Iterations: Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren”

Iterations: Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren”
Tim Buckley / Starsailor

I am the furthest thing there is from a Tim Buckley scholar, but have happily immersed myself in his “Song To The Siren”, which is arguably his most famous tune thanks to the number of times it has been reinterpreted. Thankfully, in 2011 The Guardian published as comprehensive a history of the song as you’re going to find, including interviews with Buckley collaborator and co-writer Larry Beckett and a number of those who’ve reinterpreted it. So read that, then read this excerpt from Facing The Other Way: The Story of 4AD – incidentally by Martin Aston, the author of the Guardian piece – that covers the This Mortal Coil/Cocteau Twins connection to the song in greater depth.

Here’s the song’s public premiere, a straightforward version he first performed as a guest on the series finale of The Monkees in 1968:

Tim Buckley – “Song To The Siren” (on The Monkees)

This version was saved from discarded sessions for Buckley’s 1968 album Happy Sad and appeared on the 1999 compilation Works In Progress:

Tim Buckley – “Song To The Siren” (1968 demo)

The song finally appeared in a much more ambitious arrangement on his 1970 masterpiece Starsailor:

Tim Buckley – “Song To The Siren”

And because it’s about as famous as the original – if not more – the version by This Mortal Coil featuring Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie taken from 1984’s It’ll End In Tears:

This Mortal Coil – “Song To The Siren”

British dreampop band Engineers drew the “Song To The Siren” card for their contribution to the 2005 Tim Buckley tribute album Dream Brother:

Engineers – “Song To The Siren”

Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance – himself 4AD and This Mortal Coil alumnus – has made the song a staple of his live sets. Here he is performing it in session for KEXP in 2011:

Brendan Perry – “Song To The Siren” on KEXP

More contemporarily, Brit-rock band Wolf Alice covered the song in a 2017 Spotify Session:

Wolf Alice – “Song To The Siren”

Damon & Naomi frequently covered the song live, and it has appeared on a number of their live records. This video comes from the 1001 Nights compilation of those performances:

Damon & Naomi – “Song To The Siren”

And Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry included it as the centrepiece of his excellent 2010 record Olympia; happily professionally-shot footage of his performance of the song on tour in Belfast in 2012 also exists:

I’ve tried to stay pretty on-topic with my selections, but know there are many, many more versions out there including by Pat Boone (he was the first to release a version of the song, even before Buckley), John Frusciante, Robert Plant, Sinead O’Connor, and George Michael. The Chemical Brothers tune of the same name is not a cover.

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