One of the latest songs to be called ‘All of Me’ (there are many) I think happens to be an unusually well-written sentimental ballad written by John Legend for his wife-to-be, which took the charts by storm in 2014. Unusually for top-ten hits, it’s a very sparse arrangement consisting solely of Mr Legend’s (nice stage name) voice and piano, and some lyrics broadcasting his love for his fiancee. I didn’t really want to like it, but its simplicity, strong melody, and unusually faithful / monogamous lyrics sucked me in in the end, so here it is for the ukulele.
It starts off with a chord progression that forms the backbone of at least 40+ massive super hits, good start – (vi, IV, I V) in this key Em, C, G, D but then actually does change chord sequence and pattern twice more. The pre-chorus uses Am, G, D then the chorus uses G, Em, Am, C, D – it’s a pleasant run around the chords of G major (in the original it’s actually a semi-tone higher in Ab major) without once straying to any borrowed chords from another key – proof that you don’t have to be a master of music theory, or even ‘know all the chords’, to write or play a hit.
I’ve tried to borrow as much as I can from the piano part for this arrangement, although of course you can get by simply playing the chords. The interlude finger-picking pattern has some difficult rhythms in, to try to match the tasteful sparse piano notes in the original – not sure if I’ve quite succeeded…
I remember hearing this growing up, and assuming it was about a homeless person or tramp or some such – but I recently read that it was probably about John Lennon himself, and the emptiness that he was feeling – sobering stuff.
When I came out to write with him the next day, he was kipping on the couch, very bleary-eyed. It was really an anti-John song. He told me later, he didn’t tell me then, he said he’d written it about himself, feeling like he wasn’t going anywhere. I think it was actually about the state of his marriage. It was in a period where he was a bit dissatisfied with what was going on; however, it led to a very good song. He treated it as a third-person song, but he was clever enough to say, ‘Isn’t he a bit like you and me?’ – ‘Me’ being the final word.
Paul McCartney Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Anyhow, it’s a cracker of a song if you have a penchant for melancholic pop (like me)…
You’ll need three major chords (G, C and D), and three minor chords (Am, Bm and Cm) – and the Bm and Cm chords could be a stretch if you’ve not encountered them before – but be adventurous! You can also change the C’s to Cadd9 and the D’s to Dadd4 for a little extra sparkle…
If you’re like me then the words ‘Mamma Mia’ conjure up images of Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody, rather than musical theatre and Scandi-Pop – but I can dip my toes in the world of well-crafted pop music that is Abba. I taught myself this song just to include in fireside sing-a-longs – but then realised that it’s really an excellently written slice of pop music.
To play the verse you’ll only really need three chords, (C, F and G in this case) – but then the chorus goes through all the minor chords in our key as well (Am, Em, and Dm) along with some brief snippets of Bb, borrowed from the subdominant key – add to this the augmented chords in the intro, and the tasty lead guitar licks scattered around, and you’ve got an interesting song for players of all levels.
I’m always on the look-out for songs that people don’t expect to hear on a ukulele – this is one of my favourites. Even just the chord sequence can make people go “Huh? I recognise that… where’s that from?”.
With only three and a half chords in, it’s also deceptively simple in structure – however, it’ll test your counting ability, and if you want to get that intro strumming sorted you’ll need flexible fingers and a bit of practice. Also, did I mention that the three chords are rarely played together – Em, Cm and Bbm6 – dark and juicy…
The melody needs to be played short and snappy – pay attention to the dotted rhythms which make a tasty counterpoint to the underlying triplet rhythms of the intro and percussion.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of the Wizard of Oz – it’s just a bit weird and kitsch for me – I know there are many that love it. So this song never made much impact on me – until I heard one of the many amazing covers. Eva Cassidy did a wonderful version – but it’s the Israel Kamakawiwoʻole version (recorded in one take in 1988) which helped me re-discover this song – and incidentally, the ukulele.
I think this song did more to help folks take the ukulele seriously than any other song – it’s just beautiful!
It’s not particularly difficult, you’ll just need C, Em, Am, F and G – with a brief E7 in the intro and outro – but you will need a rock solid and incredibly sensitive strumming hand pattern.
I know this song from the wonderful Madness version. Dark glasses and flat caps are required if you want to look the part – but otherwise you’ll need a really good sense of when to play swing, and when to play straight.
This is a deceptively complicated song – it’s got lots of chords, and lots of different strumming ideas, and even a time-signature change in the chorus… all good fun!
Made famous for this (or the previous) generation by the definitely non-ukulele based film Reservoir Dogs – this is a classic from the 70s, that still sounds incredibly fresh. Check out the original recording if you’ve not had a listen in a while. This arrangement is in the original key as well – so go join in with Gerry Rafferty and co…
It’s got some great rhythms for strumming – chords aren’t too hard (it’s mostly D and G) but it’s got a few tricky moves. You’ll need to get comfortable with D7 and G7 in particular, and some off-beat strums. Best played in a group so the non-ukulelists can do the (surprisingly tricky) claps, and the pros can do the chord stabs.