Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Synthpop and New Romantics

Anybody who has had more than a cursory glance over the pages of this blog will realise that, though strictly speaking a child of the 1970s, my formative musical years were the early 80s. I’ve written elsewhere about how that was such a fertile time musically, about how there was just so much variety, and so much exciting new stuff both in the charts and in more obscure corners. And so it should come as no surprise that this songbook has finally found its way out there.

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A couple of musical threads which overlapped during that period were the rise of electronic music, particularly the more commercial brand that came to be referred to as synthpop, and the New Romantic movement. The latter grew initially out of the legendary Blitz club in London and, whilst borrowing from the anybody-can-do-it mindset that punk had unleashed a few years earlier, was in many ways a reaction to the often dour and black-and-white world that it had created. New Romantics were characterised by flamboyant, extravagant costumes and make-up, adopted a far more hedonistic lifestyle, and their music was all colour and drama. Whilst a relatively short-lived phenomenon, it gave a platform for a series of colourful characters (Boy George, Steve Strange, Marilyn), provided an lightning rod and incubator for a number of subsequently hugely successful bands (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet) and lent its sheen to a number of other artists who were on its periphery (not least of which was Adam Ant, who re-imagined himself in increasingly more glamorous and eccentric forms).

At the same time, the availability of cheaper electronic instruments created its own revolution, often inspired by true trailblazers such as Kraftwerk. The Human League were early out of the blocks, but initially had their thunder stolen by the upstart Gary Numan. But by 1980/81, you couldn’t move for electonic bands who were attempting to bring the left-field, subversive sounds that electronic music had originally rallied around into the charts. Bands like Depeche Mode, OMD, Soft Cell, Eurythmics, Yazoo, Tears for Fears, and many others rode on that wave. Often derided at the time, in a similar way to the way punk had been, for being talentless, one-finger keyboard operators, these artists often smuggled cutting edge contemporary themes into their songs and presentation.

On the surface, these songs and this genre are a thousand miles away from the world of ukulele. The sheer glamour of the New Romantics is not something that ukulele are renowned for. And the artificial, electronic sounds are not exactly what you associate ukulele with. But as has been proved in previous posts, and in a variety of ukulele groups around the country, these songs can actually translate quite well. Part of that comes down to the relatively straightforward nature of the songs, and the fact that – despite their origins – these are often classic, singalong songs. So I present you 30 songs that – to my mind, at least – are all classics of their kind, and translate really well to the humble ukulele. Give them a try, and enjoy!

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:


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See You – Depeche Mode

Another 80s throwback, And another gig-inspired post. Although to be fair, it wasn’t as a result of seeing Basildon’s finest – I’m not expecting them anywhere near Southampton any time soon.

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No, last weekend I went to see Heaven 17 (second time in 6 months). It was a great gig, and maybe one day the Sheffield band that resulted from the fallout of the original The Human League may have their own post here. But the gig was preceded by a couple of DJs playing a great selection of early synthpop. And one of those was this often overlooked early single from Depeche Mode.

See You was actually quite a significant song for the band, marking as it did their first single since the departure of previous main songwriter Vince Clarke (who has had generous coverage on this site already). Clarke was the author of the bands first three singles (Dreaming of Me, New Life, Just Can’t Get Enough) but left the band towards the end of 1981, citing his unhappiness with the bands direction, with playing live and the toll that being a pop star was taking. Clarke went on to form the short-lived but highly influential Yazoo, before finding a long-term home with Andy Bell as Erasure,

So with Clarke gone, the band suddenly found itself needing to find both a new band member, and a new songwriter. Alan Wilder was found to do the former, and the songwriting duties were picked up by keyboard player and backing singer Martin Gore, who had been responsible for the couple of non-Vince Clarke songs on the band’s debut record, Speak and Spell. Any trepidation the band may have been feeling was soon set aside when See You peaked at a higher position in the charts (number 6) than any of the band’s previous songs.

So here we are with another synthpop song translated for the uke. It’s all relatively straightforward, and not a great deal to say on that front. I’ve also transcribed some of the various synth riffs, including the instrumental solo, should you want to embellish the song with those. Enjoy!


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Give Stupidity A Chance – Pet Shop Boys

This song is so new, and so topical, that I wanted to get it out there before it goes of the boil. My fervent wish is that in 6 months time this is just seen as a historical aberration, something we look back on with a smile and say “Do you remember when…”. My fear and gut-feel is that won’t be the case, and that this will remain relevant for some time to come. I’m just going to let the lyrics do the talking.

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Intelligent people have had their say
It’s time for the foolish to show the way
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

We’ve heard quite enough  of experts and their dealings
Why face the facts when you can just feel the feelings?
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

Forget political correctness
I mean WTF?!
I don’t wanna think about the world
I wanna talk about myself!

Instead of governing with thoughtful sensitivity
Let’s shock and awe the world with idiotic bigotry
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance

You say corruption, I say justified reward
Keeps the cronies loyal, chairmen of the board
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance

Forget political correctness
Let’s talk man to man
Chicks are always up for it
You gotta grab whatever you can

We need a leader who knows that money means class
with an eye for a peach-perfect piece of ass
Not a total dumb-cluck just one of the guys
Let’s give stupidity a prize
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

Maybe not the best ever Pet Shop Boys song, but at this time songs like this need to exist and be out there. Sing it loud!


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Pete Shelley

In memory of Pete Shelley. Founder member, lead singer, key songwriter and singer with the Buzzcocks. Subsequent solo artist and electronic music pioneer.

Here are two songs reflecting those two periods of Shelley’s creativity. From Buzzcocks comes the 1979 single, You Say You Don’t Love Me – a classic Buzzcocks 3 minute song of unrequited love. And from his solo career, the debut solo single Homosapien, banned by the BBC but a classic combination of acoustics and electronics.

<You Say You Don’t Love Me>      <Homosapien>


       


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Souvenir – OMD

This blog has had its fair share of OMD songs, its true. But personally I’m a sucker for their music – as I’ve blogged earlier I love the way that these little synthpop riffs translate to the uke.

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And if a song were ever to be defined by its riff, this has to be one of those. Coming from their left-field, avant-garde electronic roots (beyond the singles, there is lots of weirdness across their back-catalogue, at least until the career jolt that was Dazzle Ships), Souvenir could be perceived as something of a sell-out – a lush, romantic ballad, voiced by the softer tones of Paul Humphries, a sure-fire attempt to make a huge hit. And in many ways it is those things – certainly it became one of their biggest selling singles, and most recognised recordings. Yet this is a far-from-standard hit-single – just two verses, no chorus to speak of (the riff performs that function, an approach that their previous hit, the class Enola Gay, had also done), an opening 10-seconds of just sampled choral sounds (there’s an interesting piece here on how that was achieved).

But for all that, it is a beautiful piece of music that revealed a softer side of these machine loving pioneers (previous songs having paid homage to telephone boxes, nuclear bombs and electricity), and which will immediately make those of a certain age go all wistful, transported back to another time and another place.

So here is the songsheet. The song itself is simple and straightforward – two verses, three chords, and then it’s gone. I’ve tabbed all of the riffs as best I can – they’re all variations on a similar theme, with some subtle variances throughout the song – and tried to indicate where the various sections fall. I’ve also transposed the song down a semi-tone (from F# to F) just to simplify the playing – capo 1 to play along with the original. Enjoy!