We hold this truth to be self-evident—if every citizen spent a little bit of time playing the ukulele, the world would be a nicer place.
Such is the declaration of the The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, an online project that pretty much does what it says: compiles ukulele covers of every Beatles song—individually or in album form—from a surprising variety of amateur and obscure artists. As an owner, occasional strummer, and general enthusiast of the uke myself, I do believe these folks are onto something with their vision of a “nicer place.” Just listen to The Fort Green Children’s Choir’s cover of “Yellow Submarine” and try to stop yourself from smiling. If simply listening to the uke can make you calm and happy, imagine what playing one can do?
Now, if you’re thinking of the whole thing as Tiny Tim in the tulips, think again. Sure, there’s a novelty aspect to the idea, as the goofy video above—with The Cars’ keyboardist Greg Hawkes’ doing his rendition of “Eleanor Rigby”—attests; but as it also attests, these covers can be fully realized and quite beautiful arrangements (Hawkes recorded an entire album of Beatles songs on the uke).
While the ukulele’s humorously small size and frequent use in prop comedy, faux-Hawaiian surf movies, and twee indie folk revivalism has rendered it a little ridiculous, this image deceives. Make no mistake, the tiny Polynesian four-string guitar (which comes in four sizes and registers: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone) is a seriously versatile instrument with a full range of timbres and tones. If you’re still unconvinced, then prepare to be blown away by renowned virtuoso uke-player Jake Shimabukuro’s take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (below).
As you can see, the ukulele is suited to the task of interpreting the Beatles’ catalogue, especially since the band themselves had such a high regard for ukes. Harrison loved the instrument, as Paul McCartney tells us in the video below. Watch as Macca—live, in tribute to Harrison—strums out a lovely version of “Something” on his ukulele.
Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness