|Song Slowly Song||Tim Buckley|
|Aren't You The Girl||Tim Buckley|
|I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain||Goodbye And Hello|
|Goodbye And Hello||Goodbye And Hello|
|The River||Blue Afternoon|
|Come Here Woman||Starsailor|
|Song To The Siren||Starsailor|
|Make It Right||Greetings From L.A.|
Contributor: Dave Stephens
First reaction, and probably second reaction, and third …
that’s assuming the scenario of someone hearing a Tim Buckley record for the first time.
I’ve seen loads of words used to describe that voice:
“his hypnotic alto-to-falsetto voice”
“a voice that sailed into uncharted regions of the cosmos”
“skidding around the notes of a song as if possessed by the melodies”
“the voice comes like the sea at its most quiet time”
“sometimes rising into a glass-rattling scream of lust”
“like he’s walking gingerly over seaweed rocks”
“a voice that could swoop and soar like an eagle”
“his voice is as pure and as complicated as cut and polished crystal”
“it trips and falls and soars again in a mysterious flowing love-call”
“reaches finely-controlled, yet seemingly spontaneous, exalted heights”
“it is clear, yet filled with remarkable power”
“sometimes hanging mournfully over a note sustained at the very pith of sorrow, sustained until everything within range seems saturated in blue”
I NEVER ASKED TO BE YOUR FOLK SINGER
The debut album, released in 1966 on Elektra Records and titled simplistically Tim Buckley, is often labelled as ‘folk’ and sometimes ‘fey’ and ‘fragile’. It’s also often damned with the faint praise of “shows potential” or words along such lines. I’d disagree with pretty well all of that. Calling it folk is downright misleading when you consider the sounds made by other artists with that label round their necks at roughly that time – Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs etc. I fully recognise that genre terms like ‘folk’ do change over the years but note my phrase “at roughly that time”. See also further thoughts on this in Footnote #2. And give the album a proper listen.
The opening track I Can’t See You opens with two clashing guitars each playing a different chord. The net effect is dissonance. It’s slightly like a blues seventh chord but even more teeth-on-edge inducing. In between reoccurrences of this clashing, there’s a sweet and sour melody line sung to a rhythm guitar backdrop – not a finger-picked guitar in earshot. Lee Underwood’s lead is omnipresent, providing a form of counterpoint to the main melody.
Jump to the final track, Understand Your Man. It’s straight ahead blues rock of the kind created by Brit groups like the Yardbirds and Them after Muddy and the Wolf had lit a fire under British Pop, and then transported back to the US to be reinvented as garage. Sure, Dylan laid down his considerably more intellectual version in Highway 61 but to these ears, Tim and his team have more in common with those garage outfits. Both this one and I Can’t See You have electricity running right through them even while both Buckley and Underwood were essentially acoustic performers. Much the same plugged-in comment can be made about the other tracks.
It’s tempting to see both songs as pointers to the future: I Can’t See You to the highly experimental Starsailor wherein there’s little doubt that dissonance is used deliberately, and Understand Your Man to the blues & funk drenched Greetings From L.A., “You gotta wake up in the morning, keep your lovin’ daddy by your side.” I note that this is one of the minority of songs in the set for which Buckley is listed as sole author. On the others he’s twinned with the more literary Larry Beckett.
Many of the other tracks align more closely to what was being termed folk rock. Jac Holzman, owner of Elektra, was known to be a fan of the Byrds and had tried to get them signed to the label, so possibly the production team – Paul Rothchild and Holzman himself – were aiming at that sort of sound. A couple of the songs, Wings and It Happens Every Time were given a dressing of strings arranged by Jack Nitzsche. In both instances the strings served to emphasise the baroque aspects of the songs – maybe someone was thinking Left Banke.
A couple of numbers, Song Of The Magician and Song Slowly Song feature what I term the ‘limpid pools approach’, i.e. the slow falling of drops into puddles. The “drops” are provided courtesy of Underwood’s deep reverby guitar – much of the accompaniment at times is little more than that guitar, Jim Fielder’s bass plus the occasional wash of cymbals. Songs like this pair and certain others lead me to mentally bracket this album with some of the early psych output like that from the Great Society and the early Country Joe and the Fish material (though I’m pretty certain Buckley wasn’t on the lysergic stuff at the time).
My second selection from the set is a jingle jangle rocker, Aren’t You The Girl which is one of the few songs which really starts to introduce us to the wonders of that voice. Others include the Zorba The Greek styled speeded up one, Strange Street Affair Under Blue, and Grief In My Soul where that splendid falsetto comes into play. Perhaps not surprisingly Tim Buckley is his most vocally restrained album. The man himself has stated that he just did what he was told during the recording.
In between the release of Tim Buckley and the recording of its follow-up, Goodbye And Hello, Elektra took further steps along the path from folk to somewhere else. They released one of the longest rock numbers yet, the Butterfield Blues Band’s East-West; they recorded their flagship folk songstress Judy Collins in a wide range of orchestral settings on material which in parts was at some remove from folk on In My Life; they signed the Incredible String Band and released their first album; and they released Love’s celebrated second album, Da Capo. On top of all that they found time to sign the Doors and release their first. So, it was hardly a surprise that, when it came time to record Tim’s second, there was some muscle flexing going on. Big songs, big arrangements and big productions were in and not just at Elektra of course, but Elektra were determined to be part of it.
Messrs Buckley and Beckett (and trusted collaborator, Lee Underwood) were also flexing their muscles and were certainly up for the challenge. The songs on the album were, on the whole, stronger than those on Tim’s debut; the range of song styles was also greater, and Tim had very noticeably shed much of that vocal restraint to good effect (even while he maintained the elegant diction of the first for much of the time). Instrumentation was much more diverse but maintained sympathy with the songs to the extent of becoming an integral part of many of the tracks – Carnival Song, Pleasant Street, Knight Errant are good examples. Larry Beckett’s writing skills had improved though the hippie lyrics on No Man Can Find The War and the title track now sound dated.
My selections from Goodbye And Hello are highly predictable: the two long ones, I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain and the title track. Morning Glory, one of his best known numbers, very nearly made the cut too. Several others vied for selection but I felt that a Toppermost on Tim wouldn’t be representative without these particular songs.
I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain was authored purely by Tim. It’s written in the first person and directed at his estranged wife, Mary Guibert (mother of Jeff). He had married Mary at the age of 18.
Oh, I never asked to be your mountain
I never asked to fly
Remember when you came to me
And told me of his lies
The website Tim Buckley Music provides the lyrics for all Buckley songs and includes a table with headings like Mood, Genre, Instruments, etc. for each one. Under Mood for this number it lists “bluesy, intense, building, dramatic, determined, soulful, passionate, pensive”. While I wouldn’t quite go along with the first, most of the rest are pertinent. And, I would add some, like urgent, cacophonous, dervish-like – I’m almost tempted to call this song one long rant, with Tim declaiming above a maelstrom of sound created by his rapidly strummed 12 string guitar (slightly evocative of Richie Havens but wound up several notches), conga drums (from new collaborator Carter C.C. Collins) and other instruments that seem to float in and out, sometimes in harmony, sometimes not. It builds to several climaxes with his voice exploring much of the upper reaches of his range, even while you still get the feeling that he’s in control. It ends with a fade with Tim entreating “Please come home”. This track in particular is in total contrast to the relatively reined back Tim of the debut album. While Jerry Yester, the producer, must take credit for most of the arrangements on the album, I would suspect that on this one it was largely Tim who was responsible.
Richard Lehnert writing in Stereophile magazine, in 1990, said of this song “Buckley sounds like a 19th century romantic hero singing from the top of that mountain, cape unfurling in the Wagnerian gale.”
Mention of arrangements brings me to the other really long song on the album. Whereas, I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain with its loose but highly effective non-arrangement managed just over the six minute mark, the much more tightly arranged Goodbye And Hello tops out at over eight and a half. It’s worth quoting Larry Beckett on the arrangement, leading in with Lee Underwood’s contribution generally and then moving specifically to this song:
“Lee played like I never heard him play before or since. He played magnificent, inspired lines to all of these pieces that were stylistically diverse. The sound of his guitar was also magnificent; instead of his electric he was playing a rich acoustic 12-string. His motific ideas were so brilliant that when Jerry Yester took the tape home to write the orchestrations, he found himself drawn to Lee’s counter-melodies. In fact, he based many of his charts on them, and as a result some of the arrangements lie right over some of Lee’s best guitar parts. So you can almost consider Lee Underwood the secret composer of Goodbye And Hello.”
While slightly flawed by the sentiments, I still consider Goodbye And Hello to be magnificent – monolithic, monumental and a touch mad, but it was telling us that Tim had a way with big songs, sometimes regardless of the content.
Morning Glory comes right after Goodbye And Hello and it’s almost a spell of respite after the sturm und drang. It’s one of the few tracks from Buckley that’s identifiable as a singer/songwriter song, that’s if there is such a beast. You know what I’m getting at; something that might have been sung by a James Taylor or a Tim Hardin. And it’s good, very good, but I can’t say that I understand what it’s all about. Apparently, some years later after singing it live, someone asked Tim about the meaning. He responded saying that he had no idea; he’d just asked Larry Beckett for some lyrics about a hobo.
“Then you be damned!” I screamed to the Hobo;
“Leave me alone,” I wept to the Hobo;
“Turn into stone,” I knelt to the Hobo;
And he walked away from my fleeting house
Pleasant Street from this album was another that reluctantly got dropped from my selections. Perhaps the closest thing to a rock/pop record both in terms of the song and instrumentation which is strongly guitar dominated. The tune is basically a repetitive descending sequence with Tim chanting “Down — Down — Down — Down” at times, as if to emphasise that descent. The middle eight is one of those leaps through hyperspace of which Tim was capable.
1967 was a particularly good year for great albums. Goodbye And Hello was one of them.
If Tim Buckley was thin, electric and hinting at psych, and Goodbye And Hello, heavily arranged with a diverse range of songs, then Happy Sad was warm, acoustic and, yes, jazzy. This wasn’t something new for Buckley. He had regularly named artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane in interviews and, even in the early days, it wasn’t unusual for him to extend songs in performance with improvisation both from himself and his backing team – usually Lee Underwood. The first, and arguably the most loved of the posthumous live performance albums, Dream Letter, recorded in London in October, 1968, contained songs which would appear on Happy Sad, recorded in December that year. Among other songs, Dream Letter also included several from Goodbye And Hello. It’s interesting to compare versions of one of those songs, Hallucinations. This is the studio take which has been embellished with psych effects no doubt to illustrate the title and/or to impart some Tomorrow Never Knows type freakiness:
On the live take Tim is supported by Lee Underwood, by new accompanist David Friedman on vibes, and by local man (and hero of many recording sessions and live gigs) Danny Thompson on bass, with the latter given minimal rehearsal time. Tim and team make no attempt to reproduce the manufactured studio effects, and instead create a rather cultured jazz version of the song, adding a couple of minutes while they’re about it. It’s not just those vibes that cause the instant categorisation, take a listen to Tim’s voice:
The lead off track on Happy Sad was Strange Feelin’. Interviews over recent years have revealed that Tim was literally jamming on the song All Blues from Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue when this song emerged or was created. Take a listen to both and note particularly the reoccurrence of the riff:
Tim even utilises the same key as Miles though the melody line differs. Indeed the Buckley tune has a greater level of complexity than the Davis twelve bar blues. However, Tim’s vocal is largely on seventh chords which enhances the blues feeling. The presence of David Friedman’s vibes immediately establishes the idea of jazz in the grey cells even though Tim, on this one at least, doesn’t experiment too dramatically with his own vocal approach. Lee Underwood’s guitar is still in (relatively quiet) rock land, though he does show off some jazz chops on the follow-up album, Blue Afternoon. There’s also a delightful ebb and flow about the track giving a sensation of movement around the listener.
Four out of the other five songs on Happy Sad sound broadly similar to Strange Feelin’; slow to medium tempo, with structured melodies that manage to sound loose at the same time (if that’s not an oxymoron) and with warm, relaxed and gentle vocal from Tim. My selection from this album, if numbers had permitted, would have been the one with the long-winded title, Love From Room 109 At The Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway), which consists of several separate songs which have been bolted together, though I have to add that I’ve never come across such velvet gloved bolting before, perhaps invisible mending might have been a more apt phrase. The song also benefits from dubbed on ocean sound which was added because of an unintended electrical noise on the master take. The reluctance to record another take was due to Buckley’s dislike of recording more than one take, particularly at this stage in his career where tracks were effectively live and sounded that way.
That exception I mentioned in the last para was Gypsy Woman which was a long – longest on the album in fact – single chord up tempo jam with Carter Collins’ congas high in the mix, (though I should concede that it does break into a two chord section briefly). Nothing against this one but I rather wonder if this was Tim in default mode. My suspicion is that it was a number which Tim had performed live over the years, possibly in different guises. It certainly allowed him to get more experimental with his non verbal vocal effects.
I should add that Larry Beckett was at this time serving his draft in the US Army so the lyrics were Tim’s alone. They were less obviously literary than those of his erstwhile partner but, given the more mood inducing nature of the songs on the album, arguably less important than hitherto.
Unusually for Tim, Happy Sad did attract some public interest – it got to #81 in the US Album Chart. The album was maybe more easily categorisable for record buyers than its predecessors. Folk jazz wasn’t too alien – it was the direction Joni Mitchell was travelling in and Pentangle had recently formed in the UK.
I’ve seen the next three albums – Blue Afternoon, Lorca, Starsailor – referred to as the difficult ones which is (a) a drastic simplification, and (b) indicative that the writer just hadn’t listened to them. Blue Afternoon could almost have been Happy Sad Part 2, and it was the first time a new album hadn’t signalled a significant change of approach (and sound) for Tim. In one sense it actually was a Happy Sad follow-on in that it contained several songs originally intended for that album. For me it’s better than its predecessor – the ensemble sound is more natural, perhaps slightly less forced – though this could be purely a subjective impression. With the exception of the final track, The Train, nothing gets above an easy strolling pace, indeed I’m tempted to reach for the rather corny statement that the songs all sound as if they could be part of one long number divided into a number of movements.
The River, has a greater level of intensity than most of the other songs on Blue Afternoon or its predecessor, but it’s understated drama, not explicit. Ringing chords and Tim’s voice doing his own form of melisma, swooping up and down on notes rather than breaking them down in to multiple syllables.
I live by the river
And I hide my house away
Then just like the river
I can change my ways
I was tempted to include So Lonely which might just be the ultimate bed-sitter land song, built around an insanely catchy two chord riff and relatively playful for Tim, but instead went for the track that immediately followed it, Café. In the same key as So Lonely and opening with the same two chords, it’s a love song but, as so often with Tim, one that’s streaked with sorrow – “She had those sad china eyes that sang each time she smiled”.
Prior to moving on I should document the known facts regarding the recording and release of the albums, Blue Afternoon, Lorca and Starsailor. In 1969, Tim Buckley agreed to move from Elektra to Straight, a label owned by manager Herb Cohen. His version of the reason behind the move is that Jac Holzman was selling the label (which he did, in 1970) and he, Buckley, felt that the spirit would then have gone. Whatever the reason, it did leave him with a contractual commitment to produce one album for Elektra. Sessions were held over a four week period in late summer/early autumn 1969. From these sessions came the albums Blue Afternoon (released by Straight in November 1969) and Lorca (released by Elektra in May 1970). Buckley himself claims that some of Starsailor was also recorded at these sessions – that album was released, by Straight, in November 1970. There’s also a claim from Lee Underwood that the Lorca material was recorded first; it was released, didn’t find favour with fans or critics, and the Blue Afternoon songs, in part already existing material, were then recorded and released. He doesn’t appear to like Blue Afternoon – “It’s not even good sulking music” – his words (from feature “Chronicle Of A Star Sailor”, dated 1977). Given this story is at variance with known release dates this would suggest some unreliability in Mr Underwood’s memory.
There’s no doubt that Lorca was intended to be the experimental album even if that adjective is only really applicable to the title track and, to a lesser extent, the song, Anonymous Proposition – this pair of songs made up the first side of the LP. These are Tim’s words from an interview with Goldmine magazine in 1975:
“When I went in to do Lorca, I decided right then it was time to break open something new because the voice with 5½ octaves was certainly capable of coming up with something new. We were getting real tired of writing songs that adhered to the verse, verse, chorus things. It wasn’t an intellectual exercise though; as a matter of fact, it was a thing that finally Miles did with In A Silent Way. It happened with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and using one bass line which kept the idea of key in mind. In Silent Way, Miles had a melody line that he played on a trumpet and I had a lyric and a melody that went through “Lorca.” To this day, you can’t put it on at a party without stopping things; it doesn’t fit it. The real advance comes in “Anonymous Proposition,” the song that comes after “Lorca.” It deals with a ballad in a totally personal, physical presentation, to cut away the nonsense, the superficial stuff. It has to be done slowly; it has to take five or six minutes; it has to be a movement. It has to hold you there and make you aware that someone is telling you something about himself in the dark.”
So how revolutionary was Lorca? It wasn’t quite free of form even if it had little resembling a conventional melody line – it was largely single chord based. During part of its duration it settled down to a tenuous rhythm thanks to a repeated descending phrase on guitar and/or pipe organ, (which, being unusual on Buckley records, was the most noticeable feature), but such rhythm was woozy due to lack of drums and/or emphatic bass. Tim gave us a little speaking in tongues though in the main there were plenty of conventional lyrics with loads of stretched, bent and otherwise caressed syllables. It was a kind of love song in a slightly odd mix of first and third person – “It’s her life you owe. I owe you love”. I have to add that it’s a grower on repeated plays and there’s really very little here to scare the horses, though I do appreciate that it could well have sounded extreme at the time, particularly considering where Tim was coming from and, of course, those expectations.
For me, Anonymous Proposition resembles one of those song introductions which conforms to neither tempo nor melody prior to the real melody cutting in, only it never does. Certainly not frightening but one’s brain, trained for many years in the conventions of popular music, keeps yearning for some form of resolution.
The other three songs on Lorca (which occupied side two of the LP) conform to the broad Happy Sad/Blue Afternoon style with the final track, the congas driven Nobody Walkin’ resembling the near frantic strumming of Gypsy Woman, as a slight contrast. Given that such a style occupied two and a half studio albums plus the highly regarded live Pleasant Street, there’s a strong argument for considering this to be the Buckley “standard” approach to music. Perhaps that’s part of the rationale behind Starsailor. I’d imagine Tim would have had a horror of being regarded as typecast and, dare I say it, seen as cosy and comfortable.
Starsailor certainly wasn’t either of those things although the relatively conventional Song To The Siren and the near twee Moulin Rouge, both on side one, actually seemed uncomfortable in their surroundings. According to Tim, they – or, he, since Tim himself actually produced the album – started with a plan to put “songs in a traditional sense” (his words) on side one and the more challenging stuff on side two. Either that plan went down the plug hole or Tim’s view is at variance with that of most other people. The opening track, Come Here Woman, announces in no uncertain manner that this is something new, that you can put to one side what has gone before, including Lorca. Both Buckley and the band have gone up through several gears but there’s still rapport between them albeit interlaced with conflict. In just over four minutes – a really short time frame for Tim – the song goes through a number of movements, perhaps rehearsed, perhaps improvised, with him sounding as you had never heard before. Although often labelled avant jazz, this is more akin to rock and most of today’s listeners wouldn’t be too phased by it. In the right mood I actually find this track distinctly joyous.
Elsewhere, the experimental tracks are often stimulating, occasionally upsetting – the demented Frank Ifield yodel was maybe a step too far – often full of drama and rarely without interest. And they all differ from each other. There’s no sense of one very long number having been chopped up into bits. Extra instrumental colouration is provided by the brothers Buzz and Bunk Gardner on a variety of blowing things – Bunk provides a splendid sax solo on Healing Festival and Buzz gives us a reminder of Miles on trumpet. Bass man John Balkin, who’d joined the support team on Lorca, shares keyboards duties with Lee Underwood. On the title track, Buckley provides the entire backing himself via the overdubbing of 16 versions of his voice.
I should comment that Larry Beckett was back in harness for this album and shared the writing duties with Tim on several tracks. Song To The Siren however, like most/all of the Blue Afternoon songs, is one that dates back to that fertile period in ’67/’68 which resulted in so many songs. There’s a YouTube clip of Tim performing the number on the Monkees TV special in March 1968. Most readers will be aware of the reason for this song’s popularity – the Monkees clip has had nearly three million hits – but for anyone who might be still in the dark, I should explain that it’s because the song was covered by the British group, This Mortal Coil in 1984 (with Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins on lead vocal). It was tucked away on a B-side but sold surprisingly well, sparking a load more covers, and causing some people to search out and find the original.
The Buckley Starsailor version of the song is more intense than the Monkees show performance and the take that appears on the posthumously released Works In Progress. While the slow melody line bears some resemblance to some of the Happy Sad/Blue Afternoon songs, the sometimes slightly frivolous sounding vibes are absent, replaced by guitar washes and occasionally eerie high backing voices, which could possibly have been from Buckley himself.
Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
‘Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle
Contrast those lines with the first few couplets from Move With Me, the lead-off track on Greetings From L.A.:
I went down to the meat-rack tavern
And I found myself a big ole healthy girl
Now she was drinkin’ alone
Aw what a waste of sin
Those words are set to a groove that Mick, Keith and the boys would have been pleased with. The entrance of the femme chorale merely indicates that this would have been late period Stones. No, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t pastiche; it’s not that close. The next track Get On Up conjures up Marvin Gaye or the Reverend Al in full flight. But Tim chucks in some of his glossolalia to make doubly sure he’s put his stamp on the number. It’s followed by Sweet Surrender, the only slow(ish) number on the album, wherein Tim declares “I had to be a hunter again”. Sexy strings envelop him. And so it goes. I’m leaving the verdict on this album to someone with the user name of Albondigas? from España. These are the words he or she used on Amazon UK:
“Let’s get one thing straight – This record is not funk. This record is something else entirely. It is nothing short of a genius weaving together the sleaze of the Stones, the funk of Sly Stone, the darkness of the Doors, the soul of Wilson Pickett, the blues of Floyd Dixon et al … the list is endless. It is an outrageous show of musical and vocal talent that comes together in lush, multi-layered, fabulous, infectious, toe-tapping, life affirming, dirty, bluesy, funky, rock, soul smorgasbord.”
Ostensibly, Greetings From L.A. came about because Tim was down on his uppers after Starsailor had sunk almost without trace. Be that as it may, there’s no question of his heart not being in it. He delivers. With a vengeance. And the band that had been assembled for the album – minus Lee Underwood for the first time – was as tight as a bow-string. Congas man Collins is the only survivor of Tim’s previous bands but often he’s subsumed in the overall mix. I’ve gone for the final track, Make It Right, though there were several others clamouring for attention.
To an extent, Greetings From L.A. shot itself in the foot. It horrified many of Tim’s existing fans and the X rated lyrics were so explicit that it didn’t get plays on US radio stations. However, like Starsailor before it, it’s an album with a reputation that has grown over the years (though I should add that both albums have their detractors to this day).
Tim’s final two albums – Sefronia and, even more so, Look At The Fool – have tended to be dismissed by the critics but that’s another of those simplifications that doesn’t stand up to close examination. I’m as guilty as anyone. I own both on vinyl but hadn’t dug them out for years.
In the sleeve notes to the Morning Glory anthology, Sefronia is described as a mishmash and the writer has a point. It contains a batch of covers – two from highly respected singer/songwriters – a few original ballads and several tracks broadly in the sex funk mode of Tim’s previous set (but more restrained lyrically). With that mix it’s the sort of album a conventional pop singer might have put out well into his or her career. Tim Buckley was never a conventional pop singer. More was expected.
I haven’t made any selections from the set but there were temptations: the two part title track was one, as also was the version of Fred Neil’s Dolphins, which Tim had finally committed to wax after featuring in live performances for many years. And I’ve always been a lover of his take on the Jaynetts ’63 hit Sally Go Round The Roses. Here is Tim’s live version of the song from the Honeyman live album – “one foot in the glove compartment” indeed.
If Sefronia was given semi-respect from reviewers, Look At The Fool didn’t even get that. AllMusic gave it one and a half stars and the reviewer, Richie Unterberger, called it a “sad burned-out affair”. Sorry Rich, I have to disagree. Go back and give it another listen. I have tended to avoid personal taste type comment in this Toppermost – see Footnotes – but for Tim’s final offering I’m less inclined to hold back. In the dim distant past when I bought it, I was disappointed but recent listening has changed that view. This album should have been the successor to Greetings. While that was a number of things, it wasn’t quite funk, or funk in the manner of established artists in the genre. However this one is funk, probably due to the fact that the guitarist from Greetings, Joe Falsia, is now behind the producer’s console. I’m not the world’s greatest funk fan nor, I would suggest, are most Tim Buckley enthusiasts, but the majority of tracks in this set are irresistible. If you want white funk you can have your Bee Gees, I’ll take Buckley any day of the week. Just a shame that hardly any funk addicts were listening.
The album closes with Wanda Lou, a track that I’ve seen dismissed as a pale Louie Louie rehash. I’d just like to say that the late great Bert Berns based a significant part of his career on reruns of the La Bamba/Twist And Shout/Louie Louie chord sequence. Maybe he saw something in it that just doesn’t get through the ears of some critics. It also seems fitting that the man who didn’t want to be seen as a folk singer closed his first album with a pretty good version of a garage style song, and then gave us a new garage anthem as the closer to his final set.
“Coroner’s Report, Dr. Joseph H. Choi: Timothy Charles Buckley III died on June 29, 1975 at 9:42pm from acute heroin/morphine and ethanol intoxication due to inhalation and ingestion of overdose.” Lee Underwood from article “Chronicle Of A Starsailor”
Tim Buckley was only 28 when he died.
He didn’t quite give us ten albums before he wandered – to misquote Larry Beckett – but he gave us one heck of lot of great, sometimes staggering, music which continues to fascinate, to entertain and to cause arguments to this day.
AN ALTERNATIVE SELECTION
(from Andrew Shields)
First of all, I should thank Dave for the opportunity to add my comments/alternative selections to this superbly comprehensive Toppermost. As he has dealt with the back story (as it were) in such fine detail, I will concentrate here on listing my additional selections and on giving the principal reasons why I chose them. My first choice is Once I Was from Tim’s second album, Goodbye And Hello. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful melodies that Tim ever wrote. It is also one of two songs which his son Jeff sang at the tribute event which Dave discusses in Footnote #23 below. There is an interesting discussion of that event and of its emotional significance for Jeff here.
My next two choices first appeared on Happy Sad, Tim’s third album. The first of these is Buzzin’ Fly, a splendidly mellow song, which, like much of Tim’s work, has a melancholy undercurrent under a surface effervescence. My favourite version of the song is the one which appears on the superb live album, Dream Letter, released after Tim’s death. The live setting on that record allows Tim the opportunity to really cut loose with that magnificent voice in a way he could rarely do in the studio. At the same time, the backing musicians on it (who included Tim’s regular collaborator, Lee Underwood, on guitar and the great Danny Thompson on double bass) are more sympathetic to his unique musical style than were some of those who played on his other records. The entire album is magnificent and is well worth checking out. In the case of the next selection, Dream Letter, I have gone for the studio version. This song ranks among Tim’s most poignant as it is addressed to his son, Jeff, whom he rarely saw after the break-up of his first marriage. It is also one of his most moving vocal performances. The song also inspired Jeff to write Dream Brother – the only song he wrote about his relationship with his father – which appeared on his classic album, Grace.
The next selection, Happy Time, is taken from Buckley’s fourth album, Blue Afternoon. It features a characteristically brilliant vocal from him and a lovely rolling bass line played by John Miller. By contrast, I Must Have Been Blind from the same album is a song with a great deal of emotional power which features an almost anguished vocal from Tim.
A similar brooding intensity combined with a sense that, by this point, Buckley was living pretty close to the edge also pervades the next choice. Although I Had A Talk With My Woman first appeared on Lorca, Tim’s classic fifth album, I have selected the version of it from the Live At the Troubadour 1969 album. There is a lovely loose free-form feeling to this version, which also gives Buckley an opportunity to indulge in some fabulous vocal gymnastics.
There is a similar demonstration of Tim Buckley’s extraordinary power and range as a vocalist in my two final choices. The first of these is Monterey from the Starsailor album, which Dave discusses in detail above. This features one of Tim’s most remarkable and experimental vocal performances, which at times veers towards seeming to lose control but never actually does.
The final selection is Sweet Surrender from Greetings From L.A., one of Buckley’s most controversial albums. As with some of Marvin Gaye’s later work, this record manages to combine a kind of unbridled sensuality with an intimation that the central character in most of the songs is suffering from some kind of deep psychic pain. In both cases, this combination produced some of the finest and most emotionally affecting singing of either artist’s career.
One final point: unlike Dave, when it comes to Song To The Siren, I have to go for the version which Tim performed on the Monkees TV show. As with Phil Ochs’ song, Crucifixion, I have always thought that the studio version takes away something of the magic and majesty which the song had when sung unadorned with just acoustic guitar. Given that I think Siren ranks among the very finest songs written in the 1960s, I like both versions but the Monkees’ one sends a chill down my spine in a way that the other one simply cannot match.
I guess the fact that Tim Buckley is a minority taste is confirmed by the lack of attention he got from many of the respected critics of the sixties and early seventies – Guralnick, Marcus, Marsh, etc. I’ve checked my reference books and the massive, and otherwise excellent, “Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll” published in 1981 has no mention of Tim though it does have two and a half A4 size pages on Rod Stewart from Greil Marcus. I don’t begrudge Sir Rod the coverage but would have thought Tim merited at least a paragraph. “The Rolling Stone Record Review”, published in 1971, also omits Tim, but the “The Rolling Stone Record Guide” published in 1979 does have a review of Goodbye And Hello from one of their less well known reviewers, Bart Testa. Bart gives the album an ungenerous three out of five stars but, contradictorily, says in the review:
“This is the late Tim Buckley’s 1967 masterpiece, and in fact his only commercially available album in the United States. His second record, it epitomises the dense songwriting and elaborate production accorded the first wave of singer/songwriters in that period.” Bart Testa, The Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979)
“Not quite a counter-tenor but a tenor to counter with” Robert Shelton, New York Times
“In nine albums in just under nine years, Buckley went on an odyssey of musical styles virtually unparalleled in pop music. From folk rock to jazz to rock he travelled, retaining, at times discovering, a sound uniquely his own. His was the voice of a visionary, and one of the most flexibly lucid vocal instruments pop music has ever produced.” Stuart Winkles, Goldmine (date unknown)
“And there is an unfortunate tendency to lump Buckley with other personalities in today’s “hip” musical limelight, with the Tim Hardins and the David Blues and the Joni Mitchells and the Leonard Cohens. No – Tim Buckley is on a different trip. Like Alice in Wonderland, he has stumbled into a special rabbit hole of his own that no one else has found.” Eye Magazine (1968)
“But Buckley’s voice was a phenomenon of nature. With no formal training he was a model of diction and phrasing. His warm tenor curled around listeners like mellow pipe smoke. Its throbbing resonance bored into the heart with surgical precision. His upper register segued seamlessly into a falsetto for acrobatic flights of fancy.” Scott Isler, Musician Magazine (July 1991)
“Nothing in rock, folk-rock, or anything else prepares you for a Tim Buckley album, and it’s funny to hear his work described as blues, modified rock‘n’roll and raga rock when, in fact, there is no name yet for the places he and his voice can go.” Lillian Roxon, Rock Encyclopedia (1969)
“Tim Buckley’s second album was a far cry from the folk-rock conventions of his 1966 debut, rich in acid-Renaissance trimmings (harpsichord, harmonium) and dominated by the elaborate title suite. Compared to the radical vocal freedom and liquid sadness of Buckley’s imminent classics (1969’s Happy Sad, 1971’s Starsailor), Goodbye and Hello – produced by Lovin’ Spoonful guitarist Jerry Yester – was a triumph of form, with Buckley’s light tenor voice curling through “Hallucinations” and “Morning Glory” like incense smoke.” Robert Christgau and David Fricke, from The 40 Essential Albums of 1967 blog
“Yet another album by the elliptically rousing Tim Buckley – who I steadfastly maintain is one of the most underrated and misunderstood musicians ever to develop out of the deadend of rock and roll into the free-form fusion of rock and jazz coupled with his already original sound… Starsailor is yet another lyric-stung, waterfall-rushing-into-the-night’s-combing-of-the-stars manifestation of Buckley’s thresholding work in the rock/jazz medium. A tricky stance to take, and one with probably doubtful financial success… but for those who care about what a genius can do with lyrics, a 12-string guitar and a windmilling voice, Tim Buckley is to be investigated.” Creem Magazine (December 1970)
“It was odd to me that of all the sex symbols that had ever been in rock ‘n’ roll music, from Elvis to Jagger, none had ever said anything dirty or constructive about making love. So I figured, talk about stretch marks, which really lays it out to people in Iowa. I decided to make it human and not so mysterious, and to deal with the problems as they really are.” Tim Buckley
“Halfway through this record, my fiancée called out from the bathroom, ‘Has he come yet?’ Not for everyone, believe me; the world will seem a seamier place when the record’s over.” Richard Lehnert, Stereophile magazine on Greetings From L.A.(1990)
1. I sometimes ponder on the nature of the Toppermost Ten: pure favourites, or an imagined best-of, or something felt to be representative of a career, or something in-between. I have a strong suspicion that if I put the question to Our Esteemed Editor he’d say that it’s totally up to you, which, of course, puts the entire onus on the writer. While I’m in sympathy with the personal favourites approach, I’m also well aware of occasions where one wants to introduce a favoured artist to a wider audience in which case something representative of the highlights of such an artist’s career might be advantageous rather than possibly quirky favourites.
Such concerns seem particularly relevant with Tim Buckley. There are strong likes and dislikes whirling around with this man, which could influence selections, viz:
– do I include anything from Lorca and Starsailor?
– do I bother to include anything from the first album which some critics ignore?
– do I include the whole of Blue Afternoon?
– do I forget the last three studio albums?
– do I bother about the live albums or just concentrate on the studio ones?
And so on (which, needless to say, is no indication of my musical tastes but was put that way to get you thinking).
I know that I’m inclined to some variation in my selections but on this one I’m possibly tending more towards “representative of a career” than on some past occasions. Of course, the selections question does beg the question, why do we do it at all (generate Toppermosts that is)? Perhaps that might be up for discussion some other time.
Before leaving this topic I would make a couple of comments: firstly that reducing my selections to ten was harder than in any other Toppermost I’ve produced. Indeed I’ll be disappointed if I don’t receive a considerable number of alternative selections. And, secondly, I hope that the excellent contribution from Andrew will serve to further illustrate both the range of Buckley material and the varying taste buds of Buckley listeners.
2. While I don’t want to get bogged down in definitions, by the mid sixties, the term ‘folk music’ had already moved somewhat away from its original usage to denote traditional and often, non-attributable, songs, to include new/original songs by writers who rightly or wrongly claimed to be updating the field of traditional music. If I can quote from the very brief entry I give to this form of music in “RocknRoll” – please bear in mind that I was specifically talking about American music:
“That music was loosely termed Folk Music since much of it, initially at least, was based on traditional music from (mainly) North America. While the pockets of folk music activity that got underway in New York, the West Coast and some of the major universities may have started as interpretive, it wasn’t long before singer/songwriters emerged, effectively attempting to carry on the early traditions of song writing and performing. For many the model was Woody Guthrie who wrote hundreds of songs and performed usually solo accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Out of these hotbeds of folk activity came those names we all know: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, etc, etc. Dylan’s first couple of albums came out in 1962 and 1963. However in comparison to typical hit parade artists their sales at that time would have been minimal. Most people’s awareness of Dylan would have started via the Peter, Paul and Mary single, the Dylan-written “Blowing In The Wind” in 1963.”
By 1967, the year of release of Tim Buckley, the folk music field had expanded considerably. Elektra Records – see below – were one of the key channels, taking such music from small coffee houses to the public at large via albums which were promoted as ‘serious music’ rather than aimed at the teens and twenties market. Artists included the likes of Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs. Common to all was an acoustic form of delivery, almost invariably utilising finger picked guitars, songs played solo or in small groups, with material which was relatively simplistic melodically as opposed to the jazz informed big band style of popular music which used considerably more complex chord progressions and was in vogue from the immediate post war period up to the late fifties.
Dylan, notoriously, “went electric” in 1965, which, at the time, caused great gnashing of teeth for many of his fans who saw him as the god of folk music. That’s another story, and one which has been told many times, but suffice to say that Dylan’s early electric efforts got christened Folk Rock. In truth the term was a better fit for several groups and solo artists operating from the mid sixties onwards, many of whom took the Byrds as their model.
The last few paras might smack a little of teaching, grandmothers and sucking eggs, however I felt if I was going to grandstand I should at least paint the backdrop.
3. In an interview with Michael Davis of Goldmine magazine, Buckley stated “Well, I was never a folkie. I was always rooted in African rhythms. I still listen to Duke Ellington …”
4. The Elektra record label was formed in 1950 by Jac Holzman and Paul Rickolt, initially in New York. At the start its focus was largely folk music. It wasn’t by any means the only folk label on the block but by the mid sixties it had overtaken all the others. Its roster then included Judy Collins, Bob Gibson, “Spider” John Koerner, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, Fred Neil and the Dillards. New signings in the ’65/’66 timeframe included rock bands, the Doors, Love and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Elektra tried, but failed to sign the Byrds.
5. Buckley was prone to fabricating stories about himself, not unlike a certain Mr Zimmerman. For example he told one interviewer that, in his early days, he had toured with a country band called Princess Ramona and the Cherokee Riders. He went on to say that he got to wear a yellow hummingbird shirt and a turquoise hat and played lead guitar. And this when he was 15 years old. Apparently it was Princess Ramona who told him he should get into folk music (source, Lee Underwood’s book, “Blue Melody”). I note that that story does appear in more than one biographic feature on Tim which I guess begs the question, was Underwood wrong in this instance?
6. Tim’s vocal range has been called anything between three and a half to five and a half octaves depending on who you read.
7. Prior to his ‘discovery’ Buckley played in two bands with Jim Fielder on bass and Larry Beckett on drums: a rock group called the Bohemians and an acoustic folk trio called Harlequins 3.
8. There’s a story that the letters LSD are hidden in the wrinkles of Buckley’s trouser leg on the cover of Tim Buckley. However, Larry Beckett says, “I’m afraid it’s just a legend, like the faces of The Beatles were supposedly hidden in the cover of John Wesley Harding. It’s a product of the hallucinations of the time.”
9. Jack Nitzsche started out in the L.A. music scene as a songwriter and arranger – he was co-writer with Jackie DeShannon of Needles And Pins. He gravitated to a position arranging and conducting for Phil Spector. As the sixties progressed he produced arrangements for several major artists including the Stones. In many of the reviews I’ve seen for Tim Buckley he hasn’t been given credit for his contributions.
10. Herb Cohen is mainly known for being manager of Frank Zappa, but his stable of artists included – not necessarily at the same time – Odetta, Tom Waits, Alice Cooper, Lenny Bruce and, of course, Tim Buckley. Buckley was recommended to Cohen by the Mothers of Invention drummer, Jimmy Carl Black. It was under Cohen’s management that Buckley recorded the six song demo tape which was sent to Jac Holzman at Elektra which resulted in him winning his recording contract. There were other connections between Buckley and the Mothers: another drummer for that band, Billy Mundi played on the Tim Buckley album, and sax and woodwind player Bunk Gardner played on Starsailor.
11. As of writing this – mid October 2016 – two out of the first three reviews of Goodbye And Hello in Amazon UK are from fans who started out as Jeff Buckley fans who decided to investigate dad.
12. I managed to get through Goodbye And Hello without mentioning Sgt. Pepper, which was a target I set myself since it gets referenced in most of the reviews I’ve seen. Slightly childish of me. Holzman and Yester must have had Pepper and Pet Sounds in their minds when they put together Goodbye.
13. Which brings me neatly on to Jerry Yester, producer of Goodbye and co-producer of Happy Sad with Zal Yanovsky, the man he replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful. Jerry started out in the folk clubs of L.A. and joined the Modern Folk Quartet, while pursuing a parallel career in session work. His career in production started off with the Association and continued with the Turtles, thus typecasting him immediately with the West Coast soft rock sound of the late sixties. He joined the Spoonful in ’67 though he’d already struck up a relationship with them having played piano on Do You Believe In Magic.
14. In his book, “Blue Melody”, Lee Underwood, makes a passing comment on the period when Tim and he and others were living in Venice Beach, prior to recording the Happy Sad album. Apparently an LP that got played quite frequently was Dr. John’s Gris Gris. That album contains several songs of above normal length often featuring a high rhythmic and relatively low melodic content. Essentially, these were numbers that Buckley would term Afro American even while the writer/performer was white. Of course, hindsight might have magnified the importance of this album. I have remarked on possible unreliability of Underwood but I should add that I’m sure this would not have been intentional; memory does play tricks. I should also state that I’ve only read the samples of “Blue Melody” on Amazon so there’s also the possibility I might not have appreciated the context of certain statements.
15. At roughly this time there was a single recorded by Buckley – Once Upon A Time / Lady, Give Me Your Key – but it didn’t see release. Apparently Holzman asked Buckley and Beckett to come up with some ideas for a pop single. The demos have very recently been released in a collection of such material entitled Lady, Give Me Your Key. Buckley and team rather over indulged themselves on the A-side, to the extent that the resulting record sounded too much like a parody of a psych pop record, which is probably why Elektra decided not to release it. The B-side however is something of a lost gem. This is the demo version, not the unreleased single cut, of Lady, Give Me Your Key:
The A-side of the unreleased single, Once Upon A Time, is on YouTube. It has its charm and, who knows, Buckley’s career might have followed a different path if it had been released (though one can also see where Elektra were coming from).
16. Several articles on Buckley in the Starsailor period namecheck Cathy Berberian as a strong influence on Tim. I am not familiar with her oeuvre but she was a pioneer in non-verbal music, if that’s the right descriptor. Wiki introduces her in the following manner. “… was an American mezzo-soprano and composer based in Italy. She interpreted contemporary avant-garde music …”
17. Re-reading my paras on Starsailor, they come across as something of a cop-out with no real sense of the music conveyed at all. And that for an album which Buckley saw as by far the most important of his career. In part, my problem is that I don’t have usual reference points – Buckley reportedly was influenced by the lady I’ve just briefly covered plus avant garde composers like Krzysztof Penderecki and Györgi Ligeti, creative artists he’d been turned on to by John Balkin. Even if I was familiar with such composers’ work, which I’m not, merely dropping them into a review is highly unlikely to be helpful to most readers. In my defence, very few of the contemporary reviews of Starsailor got anywhere remotely near to describing the sonic effect of that album. Of more recent ones, Simon Reynolds and Joy Press made a valiant attempt in “The Sex Revolts” (1996):
“Buckley’s voice(s) ooze like plasma, coagulating in globules, filaments and tendrils that bifurcate then reconnect, forming a sort of honeycomb of vocal jouissance – a grotto of glossolalia. Buckley’s eerie vocal polyphony lies somewhere between babytalk, orgasmic moan, and the shattering ecstasies of mystical rapture.”
18. I managed, unintentionally, not to mention Fred Neil until Tim’s penultimate album, Sefronia. That was remiss of me. I should have informed you that more than one critic over the years has likened Tim’s voice, particularly in his “middle period” to that of Fred, possibly with some justification.
19. The Jaynetts were a New York based girl group who had a big hit with Sally Go Round The Roses in 1963. There were follow-ups of course but unfortunately for the girls, the public rapidly lost interest. The song itself was an original but did draw from the nursery rhyme, Ring A Ring A Roses.
20. The correct Larry Beckett quote (from the front of Goodbye And Hello) is “He will sing you ten tales and then wander till spring”.
21. Larry Beckett has recently been working with a UK group, The Long Lost Band, who hail from Lancaster. They have their own version of Song To The Siren plus an album based on new Beckett lyrics.
22. I performed a Word Find on the first draft of this document and found a rather large number of occurrences of the word “listen”. I apologise if the tone may have seemed hectoring but I do believe that there are a number of misapprehensions about Tim Buckley’s music and it’s just possible that a little “attention with the ear(s)” as the dictionary puts it, might be of some assistance.
23. In the main section of this document I have attempted to focus on the music of Tim Buckley and not his personal story, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Tim’s son Jeff and the relationship, or non-relationship, between them. Jeff was Tim’s son from his first wife, Mary Guibert. He was born about a month after Mary and Tim divorced. According to Jeff he only met his father once, and that was at the age of eight. He wasn’t invited to Tim’s funeral.
David Browne who wrote the book “Dream Brother: The Lives And Music Of Jeff And Tim Buckley” spent as much time as he could with Jeff. These are his words:
“Jeff’s ambivalence about any connection with his father was understandable; the hurt of abandonment, of knowing his father had adopted another son (from Tim’s second marriage), was etched in his face and words. Yet from his journals and talking with associates, it was apparent that Tim had left a larger footprint on Jeff’s soul than anyone had imagined. Jeff’s world view reflected his deep knowledge of Tim’s life, music, and career train-wreck. Hence Tim’s story had to be explored in full: how else could one explain Jeff stating, in an interview at age 16, that he didn’t want to land a record deal right away because the only place to go from there was down?”
Jeff Buckley died on the 29th of May, 1997 from an accident while swimming.
Jeff performed at a tribute to his father held at the church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn Heights on 26th of April, 1991. He was billed as Jeff Scott Buckley (his full name) and was not known to the public yet. The running order can be found here. Jeff sang four songs of which the first was I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, the song Tim wrote to Jeff’s mother Mary:
“Blue Melody – Tim Buckley Remembered” by Lee Underwood
“Dream Brother: The Lives And Music Of Jeff And Tim Buckley” by David Browne
Dave Stephens had a long career in IT – programming, consultancy, management etc. – before retiring in 2007. After spending time on the usual retiree type activities he eventually got round to writing on one of his favourite subjects, popular music, particularly, but not only, the sort that was around in his youth. He gained experience at ‘the writing thing’ by placing CD reviews on Amazon. This led to his first book “RocknRoll” which was published for Kindle in 2015. He followed this up with “London Rocks” in July 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX