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.
This has become perhaps Buckley's most famous song due the many artists who have covered it since his death from a drug overdose in 1975. Most notable is the version by This Mortal Coil, which features the guitar and vocals of Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Frazer. Their interpretation peaked at #66 in the UK in 1983, but remained in the UK Indie Charts for 101 weeks. Following the success of This Mortal Coil's single, there was a revival of interest in Buckley's music, prompting a large increase in his posthumous sales.
The song has landed on the UK singles chart on two other occasions in different guises. In 1992 dance act Messiah used Elizabeth Fraser's vocals on This Mortal Coil's version in their rave hit "Temple Of Dreams," which peaked at #20. Ten years a reworking of that dance number by UK trance duo Lost Witness titled "Did I Dream (Song to the Siren)" peaked at #28. That version was also used in a TV advert for Paxo.
The British post-Britpop band Starsailor took their name from Tim Buckley's album.
Lyricist Larry Becket recalled to Uncut of Tim Buckley: "I only saw him actually compose to my lyrics once, and it was 'Song To The Siren.' He looked at that page, which had only taken me a few minutes to write, days before, and started playing and singing the song as if it was already written. He made some minor adjustments and it was complete. We were astonished."
In 1983, the Cocteau Twins recorded a version of this song with the musical collective This Mortal Coil. It's an interesting connection because Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser later had a romantic relationship with Jeff Buckley, son of "Song of the Siren" writer Tim Buckley. Jeff and Elizabeth did a duet together called "All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun