Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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Heaven – Talking Heads

I had – very briefly – contemplated doing Talking Heads’ classic live album, Speaking In Tongues, as one of our album nights. Then I looked at it and tried it and realised that translating a number of those great, funky, single-chord songs into a mass ukulele sing-a-long was going to be pushing it somewhat. But that did get me back into that album, and ultimately led to this.


It’s fair to say that Heaven, a song that first appeared on their 1979 milestone, Fear of Music, doesn’t display a number of those classic Talking Heads tropes. There’s no funky poly-rhythms going on here. There’s no itchy guitar restlessness. This is quite a straight song, in Talking Heads terms. But look beyond that, and you’ll find at it’s heart a song that does touch in some recurring David Byrne themes. There’s plenty of existential angst going on here – this, after all, is a song that effectively ponders the dullness and banality of a perfect world, that – by implication – yearns for the messiness of real-life, and makes a strong argument that imperfection and mistakes are what makes humanity, and – this being a band with strong art-y leanings, makes great art. All of this delivered in a Byrne vocal – particularly in the live Stop Making Sense version – that increasingly reflects his desperation at the finding himself in a situation of stupefying mundanity.

There’s a great piece on the song here that expands on this.

And so here’s the song sheet. By Talking Heads standards this is a very conventional song, and has been described elsewhere as country rock. So no tricky rhythms to work through, no tricky chords, the only slightly awkward thing can be the timing of the lyrics – I’ve tried to provide some pointers to that in the song sheet. There are a few subtle transitions thrown in on some of the chord changes – I haven’t transcribed these, but if you listen to the original (either the studio or live version) you can fairly easy pick those out. Enjoy!


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Road To Nowhere – Update

I published a version of Talking Head’s Road To Nowhere on here a little while ago. Since then we’ve been practising the song at Southampton Ukulele Jam, and one of the problems was getting the timing for the opening section right (we are trying to do it unaccompanied).

Anyway, to try and help with that I created an updated version of the song sheet with musical notation for the opening section. It’s less to get the notes right, more to get the rhythm and timing right. It seemed to work, so here’s the updated song sheet.


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Road To Nowhere – Talking Heads


<song sheet> <song sheet with opening section tune>

Road to Nowhere is from the time when Talking Heads hit their commercial peak, at least in the UK. It’s arguable that in achieving this commercial success they lost some of the weirdness and edginess that made them such an interesting and oddball proposition previously. But for all that, this still isn’t your average straightforward three-minute pop song. Opening with an acapella gospel-choir-type introduction, before giving way to a martial drum rhythm and sounds that – to these ears – are influenced by Cajun and Zydeco (listen to that accordion!).

This arrangement begins with that unaccompanied introduction, although I’ve cheated slightly by adding in single stroke chords to keep me in tune! I tend to play it echoing that martial rhythm throughout the accompanied parts of the song.

There are quite a few ukulele versions out there (just search road to nowhere ukulele in YouTube) although I’m not sure how many I’d recommend. Anyway, give it a try and see how it goes. Enjoy!

[11/02/14 UPDATE : Having now tried this one out with Southampton Ukulele Jam, I’ve added an updated version of the song sheet that includes musical notation for the opening, unaccompanied verse. We’ve found this really helps in getting the timing for that bit right. Song sheet is here.]