Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Take A Chance With Me – Roxy Music

TakeAChanceWithMeWe’ve already had one Roxy Music song on here from the very beginning of their career (Virginia Plain). Now here’s another, right from the every end of their career. In fact these two songs act as bookends (their first and last singles) for a remarkable band who underwent a significant musical transformation in their career.

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At first listen, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that these are the same bands. Starting off as a unique combination of avant-garde and retro-pop, Roxy gradually acquired mainstream success and acceptance in the mid-1970s with songs like Love is the Drug, before re-emerging at the end of the decade after a brief hiatus with a smoother, more sophisticated sound, something that reached its peak/nadir (dependent on your point of view) in the commercially and critically successful final album Avalon. I’m firmly in the camp that believes that loves the latter-day Roxy – sure, it is different to what they started out as, but Avalon in particular is just a gorgeous album, rich and romantic songs cloaked in beautifully sculptured soundscapes.

Buried away in the middle of side 2 (in old money) is this, their final single. It wasn’t particularly successful in commercial terms (peaking at 26 in the UK singles chart) but it does showcase the whole vibe of Avalon, one of those albums best consumed as a whole, with a consistent dreamy sound and style all of its own. I’d never have really considered this as a song for ukulele (that sophisticated sound is not something that you regularly associated with the humble uke) but hearing it the other day it struck me that underneath that lush production is a simple and effective song. And I do believe that is the case.

There’s nothing very difficult here. I’ve ignored the long intro of the original, although I have tried to tab something that vaguely resembles the guitar riff at the beginning and after the choruses – you can choose to ignore that if you wish. And there’s a G to G/F# run down after each line of the chorus that you can also choose to ignore. Whatever you do, though, enjoy!

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Virginia Plain – Roxy Music

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roxymusicVirginia Plain was a bolt from the blue when Roxy Music first appeared on Top Of The Pops. The Great British public had never seen or heard its like before. Coming over like a hugely glamorous and alien cross between the 1950s and science fiction, this was a look and sound designed to blast away the dour mood of 1970s Britain. Structurally it was not your typical pop-fare either, a chorus free song (about who-knows-what!) awash with Brian Eno’s synthesisers, an improvised guitar solo from Phil Manzanera, the strains of Andy Mackay’s oboe and sax, and topped by the knowing, mannered vocals of Bryan Ferry. This was art-school pop at it’s finest. And this was a debut single, which reached number 4 in the UK charts.

In some ways Roxy never bettered this, although their career arc was never less than fascinating. An avant-garde first album, a sound consolidated and perfected on the second, a collection of three more solid (and more mainstream) albums following Eno‘s departure, a career break and then a return with an increasingly sophisticated sound that peaked with their final album, Avalon. Hugely influential, particularly on the post-punk / new-pop sounds the late 70s and early 80s, Roxy Music have carved out a very definite place in the history of popular music.  Oh, and did I mention those album covers?!

So a ukulele version? Really?! Well why not. The song sheet has been to a large part inspired by this version by The Re-Entrants, which I think is great. There are two song sheets, one with just chords (which should be reasonably self-explanatory), and one including tab for the opening and bridge riffs, and for the solos. I don’t vouch for the total accuracy of these (in particular the descending chords at the end of the solo) but they sound OK (note that I’ve taken the song up a key to make it easier to play). Anyway, have a bash and amend as you see fit. Enjoy!

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Love Is The Drug – Roxy Music / Bryan Ferry Orchestra

LoveIsTheDrug

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I came to Roxy Music the wrong way round. My first conscious exposure was via. the Summer of ’79 singles (Angel Eyes, Dance Away), and the first recording I owned was the Flesh + Blood album (Christmas present, 1980). I worked back to Manifesto (second-hand record shop in Kingston Road, Portsmouth) and then forward to 1982’s Avalon (a truly gorgeous record).

But the early Roxy years were something I was blithely unaware of until I picked up a copy of For Your Pleasure in another Portsmouth second-hand record shop. I don’t know what I was expecting. But it wasn’t that!  From the bold statement of intent that is Do The Strand, through the totally rocking Editions of You (the guitar riff is my ring tone!) to the weird and somewhat unsettling In Every Dream Home A Heartache, this was a long way from the smooth Roxy of the early 80s. And the inside of that gatefold sleeve – who were these people? (the outside was pretty memorable as well)

That record grew on me, and remains probably my favourite of all of theirs. Subsequently I delved back into their past and discovered the even more “out there” sounds of the eponymous debut album (that must have sounded like aliens discovering rock and roll in 1972), and then followed the development of the Roxy sound from those adventurous beginnings to the cultured conclusions, and it kind of make sense.

Siren is the album that sits at the end of Roxy Phase 1, and for me sounds like the cross-roads between that early ground-breaking sound, and the later more mature work. Love Is The Drug is the opening track, and the lead-off single, and is rightly regarded as a classic. From the opening sounds of a footsteps and revving car, the song is a tight, concise construction, powered along by a classic bass line that Nile Rodgers of Chic claims was a big influence on their song “Good Times“. In fact the song itself has a loose disco feel to it that was probably instrumental in making it the world-wide hit it was (it was the band’s biggest hit in the US, who never really “got” the earliest incarnation of the band). It was probably Grace Jones who best demonstrated this in her cover version.

In 2012, Bryan Ferry surprised many by releasing “The Jazz Age“. An instrumental collection of Roxy Music songs recorded in the style of a 1920s Jazz band, some of the songs were almost unrecognisable, and some were hugely different in style and tone (Avalon being the most obvious example). Love Is The Drug was included on that album, and whilst a relatively faithful working of the original, it brings to the song a swing where the original was a strut. Better? Probably not. Good? Definitely.

So here are the chords to the song. It works for both versions – the straight-ahead original, or the swinging Jazz version. Personally, I think the ukulele suits the jazz version better, and that’s how I tend to play it. But hey! It’s a free world, and it’s your choice. Just enjoy!

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