There are certain songs that will be forever associated with the ukulele. They’re the songs that the general public immediately link with the ukulele. The ones they request whenever someone takes out a ukulele. The ones every ukulele player is almost contractually obliged to learn.
Many of these songs have become associated with the ukulele because of a single, great interpretation using the ukulele.
Tonight You Belong To Me
Tonight You Belong to Me was written in 1926 by Billy Rose and Lee David. It became famous after it was used in the movie The Jerk. It features in a scene on the beach with Steve Martin serenading Bernadette Peters with a ukulele. Although Steve Martin is a ukulele player, he mimed to the playing of Lyle Ritz.
Aloha Oe is one of the oldest ukulele songs. It was written by the Hawaiian Queen Lili’uokalani at the end of the 19th Century. The song was originally a love song but has become a farewell song because of its vocal refrain (aloha ‘oe means ‘farewell to you’). The song has recently become popular with children after being used in the cartoon Lilo and Stitch.
In the 1920s, there was a huge fad for all things Hawaiian. Songwriters were quick to pick up on this trend and started writing songs in a Hawaiian style with references to various items of Hawaiiana. Obviously, this meant plenty of ukulele references in songs like Ukulele Moon, Ukulele Island and, most famously, Ukulele Lady.
Tip Toe Through the Tulips
Tiny Tim is probably the most famous ukulele player of all time and Tip Toe Through the Tulips his biggest hit. With his unconventional appearance and strange, warbling voice, he wasn’t the greatest ambassador for the ukulele. However, he did rescue a number of great songs from the 1920s from obscurity.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
There were hardly any ukulele versions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow before Israel Kamakawiwo’ole recorded his version of the song in 1997. His version had such charm and beauty that it became a huge success and is regularly featured in films and TV shows set in Hawaii such as 50 First Dates. More recently, the song was covered by Jason Castro on American Idol to thumbs up from the judges and the audience alike.