The ukulele is a versatile instrument that can put a refreshing spin on any type of music—including your favorite rock hits. Here are ten classic rock songs that are fairly simple and incredibly fun to play on the ukulele.
The Rolling Stones – “Paint it Black” (1966)
Chords used: A, B, Bm, D, Em, G
The prospect of hearing “Paint it Black” without Brian Jones’s iconic sitar-playing might seem odd. Nevertheless, you can be sure that it sounds fantastic with ukulele accompaniment as well. The song consists of the same repeated chords, but contains exciting changes in speed and dynamics, making it a good choice for ukulele-lovers of all skill levels.
The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby” (1966)
Chords used: C, Em, Em7, Em6
Like “Paint it Black,” “Eleanor Rigby” tells the tragic story of an early death and features a distinctive instrument—in this case, the violin rather than the sitar. That doesn’t make it any less suited for the ukulele. The song’s haunting, intense chords bring out a dark side of the uke that doesn’t get enough press.
David Bowie – “Space Oddity” (1969)
Chords used: Bb, A, Am, C, D, E, Em, F, Fm, G
“Space Oddity” is one of David Bowie’s earliest songs, and one of his most memorable. A somber ballad about an astronaut who faces technical difficulties in outer space, its chords create an atmosphere of uncertainty that’s guaranteed to give you chills. It’s almost impossible to play this song without emotion.
Rod Stewart – “Maggie May” (1971)
Chords used: A, D, Em, Gbm, G
“Maggie May” is a ‘70s hit that’s still catchy years later. Lyrically, it’s a frustrated confessional song about leaving a girl who never really cared; musically, it’s upbeat and fast-paced. Hence, it’s a good song to play no matter what kind of mood you’re in. You can even play it’s famous mandolin solo on a ukulele!
Pink Floyd – “Wish You Were Here” (1975)
Chords used: A, Am, C, D, Em, G
Although Pink Floyd is known for being highly experimental and out-of-this-world, their song “Wish You Were Here” is a hit that music listeners of all tastes can enjoy. With reflective lyrics and simple chords, it’s a great pick for mellow, pensive days.
Queen and David Bowie – “Under Pressure” (1981)
Chords used: D, A, G, C, F
“Under Pressure,” the epic duet by legends Queen and David Bowie, is by no means a simple song. Luckily, it’s a breeze to play on the uke. A triumphant anthem about hanging on through the tough times and believing in the power of love, it’s a a great song to play when you’re feeling on top of the world.
The Clash – “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (1982)
Chords used: D, G, F, A
The guitar riff in “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is so iconic that traces of it can be heard in songs by bands like Twenty One Pilots and One Direction. Now you, too, can join the legions of musicians who have been inspired by it by playing it on your ukulele. Emulate The Clash’s energy and dramatic pauses, and you’ll feel like a rock star in no time.
U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983)
Chords used: Em, G, C6, Am, Bb
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is intense, but it’s nothing the ukulele can’t handle. The song, which uses a horrific incident that occurred in Northern Ireland to discuss the issue of political violence, will require you to strum with urgency and emotion. Though it’s not a pick-me-up, it’s beautiful and satisfying to play.
Nirvana – “Come As You Are” (1992)
Chords: A, C, D, Em, G
“Come As You Are,” a statement on tolerance by the iconic grunge band Nirvana, is a good song to play when you need to unwind. When strummed on the ukulele, the song loses some of its gritty edge but gains a delicate, uplifting tone that’s ideal for rainy mornings and laid-back nights.
The Cure – “Friday I’m in Love” (1992)
Chords: Am, C, F, G
“Friday I’m in Love” is the kind of lighthearted early ’90s hit that seems as if it was made to be played on the uke. One of The Cure’s most popular singles, it’s a song that you can figure out within minutes, as long as you know the chords. Perfect background music for cheery afternoons.
Know any other famous rock classics that sound great on the ukulele? Let us know in the comments!