Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Innocence – Kirsty MacColl

If judged solely by commercial success, Kirsty MacColl doesn’t rank highly in the pantheon of singers or songwriters. But fortunately that isn’t the only way to measure these things, and when rated by the quality of her work, and the love felt for her and her songs, then Kirsty is right up there.

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Clearly she had something of a head start, being the daughter of the esteemed folk singer Ewan MacColl, who wrote “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. But after being spotted singing backing vocals in a punk band by Stiff Records, she was signed and released her first single in 1979, They Don’t Know. From that point on it’s fair to say that her success was patchy. Whilst she scored a hit with an early single (There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis), and her appearance on the Christmas perennial Fairy Tale Of New York with The Pogues, her own songs seemed to struggle, although there was some success in the early 80s when comedienne Tracey Ullman had a hit with They Don’t know during her brief pop career. It’s somewhat ironic that for all the acclaim that she received as a songwriter, her biggest successes seemed to come with other people’s songs (Billy Bragg’s A New England, Ray Davies’ Days, and The Pogues).

MacColl released a number of albums over the years, somewhat sporadically, but every one was chock full of quality songs. 1989’s Kite probably came closest to being a big success, and its from that album that Innocence is taken. With a jangle guitar reminiscent of The Smiths (ironic in that whilst Johnny Marr was a big contributor to the album – both playing and writing – this is one song he *didn’t* play on), Innocence is classic Kirsty – sharp lyrics, melodic, gorgeous harmonies, perfectly packaged pop. The video (below) is also great fun, well worth a watch, including a cameo from Ed Tudor-Pole.

And here is the song sheet. It’s a fairly faithful translation, in the same key as the original. Nothing tricksy chord wise, or rhythmically for that matter. There are quite a lot of words to fit in, but they’re good ones, so worth pursuing.

Enjoy!

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Parallel Lines – Blondie (Full Album)

I’d been promising to do this for a while – both to myself and to you good people – and a bit of spare time over the Christmas break has given me the opportunity. So ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a UkeTunes first – a songbook for a whole album, start to end, and all stations inbetween.

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When I’d previously done song sheets for Picture This and One Way Or Another, I’d suggested that it would be great idea – to me, at least – to do a ukulele-based full album show that was nothing but Parallel Lines, in sequence. Well the show hasn’t happened yet, but this is a step towards that – the full album transcribed (at least as far as the chords are concerned) for ukulele.

But why Parallel Lines (you may or may not be asking)? Well, for me it is one of those classic albums where every song could have been a single, a band at the top of their game, bashing our pop-punk gems (with the odd bit of disco thrown in) like there was no tomorrow. It is truly a classic, one that was of its time but which has outlasted its era, a touchstone of great songwriting, sharp production and strong performances. Each of the 12 song does just what it needs to do, never outstaying its welcome, bursting into life, burning brightly for the duration, and then gone, only for another gem to follow in its coat-tails.

The genesis and realisation of Parallel Lines is well-documented, and I’m not going to attempt to repeat those stories (try here and here, or the wonderful BBC documentary here, if you want to find out more). Suffice to say that this was the album that turned Blondie from a moderately successful New Wave band into the world-beating rock/pop phenomenon that they became (and, in many ways, remain). Bringing on board Australian producer Mike Chapman, who had had huge success in the 1970s with – amongst others – The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud, in hindsight would appear to be a deliberate attempt by the band to move beyond the constraints of the punk and new wave ghettos, and to become a pop band, albeit one that still retained that New York swagger, edge and attitude.

Chapman was clearly a significant part in creating the sound, but it would have been nothing without the songs. Here Blondie had clearly upped their game, with all the band contributing, along with a couple of covers (Hanging on the Telephone, by The Nerves, and I’m Gonna Love You To by Buddy Holly) – most of these songs were new, but some, such as Heart of Glass, harked back to the bands early days in the mid-70s. In the UK the album spawned two huge number one singles (Sunday Girl and the aforementioned Heart of Glass) as well as a couple of other huge hits. But it was in their homeland of the USA that Parallel Lines had arguably even more impact for the band, taking them from a somewhat hip but commercially unsuccessful band into the major league via. Heart of Glass’s ascension to the number one slot.

So here we have a songbook, not just a songsheet. All the songs from the album are included, in sequence. Most are in the same key as the originals, but a couple (11:59 and Just Go Away) I have transposed down by a semi-tone to make them a little easier to play – either play them as they are, or stick a capo on and play along in the same key as the originals. Most are largely faithful in arrangement to the originals.

Note that I’ve done my best to transcribe these as accurately as possible, whilst still remaining in the realm of playability. Most of the songs, with the exception of Just Go Away, had some online source of chords, so for the most part the arrangements aren’t original either. So if you find any mistakes, or potential improvements, let me know. But most of all, enjoy!


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Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow – Felt

I’ve kind-of giving up worrying about the preponderance of 80s tunes from my youth that I post on these pages. The songs that I post have always been influenced by the music that I’m listening to at any point of time, and – in no small part thanks to Decade, a wonderful event that happens not for from me that plays alternative music from 77-87 – I’ve been listening to a lot of music from that era, both songs that I’m familiar with, as well as tunes and artists that passed me by at the time.

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So this is a stone-cold classic from that era. Felt could be considered the quintessential 80s indie band. Essentially the platform for the artistic vision of the enigmatic Lawrence (no surname was ever used), Felt’s original jangle style was influenced by the likes of Television, but taken in a more fragile and luminescent direction. Early albums were resolutely low-fi and contained as many instrumentals as vocal songs, but through the 80s the Felt project grew and evolved, adding a bright and bubbling organ to the mix, branching off into lounge-style mini-instrumentals and kitsch-jazz before concluding (after 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years – all part of the masterplan) in 1989 with the vastly underrated, almost professional sounding Me and a Monkey on the Moon.

Top of the pile of all those songs, for me, is the swooningly gorgeous Primitive Painters, a duet with Cocteau Twin’s Liz Fraser (one of the few records I’ve ever brought on-spec after one hearing in a record shop). But that doesn’t translate too well to ukulele! So instead here is a song that scales pretty close to those dizzy heights, the 1984 single Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow. With a title like that how could a song fail (I’d love Felt just for their song and album titles, even without hearing the music – Rain of Crystal Spires, The World is as Soft as Lace, Evergreen Dazed, Sapphire Mansions, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word, Ignite the Seven Cannons and Set Sail for the Sun – the list is endless!). A resolutely up-beat sounding song that would appear to be a somewhat stinging observation of a friend, with the pretentiousness meter turned up high (the single and album versions differently reference a poem by Rimbaud or an Egyptian funerary text), the song is soaked in gorgeous shimmering and chiming guitars courtesy of Maurice Deebank, who was instrumental (literally) in the bands sounds for the first half of their career.

So translate this gloriousness to ukulele? Well, clearly its not going to sound *quite* like the original. But underneath all those wonderful sounds is a great song, and so I think it works. I’ve transcribed the ringing intro, solo and outro sections as well – Maurice Deebank never went in for guitar gymnatics, so these are definitely playable. It’s a great song, one that deserves more exposure. Enjoy!


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More Than This – Roxy Music

For many people Roxy Music were on a downhill trajectory from start. Understandable in some ways, because that debut album, and the hit single that sat alongside it (Virginia Plain) are such extraordinary records, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

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And in those people’s eyes, Avalon, Roxy’s swansong, became the epitome of everything that they had lost – smooth, bland, featureless, a triumph of style over substance. Well, I’m not one of those people, and I see it quite differently. Yes, Bryan Ferry would appear to have spent much of the rest of his career circling around and repeating that Avalon sound, but there are worse things to repeat. And that record, Avalon, is in my mind a classic, a subtle, sophisticated record that is a world away from songs like Editions of You and All I Want Is You, and yet retains much of the mysterious DNA that marked those early records out from the crowd.

More Than This was the lead single from Avalon, and landed at a time (Spring, 1982) when Roxy’s influence over other artists had never been stronger. Both musically and aesthetically, the sounds of the early 80s were indebted to the path that Roxy had pioneered, with groups like Duran Duran, Associates, Spandau Ballet and many others from that post-punk / new romantic era openly citing Roxy as a prime influence. That the rich, sophisticated sound that Avalon inspired may have resulted in some of the more vacuous, hollow, style-first content that followed later in the decade is hardly Roxy’s fault. This was a record that was taken to the heart (and bedroom!) of many that heard it, and to my ears is one of the bands masterpieces.

So here’s the songsheet. I’m aware that there are other ukulele versions floating about out there. But they didn’t quite cut it for me. Chords are relatively straightforward, the structure is pretty standard. I’ve included the opening riff as well, which definitely enhances the song. Not much more to say, really, other than enjoy!


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I’m Free – The Rolling Stones / The Soup Dragons

Lets be honest, this one is here because of The Soup Dragons cover, not because of The Rolling Stones original. That’s not to say that I have any kind of aversion to the sixties original, its just that it had never entered my consciousness before the Madchester-inspired cover.

<Rolling Stones songsheet> <Soup Dragons songsheet>

“I’m Free” is a relatively early Jagger/Richard composition from 1965 that first appeared as the closing track on the band’s Out Of Our Heads album, and the b-side of Get Off My Cloud. Ranked number 78 in Rolling Stone magazines top 100 Rolling Stones songs, I’m Free shuffles along with echoes of The Byrds jangley folk-rock sound.

In a similar way, The Soup Dragons 1990 cover was inspired by a popular rock sound of the day, this time the Madchester/Baggy rock/dance hybrid sound that was everywhere at the time through the music of The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, and others. This version definitely grooves more than the original version, fleshes out with liberal doses of wah-wah, takes a few liberties with the lyrics and throws in a rap courtesy of  Jamaican reggae and dancehall star Junior Reid – whether that adds or subtracts from the record depends on your preference for that sort of thing. The song gave the band their only sizeable hit, one that has become a staple of compilation albums of that period.

So here’s the songsheets. I’ve done two versions, one for The Rolling Stones version (in C), and one for The Soup Dragons version (in E). However, they’re not just the same sheet with different chords, I’ve tried to reflect the arrangements, lyrics, etc. of the two different versions. Even down to the rap in The Soup Dragons version – try it if you dare!  Enjoy!

<Rolling Stones songsheet> <Soup Dragons songsheet>


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The Only One I Know – The Charlatans

The house / rave / dance music scene that emerged in the late 1980s passed me by, I’m afraid. I’m guessing that it all made much more sense in a throbbing night club, probably enhanced by various substances, but it wasn’t for me.

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Some of the more mainstream crossover tracks I did like (808 States’s Pacific State I love, and I was quite partial to The Beloved), but as much as I like a groove I do also like a good tune, and that wasn’t really what the dance culture was all about. However, what did float by boat much more was the so-called Madchester scene – effectively an alternative rock sound merged with the culture of rave, creating a brace of classic indie-dance tracks. Artists such as Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and James all had a life before Madchester, but gradually came to represent the so-called “baggy” scene, even if that was a media and record-company hyped one.

Whilst getting lumped under the Madchester label, The Charlatans actually hailed from Birmingham. The Only One I Know was only the band’s second single, but at the height of the baggy phenomenon gave them a top 10 success, something they were unable to repeat until the height of Britpop in the mid-90s. Underpinned by the classic funky shuffling beat, propelled by an insistent bass riff, wah-wah guitars and overlaid with that distinctive organ sound, this song is a classic of its time – of any time – guaranteed to fill the floor at the Indie disco.

So baggy on the ukuele? Well why not (SUJ are currently working on Primal Scream’s Moving On Up, another classic of the time, and I think it will work). This is a song that definitely needs you to get into that groove – it’s all about the rhythm – and that’s best done by playing along to the original (above) – the song sheet is in the same key. Other than that there’s not a lot to say. Just enjoy!

 


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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!