On this date in 1975 one of my all time favorite musicians, Tim Buckley, died of an accidental overdose of heroin; he was 28 years old. Today he is mostly remembered as the father of Jeff Buckley, but
Tim should also be remembered for his brilliant songwriting, his extraordinary voice, and for being one of those rare musicians who relentlessly pushed boundaries, whose experimentation was often mesmerizing and sometimes disquieting. Some people get him, some people don’t, which is how it should be.
Tim Buckley was one of my very first musical discoveries of something I couldn’t find on the radio. I was a prepubescent, guitar plucking Catholic school boy with some stolen change from my mom’s piggy bank when I bought a used copy of Blue Afternoon at Platterpuss Records on Hollywood Blvd for under a dollar. Blue Afternoon was a revelation, and over the course of the next couple of months I tracked down the rest of his albums, and played them all till I knew every nuance to every breath to every note to every chord to every song. A couple of years later when Buckley died, it was my mom who told me; she had heard the report on the radio. And I think she was a little nervous in breaking the news to me.
Anyway, one of his greatest, most beautiful and famous compositions is “Song to the Siren” from his 1970 album Starsailor. Here is a peculiar sampling of some of those who have covered the song: I’ve included the original version performed live by Tim Buckley on the final episode of the Monkees TV show (and with the original lyrics-- he eventually changed the ‘oyster’ line because someone once laughed). Of course I’ve included the famous hit version by This Mortal Coil, the Cocteau Twins side project. Probably my favorite version, with the original lyrics, is by Damon & Naomi (whose version is probably one of the few that reflects Buckley’s and not This Mortal Coil’s). Susheela Raman version is magnificently striped down to the bone. I’ve also included two versions which surprised the hell out of me: George Michael’s (drenched in reverb, but holy shit, I have to admit he nails it!) and Robert Plant, who oddly enough sounds just like Jeff Buckley at times… I know that doesn’t make sense but give it a close listen …