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Long afloat on shipless oceans ...
July 20, 2012 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Its writer refused to record it. Pat Boone almost killed it. Then it was resurrected as a B-side to an indie prestige project. Then it became an A-side in its own right, sold a half a million copies, and ended up being performed by its writer on the last ever episode of the Monkees. - "Song to the Siren's irresistible tang" by Martin Aston.

Tim Buckley (Monkees)
Tim Buckley (Starsailor)
This Mortal Coil

Covers (in order of article appearance):

Robert Plant
George Michael
Sinéad O'Connor
Bryan Ferry
David Gray
John Grant/The Czars
Sheila Chandra
Lost Witness
Half Man Half Biscuit
Jimmy "The King" Brown
Brendan Perry
Alfie Boe

More covers:

Cocteau Twins
John Frusciante
Pat Boone
Damon and Naomi
Gravenhurst
Thomas Dybdahl
Juno Reactor
Charlotte Martin
Julienne Taylor
Vengeance
Susheela Raman

Movies:

Lost Highway
The Lonely Bones
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
posted by mrgrimm (41 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
And the This Mortal Coil version still wins by a country mile.
posted by Decani at 3:03 PM on July 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


The This Mortal Coil version was my first MP3 ever, downloaded from Usenet in 1997 because it wasn't on the Lost Highway soundtrack.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:04 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What an interesting coincidence. I was preparing a post on this song based on a youtube comment (linked below) that the artist performed this song on the Monkees, which I found to be wistful and perhaps somewhat of a waste given Buckley's talent. That may be hindsight talking, however.

For the Cocteau Twins cover, prefer the version recorded under the 4AD collaboration group, This Mortal Coil.
posted by boo_radley at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2012


Alright, art punks, raise your hands. Who else got into Big Star (or any of the other bands they covered) because of TMC?
posted by boo_radley at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


When I was a teenage goth, I got that This Mortal Coil boxed set for Christmas one year. I started asking my dad about the artists who were on the "originals" bonus CD (the original versions of songs This Mortal Coil had covered). Most of them he hadn't heard of (Big Star isn't really his speed; my dad is more of a rock 'n' roll and garage rock guy).

When I got to Tim Buckley, though, he said, "Of COURSE I know who Tim Buckley is, I used to work with him!" As it turns out, they'd both worked at the same Mexican restaurant in Orange County when my dad was in college, and after my dad got back from Vietnam, he hung out backstage with Tim a few times when he played at the Troubadour.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've mentioned this before here, but Elizabeth Fraser's vocal performance on TMC's version is the best singing I've ever heard from a human being. It's subtle, majestic, haunting and beautiful. I've heard it hundreds of times and it still thrills me.
posted by davebush at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is the lyric "did I dream, did you dream about me" from one of these (maybe the Mortal Coil version) used in a techno song at song point? Maybe a Moby track? It feels eerily familiar...
posted by trackofalljades at 3:26 PM on July 20, 2012


Yep, it's been sampled a bunch. Messiah - temple of dreams, among others.
posted by empath at 3:30 PM on July 20, 2012


trackofalljades, I know exactly what you're talking about
posted by ZipRibbons at 3:31 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, did I misread this post. And I watched half of the linked episode before I realized that "Song to the Siren's irresistible tang" wasn't a dirty Monkee's song about oral sex.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This song plays regularly on my Pandora stations, and each time I'm puzzled by the "This is Tim Buckley" introduction. Now I know. It's a Monkee.
posted by Fichereader at 3:42 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um... No. Tim Buckely was not a Monkee. The Monkees were Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Michael Nesmith. Tim was apparently known to Micky, who got him the shot to perform on The Monkees tv show. But he was not, ever, a Monkee.
posted by hippybear at 3:47 PM on July 20, 2012


I've got my eye on you, Fichereader.
posted by boo_radley at 3:48 PM on July 20, 2012


But it's a Monkee introducing him, right?
posted by Fichereader at 3:49 PM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Pat Boone version is less horrible than I would have expected.

The Sinead O'Connor version, though nice, is less brilliant than I would have expected.

I've mentioned this before here, but Elizabeth Fraser's vocal performance on TMC's version is the best singing I've ever heard from a human being. It's subtle, majestic, haunting and beautiful. I've heard it hundreds of times and it still thrills me.

I love the way she emphasizes the first syllable of the word "enfold." It's such a tiny, subtle thing that just makes the whole song sound that much more otherworldly (the massive waves of sustain and reverb also help, of course).
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:50 PM on July 20, 2012


Oh, yeah. That's most likely Micky.
posted by hippybear at 3:50 PM on July 20, 2012


I kind of went in chronological order with this song. I watched Tim Buckley sing it on The Monkees show when it aired, but loved This Mortal Coil's version in the 80s. Great links. Thanks for posting.
posted by Isadorady at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2012


Here is a kind of crappy recording I made of Doug Martsch, of Built to Spill, playing it in 2002.
posted by jessssse at 3:58 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arrrgggghhhh, this is driving me nuts! I know this song not from the original but one of the covers, the Brian Ferry version sounds close but it's older than that one. I can't quite put my finger on it.
posted by MikeMc at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2012


Definitely Micky Dolenz
posted by Isadorady at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post. Thanks for putting all that together.

I wore out at least two tapes of This Mortal Coil back in the 80s when I was in high school, mostly listening to that song.
posted by The World Famous at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2012


Tim Buckley was simply an amazing artist. I've heard people gush for years about Jeff Buckley, his son, but for me it's always been Tim. I first heard Song to the Siren, as many of you did, through This Mortal Coil, but didn't find my way to Tim Buckley until Billy Bragg covered his Dolphins. I was privileged to hear Dead Can Dance do the song live a few years back and it gave me a chill for sure.

Thanks for for the post. Warms my gothckles.
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Chills.
posted by spicynuts at 4:19 PM on July 20, 2012


I really adore The Czars' version here . John Grant's voice is so sweet and tender that I think I'd chuck myself at any siren who sang like that, and bugger the imminent death.

David Gray's is surprisingly good. Still not as gloriously strange and thrilling as This Mortal Coil though. And now I wish I'd booked tickets for Elisabeth Fraser at Meltdown.
posted by finisterre at 4:31 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is my favorite Metafilter post ever. Love emotive songs with histories, and I spent many late nights in studio with the TMC version, and never tired of it.

Dropping this here as a close relation, clearly inspired by the TMC version, a call and response of sorts: Thomas Feiner & Anywhen - The Siren Songs
posted by vers at 5:05 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And Bryan Ferry is still gorgeous and smooth. I had forgotten what a crush I had on him, but man, it's back.
posted by vers at 5:19 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the lyric "did I dream, did you dream about me" from one of these (maybe the Mortal Coil version) used in a techno song at song point? Maybe a Moby track? It feels eerily familiar...

Yep, it's been sampled a bunch. Messiah - temple of dreams, among others.


Here's another.
posted by homunculus at 6:06 PM on July 20, 2012


but didn't find my way to Tim Buckley until Billy Bragg covered his Dolphins.

(The) Dolphins is a fantastic song, on some level the equal of "Song To The Siren," and Buckley nearly made it his own, similarly to how Nilsson handled "Everybody's Talkin'." But both "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Dolphins" were actually written by notorious recluse Fred Neil, whose self-titled album on Capitol stands as one of the least-known yet most impressive records ever.

Neil's influence on everyone from Buckley to Nilsson to Dylan to the Jefferson Airplane to CSNY is well-known, and he has an unusual presence that serves as a spiritual link to all of them (and many more - Karen Dalton, the Band.) But I've long thought he was Buckley's primary role model. Like Buckley, he drifted into something a bit more odd than what he's best known for, and you have to dig a little to get to the real gems. Anyone who likes Buckley should like Neil, so try these out:

Fred Neil The Dolphins

Tim Buckley The Dolphins (tv appearance)

Fred Neil Everybody's Talkin'

Karen Dalton Little Bit Of Rain (Fred Neil cover)

Fred Neil I've Got A Secret
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:49 PM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I messed up the Buckley link. It should properly be:

Tim Buckley The Dolphins (tv appearance)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:51 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, mrgrimm. I've been wanting to hear every cover of this song since I heard it for the first time on the TMC album and I only have three on iTunes -- Damon & Naomi, the original by Buckley, and the TMC. It is incredibly haunting.
posted by xenophile at 7:41 PM on July 20, 2012


ok, so the song isn't in fact called "Song to the Siren's Irresistable Tang". Good to know.
posted by sutt at 8:03 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Incredible song. Truly beautiful, it nails me every time I hear it. The version on the Monkees' show is really awesome, and I remember when I first saw it as a young whippersnapper not understanding at first why they were letting someone else end their last show. Then the magic of this song took over and I was hooked.

Buckley was one of the very unique artists of our time.
posted by birdhaus at 9:06 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


the CT do seem to have redefined it. most of the recordings following theirs use their melody and pacing.

there's another tim buckley performance that I can't find right now -- another live TV performance -- that i'm not seeing here. it's my favorite, next to the TMC version.

I enjoy the contrast between the versions. Buckley's is a different reading -- i had an epiphany one time that it's almost as if he's singing as the sailor, and elizabeth fraser's singing as the siren. (I realize that doesn't work for the lyrics; i have a hard time separating this song in my mind from the old camus essay, which i read not long before I first heard this song.)
posted by lodurr at 4:21 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bought the CD by TMC, then ran out and bought another copy in case the first one broke or got lost. Just because of that song. Holy crap that is good.
posted by BibiRose at 6:15 AM on July 21, 2012


As much as I love the Cocteaus version the Half Man Half Biscuit version has an awful lot of charm.
posted by brilliantmistake at 6:32 AM on July 21, 2012


I love the Cocteau/TMC version so hard.

Hated it the first times I came across it (boring, said my teen-aged self), but it is not.
I had no idea about the Monkees connection.
I'll be here a while.

It strikes me, I would buy a drink called Liz Fraser's Irresistible Tang.
posted by Mezentian at 6:55 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The The cover Dolphins

Beth Orton & Terry Callier cover Dolphins

posted by the bricabrac man at 7:00 AM on July 21, 2012


Here, the This Mortal Coil version provides the PERFECT backdrop to the creepy pantomime by twins Stella and Ella. I made like five versions of this with different songs, and I was disappointed that the Radiohead one got singled out for attention because this was just clearly the superior entry.
posted by hermitosis at 7:41 AM on July 21, 2012


Oh, is this the place where I get to tell my Tim Buckley story? So I'm working at a record store in high school, and someone tries to sell a stack of thrashed LPs which the buyer doesn't want and the guy just says "keep them" and walks away. I go through the stack and see Happy Sad, and one of my co-workers tells me to take it home and listen to it.

It's pretty dirty but not too badly scratched, and when I put it on that night I'm thinking "this is really great," when my mother runs into the living room yelling "That guy, it's that goddamn guy!"

"Uhm, it's a Tim Buckley record, what's the problem?

"He was our neighbor when you were a baby in Venice, and every time I'd get you to finally fall asleep, he'd come home and plug in his amplifier and wake you up again! I'd know that guy anywhere! Please turn it off."

Needless to say, I completely adore Tim Buckley.
posted by Scram at 11:13 AM on July 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


ok, so the song isn't in fact called "Song to the Siren's Irresistable Tang". Good to know.

Heh. Between that, and the completely misleading timeline ("Then it became an A-side in its own right, sold a half a million copies, and ended up being performed by its writer on the last ever episode of the Monkees." uh no.) it was a pretty confusing fpp. Glad some got past that to the meat. Thanks for not giving me more shit, lol.

I'm with the majority here. The TMC version is supreme. Susheela Raman was the best new one I found out of all this.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:11 PM on July 22, 2012


And I watched half of the linked episode before I realized that "Song to the Siren's irresistible tang" wasn't a dirty Monkee's song about oral sex.

And then you watched the rest of the episode ... or had oral sex?

i had an epiphany one time that it's almost as if he's singing as the sailor, and elizabeth fraser's singing as the siren.

Consider the difference in lyrics:

"Were you hare when I was fox?" vs. "Were you here when I was flotsam?"

I don't think I know what that means....

I've mentioned this before here, but Elizabeth Fraser's vocal performance on TMC's version is the best singing I've ever heard from a human being. It's subtle, majestic, haunting and beautiful. I've heard it hundreds of times and it still thrills me.

This version I think. (linked above as "Cocteau Twins"). Less produced, cleaner, and tighter.

The full lyrics:

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? (here/flotsam)
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"
(via)

posted by mrgrimm at 9:33 AM on July 23, 2012


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