Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


Leave a comment

1979

<songbook>

In his book “1971 – Never A Dull Moment”, the music journalist and writer David Hepworth makes the case for that year being “the most febrile and creative time in the entire history of popular music”, rock music’s Annus Mirabilis. And whilst he may very well have a point (any year that included the release of Tapestry, Led Zepplin IV, Sticky Fingers, Every Picture Tells A Story, Blue, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, and Hunky Dory has to have something going for it), I’m here to make the argument that – even as founder of Q magazine and Smash Hits, writer for the NME and Sounds, presenter of The Old Grey Whistle Test, and anchor for Live Aid – he may very well have got this one wrong. For I’m here to make the incontrovertible claim that this accolade actually belongs to the other end of that turbulent decade. Yes, it is 1979, for sure, that must go down as the most satisfyingly disparate smorgasbord of rock and pop, the richest collision of sounds and influences, the time when anything was possible, when the rule book was well and truly trashed, when the foundations of whole future genres were being laid.

Now I’m going to lay all my cards on the table here upfront. In 1979 I was 14, and it is widely recognised that is an age where music has the biggest impact on your life. In fact, in a recent pseudo-scientific study carried out by the New York Times using Spotify listening habits, it concluded that the peak influence on listening habits is between the ages of 13 and 16, with men’s favourite song being released – on average – when they are 14 (for women it is 13). So clearly I’m less than objective on this one. But this is my party, and I’m not going to let any scientific evidence get in the way of a good story.

Admittedly in the outside world the claims for 1979 being a classic year feel somewhat wide of the mark. You’d think that a year that started with the country slowly grinding to an ignominious halt as the Winter of Discontent stretched on and on, rubbish stacking up on every street corner, bodies going unburied, with continued comparisons of the UK to third-world nations, could only get better. Yet the fall-out from those events saw one of the most divisive prime-ministers of all time enter Downing Street, somewhat ironically quoting the unifying words St Francis of Assisi, sending prices and unemployment spiralling, making changes to the country that it is still reeling from 40 years later. Alongside the continuing Irish “troubles”, the tension was palpable, the country was perched on a knife-edge. And yet maybe it was just this kind of background that provided the catalyst for what was to come in musical terms.

It’s probably true that the foundations were being laid throughout the years that preceded it. Disco had emerged from the underground gay clubs of New York in the early 1970s to become a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon by the end of the decade. The pub rock scene of the mid-1970s had collided with an art-school mind-set; been ignited by a huge sense of dissatisfaction with the escapist, irrelevant sounds of prog, soft rock and pop-pap; mixed in a healthy dose of boredom and disillusionment with a world of bleak inner cities, zero prospects, and the continued threat of nuclear annihilation; and in parallel with a nascent scene out of New York, had spawned the lightning bolt that was punk. Initial avant-garde experimentation with electronic sound creation had been channelled across Europe into more accessible forms by bands such as Kraftwerk, and was starting to bleed into the mainstream, thanks in no small parts to the attentions of that chameleon scene-setter, David Bowie. And the influx of migrants from Jamaica, the so-called Windrush generation, had brought with it the mutant rhythm and blues that had evolved into ska, reggae and rocksteady, sounds that were at once both exotic and familiar. Even that stalwart of unchangeability, hard rock, was being inspired by the energy and aggression of punk to evolve, including the tougher, leaner New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.

Out of this melting pot of influences emerged the shining beacon of popular music that was 1979. Admittedly it started somewhat inauspiciously. The number 1 single in the UK at the beginning of the year? Yes, that was YMCA by The Village People. Beloved of office parties and wedding discos ever since, it wasn’t exactly a beacon of quality, credibility and originality. The best-selling album during January? Well that will be Showaddywaddy’s Greatest Hits, re-hashed, watered down and popped-up rock and roll nostalgia. So does the case breakdown before it’s even had a chance to be heard? Certainly not.

Look behind the headlines, and you’ll see the signs were there. January saw the release of two albums of classic (what was to become) new wave singer-songwriters – Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces (which would spawn Oliver’s Army amongst others) and Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp! (likewise giving us Is She Really Going Out With Him?). Taking the energy, rawness and urgency of punk, but marrying it to more complex song structures, more literate and varied lyrical themes, and more diverse and original musical arrangements, these artists were there to move punk in new directions, to stretch it, grow it, evolve it and take it to new places. Clearly children of the punk ethos, they weren’t constrained by what had become for some a formulaic, rule-bound approach that was the antithesis of the spirit of punk.

Others were continuing a similar journey. Buzzcocks, The Undertones, The Jam and The Clash were all maturing their sounds – still driven by that original punk spirit, but marrying it to classic pop formats, sixties mod stylings, and classic rock themes. And from across the Atlantic one of the seminal punk-inspired pop/new wave bands, Blondie, horrified many by “going disco” with Heart of Glass. Yet it was this transforming spirit, this desire to meld disparate sounds and not to be constrained by the ghetto that many felt punk had become, that sparked new directions, new sounds and new careers.

Bands were also emerging under the banner of what would – only retrospectively – come to be described as post-punk; bands who stretched things even further. Definitely inspired by the spirit of punk, if not so obviously by its sounds, the likes of XTC and The Cure in the UK, and Talking Heads in the US, were pushing the boundaries. Angular, spiky, abrasive music that was born of a singular vision, this explosion of imagination was to take music in myriad directions – Talking Heads marrying their art-rock abstractness to African-inspired polyrhythmic sounds, The Cure almost inventing a new genre (Goth) alongside the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus (who’s awesome debut single, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, was like nothing anybody had ever heard in 1979). And then there was Joy Division. Inspired by a Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, the band’s classic debut, Unknown Pleasures, was the archetypal post-punk record, inspiring generations to come, and the source of continuing t-shirt sales with *that* cover!

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as some are want to characterise those bands. Disco was in its heyday, and was everywhere. In fact it’s sheer ever-present-ness, and maybe also it’s ever-so-blatantly in-your-face non-macho-ness, led rise to the “Disco Sucks” movement in the US, a backlash that saw disco records being ceremoniously blown-up at a baseball game. Yet 1979 saw more classic disco songs that have outlived all their critics and continue to flourish on dance-floors across the world. Lost In Music, Good Times, Boogie Wonderland, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, I Will Survive, Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. Disco may not get the critical plaudits that white rock bands get, yet it changed the musical landscape forever, and most importantly has brought – and continues to bring – untold joy to millions.

In a very different way, the desire to dance was at the heart of another musical break-out during 1979. Marrying the energy and spirit of punk with infectious rhythms inspired by Jamaican ska music, the Two-Tone movement combined this with a sharp look and an up-front, in-yer-face multiculturalism and political awareness that was born of the inner-city. The Specials, Madness, The Beat, Selecter and others emerged in the year as flag-bearers for this new sound which was embraced in particular by the young across the country.

1979 was also the year that electronic music went over-ground. Inspired by the mid-70s albums of German band Kraftwerk, and the relative affordability of the basic instruments, a number of bands were experimenting with all-electronic formats. The early Human League were the critics darlings in this respect, and so when Gary Numan beat them to it and scored two number ones, firstly with his band Tubeway Army, and then solo, he was seen as something of a pretender, an upstart who wasn’t deserving of the privilege. Yet history and career longevity has shown Numan as a genuine innovator and talent. But those electronic sounds were bursting out all over during 1979, from OMD’s debut, Electricity, to the revitalised US mavericks Sparks, whose collaboration with legendary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder gave them with multiple hits. Even the Trevor Horn-led geek-band The Buggles were able to have a huge hit with the iconic Video Killed The Radio Star.

It wasn’t all just about the new kids on the block, though. Many established bands were at a commercial peak during 1979. A re-launched Roxy Music returned with Manifesto, a somewhat smoother version of their original sound, but one which was a clear continuation of their journey. Fleetwood Mac followed the enormous Rumours with Tusk – a less consistent record that still had some gorgeous peaks. Electric Light Orchestra followed the massive Out Of The Blue with the equally massive, hit spawning Discovery. Abba dominated the singles charts with multiple cuts from Voulez-Vous. And Pink Floyd finally gave in and released a single … and it was huge! Another Brick In The Wall, along with the haunting Gerald Scarfe video, was a somewhat unlikely and chilling Christmas number one. Prog-meets-confessional-singer-songwriter Kate Bush hit again with the stunning Wow (alongside the only full-scale tour of her career). Even heavy rock was propping up the top of the charts with the likes of Rainbow’s riff-tastic Since You’ve Been Gone.

So was this the best year ever? Clearly there is no objective way to answer that question. And that’s the great thing about those kind of questions – the fun is in the arguments, not in the answer. On a purely personal level the songs in this book represent a wonderfully diverse selection of totally classic songs that have – without exception – stood the test of time and, for the most part (certainly in my mind, at least) established themselves as bona fide classics. Whether you agree or not is not really the point. But I hope that you’ll concede that there was definitely something in the musical waters at the end of the decade that taste forgot.

Here is the songbook with all the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with links to each of the individual song sheets:

Advertisements


1 Comment

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.

<songsheet>

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!


Leave a comment

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.

<songsheet>

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!

pdf-icon


1 Comment

Virginia Plain – Roxy Music

<chords> <chords & tab>

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!

<chords> <chords & tab>


1 Comment

Love Is The Drug – Roxy Music / Bryan Ferry Orchestra

LoveIsTheDrug

<song sheet>

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!

pdf-icon