While researching songs over the past three or four years for my weekly musing on all things ukulele, nearly all the sheet music I found from those Ragtime and Tin Pan Alley days included ukulele chord diagrams printed right in the score. They did, however, use a couple of different tunings—GCEA as well as ADF#B. We have better things to argue about than tunings! But ukulele history is what it is. So, moving on . . .
Many of these songs also showed a ukulele “in action” on the cover and a few others touched on ukuleles in the lyrics. So today, gentle readers, I’m going to focus on several of the songs I came across that include the word “Ukulele,” or some variation thereof, in the title. More than enough out there to hold our interest–some sappy, some silly, but some quite serene!
So. Pick up your uke, get it in tune, and give a look and listen to what I call “Title Tunes: Ukulele Style.”
First off, to get us started, tap or click on the next image for a musical introduction to a classic ukulele themed song of the Roaring (Strumming?) Twenties.
Now lets move along with a strumming stroll through some more of these titles, listen to a few, and have a bit of a nostalgic look at these homages to our favorite little instrument. By the way, I was surprised to find so many YouTubes of early recordings of these songs. This must attest to their popularity with sheet music and record buyers in those days. Here’s a photo of the well staffed and stocked sheet music counter in one of the bigger New York department stores of the day.
Some of these older recordings are a bit scratchy or, typical of many of the hastily produced instrumental ragtime tunes of the era, can become a bit repetitive to anyone other than a serious musicologist or a two-stepping ragtime dancer. So, if you don’t include yourself in either of these categories, feel free to move on to the next tune when you have had enough!
Tuning in . . .
. . . we can quickly see that there are a few musical genres represented in our research. There are, of course, those songs with an obvious Hawaiian or Island theme even if written by so-called “Mainlanders” who had never been to the islands. Low hanging fruit here!
This one gives you a bit of a tongue-twister around the word “ukulele.” Click or tap on the next image to hear this one. You might want to make sure you have your dancing shoes on!
These might not be the lyrics of this particular song but they’re close enough for ukulele! Tap or click on the next image for a Laurel and Hardy singalong, of all things. Too good not to include!
And, of course, the grandmother of all ukulele title tunes, one we all know and love! Who knew it was written as a foxtrot?
Tap or click on the next image for a listen to this one performed by one of the first “ukulele ladies” of vaudeville and radio.
And then there are others that are of a more generic genre—no doubt Tin Pan Alley’s commercial response to the ukulele rage of the age. But, most make some fleeting reference to the music of the islands and, of course, those lovely hula girls and, needless to say, their beautiful ukuleles!
Click or tap on the next image for a singing/dancing version of this oldie–something you won’t forget!
Tap or click on the next image to hear that really great ukulele player, Johnny Marvin, strum and sing this oldie.
And, of course, there are others.
Tap or click on the next image to hear an early recording of this oldie (yes) but goodie (not so sure . . .).
Here are some ukulele themed songs from “across the pond.”
Give a listen to this one from the British music hall tradition. Click or tap on the next image for the seafaring tale of woe–sort of!
And, of course, the banjo ukulele virtuoso himself! Click or tap on the next image for this one.
Now, back to American radio of the 1950s.
Here’s a version of this “ookoolaylay” style ukulele song by the performer who made the ukulele famous (again) in the 1950s–Arthur Godfrey. Click or tap on the next image for his crooning, baritone uke version.
Here’s one of the earliest ukulele themed songs that I found, one that seems to mix musical ethnicities. Go figure.
Click or tap on the next image to listen to this 1916 recording. Variations on a spelling theme here, plus it’s a ukulele (oops, ukalele) tune in ragtime!
Moving on . . . As would be expected, one can come across a ukulele decorated with a ukulele, or at least a person—usually a comely hula girl or crooning guy—playing one.
I’m still searching, however, for a “trifecta” for my collection—a sheet music cover of 1) a ukulele named tune showing 2) a ukulele decorated 3) with a ukulele. A big ask, but anything can be anywhere. Still looking!
And now, gentle readers, permit me to end with a song that steps just a wee bit out of bounds from today’s theme. Rather than an homage to our favorite little musical instrument it’s a complaint about a ukulele player—who is, apparently, loud but not very good. Alas, no “ukulele” in the title but the image and lyrics say it all! Definitely a song about a ukulele and worth a muse or two.
To end our musing of the day on an “earworm note, tap or click on the next image to listen in!
So, stay safely sequestered with your ukulele handy and think about all those ukulele songs about ukuleles played on ukuleles decorated with ukuleles. Whew. Anyway, stay safely masked for you, yours, me, and mine . . .
. . . and STAY TUNED! Oh yes, face your fears for your next open mike performance with your favorite little ukulele and a song about ukuleles!
A note of caution: Don’t use a “sopranino” ukulele if you’re tempted to try this yourself!