This haunting song about a scary surrender to a love that may not be returned was written by Tim Buckley and his writing partner Larry Beckett in 1967. Buckley’s first performance of this song came in 1968 on the last episode of The Monkees TV series, which was directed by the group’s Micky Dolenz. Pat Boone was the first to release a version of the tune when it was featured on his 1969 album Departure. Buckley finally recorded it for his 1970 album Starsailor using a more reverb-filled instrumentation than the original folk song styling of his 1968 performance.
The song’s reference to the sirens tempting sailors at sea stems from the ancient Greek myth of sea nymphs luring sailors on to rocks by their singing.
Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
‘Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle
And you sang
Sail to me
Sail to me
Let me enfold you
Here I am
Here I am
Waiting to hold you
Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you hare when I was fox?
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks,
For you sing, “Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow:
O my heart, O my heart shies from the sorrow”
I am puzzled as the newborn child
I am troubled at the tide:
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Should I lie with Death my bride?
Hear me sing, “Swim to me, Swim to me, Let me enfold you:
Here I am, Here I am, Waiting to hold you”
Original version by Tim Buckley:
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 new born 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.”
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 3 weeks on theUK 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.
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 Buckley.
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 song has also featured in popular TV shows such as Waterloo Road.
Other cover versions
“Song to the Siren” has been covered over 24 times since This Mortal Coil’s version. The song was given new life in the form of a trance remix by Lost Witness — “Did I Dream (Song to the Siren)” peaked at #28 in the UK singles chart in 2002. Similarly, a sample of This Mortal Coil’s version was featured prominently in Messiah’s techno single “Temple of Dreams”.
It was also sampled by Ratty in their trance track “Sunrise” and a cover is used as the break in a hardstyle track by Deepack titled “Down Low”.
In 2005 Dream Brother: The Songs of Tim and Jeff Buckley, a tribute album of songs by both Tim Buckley and his son, Jeff Buckley, featured a version of “Song to the Siren” by Engineers. This cover was based upon This Mortal Coil’s version of the song.
On the tribute album Sing a Song for You: Tribute to Tim Buckley, The Czars contributed a version of the song over three minutes longer than the original.
A cover of the song was the title track of Song of the Siren: Live in San Sebastian (Sub Pop #SP592), a 2002 live album by Damon and Naomi with Kurihara, guitarist for the band Ghost.
“Song to the Siren” has also been covered by Robert Plant on his 2002 album Dreamland, and as with Plant as a duet with English tenor Alfie Boe on his 2011 album Alfie. It has also been covered by Mercury Prize nominee Susheela Raman on her album Salt Rain; John Frusciante on The Empyrean; former Two Nice Girls member Laurie Freelove on her 1991 album Smells Like Truth; Post-punk band Half Man Half Biscuit for the Peel Sessions; Sinéad O’Connor on Music of Ireland: Welcome Home; Alex Cooke on his 2010 release Song to the Siren; and by Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music on his 2010 solo album, Olympia. English Indian artist Sheila Chandra covered the song for the 2000 compilation album Gifted on Real World Records. Jann Klose, who is a featured vocalist and guitarist in the movie Greetings from Tim Buckley, covers “Song to the Siren” on his 2013 album “Mosaic”.
“Song to the Siren” has been performed live by numerous artists, including George Michael and David Gray among others. Brendan Perry, of Dead Can Dance, covered the song accompanied by Robin Guthrie, formerly of the Cocteau Twins, on Perry’s 2011 tour, then again for the Dead Can Dance world tour 2012.
In 2012, Dawn French selected this song on Desert Island Discs as, in her words, “The song that made me fall in love again”
Paula Arundell is an Australian actress and singer.Paula Arundell studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), in Sydney. She graduated in 1995, with a degree in Performing Arts (Acting).Arundell has appeared on television in Water Rats, Murder Call, Farscape, All Saints, Home and Away, Out of the Blue and Love My Way among others.image by =agnes-cecile