Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – Stevie Wonder

stevie_wonder-you_are_the_sunshine_of_my_life_s_1Songs don’t come a whole lot more classic than this one. Yet I struggled to find a decent uke-friendly chord sheet for it, and so hopefully here is one.

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You Are The Sunshine Of My Life comes from Wonder’s purple patch during the 1970s. Having grown up as Motown’s boy wonder during the 1960s, the 1970s saw him reach an extended creative peak with albums such as Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life, spawning solid-gold classic songs such as Superstition, Living For The City, Isn’t She Lovely, Sir Duke, and this. In terms of creativity and breaking new ground Wonder was arguably up there with the likes of David Bowie in the way he extended the possibilities of what was possible, becoming a critical success whilst still establishing a commercially successful career.

You Are The Sunshine Of My life won a Grammy in 1973, topped the charts in the US, and was nominated for both record and song of the year.

So here’s the songsheet. For such an apparently simple song there’s quite a lot of chords, but there’s nothing too tricky and they’re worth persevering with because its those that give the song its distinctive loveliness (the lovely Em7 to Gdim change is a particular favourite of mine). I did have a go at transcribing the intro from the original but it didn’t really work out too well, so I just stuck with the first two lines of the verse. Strumming pattern needs to have a bit of a swing / edge to it, but get that feel from the original.

Enjoy!

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Down In The Subway / What! – Soft Cell

R-490877-1235309593.jpegR-116294-1241539463.jpegBy 1984 Soft Cell were imploding in a cocktail of drugs, sex, fame and general debauchery. It had been a steep, messy and rapid decline from the heights they had achieved with the massive success of Tainted Love 3 years earlier. It was an arc that can be traced through the titles of the three albums they released during that period – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, The Art Of Falling Apart, and This Last Night In Sodom.

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To the mass consciousness, Soft Cell are Tainted Love, Tainted Love is Soft Cell, and that’s all there is too
it. Clearly things were far more complex than that, and at their heart there was always a tension between their pop sensibilities and their more outré tendancies. But throughout their career, one influence that they kept coming back to was Marc Almonds passion for Northern Soul. Northern Soul was a dance movement that emerged in the north of England in the late 1960s, that focused on black American soul music with a heavy, four-to-the-floor beat and fast tempo, strongly influenced by the sound of Tamla Motown. And the more obscure the record the better.

Tainted Love, Soft Cell’s huge breakthrough hit, was a cover of a a 1964 original by Gloria Jones (and was backed with a cover of the Motown hit Where Did Our Love Go, famoulsy segued together on the 12″ version). And they returned to that format a number of times throughout their career. In 1982 their cover of “What”, originally a 1968 recording by Judy Street, climbed to the top 5. And their final single before their dissolution, 1984s Down In The Subway, was a cover of a 1968 original by Jack Hammer.

So two song sheets for the price of one today. Down In The Subway is a pretty straightforward song – three chords, and a lot of attitude. What! is a little more complex – the rhythm is one that needs a little practice and experimentation to get right. I’ve tried to transcribe the sound as close to the Soft Cell version, including the extended outro. I’ve also included some tab to cover some of the riffs, and the solo section in the middle.

Enjoy!

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Your Love Is King – Sade

Sade+Your+Love+Is+King+18700It’s becoming a bit of an 80s-fest on here lately, isn’t it. Apologies for that, but as I’ve said before that was my time, and there was some darned good music around at the time. Not always those day-glo caricatures of the decade, but songs of real class and quality. This song definitely fits that description.

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Sade were/are both a person and a band – Helen Folasade Adu, otherwise known as Sade Adu, and the band that she leads. Originally a fashion designer, and spending a brief time as a model, Sade formed the band in 1983. The following year their debut album, Diamond Life, was released and became a global phenomenon, selling 6 million copies, the best-selling debut by a female vocalists. Unfortunately it got a reputation as a somewhat vapid yuppie dinner-party soundtrack to the decade, but if you put those associations aside you’ll find inside a genuinely classy record.

Your Love Is King was the lead single that announced the band, and remains their most successful song. Typifying the sound that she came to make her own, the smooth grooves, soulful sax and honey-rich vocals could appear formulaic, but for me (and clearly for many others) that was part of the appeal. And don’t let that smooth sound lull you into thinking that these songs are without depth – Sade shows a real heart for the downtrodden and broken-hearted that might have upset those self-congratulatory dinner parties if anybody was really listening.

So here’s the song sheet. There’s some lovely major 7th chords in there (you can’t go wrong with those!), but essentially it hits a groove and sticks there. Getting that groove might be a little challenging on the little uke, but it’s worth playing along with the original to get that feel. Alternatively I’ve been picking this, and I think that gives quite a nice feel to it. I’ve had a go at recording what this sounds like – you can listen below. Enjoy!

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Walk On By

WalkOnBySongs don’t come more classic than this. If you judge the quality of a song by the number of times its been covered (and by the diversity of those covers) then this has to be up there with the best of them. Variously covered by as eclectic a collection as Isaac Hayes, The Stranglers, Average White Band and Diana Krall, it is still the peerless original version by Dionne Warwick that stands over them all.

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Warwick had a particularly strong relationship with the Bacharach and David songwriting team, much of whose work was written for her. Over a 20-year period Warwick charted 38 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach and David, including Don’t Make Me Over, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Alfie, I Say A Little Prayer, Do You Know The Way To San Jose, and many, many more. It’s hard, if not impossible, to pull any one song out from that list, but if there was one song that exemplifies that relationship, Walk On By has to be a strong contender.

So here’s the song sheet. As with many Bacharach / David songs, this is never as straightforward as it might at first appear. In this case, the rhythm and timing is what tends to require a bit of focus / attention (if my experience is anything to go by). Your best bet will tend to be listening to the original, and getting the feel from that. Of course, if you want a punk feel (The Stranglers) or a funky/disco feel (Average White Band) listen to those versions as well.

Enjoy!

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Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You've GotTo my shame, this is a song that I wasn’t even consciously aware of until about a month ago. I first came across via. Massive Attack’s cover on their Blue Lines album, and whilst checking that out online for the chords came across this – the original – on YouTube, and was hooked. The hypnotic trance-like groove just sucks you in and suddenly you’re in another world where the concept of time dissappears – I could (and have) listened to this over and over again.

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Despite the song being huge in the US (it was only a minor hit here in the UK) William DeVaughn, who wrote and sung the song (it’s often mistakenly credited to Curtis Mayfield) wasn’t able to capitalise on its success, despite a first-rate album to accompany the song. That may have had something to do with his preaching and admonishing of the audience during gigs (DeVaughn was a Jehovah’s Witness when the song was written), and eventually he walked away from the music business, with occassical sporadic re-appearances.

None of that, however, detracts from the quality of *this* song. Recorded with the legendary MFSB, responsible for the Philly sound that was the foundation of the success of the likes of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, and The Stylistics, the song is essentially one long laid-back groove, over which DeVaughn’s silky vocal intones a (preobably religiously influenced) paean that acknowledges that, despite what you don’t have, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

So this on the ukulele. Hell, why not! It’s only two chords, after all. It *is* about the groove, and that’s not easy to teach, let alone describe. Listen to the song, particularly where it’s in instrumental mode, you can clearly hear the guitar chopping away, just put it on a loop and play along – over time you’ll get it. Despite the fact that it’s only two chords, those are best played – as indicated on the sheet – as barre chords on the 9th and 7th frets. That way you can really get that choppy rhythm working. I’ve also included a brief little riff that you can play over those chords as well. Again, listen to the original and you’ll work it out. This one is all about feel.

Enjoy!

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Bright Side Of The Road – Van Morrison

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To the average punter in the street the name Van Morrison, if it means anything, means Brown Eyed Girl. For some reason (possibly because he has never earned any royalties for it) that song seems to have permeated the consciousness of the compilation-buying public at large to an extraordinary degree (see these last.fm playcount stats as an example). Whilst it is a great song, it seems a shame that one song kind-of hides for many people the far richer, ground-breaker and soulful sounds that Van has made throughout the rest of his career.

Born Gorge Ivan Morrison, Van’s music has always been grounded against a backdrop of jazz, gospel, blues, and folk, always imbued with a deep celtic spirituality that taps into his Northern Irish roots. Originally coming to prominence as part of the R&B band Them in the mid-1960s (seen here performing the classic Gloria) his solo career has – sometimes unfairly – always been measured against the high-water mark that was the follow-up to Brown Eyed Girl – the “mystical song cycle” that is the Astral Weeks album, an album regularly cited in top-album-ever polls. Following that up with the more accessible Moondance, Van produced a fine stream of recordings throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Whilst notoriously inconsistent in concert, and harsh on under-performing band members, the live albums that he has produced (particularly 1973’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now) show a man fully in control of his art, stretching and improvising, rising and falling, tight and loose at the same time.

Whilst some of my favourites are the stretch-out, blissed out tracks such as Summertime In England, Bright Side Of The Road holds a special place in my heart. It was the first track on the first Van Morrison album I ever bought (1979’s Into The Music, second-hand from Ross Records in Portsmouth). Full of sunny, bouncy optimism, this is a song that can’t help but put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Driven along by Van’s harmonica introduction and interludes, on a foundation of light and airy piano, punctured by a brass section that includes Pee Wee Ellis from James Brown’s 1960s band, interlaced with some lovely violin lines, and topped off with the lovely contrast of Van’s growling lead vocal and the gorgeous tones of Katie Kissoon’s backing vocals.

Trying to get all that into a ukulele version is probably unlikely, but here is the song sheet anyway! It’s pretty straightforward, and follows the recording in terms of verses, instrumentals, etc. Play with a bounce, and play with a smile. Enjoy!

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