Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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!


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A Gallimaufry of Songs

I’ve been pulling together my annual update to the UkeTunes songbook. And in the process I’ve come across a number of songsheets that I’d put together over the last twelve months for various reasons, and which haven’t made it on to this site. So I thought I’d collect them all together into a single post, in an attempt to clear the decks. Here they are – click on the song titles for the song sheets:

 

  • Andante Andante – Abba
    Another movie-inspired song, this slightly obscure Abba album track (from 1980’s Super Trouper) found its way into the Mamma Mia sequel, and as a result has had a new lease of life breathed into it.

 

 

  • I Wish – Stevie Wonder
    Another great song from a classic album, this time Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. Funky.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The Lucky One – Alison Krauss
    A beautiful, sublime ballad from the rather lovely Alison Krauss. This was one of the first tracks that got me into country music.

 

 


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Glam Rock!!! Songbook!!!

As the sixties bled into the seventies, the almost constant innovation and excitement that had been a hallmark of that classic musical decade seemed to have petered out. Everything had all got very serious – beards, musicianship, extended guitar solos, double albums, introspective singer-songwriters, albums over singles. Whilst there were lots of real classics in there, it really seemed to have lost that original energy, fun and irreverence that had so characterised the best rock and roll and pop music for the previous fifteen years.

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So there was a real pent up demand, particularly at the teenage end of the market, for the sheer exuberance, simplicity and brashness that was Glam. Trail-blazed by Marc Bolan and his re-configured T-Rex (the previous Tyrannosaurus Rex incarnation had been a typical late-60s folky-hippy-mystical acoustic sound), for a couple of years in the early 70s you couldn’t move for glitter, platform boots and outrageous flares (in the UK and Europe, at least – Glam never really translated to the US). The likes of Slade, Mud and Sweet conquered the charts repeatedly, careers were resurrected (Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed), future national treasures tapped in to the spirit of it (Elton John), and art-rockers like Roxy Music, David Bowie and Sparks brought critical credibility to it as well.

In many ways Glam brought the kind of electrifying shock to the music scene that punk did later in the decade, but with decidedly less long-term credibility. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that (and I’d recommend Simon Reynolds exhaustive book, Shock and Awe, to give you all the insight you’ll ever need into the scene) those short few years left a legacy of songs – primarily singles (Glam was almost by definition about those short, sharp, 3 minute bursts of energy) – that are both evocative and sing-out-loud fun.

And so I present to you, the UkeTunes Glam Rock songbook! Here is a collection of 19 songs from that period that both sum up all that was best about it, and – to my mind – translate well to the humble ukulele. There’s very little subtlety in many of these songs – don’t go looking for deep lyrical insight, they’re designed to be thrashed, and sung / shouted at the top of your voice.  But that is where the fun is. Just like you can never take yourself too seriously when you’re playing a miniature, shrunken guitar, neither can you when singing yourself hoarse to these songs. So take these in the spirit they’re offered – go and have fun, and add a smidgen of glitter to your life.

Here is the songbook, with all of the songs in one place <songbook>

And here is the song list, with a link to individual song sheets for each song:


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Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper

It’s fair to say that a few of the songs that I’ve posted lately haven’t exactly been the most well-known of songs. Today’s post should rectify that, as this is one of those timeless, universal songs.

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This was actually prompted by going to a gig last night. The gig was the absolutely wonderful Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly, playing at The Joiners in Southampton. It was a superb gig – it was practically sold out, Stella was brilliant (you’d never have guessed she was suffering with a cold), and her band did a first-class job. Finishing her main set with Tricks, the crowd was begging for more, and Stella obliged. With a wonderful, solo version of this song.

An interestingly main-stream choice for an artist who, whilst certainly not deliberately seeking out obscurity, is definitely on the alternative side of things. Time after Time – of course – is a classic from Cyndi Lauper, co-written with Rob Hyman (of The Hooters). The follow-up to her break-out hit Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Time After Time showed a more reflective side to the kooky persona that Lauper often portrayed, and was nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1985, eventually losing out to Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It. Much covered (the Eva Cassidy version is a favourite of mine) over time this has come to be something of a standard.

Here’s the Cyndi Lauper version (and it’s a great video)…

…and here’s Stella Donnelly’s version (recorded for an Australian New Year’s Eve TV show)…

And so the song sheet. It’s a relatively straightforward song, with basic chords. There’s not really much more to say. Give it a go. And enjoy!