I have arranged several songs for our local ukulele group (CPLUG – the Collingwood Public Library Ukulele Group) over the recent months, and put them online for our members and for any other ukulele aficionados. The most recent was prepared for our May 21 get-together. Links are below.
Some of these are my own arrangements based mostly on my reading of the original song sheets or the music itself, others are based on those of other modern groups or players (albeit generally changed or updated by me).
I search online for variations of songs – other arrangements – so I can make sure the one I put together is both playable by the group, and sounds right (to my tin ear).
The songs offer a mix of old and modern material – modern I suppose being relative, because none of the songs I’ve arranged are post-2000 (yet). Mea culpa, but they are those of my own preference and my taste in pop music tends to thin out post-1990. If anyone in the group wants modern recent songs, he or she is going to have to work with me to help make it work.
Not that there aren’t good musicians and songwriters today, just that the majority of stuff I hear on the radio is derivative pap that fits into formula-istic, computerized play lists. What passes for R&B today is especially dreary. Nothing like the great, powerful music that R&B was in the 60s and 70s. And to me the “new country” is equally sleep-inducing: repetitive and vapid. Trucks, booze, girls in tight jeans… rinse and repeat…
To me, the best of today’s musicians are indies, doing their own work outside the constrictions of corporate commercialism, not beholden to the rigid formats set by today’s FM broadcasters. But their work is hard to come by in some form I can translate into ukulele arrangements for the group. Besides, there’s the awareness factor: I try to choose songs that the majority of the group will have at least heard.
What I want the group to get is a sense of the rich history of more than a century of popular music. Some of the best music ever written was penned in the two-and-a-half decades from 1924 to 1950. Much of it stands up well today and can be easily adapted for modern rhythmic and instrumentalization tastes. But I also want to bring in some older, traditional music – the folk, country, cowboy and blues music of the late 19th century. Those songs formed the basis of much of today’s folk, pop and country tunes.
It takes me several days to compile even a few songs - choosing, then laying out the chords and lyrics, then testing each song, tweaking and tinkering with chord placement and form. I try to compile the music with both playability and teaching in mind: in the group I try to preface each song with comments about the chord patterns, song’s history, or lyrics. I try to choose songs that work together, too – like different songs that have a variation on the C-Am-F-G pattern, but in other keys.
Sometimes a song that appeals to me just isn’t working for ukulele (think: Rolling Stones Honky Tonk Women, the Cream’s I’m So Glad, The Clash…) so I look for another. I have a fair library of music in print, and on CD, but sometimes I just can’t make an arrangement work. Maybe in future, once we have some more experience under our collective belts, I can work out something that includes bass and electric uke.
I think the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain could be our inspiration in translating pop into group music. certainly they have chosen some songs most of us would have thought of as unlikely choices for ukulele arrangements.
Songbook one contains 17 songs:
- Act Naturally: Beatles
- All Shook Up: Elvis
- Corrina, Corrina: Bob Dylan/Trad.
- Down in the Boondocks: Billy Joe Royal
- Girl From the North Country: Bob Dylan
- I Shall Be Released: Bob Dylan
- If Not For You: Bob Dylan
- King of the Road: Roger Miller
- Lay, Lady Lay: Bob Dylan
- Love Potion Number Nine: The Seekers
- Return to Sender: Elvis
- Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan
- Singin’ The Blues: Guy Mitchell
- Sixteen Tons: Tennessee Ernie Williams
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Jazz waltz version/Judy Garland
- Spoon River as done by Steve Goodman
- Streets of London: Ralph McTell; in C and then D
- Ukulele Lady: Gus Kahn
Songbook two contains 11 songs with some alternate versions and key changes for a couple of the tunes:
- The Glory of Love: Billy Hill
- Honey Pie: The Beatles
- I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You: Elvis
- Moonglow (with alternate chorus)
- On The Sunny Side of The Street
- Peggy Day: Bob Dylan
- Stand By Me
- Stand By Me: Alternate keys
- The Way You Look Tonight
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Key of G: Pete Seeger
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Key of A
- Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Key of F
- Why Don’t You Do Right?
- You Always Hurt The One You Love
- You Always Hurt The One You Love alternate version
These songbooks do not (yet) include some of the songs we played together in our first couple of meetings – most of which came from the song list in the Corktown Ukulele Group. Next step will be to turn the songs into PowerPoint presentations for the overhead display in the library.
In the future, after we have a few more songs in the works, I will consolidate these into a single book. I may also change the layout for future books. Right now it’s still set up for teaching during our twice-monthly get-togethers.
Future group sessions will offer theme nights: blues, jazz, performers, folk, love, loss, fun, traditional, folk, movie themes, etc. If you are a CPLUG member and have songs you want the group to work on, contact me.
Please come out if you want to join and play. First and third Wednesday of every month at the Collingwood Public Library, 7 p.m. Bring your uke(s), tuner and printed copy of the song books. Everyone who wants to play and learn together, from teen to senior is welcome. Space is limited so please come early.