|Released February 1970|
|Writer(s) Larry Beckett, Tim Buckley|
"Song to the Siren" is a song written by Tim Buckley and his writing partner Larry Beckett and was first released on Buckley's 1970 album Starsailor. It was also later released on Morning Glory: The Tim Buckley Anthology, the album featuring a performance of the song taken from the final episode of The Monkees TV show which aired on March 25, 1968.
Pat Boone was the first to release a version of the song when it was featured on his 1969 album Departure, predating Buckley's Starsailor release. However, the song has become perhaps Buckley's most famous due to a number of artists covering the song after his death in 1975, notably This Mortal Coil.
The song was written in 1967, but Buckley was dissatisfied with the early attempts at recording it. It would finally appear on Starsailor three years later. The Monkees TV show version featured the song in its original folk song style, with Buckley playing solo with a 12 string guitar. This stands in contrast to the lusher, reverb-filled version present on the Starsailor album. The Monkees television spot features the song in the key of E while the later album version is played in Bb. The album version also features heavy reverb on the electric guitar and high pitched background vocals. In comparison, the live version is more lo-fi, with no effects, and Buckley's voice is accompanied only by his guitar. The 1968 performance also features different lyrics with the phrase "I am puzzled as the oyster" later being changed to "I'm as puzzled as the newborn child" in the album version. This was reportedly because when Buckley played the song to Judy Henske, wife of then producer Jerry Yester, she responded to the line with laughter.
Despite this, Buckley and Beckett regarded this song as their greatest collaboration effort, with Beckett later stating "It's a perfect match of melody and lyrics. There was some kind of uncanny connection between us."
The song's reference to the sirens tempting sailors at sea stems from Greek mythology. This lyrical style is an example of Larry Beckett's literary inspirations, and stands in direct contrast to Buckley's own more personal writing style.
Larry Beckett wrote the lyrics to Song to the Siren as part of his ongoing collaboration and friendship with Tim Buckley throughout their high school years. Beckett has been working alongside the English based band 'The Long Lost Band' since 2014 when he started contributing lyrics to their work. Song to the Siren formed part of their collaboration when Beckett visited the UK for two tour dates in 2015 - Liverpool and Lancaster. The live version of the song featured a spoken word part by Beckett explaining the origin of the lyrics, which was previously included in documentary footage with the author. Subsequently a studio version of the song was recorded in 2016 to reflect the live rendition, making this recording somewhat special as (amongst the raft of cover versions) this is the first time the lyricist has appeared on the track. The Larry Beckett and The Long Lost Band version was released online on 21 October 2016.
Version by This Mortal Coil
The most prominent recording of "Song to the Siren" is by This Mortal Coil. It was released as a single in September 1983 and spent three weeks on the UK Charts where it peaked at #66 on October 23, 1983. More impressive, however, was the sustained demand for the track, the record-buying public helping the single to spend 101 weeks on the UK Indie Charts, a run that ranked fourth in the 1980s after three classic long-selling records: "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus (131 weeks), "Blue Monday" by New Order (186 weeks) and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division (195 weeks). "Song to the Siren" was included on This Mortal Coil's 1984 album It'll End in Tears which was released a year after the single. This Mortal Coil was a collective name for a number of artists on the 4AD Records label, with Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins performing the song. Fraser also recorded a duet with Tim's son, Jeff Buckley, developing an intense personal relationship with him.
Following the release of the single by This Mortal Coil, Buckley's work experienced a reappraisal in the mid-1980s. This revival of interest in the artist would be one of the greatest factors in the increase of his posthumous sales, falling second only to the publicity generated by the success of his son, Jeff.
In 2012 Dawn French selected this song on Desert Island Discs as, in her words, "The song that made me fall in love again".
Film soundtrack use
The version by This Mortal Coil featured on David Lynch's 1997 film Lost Highway but did not appear on the film's soundtrack album. Lynch has stated that This Mortal Coil's version of the song inspired the first two albums by Julee Cruise. Also, he had previously intended to use the original version of the song on Blue Velvet but was prevented from doing so due to legal issues or budget limitations. It was also used in the trailer for the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and in Peter Jackson's 2009 film The Lovely Bones. The cover by Israeli singer Ivri Lider was featured in Eytan Fox's film HaBuah. The original Tim Buckley version also appeared in the 2006 Australian movie Candy, as well as a cover by Paul Charlier and Paula Arundell. The song has also featured in popular TV shows such as Waterloo Road. It was also used as a title song in Norah McGettigan's 2005 movie A Song for Rebecca.
Other cover versions
"Song to the Siren" has been covered many times since This Mortal Coil's version.
"Song to the Siren" has also been performed live by numerous artists, including George Michael and David Gray among others.