Musicians Re-Imagine the Complete Songbook of the Beatles on the Ukulele

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Bea­t­les: Unplugged Col­lects Acoustic Demos of White Album Songs (1968)

The Mak­ing of “Tomor­row Nev­er Knows,” The Bea­t­les’ Song That Aired on an His­toric Episode of Mad Men

Down­load The Bea­t­les’ Yel­low Sub­ma­rine as a Free, Inter­ac­tive eBook

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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