Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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You Get What You Give – New Radicals

I’ve written a number of times before about what a great band New Radicals, and in particular frontman and songwriter Gregg Alexander, were. Both Ronan Keating (Life Is A Rollercoaster) and the soundtrack to the film Begin Again (Lost Stars) have been beneficiaries of his songwriting genius. But if anyone knows about Gregg, or New Radicals, it is because of this song.

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You Get What You Give was, at the time of it’s release, huge. It wasn’t a mega hit, but did pretty well. But it did feel like it was everywhere. And it is one of those songs that have lasted, in a way that a lot of what were potentially much bigger songs at the time haven’t. This song, and it’s parent album (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too) are enduring favourites of mine, and I really can’t fathom out why the rest of the songs from them haven’t been more widely appreciated – either at the time or since.

Alexander broke up the band the year after the success of You Get What You Give, citing his unhappiness with the demands of touring and promotion. And so the twelve songs that make up Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too remain the lasting legacy of a band that are – by the definition of the term – one-hit wonders, but whose title belies the collection of perfectly formed gems that sit behind that (admittedly wonderful) song.

And so to the songsheet. There’s a lot of words on this one, so unfortunately it stretches to two pages – I couldn’t really find a way of putting it on page that worked and was readable. Relatively simple chord-wise (that G5 is the only challenge, I think), it’s probably more the timing of it, and fitting the words in to the chords, that are the trickiest bits. But if you know the song as well as I do, that should be second nature. Enjoy!


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Plain Sailing – Tracey Thorn

Sometimes the songs I post on here come as a sudden inspiration. Sometimes they come as a result of a lot of hard thinking. And sometimes they come through a somewhat random series of connections. This is one of the latter.

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In a couple of months time I’m going to see Ben Watt play at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth. I’ve seen Ben a couple of times in recent years, and have really enjoyed both his shows and recent albums. It’s fair to say Ben’s music isn’t exactly edgy or raucous. But in my book it’s grown up music for grown ups, without being being boring, safe or retro.

Anyway, I was talking about this to a friend at Southampton Ukulele Jam, who was also consider going, and the conversation got onto Pillows and Prayers. Pillows and what, I hear you say! Well if you know, you know. And if you don’t, you don’t! Pillows and Prayers was a compilation album released in 1982 by the Cherry Red label as a sampler of acts on its books. Famously priced at 99p, it topped the independent album charts for months, and was became a touchstone in certain independent music circles at the time. For me, it was my introduction to artists such as The Monochrome Set, Felt and The Nightingales, as well a collection of tracks that circled around Everything But The Girl (this was before their first album had even been recorded). Ben Watt had a solo track on there, Everything But The Girl had a track, and so did that other half of both EBTG and Ben Watt), Tracey Thorn. In fact, Tracey had two songs – one with here pre-EBTG band, The Marine Girls. And one solo song. This one.

Plain Sailing was taken from Tracey Thorn’s solo debut album, A Distant Shore. It was a sparse record – just Tracey and her acoustic guitar, seven original songs and one cover (The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale). Apparently recorded for just £138, A Distant Shore was a welcome antidote to the big noise and melodrama that was the sound of the early 80s. This was stripped back, bedsit confessionals, and that was clearly what a section of the public wanted, as it made number one on the UK Indie album charts, and went on to sell 100,000 copies across Europe.

And so to the song sheet. This one is in 6/8 time (or 3/4 – I’m not very good at telling the difference!), and whilst at first glance it might seem to have an esoteric collection of chords (Major 7ths and 6s, mostly), they’re mostly unusual, not difficult. This one’s definitely a strummer (just get that D-DUDU rhythm going) and good to sing. Enjoy!


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Squeeze – Singles 45’s and Under

Squeeze are part of a long line of British observational songwriters/bands, taking their cure in particular from the likes of The Small Faces and The Kinks, with no small debt to The Beatles. Whilst never really making it big in the US, in the late 1970s and early 1980s they were constants in the UK charts, releasing classic single after classic single, the best of which were collected together onto a fabulous compilation album in 1982 called Singles – 45s and Under, released just after the band’s first split. It’s that collection (the UK version) that is contained in this songbook.

<Full Album Songbook>

At it’s heart, Squeeze songs were the product of a long-lasting (if sometimes fractious) songwriting partnership between Chris Difford (lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (music). Together with a band that included – for their first few albums – Jools Holland, Squeeze rode on the coat-tails of the late-70s New Wave scene, but were far more in the classic pop mould of their influences. Taking a particularly urban, British perspective, their songs were tightly observed vignettes of the life and characters that were part of their South London roots.

Whilst their first album, 1978’s self-titled debut, spawned a minor hit with Take Me I’m Yours, it was with 1979’s Cool For Cats that the band really broke through, scoring huge hits with the title track and Up The Junction, success that continued in the following year with Argybargy. 1981 brought arguably the bands masterpiece, the Elvis Costello-produced East Side Story, that saw the band’s sound broadening, exemplified by the country stylings of Labelled With Love (released at around the same time as Costello’s equally influenced single Good Year For The Roses). However, subsequent releases proved to be less successful, and increasing tension between Difford and Tilbrook, along with the stresses of touring, saw the band calling it a day in 1982.

This proved to be a temporary hiatus, however, and the band re-formed and extended in 1985, picking up where they left off with a series of albums that performed modestly, with the occasional breakout hit (Hourglass being the biggest). Splitting again in 1999, and then re-forming again in 2007, Squeeze continue as a fully-functioning band to this day, albeit in a somewhat more relaxed manner with the various members finding time for their own solo and side projects.

But for me, it is this collection of songs which really defining Squeeze. This is the ultimate collection of wonderful, witty, intelligent, concise songwriting that all aspiring songwriters should aspire to.

As to the songbook – well, you’ll notice that the songs get musically more sophisticated as they go on, but generally speaking these are *reasonably* straightforward songs that lend themselves well to both the ukulele and communal singing. There are one of two more challenging songs – Tempted, in particular – but nothing that won’t come with a little bit of practice. Enjoy!

<Full Album Songbook>


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It’s Christmas!!

…and it’s time to roll out all the usual Christmas tunes. There’s always something reassuring about those old chestnuts (roasting on an open fire), and it is that recurring familiarity that wraps us in a comfort blanket of sound and memories. But those old standards were new once – hard as it seems to imagine – and their all pervasiveness hinders equally classic, but much less well-known songs, from getting the attention they deserve. So this post is a my small attempt to put that right, as I present four Christmas songs that – in my book – *are* classics, and deserve far wider attention than they get.

<A Pretty Good Christmas>  <Christmas Day>  <I Wish It Was Christmas Today>  <Vegetarian Christmas>

 

Exhibit One. A Pretty Good Christmas, by The Disappointment Choir. I know *nothing* about this band, although I probably should investigate them further off the back of this absolutely gorgeous Christmas song. This falls into that slightly-miserable-but-ultimately-hopeful category of Christmas tunes. As I write this we’re awaiting the results of the UK 2019 General Election, and the words to this somehow chime relevant at the moment – “I don’t know what the first of the next year will bring / But it’s going to be a pretty good Christmas”.

<A Pretty Good Christmas>

 

Exhibit Two. Christmas Day, by Kasey Chambers. Kasey Chambers is an Australian country singer and songwriter who, over the period of 20 years has established a solid body of work. Chambers was raised a a Seventh Day Adventist, and although she hasn’t aligned herself with the church for a long time, she retains a strong spiritual belief, something that comes through in Christmas Day (from her 2014 album, Bittersweet) which picks up on the religious aspects of Christmas, and offers a telling of the Christmas story.

<Christmas Day>

 

Exhibit Three. I Wish It Was Christmas Today, by Julian Casablancas. Former lead man from The Strokes, I Wish It Was Christmas Today was originally a novelty item on the US variety show Saturday Night Live. But Casablancas amped it up, gave it a new wave work-over, and from that emerged this real banger. There is just *no* reason why this song shouldn’t be up there on the Christmas repeat list.

<I Wish It Was Christmas Today>

 

Exhibit Four. Vegetarian Christmas, by Feet. Bang up to date, Vegetarian Christmas was – as I write – only released a week ago. But in my book this deserves to become a regular fixture on Christmas playlists. I’ve actually seen Feet a couple of times this year, firstly supporting Lauren Hibberd, the second time headlining themselves. And they were fab! Intelligent guitar-driven indie in a vein not dissimilar to Sports Team, this is a band that is full of character, imagination and variety. Vegetarian Christmas extols the virtues of a meat-free diet with a surprisingly traditional, family-centric view of the season.

<Vegetarian Christmas>


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Tricks – Stella Donnelly

One of the best albums of 2019, and one of the best gigs I went to this year, were courtesy of this lovely lady from Australia (via. old South Wales).

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If you’re asking “Stella who?”, then do not hesitate, go check her out. She released her debut EP, the wonderfully titled Thrush Metal, back in 2017, a record that contained a song called Boys Will Be Boys, which made some noise (unlike the song itself) and got her noticed in certain quarters. Described by Stella as her “attempt at making sense of society’s tendency to blame the victims of sexual assault and rape and make excuses for the perpetrators”, it’s a hard hitting song that delivers its message through a heartfelt vocal and a rather pretty solo acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Included on her debut album, this year’s Beware Of The Dogs, that pattern continues. Musically these song’s aren’t a difficult listen – sometimes jangly indie pop/rock songs topped off with Donnelly’s not-quite perfect but always engaging vocals. But the lyrics are another story – smart, biting tales from the perspective of a young woman, it has been described as a “musical encyclopedia of male assholes”. Whether that be the aforementioned Boys Will Be Boys, badly behaved men accustomed to relying on their power to protect them from consequences (“Old Man”), or this wonderful song (“Tricks”), which takes aim at male stereotypes and their expectation of her. It is typical of her lyrical directness, and includes half-way through a rather wonderful rhyme-that-isn’t.

And so to the songsheet. Firstly don’t be put off by those big-and-scary sounding chords – C#m7b5 is actually as easy as an F, and sounds even better. Secondly, just strum along to the track and it should all come into place – this is quite a straightforward song, despite the unusual chords, and is a joy to sing along to. Enjoy!


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Keep On Loving You – REO Speedwagon

A quick one today, and one that completes a little trilogy of early 80s soft rock-ish classics (alongside recent posts from Lindsey Buckingham and Phil Collins).

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This one came through the unlikely route of a love songs compilation! For some reason, Sunday morning I was in the mood for a bunch of nostalgic 70s and 80s soft love songs (see, I do have a heart!). So I was trawling a bunch of Spotify playlists for songs that tickled that particular itch, and one of those that fell out of that process was this sing-along classic of the genre.

To be honest, I know next-to-nothing about REO Speedwagon, and don’t really have a strong desire to rectify that position. For me they represent a wholly anonymous brand of US rock bands from the era who were largely ignored here in the UK, save for the occasional signature song that somehow broke through. Bands like Foreigner, Styx and Journey – in my head – are part of this rather bland mush, but a mush from which the odd classic emerges. The term “Guilty Secrets” was coined for music like this, although I don’t like the term at all – there’s nothing to be guilty about in liking the music you like. I fully accept that my position in this regard is one of totally uninformed prejudice, so apologies if you disagree with my view. But time is too short, and there is too much other good music out there, for me to go exploring down this avenue.

But this song I love, and would happily belt out on a regular basis. The band actually had three top 20 hits here in the UK (the others being Take It On The Run, and Can’t Fight This Feeling), but this is the one they are remembered for, and rightly so. A fine example of it’s genre, I challenge anybody of a certain age hearing this not to sing-along, even if it’s just in your head. (N.B. The official video – below – has a slightly odd, and a little weird/disconcerting intro).

Here’s the songsheet. It’s a simple song, 4 chords, all easy ones. The only tip I’d give when playing is to make sure some of those chord changes are coming *just before* the beat / lyrics – that definitely gives it the feel of the original. Enjoy!


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Queen – Songbook

One thing that constantly surprises me is how different young people’s attitude to music is now, compared to how it was when I was younger (we’re talking late 70s/early 80s here). In my day (!) it was all about the latest thing – what was new, what was “in”, was what mattered. And music that was even 3 or 4 years old was considered ancient, passe, past it. Anything that was more than 10 years old we wouldn’t have given the time of day.

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I contrast that attitude with what I see from young people now, and whilst new music is still important, it’s mixed into a melting pot of music from across the generations. That is, I’m sure, something driven by an internet and streaming environment where (almost) every music ever made is available in a few clicks. Overall I think that’s a good thing, although it can make it challenging for new bands and artists to break through, and for them to have the long-lasting presence and careers that artists of old might have had.

I mentioned all this in the context of this post because the subject of this post – Queen – is one band that I’m particularly conscious has been embraced in this way. That is in no small part due to the success of the film Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie that seems to have become something of a phenomenon, despite – or maybe because of – a decidedly mixed critical reception. But the rehabilitation of Queen goes back much further than that, probably to the Live Aid appearance that plays such a pivotal role in the film. Not to mention *that* scene in Wayne’s World – something that even got a sly reference in Bohemian Rhapsody. Whatever you think of their music, it has become timeless, a part of our culture, and something that feels like it’s going to be around for a long time to come.

A Queen evening has been something that has been both discussed and requested for a while for our run of ukulele album/themed nights. And to be honest it’s something I’ve put off. Not because I don’t like the songs (although I wouldn’t really call myself a fan, and my awareness really starts and ends with the singles). But because I wasn’t sure that we could do the songs justice. A few passing glances at the songs led me to think that we would really struggle to find enough songs that were half-way playable. But recently I thought I’d have another look, and give it a bit more effort, and … here  we are.

It is fair to say that the selection of songs here was – to a certain extent – pre-determined. There are a whole bunch of other songs that I’d include if playability weren’t such an issue (Now I’m Here and Somebody To Love being a couple of examples). But what has fallen out has been what I think is a good cross-section of songs that – totally coincidentally (I certainly didn’t plan it!) – cover the full range of the band’s career, touch every album apart from their first and last. Now I’m not going to pretend that all of these are straightforward – Queen songs have a habit of going off in odd keys (that make transposing into “easier” keys pointless), and having various timing issues. So some of these do take a bit of attention and working at. But I do think they work, something that I’m going to be putting to the test when we will be listening to and playing most of these at a Queen evening in December (click on the poster below for more details)!

Anyway, here is the Queen songbook, which includes the following songs:

  • Another One Bites The Dust
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Flash
  • Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
  • I Want It All
  • I Want To Break Free
  • Killer Queen
  • A Kind Of Magic
  • Radio Ga Ga
  • Seven Seas Of Rhye
  • These Are The Days Of Our Lives
  • Under Pressure
  • We Are The Champions
  • We Will Rock You
  • You’re My Best Friend

I’ve tried to strike a balance between being faithful to the originals, and keeping them relatively playable. So there are some simplifications, and I’ve also included some “optional” chords which can be skipped with minimal impact. I *had* to include Bohemian Rhapsody, and that (particularly the middle section) I’m still not sure about – but hey, even Queen didn’t play that bit live, so don’t feel too bad about struggling with that. And Flash was a bit of fun – I really don’t know if that would work at all! But all in all, I think this is a playable selection of well-loved songs that will be a bit challenging but will add something different to your ukulele repertoire. Enjoy!

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