Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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The Great Dominions – The Teardrop Explodes

WilderIt’s been a little while since there’s been some Julian Cope magic on here, so it’s about time that was rectified.

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As with a previous post, this one takes us back to their second (and final) album, 1981’s Wilder. Their first album, the previous year’s Kilimanjaro, had a classic post-punk, 60s-garage-band-inspired, psychedelic-influenced scratchy sound, but was also strong on melody, tunes, and threw in a bit of brass to give it a real kick. Wilder, on the other hand, was an altogether more colourful, eclectic, experimental collection, and clearly one where the drug influences (Cope and the band were on a real long rock-and-roll bender by this time) shine through. From the sunshine-pop of Passionate Friend (all ba-ba-bas and horns) to the clipped funkiness of The Culture Bunker and the psychedelic wanderings of Like Leila Khaled Said, this is a more varied and rambling album than its predecessor, and one which – from my perspective – is all the richer because of that.

The Great Dominions is one of a clutch of slower songs on the album (Tiny Children and …and the fighting takes over being the others) that – in my mind – turn this into a classic. I haven’t a clue what it’s all about – I’m not really sure that Julian had much of an idea either, given the amount of drugs he was consuming at the time (“I’m still stuck in this pickle jar on a paper carpet” anyone?!) – but for all that it is a beautiful and touching hymn that suggests a yearning for lost innocence.

I couldn’t find any chords anywhere for this lovely song, so I’m hoping that what I’ve transcribed works OK. Personally I think it transfers well to the ukulele, but then I would. Nothing tricksy here – it’s just a continuing D / C / G chord loop – and the tune is almost nursery-rhyme like in its simplicity and innocence. Enjoy!

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Tiny Children – The Teardrop Explodes

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So here’s the first in a double-bill of Julian Cope ballads (lucky you!).

Julian is largely remembered, if he is remembered at all, in the guise of the leather flying jacketed (oh, how I wanted one of those jacket!) star of The Teardrop Explodes, performing Reward on Top Of The Pops. Something of a staple of early-80s compilations, the blast of sheer energy that song exudes has never waned, and has rightly become something of an alternative classic.

But one of the reasons (other than the obvious one of copious amounts of drugs) that the Teardrops didn’t become top 40 mainstays was that Julain was never really one for the obvious. In fact he was really one for the downright weird, strange and eccentric. Those eccentricities became more obvious in his solo career (more of which in the next post). But they were certainly there below the commercial underbelly of his early ’80s hits. One of the b-sides of Tiny Children was a 9 minute live version of their debut single, Sleeping Gas, which demonstrates perfectly how off-the-wall Cope could go.

That eccentricity didn’t just manifest itself in weird psychedelic wig-outs. Another consistent trend has been for simple, naive, nursery-rhyme-like songs that provide a space for breath amongst the surrounding weirdness. These songs didn’t usually crop-up as singles, but Tiny Children was the one exception (unsurprisingly it didn’t really bother the shiny-pop absorbed charts of the summer of 1982). Consisting of nothing but Julian’s little-boy voice set against a single-finger synth riff, this is a truly haunting and beautiful song. A song I have loved since I first heard it as part of the band’s desperately under-rated second album, Wilder.

So sing this on a ukulele? Well yes, actually. I think it works rather wonderfully. Not an obvious choice, I’ll grant you. And not one that all your friends are likely to instantly respond to in nostalgic recognition. But it works, all the same. In some ways similar to the blissed-out, trance-like vibe of  the last post (Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio), I find this best sung to a gentle repetitve strum pattern of d-du-udu (see pattern 2 here). Enjoy!

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