Well, I hope ole Neil won’t mind, but I transposed the key for one of his hit songs, “Long May You Run”, which he once revealed in an interview to be dedicated to a beloved car.
I was going through the Bytown Uke Groups songs and having a great ole time printing out songs about Canada, of Canada, and some that were written by Canadians ;-), when I realized that someone who does the posting of songs for the group must be a Neil Young fan. There are umpteen songs at their site by him.
For many years, while I was studying piano, and then later, guitar, I was always interested in performing Neil Young songs but just as equally disappointed, because the man has a high voice. Within the last decade of my music playing on Ukulele, “doors” have really opened for me with the discovery of transposing. Suddenly, no song is off limits. The reason you are surprised I’m sure is because of my musical background. To clear that up, I will tell you that I learned to play classical piano at a very high level. In those days my friend and I who both played piano like demons, were into the new music us kids would hear on the radio. This was 1977 to 1984/85. So what we did back then was buy artists music books, like “Hits by the Eagles” or “Fleetwood Mac”, and then trade them back and forth, pooling our resources. We also bought compilation books by multi artists. I can remember lovingly – and by that I mean at the top of my lungs – playing AND singing “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gale and “Georgia” by Ray Charles, over and over and over……. as well as numerous Eagles songs, Van Morrison, Dan Hill, Carol King, Janis Joplin, many folk songs like “the Unicorn Song”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, as well as campire songs, songs by John Denver, lots of country songs by Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and many, many, others. My father in particular was fond of “Trailer for Rent” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, and “The Green, Green, Grass of Home”. He could sing!
At our high school they farmed us out for lunch period entertainment in the caf during the month of December, where we were to play Christmas carols – once again, classical music – but invariably, as the kids would come up and sit on the bench next to us they would start requesting “Christmas songs”, that would always lead to a good ole singing session of modern hit music. The song that usually did me in was a so-called Christmas song, “Another Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg, which would lead to other current hits. I got admonished by the Vice-principal numerous times but they never did fire me from this gig, as I was given this duty every year for 5 years straight. I couldn’t help myself: it always turned into an hour of fun.
Back then, we also studied to pass our music levels, and I remember now having to study transposing, but I literally never used it so it got pushed out of memory and, consequently, ability. Years later when I was learning to play guitar, that knowledge would have come in handy, for there were many songs that went by the wayside because I couldn’t sing them in that key. When I finally resurrected my interest in music using the ukulele, things were different. For one thing, I was no longer playing at parties or for friends, I was now learning and playing in a group. And you pick up all sorts of skills when you play regularly with others. About 3 years into my ukulele playing the benefits of transposing keys became clear to me and I have never turned back. Love a song? Can’t sing it in that key? No problemo: presto bango, transposo, and voila!
I used to love many many Neil Young songs but when I heard them over the radio, I was never able to sing along. The man has a high voice! But many times I wished I could have performed on my piano or my guitar such hits by him but I never could sing it so I would have to turn the page. It has been decades since I even remembered what the problem was. So yesterday while I was printing out all these Canadian hit song sheets by Neil Young I was feeling that old disappointment again. Particularly with “Long May You Run”. And I started trying the chords on my uke and literally saying to myself, “this would be much easier in the key of G”. The only problem was there was this daunting chord to transpose, the F#m, because you know, nothing’s easy with Neil Young! A couple of years ago I had gone down to the MUD Festival in Lansing, Michigan, and they had two or three group sing-alongs where they projected the song sheets, and one that they taught us was in the key of A with a Bm and a B#m, Cm and C#m, which I practiced for weeks afterwards. Yesterday I was realizing that I could incorporate some of those chords into the song to achieve the same thing. So it’s G, Bm, D7, Em and C, and then he has this little instrumental bit at the end of the chorus, which threw me. I listened to it and the closest I can get is C, then Eb, which looks scarey but is actually simple to form, G then Gaug (same thing) and back to G.
I really find it interesting to attempt to play songs that were composed on a guitar by a guitar player. I mean, maybe they wrote the melody for a song on the napkin of a diner while eating lunch, I don’t know the process ha ha. But I’m finding that transposing songs into a more singable key for me is opening musical doors, and enhancing my enjoyment of music.
For a detailed description of transposing and how to do it, try these websites, but first download my transposed version of “Long May You Run” by Neil Young!
LONG MAAAAAY YOUUUUUUU RUN!!!!!!