Collingwood Ukulele Players

Five songs for August

Velvet UndergroundNext week the group gets back together after our short summer vacation. The group, by which I mean: CPLUG, our local ukulele club. For that happy occasion, I have arranged five songs to work on. Below I have included a link to videos and the PDF for each song. I have also incorporated each song into the group’s songbook (link below).

Happy Together by The Turtles. This 1960s’ folk-rock group became famous by first covering the Bob Dylan tune, It Ain’t Me Babe in 1965 (in our group’s songbook). Happy Together was their only number one hit, and stayed at that spot for three weeks in 1967. Here’s a YouTube recording of the song. Hint: most of the same basic chords as you played in Sixteen Tons…

PDF: Happy Together.

For a small band with limited output (only four albums plus one bootleg live performance), The Velvet Underground was hugely influential during the years (less than a decade) it stayed together. But it was a rocky time for them and Lou Reed, one of its original founders, left in 1970 to start a solo career (he died in 2013).

Their albums are a hodgepodge of styles and effects and rife with strange and thought-provoking lyrics. But even listening to them today, you can hear how they broke away from the constraints of pop standards and set new horizons for musicians. None of their songs even got airplay until the final album, Loaded – and then Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll finally got played (and sometimes do today on internet radio).

The VU remains one of my favourite all-time bands and I have been listening to them since their first album was released. I still enjoy listening to them, 40-odd years later.

There isn’t much in the VU’s electric-eclectic repertoire that suits the ukulele, however, but here are two songs I think we can manage. Both have been covered many times by other artists:

Sunday Morning – from the Velvet Underground’s 1967 first album, with Nico. YouTube version here and a nice acoustic cover here. It’s an odd, maudlin song that almost seems kitschy but the lyrics suggest something deeper. It was originally written for Nico, who sings backup vocals to Reed’s lead. She stopped performing with the group shortly after the album was made.

PDF: Sunday Morning.

Pale Blue Eyes  is a Velvet Underground song from their third, 1969 album. It was written after John Cale, the VU’s other founding member, left the group to be replaced by Doug Yule. Here’s the original on YouTube. Here’s a cover by the Barenaked Ladies and here’s another cover. Again it’s a song with lyrics that have greater depth than one expects from a pop song.

What I like about this song is the chorus which seems disassociated from the rest of the lyrics.

PDF: Pale Blue Eyes.

Sticky FingersWild Horses, by the Rolling Stones, is from their 1971 Sticky Fingers album, recently re-released on CD with a second disc of alternate takes and live performances. It’s a great collection worth adding to your music library. It was one of the few Stones albums on which Mick Taylor played (he resigned from the band in 1974).

Here’s the YouTube video. Here’s a nice cover by Charlotte Martin. The song has many minor chords and some intriguing lyrics that suggest a very personal history behind them.

Again, the chorus is very memorable and many people know it even if they don’t know the other lyrics.

PDF: Wild Horses.

And finally Billy Grammer’s Gotta Travel On. Here’s the  1959 original on YouTube. A very country song. Here’s The Kingston trio’s cover on YouTube.

Notice that in Grammer’s original, he raised the pitch one semitone in verse three and again in verse four. None of the cover versions I’ve heard do that, and stay in the original key for the whole song.

PDF: Gotta Travel On.

All of these are now in the CPLUG newly revised songbook. It lists more than 100 songs: lyrics formatted with chords and chord diagrams. I’ve also added a couple of titles to it since it was first released in January, so download the new songbook and get them if you haven’t done so since then.

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