflected what they had achieved on The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, a record released just a couple of months before the Transformer recording sessions. Glam rock was reaching some kind of peak, and Transformer picks up on that vibe – less in the more cartoon-ish elements of that scene (Mud, Sweet, Gary Glitter) – but more aligned to the more literate likes of Bowie and Roxy Music.

Feature a selection of old songs that had originally been performed and/or demoed with Velvet Undergound (Andy’s Chest, Satellite Of LoveNew York Telephone Conversation and Goodnight Ladies), alongside a collection of sharply focussed new songs, Transformer is a strongly coherent collection of songs that takes a mirror to the strange and perverse underground scene that Reed took as his own. Whilst New York – by name – would be the title and subject of a much later album, much of Reed’s material is rooted in his experience of that city and its underground scene, and Transformer is a spectacular example of that. Characters from that scene (Candy, Holly, Daisy Mae, Biff) are constantly being referenced in the songs, along with nods to Andy Warhol (the Velvet’s were in effect the house band for The Factory), and the stories in the songs are liberally peppered with tales of transgender individuals, drug use, and sex. Walk On The Wild Side became a breakout hit from the album, yet when you listen to the lyrics it’s a wonder that it even got airplay given some of the subject areas it touches on.

Reed’s career flip-flopped over the years, seemingly alternating from commercial and critical success to almost-deliberate career suicide (Metal Machine Music being the most extreme example of that). In hindsight, Reed – always his own man – attempted to downplay the Bowie connection and influence, but it is without doubt that Transformer represents an early peak in his career, one that may at times have felt like an albatross around his neck, but which clearly established as a significant artist.

And so welcome to the Transformer songbook. Lou Reed songs aren’t – for the most part – musically complex, and that certainly applies to Transformer. Which means that these songs lend themselves well to translation to sing-along ukulele style. Only one of them (Perfect Day) I’ve had to transpose from the original key, so all the rest you can easily play along with. Sometimes the timing of the wording can be a little tricky, and I’ve tried to help in here with some occasional “…”‘s to highlight little pauses – whether these help or not you can decide. I’ve also added in some of the backing vocals which certainly enhance the songs (the outro to Satellite of Love being my favourite) – obviously these won’t work so well if you do these by yourself, but in a group setting they’re definitely work adding. Enjoy!

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