In celebration of Play Your Ukulele Day, today’s UkePrints will feature what is probably the one of the most prolific and renowned bands of all time: The Beatles. Peppered throughout the thousands of records on the rich history of The Beatles, are accounts of four musicians playing on ‘ukuleles. However, George Harrison is most known for his love and affiliation with the ‘ukulele. So much so, that this excerpt on his views of the uke is featured in Jumping Jim’s 60’s Uke-In:
Harrison was known in his later years to always have ‘ukuleles around. It is said that he carried them around and openly gave them out to friends on a regular basis. The ‘ukulele resounded with Harrison as he brought it out more and more as the years went on.
George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr playing Ain’t She Sweet in Friar Park.
Unfortunately, all things must pass and Harrison became the second Beatle to pass in 2001. Through the efforts of Olivia Harrison (wife), Dhani Harrison (son), Jeff Lynne (ELO), and Eric Clapton (long time friend) they threw a tribute concert turned album and documentary at the Royal Albert Hall in London under the name Concert For George. Amongst the 20 songs performed that evening was a very special performance of one of Harrison’s masterpieces: Something.
The performance features Paul McCartney starting the song with the first two verses and the bridge of the song with just himself and his ‘ukulele. McCartney has his tenor ‘ukulele tuned down a full step (F Bb D G) transposing the song from concert key of C to Bb. McCartney plays a simple strum keeping the rhythm moving and filled with simple chords. This allows McCartney’s voice lead the parade with one of the most recognizable melodies in modern music.
While songs from The Beatles have been found in the playlist of many musicians over the years, Harrison’s Something has found a special place in the hearts of many ‘ukulele players. It is often rumored that Harrison wrote Something on the ‘ukulele as the chord progression and even the melody are easy to play within the range of the ‘ukulele in simple first position chords (though it is cited that he began writing the melody on the piano). For example, the first 3 chords (C major, C major 7th, and C dominant 7th) can be played with one finger chromatically descending on the first string third fret. This, amongst being a solidly written song, has led to multiple ‘ukulele renditions including a masterful arrangement by Jake Shimabukuro.
Jake Shimabukuro’s solo rendition of Something.
This is a testament to the rich legacy of the ‘ukulele and how some of the world’s greatest artists have found inspiration in this humble instrument. One of the beautiful things between the contrast of McCartney’s and Harrison’s singer-songwriter approach with the virtuosic approach of Shimabukuro, is a very audible growth in complexity and potential. Though I think the key takeaway is finding a voice through the instrument that defines you and your art.
UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.