Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Nobody’s Hero – Stiff Little Fingers

Sometimes you just went a gentle strum, a lullaby that lulls you into believing that everything is alright. And other times you just want some full-on punk rock aggression that lets you shout and holler. Yes, even on a ukulele. This one definitely falls in the latter category.

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Stiff Little Fingers are from Belfast, and whilst initially a fairly standard rock covers band, their discovery of punk, plus prompting from journalist Gordon Ogilvie, prompted a change of direction that saw them fully embracing the energy and spirit of punk, married to a lyrical outlook that was very centred on their own experiences of Northern Ireland at the time – one where The (somewhat euphemistically titled) Troubles were at it’s height. A series of classic punk singles followed, spearheaded by their first two releases (Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster) and a classic debut album in the form of Inflammable Material.

SLF were always a band who were not afraid – in fact, actively sought – to embrace the political in both their songs and their actions (the inspiration for this post came from their inclusion in Daniel Rachel’s excellent oral history of the music and politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge, “Walls Come Tumbling Down” – n.b. I have a feeling there might be a few other posts inspired by said book!). But as the band matured that political viewpoint was often balanced with more personal songs as well, although very often even those would be short through with a political perspective.

Nobody’s Hero is one such song. Essentially a song sung back to the fans by lead singer Jake Burns, urging them not to put him on a pedestal, and pushing back on the expectations that such obsessive fans had of him,  encouraging those fans to “get up, get out, be what you are” – to do their own thing and make something of themselves. In that way it was truly in the spirit of punk, and what emerged after it – that whole anybody can do it, do it yourself mindset. Jake barks the lyrics with a passion that the band were renowned from, and whilst slightly slower than those early songs, the spirit, energy and aggression of punk is still there.

And so to the song sheet. As with most SLF songs, there’s quite a lot of words. But fortunately the chords are relatively straightforward (just the odd F# thrown in). The only challenge might be the speed, and particularly the speed of the chord changes during the chorus. But with a little practice (start slowly, and then speed up) all should be fine. Enjoy!

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The Cure – Songbook

I’ve been searching around for something a bit different for our album nights. Whilst we’ve done had some great evenings and covered some great records, we somehow seem to have got ourselves stuck in the 1970s. I guess that’s in part to do with the demographic of our group, and where that era was such a formative time musically for many of us. It’s also something to do with the undeniable fact that there were some really classic records that came out during that time, records that have survived and thrived over the years.

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But I felt that I was maybe playing it a little bit safe, and so felt that it would be good to branch out a little bit. One of the things that Southampton Ukulele Jam prides itself on is singing songs that no other ukulele group would try. I think some of the songs we’ve done at the album evenings definitely fall into that category, and I wanted to honour that objective. So this is a result of that. Admittedly it’s not Crass, Cocteau Twins or Kraftwerk (to name a few), and the bulk of these songs are relatively well-known and well-loved. Songs like In Between Days and Friday I’m In Love have fairly regular outings at Southampton Ukulele Jam, and are relatively uke friendly. Others here such as Just Like Heaven I’ve published previously, and Boys Don’t Cry was wheeled out for one of our 1979 nights. And I’ve definitely gone for the more accessible end of Robert Smith’s oeuvre. But songs like A Forest (from the band’s earlier, dark and gloom phase), the whispered, under-the-breath vocals of Lullaby (which, lyrically at least, is definitely not designed to lull you to sleep), the electronic-based attempt to break away from the captive Goth fans and find a pop audience that is Let’s Go To Bed, and the manic intensity of Why Can’t I Be You are songs that certainly aren’t your average ukulele fare. Add to that a selection of hypnotic, introspective, mid-tempo classics from the high-water mark that is Disintegration (Lovesong and Pictures of You) and I think this little collection hits the mark that I was aiming for. That said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – we will do this as an evening, and I’ll report back on how they work.

I don’t think I need to say much more about The Cure. They’ve now been going for over forty years, in various guises, and have built up an impressive body of work that has established themselves as the elder statesman of alternative rock (whatever that means). Variously gothic and gloomy, poppy and perky, but at all times original and not willing to plough the same tried and tested furrow, the band’s recent closing headline set at Glastonbury re-affirmed the credentials of a band that shouldn’t really have lasted this far.

Here’s the list of songs included in the songbook:

  • A Forest
  • Boy’s Don’t Cry
  • Close To Me
  • Friday I’m In Love
  • In Between Days
  • Just Like Heaven
  • Let’s Go To Bed
  • The Lovecats
  • Lovesong
  • Lullaby
  • Pictures Of You
  • Why Can’t I Be You?

The songs are mostly true to the originals. I’ve transposed one or two, and where there is a choice they adhere to the single versions. I’ve also included a selection of tab for the various riffs that crop up in some of the songs – many of which are such an integral part of the songs that it felt only right to add them. Enjoy!

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I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

A number of the songs I’ve posted on this blog have been gig-inspired, and here’s another, although as with some of those previous songs this one clearly wasn’t as a result of seeing the original.

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Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Larmer Tree Festival in deepest Wiltshire, in what has now become a somewhat regular event playing with Southampton Ukulele Jam. A great weekend was had by all (here’s a clip of us performing). Part of the line-up for the festival included a set from KT Tunstall, to be honest not somebody I’m mad about, but somebody who I had enough interest in to give her a try. To be honest I left with the same opinion I arrived with with, BUT she did do a cover of this song, and I thought “that would make a good uke song”. And so here it is.

I Won’t Back Down was in fact Tom Petty’s first solo release, being as it was the lead single from his first solo album Full Moon Fever. Obviously Tom had recording and putting out records with his band The Heartbreakers since 1976, but following a spell with The Travelling Wilburys (alongside Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison) he decided to temporarily put The Heartbreakers aside and record what was to become the most successful album of his career. Produced by Lynne, and with contributions from Harrison and Orbison (before his death), Full Moon Fever is chock full of great songs, including Free Fallin’, Runnin’ Down A Dream, and this.

A co-write with Jeff Lynne, I Won’t Back Down has become something of a classic. It’s universal and ambiguous message of defiance in the face of adversity has led to it being picked up and used in many public situations, not all of which Petty was happy with (its use by George Bush in his 2000 presidential campaign led to a cease and desist letter from Petty’s publisher). A later cover by Johnny Cash for his “American III: Solitary Man” album (on which Petty sang and played guitar) lent the song even more gravitas and helped cement it’s status.

So here we have the song sheet. It’s only four chords, and nothing tricksy in there at all (C, D, Em, G). The only slightly challenging parts are the passing chords in the chorus, and getting the timing for those. You’ll need to listen to the original to get a feel for how they work (maybe I’ll get around to recording what I think they sound like at some point), but if in doubt you can just skip the G chords in the chorus, and everything will be fine. Enjoy!


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Norman and Norma – The Divine Comedy

And here we are, back in 2019. Although this is hardly what you would a modern contemporary sound.

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For Neil Hannon, who essentially *is* The Divine Comedy, is not one to be swayed by a need to be relevant or now. Since 1989 he has ploughed his own furrow, quietly establishing a body of work (12 albums, at the last count) that largely falls into the category of Chamber Pop. With a wry eye for detail, an often unusual choice of subject matter (Hannon’s collaboration with Thomas Walsh, The Duckworth Lewis Method, even included a concept album about cricket!), and a predilection for melodies, harmonies, and rich, textured, often orchestral arrangements, The Divine Comedy were never going for the big time. They *did* achieve a measure of success in the mid-to-late 90s, somehow getting themselves aligned to the Britpop movement, and singles like National Express and Something For The Weekend established themselves in the hearts of the more discerning music lover.

[As an aside, one of Hannon’s collaborations included working with Duke Special, one of my favourite’s, for who he wrote the wonderful Wanda, Darling of the Jockey Club, and for which I’ve also done a songsheet]

This year Hannon released Office Politics under The Divine Comedy banner, a double album (the bands first) that is a loose concept album based on the workplace and the role of machines and automation in it. Norman and Norma is the lead single from that album, and tells a charming, affectionate tale of an un-extraordinary couple and their relationship, from their marriage and honeymoon, through to finding post-children contentment in a Norman and Saxon battle reenactment group (I said the choices of subject matter were out of the ordinary!), it has been described in one quarter as “an affectionate song about the peculiarly British awkwardness about sex in relationships that is as good as the best of Victoria Wood but here sounds like it’s sung by Jarvis Cocker” – what is not to like there!

And so here is the songsheet for Norman and Norma. It’s a fairly straightforward song that – whilst piano-based on the original – does, I believe, itself to a ukulele-based version, in no small part aided by the somewhat whimsical subject matter. I think this is a fun little song, and you can have a lot of fun singing it. Enjoy!


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Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel (Full Album)

Whilst I’ve published a number of songbooks over the last few months, it’s been a while since I’ve done a whole album. That’s partly because the “album” nights that we’ve been doing with Southampton Ukulele Jam have morphed into a series of themed nights (Abba, Elvis, 1979, Glam), and also – and not coincidentally – because I’ve struggled a little to think of albums that would work. There are a ton of albums that I personally would love to do, but finding something where 75%+ is relatively well known, and that works on the ukulele for a broad audience, has proven a little tricky. But today’s post does – I think – tick all those boxes.

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Bridge Over Troubled Water was the final studio album recorded by the duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The American folk-rock duo had climbed a steady road to popularity since first getting together in the late 1950s as Tom and Jerry, and during the late 1960s achieved an unparalleled level of success. Despite a sound that remained remarkably consistent over their five albums, their recordings showed a gradual evolution and increased maturity and sophistication, something which reached a peak (and ultimately conclusion) on Bridge Over Troubled Water. Whilst still clearly rooted in the folk stylings of their early records (and the live recording of the Everly Brothers classic Bye Bye Love was a clear harking back to those early years), the album demonstrated a branching out. El Condor Pasa, based on an original Peruvian song, anticipated Paul Simon’s later excursions into world music, the title track owed a strong and clear debt to the Gospel sounds that Simon was listening to at the time, and Keep The Customer Satisfied adds a full-on brass section.

Whilst the release of the album met a mixed critical response (typically it was felt to be smooth and over-produced), the public response was anything but mixed. Despite their break-up, the album topped the charts in 10 countries, was the best selling album in the world in 1970, 1971 AND 1972, and remained CBS’s best-selling record until ultimately over-taken by Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the 1980s. In the UK the album was number one for 35 weeks, and remained on the charts for 285 weeks – no self-respecting household was without a copy. 25 million copies of the album have been sold world-wide. Clearly this was a record that struck a chord with its audience, and which has continued to do so ever since.

These are songs that have become part of the musical DNA of western culture, known and loved by people across the world, many of whom are far younger than these recordings (it will be 50 years old next year), and who will have very little context of where these songs came from. In that context these songs have truly become modern folk songs – owned and loved by the people as much as they are by those who created them. Songs like The Boxer, Cecilia, Song For The Asking, El Condor Pasa and the title track are the kind of songs that feel like they have always been there, and it feels hard to conceive of a time when these songs didn’t exist.

So here is the Bridge Over Troubled Water songbook. I’ll be upfront – despite their apparent simplicity, some of these songs aren’t necessarily as straightforward as they sound. The relatively less well-known So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright is the most obvious example of that, but others have their moments. That said, with a bunch of songs as wonderful and well-known as these, it’s hard to go too far wrong. Most of the songs I’ve ended up transposing from their original keys to ensure they are an easier set of chords. I’m not claiming that these are 100% correct, so any feedback on corrections, improvements, etc. appreciated. But most of all, enjoy!

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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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Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Sometimes ideas for these song sheets are hanging around for ages. And sometimes they just come from nowhere and have to be acted on. Today’s song definitely falls into the latter category.

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This morning Alex, a friend and stalwart of Southampton Ukulele Jam, posted this song on Facebook. But not the regular, 8+ minutes rock epic that we’ve all grown to know and love (we do all love it, don’t we? please don’t tell me any different). No, it was a version of the song performed by The Who (well, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend) together with The Roots, a hip-hop band who currently are the house band on the US TV show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

But this isn’t just any old cover version, oh no. Because the song – which appears to be part of a regular feature on the show – is performed with schoolroom instruments. And yes, that includes ukuleles. Along with a whole host of other, mainly percussion, instruments. And it works. It is *such* fun. [Turn away at the end, though, if you are averse to ukulele abuse – Pete Townshend performs one of his trademark stage moves on the poor little instrument]

So in this instance I haven’t gone for following the original arrangement, but instead have gone for the Jimmy Fallon show version. So this song sheet should work for playing along to the above video. It’s actually the same key as the original, so you could use it for that, although clearly I haven’t written out all the synth parts, solo parts, and there is a verse and chorus missing. But I do think that the conciseness of this joyous version is part of what makes it so special. So there (or here) it is. Enjoy!