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Ranking: Every Jeff Buckley Song from Worst to Best

A song-by-song companion for your stroll through the late crooner's discography

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This article was originally published in August 2014. We’re republishing it today in remembrance of Jeff Buckley, who passed away 20 years ago this upcoming week. 

Twenty years ago this week, the Earth was graced by what would end up being the only full-length release of a beautiful voice. Jeff Buckley’s songs can cut about as deep as the gaping hole that opened with his passing. Twenty years have seen his legacy and appreciation expand exponentially, and out of that deep respect we write.

The son of folksinger Tim Buckley and a classically trained cellist mother, music was in Buckley’s veins from day one. Yet despite his early baptism, for years the singer-songwriter struggled to find entry into the music industry. During that time, he bounced in and out of funk, metal, and reggae bands while holding down a hotel job to pay the bills. Many point to a tribute concert for his father in 1991 as the moment his career began to gain momentum.

The importance of this early period should not be underscored, it allowed Buckley to experiment endlessly both with his voice and his six-string. By the time mainstream audiences met him, Buckley held an extensive vocabulary of chords and phrases, one with range near equivalent to that of his voice. Jazz, World Music, Zeppelin — snippets of all of these dispositions leaked into Buckley’s originals and the covers he chose. Many of his songs listen like the free-form poetry from which he drew his lyrics: The melodies followed the words, and this fluidity freed him from the verse-chorus structure that chained many of his ’90s contemporaries. It was a style which lay in complete servitude to his famously epic vocal control. One can only speculate on the prospect of Buckley delving into more avant-garde realms of vocal manipulation that electronic equipment has allowed for in the years following his death.

Sadly, we will never see any further fruits of Buckley’s eclectic pallet. What sits in its place is the knowledge of his untimely demise and the twinkle of our own mortality it brings to mind. However, there is still the brilliance of Grace along with a tiny ocean of covers, unreleased originals, and an unfinished second album. Fighting back the tears, we’ve pored over all this material and come back with a comprehensive list of everything Buckley — the bad, the good, and the transcendent.

-Kevin McMahon
Contributing Writer

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67. “Macdougal Street Blues”

From Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness


Buckley and Joe Strummer collaborated to contribute backing music to Kerouac reciting the namesake poem. That is all the information you need to know. Let us move on. – Kristofer Lenz

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66. “Angel Mine”

From Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness

This time Buckley provides backing guitar, sitar, and atmospheric mouth sax as special lady friend Inger Lolle recites the titular Kerouac poem. Again, the less said the better. – Kristofer Lenz

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65. “Back in N.Y.C.”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (originally by Genesis)

An oddly raw cover of a Genesis track from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. This version is remarkable within Buckley’s catalog for being perhaps the only recording where both the guitar and his voice sound terrible. – Kristofer Lenz

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64. “How Long Will it Take”

From Songs to No One (original by Pat Kelly)

The Gary Lucas-Jeff Buckley collaboration Songs to No One bore many fruits. “How Long Will I Take” is possibly the discolored apple on this tree. A bit of an anomaly, but when investigated closer, it is nothing if not interesting. The ambiguously effected guitar that coos on the beat connotes an alternate universe’s Beach Boys progression. I’m also almost sure it’s been sampled for a videogame at some point. – Kevin McMahon

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63. “Malign Fiesta (No Soul)”

From Songs to No One

Here’s Buckley attempting fast, breathless folk-punk. Not a great fit for him, but dig the slide guitar and frenetic energy. – Zach Schonfeld

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62. “Your Flesh Is So Nice”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

This is a very dirty song. Not the normal, pensive Buckley you can take home to mom. The fuzz that lies over the guitar coupled with the lyrical content makes it sound like a bedroom punk recording (with notably professional vocals). – Kevin McMahon

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61. “Dink’s Song (Fare thee Well)”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (cover of traditional song)

Though Buckley’s arrangements hardly ever breach folk territory, the genre and movement had a huge impact on his career. “Dink’s Song (Fare Thee Well)” was covered by many of the notables during the ’60s folk movement, like Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, but has its roots in the early 1900s. Buckley’s version removes the twang and plays it as an electric guitar, R&B spectacle. While maybe not one of his most notable live performances, it’s an ode to the artists that inspired him. –Dusty Henry

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60. “Edna Frau”

Live performances only

Written by Buckley’s bassist Mick Grondahl, “Edna Frau” sounds like an early attempt at Buckley moving toward a hard rock/punk sound. It’s a rare misstep for Buckley, but at least it’s a brave mistake with dissonant chords and feverish growling. – Dusty Henry

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59. “Alligator Wine”

From Grace (Legacy)

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1958 recording clearly inspired Buckley. It is a jarring cover in which Buckley mimics the range of operatic vocal stylings of the blues legend. It borders on comical at points (purposefully so), but gives one more example of the limitless possibilities within the lips of Jeff Buckley. – Kevin McMahon

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58. “Harem Man”

From Songs to No One

Another Zeppelin-y blues number, with one of the strangest vibrato Buckley performances ever. (He sings like the floor beneath him is shaking incessantly.) A fun curiosity, even if it drags on forever. – Zach Schonfeld

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57. “She Is Free”

From Songs to No One

Evidently inspired by Buckley’s Led Zeppelin fandom — with a Led Zeppelin III feel particularly — “She Is Free” is understated and gorgeous, with some unexpected and stellar organ and horn accompaniment in the latter half. If only we got a studio version of this one. – Zach Schonfeld

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56. “Cruel”

From Songs to No One

Bluesy, stinging, and driven by a powerful series of arpeggios, “Cruel” matches its title in volume and force. The primary vocal melody is a bit too contrived to be of great interest, though. – Zach Schonfeld

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55. “Parchman Farm Blues/Preachin Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)”

From Grace (Legacy) (originally by Bukka White/Robert Johnson)

Among his many cover choices, there aren’t all that many traditional blues selections. This clean and beautiful medley of blues classics demonstrate that Buckley could adapt his voice to nearly any style with ease and power. – Kristofer Lenz

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54. “Hymne à l’amour”

From Songs to No One (originally by Edith Piaf)

“Hymne à l’amour” is a great testament to the purpose the demo collection Songs to No One serves. While it’s clearly a rough work in progress, the track gives us an inkling of the moody and ethereal work Buckley would later bring on tracks like “Dream Brother” and “Corpus Christi Carol”. It’s brave experimentation, but works better as an artifact than as a renowned Buckley tune. – Dusty Henry

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53. “Drown in My Own Tears”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Henry Glover)

Delta blues presented without adornment or flourish. Buckley’s sweet guitar and plaintive vocals fit like a hand into a glove. – Kristofer Lenz

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52. “Twelfth of Never”

Live performance only

A Johnny Mathis cover — my grandmother would be beaming. Buckley offers up a jazz-infused version of the tune complemented beautifully by his soft croon. – Kevin McMahon

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51. “Witches’ Rave”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Many of the unfinished tracks from Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk point toward Buckley’s experimenting with more traditional pop structures. Sonically, “Witches’ Rave” sounds like a session outtake from Big Star at their best. Ever divinely effortless, Buckley’s falsetto grounds particularly ridiculous lyrics about loving a woman with some serious coven associations. – Kristofer Lenz

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50. “If You Knew”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Nina Simone)

“If You Knew” is a Nina Simone cover, and unlike the much more well-heard “Lilac Wine” rendition, it was actually written by Nina Simone. If you can set aside the inconceivably loud amp hum that runs through the Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition),the song is a lovely, if slightly more refrained, showcase of Buckley’s vocal range in the context of a more traditional blues melody. – Zach Schonfeld

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49. “Be Your Husband”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Nina Simone)

Another of the many Nina Simone covers in Buckley’s repertoire, “Be Your Husband” is a bold opening to his performance on Live at Sin-é. While the track was originally composed by Andy Stroud, Buckley keeps faithful to the sputtering rhythms of Simone’s rendition. It’s a stirring a capella performance, accompanied only by hand claps, showing the soulful tones of his voice. – Dusty Henry

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48. “Yard of Blonde Girls”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (originally written by Audrey Clark)

“Yard of Blonde Girls” stands as a bit of an ironic moment in Buckley’s catalog. A cover of fleeting ‘90s act Pendulum Floors, songwriter Inger Lorre wrote the second verse about Buckley but never told him. It’s also one of the closest moments we hear of Buckley reaching Top 40 radio, with crunchy guitar chords and a “very sexy” chorus. – Dusty Henry

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47. “Lost Highway”

From Grace (Legacy) (originally by Leon Payne)

Buckley alternates between a traditional country affect and more characteristic vibrato vocal styling in this Leon Payne cover. Heavily slide-driven. Listen to the end. – Zach Schonfeld

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46. “Calling You”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Bob Telson/Jeveeta Steele)

A relic from his days with Gary Lucas’s Gods and Monsters group, this cover of a little known easy-listening track from the late 1980s is one of the odder selections in Buckley’s cover repertoire. But one listen to the strikingly high and clear notes of the chorus shows that in this odd little number, Buckley found another venue to stretch and wow with his tremendous vocal range. – Kristofer Lenz

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45. “Night Flight”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Led Zeppelin)

This deep cut from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti is given due care in Buckley’s live rendition. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Buckley must have really loved this song. Instead of the usual Buckley-ization with which he treated many of his covers, this one is rocking and true to the album original. – Kristofer Lenz

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44. “The Other Woman”

From Grace (Legacy Edition)

Buckley obviously loved Nina Simone. This cover (of a song written by Jessie Mae Robinson and popularized by Simone) is brief, gorgeous, and sharp, with some impressive vocal styling towards the 2:20 mark. – Zach Schonfeld

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43. “I Know It’s Over”

From So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley (originally by The Smiths)

Buckley’s cover of The Smiths’ classic “I Know It’s Over” plays almost as an alternate to his rendition of “Hallelujah”, so much so that he even performed the two as a medley in some performances. The breathy vocals and delicate guitar playing are nearly identical to his most famous track, but it’s still easy to become lost in his swooning interpretation. – Dusty Henry

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42. “I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain”

Live only (originally by Tim Buckley)

Jeff Buckley’s relationship with his father (or lack thereof) is a constant point of reference in biographies and discussions of his legacy. For his part, Buckley seemed averse to discussing or addressing the issue, choosing to establish a legacy beyond the shadow cast by Buckley Sr. One exception comes in the form of this cover of one of his father’s songs, performed live at a Tim Buckley tribute concert. I won’t dwell on analyzing the lyrics or the aching trauma of Buckley’s quavering voice as he recites lyrics his father wrote about him and his mother. Just hear that it is dutiful, beautiful, and true to the original. Father unlike son. – Kristofer Lenz

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41. “New Year’s Prayer”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

There’s an otherworldly timbre to Buckley’s voice in a good chunk of his catalog, but “New Year’s Prayer” finds him at his most mystical. His vocals loop over pick scratches and bent notes, sounding almost like a hip-hop beat. A bit unnerving, it highlights Buckley’s tendency toward R&B rhythms and obscure experimentation. – Dusty Henry

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40. “Sweet Thing”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Van Morrison)

In Van Morrison, Buckley seemed to find a kindred spirit. Though his cover of “Sweet Thing” from Morrison’s masterful Astral Weeks is stripped down to guitar and vocals, the quiet ambition of Morrison’s original would creep into Buckley’s studio work. Buckley lets his version linger, relishing in every word and dragging out the song for a blissful 10 minutes. – Dusty Henry

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39. “Thousand Fold”

From Everybody Here Wants You (single)

“Thousand Fold” surfaced on the Japanese edition of Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk and the “Everybody Here Wants You” single, and like so much of Buckley’s posthumous material, it’s a maddening, unfinished glimmer of what was to come. The vocals are characteristically gorgeous, while the sparse guitar accompaniment is searching and vague, leaving only frustrating hints as to the song this may have turned into. – Zach Schonfeld

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38. “Tongue”

From Grace (Legacy Edition)

Jeff Buckley is not remembered for instrumentals, but “Tongue” — which surfaced on The Grace EPs in 2002 — is an immensely eerie and intriguing one, with more in common with krautrock acts like CAN than the bluesy artists Buckley typically took inspiration from. It is also 11 minutes long. Listen late at night. – Zach Schonfeld

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37. “Nightmares by the Sea”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

For as delicate as Buckley appears in many of his songs, the guy had a serious edge to him. “Nightmares by the Sea” shows him delving into the darker recesses of his influences, with post-punk guitars that sound straight out of Unknown Pleasures, and he throws in a sinister drawl to boot. – Dusty Henry

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36. “Demon John”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Here we find a perfect example of the winding, communicative nature of Buckley’s lyrical and chordal progressions. They flow together without traditional structure, bordering on spoken word. Sadly, the song is also noticeably under developed and wants desperately for a rhythm section. – Kevin McMahon

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35. “Dido’s Lament”

Live only (originally composed by Henry Purcell)

Buckley’s eclectic taste in covers is perhaps best personified by his rendition of this aria from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Alongside “Corpus Christi Carol”, this song stands as one of the most technically impressive examples of Buckley’s range, especially in the high registers. The song represents Dido’s state of mind as she prepares to impale herself on a funeral pyre after her lover Aeneas abandons her. Though the lyrical content is almost beyond point, as the music and tone defy any language barriers. – Kristofer Lenz

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34. “Mama, You Been on My Mind”

From Grace (Legacy Edition) (originally by Bob Dylan)

Yet another Dylan cover in eternally youthful Mr. Buckley’s repertoire. Yet another song he perfectly renders. One that details Dylan’s breakup with Freewheelin’ cover girl Suze Rotolo. Buckley was very astute at capturing Dylan’s ethos, and I’m sure he would have been pleased to note that when asked Dylan considered them to be cut from the same cloth. – Kevin McMahon

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33. “Murder Suicide Meteor Slave”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Dissonance and experimentation define “Murder Suicide Meteor Slave”. And while moments connote John Frusciante’s drug-infused “Your Pussy Is Glued to the Side of a Building on Fire”, it gives us certainty regarding Buckley’s will to step out of the box. The song also adds strong evidence to the case that Buckley would not have burnt out as per the fate of so many ’90s alternative rock icons. Something that serves as both comfort and torture. – Kevin McMahon

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32. “Haven’t You Heard”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

With swaggering guitar and high-pitched attitude, one wonders if this song was a regular lullaby in the Willett household as the Cold War Kids were growing up. Its paranoid, progressive lyrics fit with the tone of “Sky Is a Landfill” and further demonstrate that Buckley was headed into increasingly politically aware territory before his life was tragically cut short. – Kristofer Lenz

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31. “Song to No One”

From Songs to No One

Buckley’s time with Gary Lucas played an important role in Buckley’s development as a virtuouso guitarist. One of the finer examples of Lucas’s work can be found on “Song to No One”, which features a rollicking, intricately picked guitar line accompanied by Buckley’s vocals at their most casual and relaxed. It is a light, fast, and nearly perfect little song. – Kristofer Lenz

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30. “If You See Her, Say Hello”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Bob Dylan)

Bob Dylan was an obvious and powerful influence on Buckley, evidenced by the repeated appearance of Dylan’s most sentimental songs in Buckley’s live sets. This standout from Blood on the Tracks gets a particularly charming rendition on Live at Sin-é. On record, Dylan has an almost disaffected tone, doing his best to show how he is no longer affected by the heartbreak he sings of (he doth protest too much). Buckley flips this conceit, instead choosing to double the song’s length as he lustily lingers over Dylan’s sentiment, freestyling with wordless laments and foregrounding the trauma of love lost long ago. – Kristofer Lenz

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29. “The Way Young Lovers Do”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Van Morrison)

Another standout selection from Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, this was one of Buckley’s favorite songs to cover live. Lacking the swirling strings and production of the original, Buckley instead creates a furious flurry of strummed guitar chords that creates a near wall of sound, echoing back on itself. But when the verses come, Buckley is remarkably restrained. Morrison’s original recording is an explosive celebration of love remembered. In his performance, Buckley takes over 12 minutes to build slowly, improvising long sections with his trademark wail (throwing in some jazz scatting) and variations of the refrain. As the guitar becomes more and more passionate, Buckley moves toward a surprising crescendo that comes as a moving a cappella rendition of the final verse. – Kristofer Lenz

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28. “Jewel Box”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

“Jewel Box” is one of the few outlines from Sketches that seems to work as it is. While it could certainly be blown up, it doesn’t lack for a rhythm section the way so many of the tracks from the album do. A rhythmic pattern that features mostly down strums — giving it a percussive feel — helps to this end. – Kevin McMahon

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27. “Kick Out the Jams”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by MC5)

Catharsis comes in many forms. Buckley is perhaps best known for his weepy slow-rock balladry, the catharsis of secret cries in the dark. But overpowering rage and energy is another, perhaps more effective, way to rinse one’s soul. Buckley was clearly drawn to this track from MC5’s debut album, as it was a regular feature of live performances. The same voice and mind behind the quiet divinity of “Hallelujah” was also drawn to the punk rock simplicity of this track. – Kristofer Lenz

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26. “Just Like a Woman”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Bob Dylan)

Buckley’s interpretation of “Just Like a Woman” tones down Bob Dylan’s original to a slow-moving hush, and it accomplishes something wonderful. Stripping the song of its twang and plodding rhythms, Buckley’s version delves deeper into the solemnity of Dylan’s lyrics with shivering chords and a heavenly bravado. – Dusty Henry

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25. “I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted to Be)”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Though “I Know We Could Be So Happy (If We Wanted to Be)” is one of the rougher demos on Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, it has all the marks of a classic Buckley track. Everything from the brooding, circling guitar riff to the fantastic yet melodramatic chorus rings true of the finer moments on Grace. – Dusty Henry

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24. “You & I”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

The subtletly of “You & I” might be the most stirring part about it. The track seems to have more in common with a Gregorian chant than a rock track, with Buckley warbling over low and moody rumbling. It doesn’t sound like it belongs in the ‘90s, let alone the 20th century. – Dusty Henry

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23. “Morning Theft”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

In reading this list, you’re going to read a lot about the almost preternaturally beautiful and unique pairing of Buckley’s vocals and guitar work. “Morning Theft” takes a proud place among the best examples of Buckley’s uniquely paired talents, but it also stands alone. Much of the praise Buckley earned was in reference to the artist’s tremendous range. “Morning Theft” is an example of a muted, gentle, and careful Buckley. His voice rests easily in the middle of his tenor range and his guitar work is elegantly strummed and never ostentatious. As the song’s deadly sad sentiment progresses, Buckley just barely stretches into his falsetto range, doing an incredible amount with just a little. Powerful Buckley at his most calm, composed, and confident. – Kristofer Lenz

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22. “Opened Once”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Buckley’s penchant for textures makes another appearance on “Opened Once”, where soft, glowing notes highlight the background. Yet, one cannot help but frown at the noticeably unfinished nature of the song. The meandering we are accustomed to never materialize, and the result is another beautiful skeleton hanging in the closet. – Kevin McMahon

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21. “Forget Her”

From Grace (Legacy Edition)

Buckley had a tumultuous relationship with “Forget Her”. Though it was recorded during the Grace sessions, he opted to leave it out and faced considerable pushback from the label. With Grace feeling so definitive at this point, it’s just as hard to imagine an 11th track as it is to think up a 13th Beatles album. Even still, “Forget Her” is a fine moment of Buckley working at full pop-rock capacity. His woe-is-me pining is in full form. For many artists, this would be a stand-out track, for Buckley this is cutting room material. – Dusty Henry

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20. “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin”

From The Grace EPs (originally by Edith Piaf)

With a melody that revolves with the carefree nature of a merry-go-round, “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin” once again shows us how wide of a pool Buckley drew from. Edith Piaf was a big inspiration to Buckley and his adaptation stays true to its nature — simultaneously showing Buckley’s surprisingly well accented French. – Kevin McMahon

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19. “What Will You Say”

From Mystery White Boy

The ghost of Tim Buckley hangs over a lot of his son’s work, though often it’s misplaced by fans misinterpreting lyrics. “What Will You Say” is an uncharacteristically candid moment for Jeff Buckley to talk about his father. Over escalating guitar chords, he pines and questions, “Father do you hear me? Do you know me? Do you even care?” It’s a telling moment of the struggle he’s held inside from the abandonment of his parent. Calling to his father from beyond the grave is especially cryptic in hindsight given his own imminent and tragic death. – Dusty Henry

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18. “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)

Covering Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan doesn’t happen very often. The Pakistani songwriter is often heralded as one of the greatest vocalists ever recorded. The audience snickers as Buckley starts to croon in surprisingly articulate Urdu at the beginning of “Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai”, but the laughs start to subside as his voice leaps to extreme highs and lows. Sure, it’s yet another testament to Buckley’s powerhouse vocals, but it’s also a glimpse into his vast influences. Before performing, he speaks highly of Ali Khan saying, “He’s my Elvis, that’s my guy.” His interpretation reflects the immense respect he has for his hero, even stopping briefly halfway through to get the audience to clap along “like they do in Pakistan.” – Dusty Henry

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17. “Kanga-Roo”

From Grace (Legacy Edition) (originally by Big Star)

There is a moment of almost eerie time-warp synchronicity when on the original recording of “Kangaroo”, written and performed by Alex Chilton for Big Star’s album Third/Sister Lovers, Chilton stretches into a falsetto as he sings, “I saw you/breathing.” The tone and its insecurity and emotional gravity is so close to the high keen Buckley would master decades later that in this voice from the past it is easy to imagine Buckley heard the voice of his future. The parallels continue to abound; both Chilton and Buckley shared a literal and spiritual connection to the musical traditions of Memphis, and both artists would be criminally under-appreciated during their lifetimes. Early in his career, Buckley adopted “Kanga-Roo” as a concert staple. Taking the rather simple three and a half minutes of the original and adding nearly 10 minutes of explosive psychedelic guitar. It is as if Buckley’s guitar clairvoyantly channeled and magnified the anxious and forlorn observations of his artistic predecessor. – Kristofer Lenz

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16. “I Woke Up in a Strange Place”

From Mystery White Boy

As we saw on blistering tracks like “Eternal Life”, Buckley has a keen sense of what makes a great hard rock song. “I Woke Up in a Strange Place” sees the crooner getting in touch with his Zeppelin roots, churning out ferocious riffs and belting menacingly. Though it’s unfortunate we never got a studio recording of the track, the live setting works especially well to capture the intensity of the song and Buckley’s burgeoning “rock star energy.” – Zach Schonfeld

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15. “Corpus Christi Carol”

From Grace (originally arranged by Benjamin Britten)

In the final third of Grace, and following the album’s emotional peak (“Lover, You Should Have Come Over”), comes a faithfully true rendition of English composer Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of an olde English standard. The song tells a tale associated with King Arthur, the Holy Grail and its protector, the Fisher King. But such details are secondary to Buckley’s remarkable and flawless falsetto. With the effortlessness of a castrato, his voice rings high and true, accompanied and elevated by the barest hint of strummed guitar. Buckley is rightfully lauded for his remarkable tone and range, and no better example of the upper registers exists than this recording. Buckley commented that he added it to Grace as a way of thanking a high school friend for introducing him to Britten. We all owe that friend a debt of gratitude for contributing to the existence of this memorable artifact of Buckley’s acrobatic vocal range. – Kristofer Lenz

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14. “Vancouver”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

“Vancouver” was yet another road-tested track planned for Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Dubbed falsetto harmonies match the eeriness that emanates from the angry picked notes leading its main melody. Nestled in the center of Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, it sticks out a bit, a likely by-product of its arrangement and rearrangement over time. It seems less like a skeleton than many of the other tracks and more like the final product. One that beckons an abstract projection of a torn relationship, with the kind of haunting narrative we would expect from the Red House Painters or Radiohead. – Kevin McMahon

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13. “Satisfied Mind”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

We’ve seen glimpses of Buckley’s blues leanings before, but none quite as moving as his rendition of Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes’ “Satisfied Mind”. The song has been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash, but Buckley’s version cuts to the core of the emotional weight of the track. His guitar is notably clean, missing his trademark reverb, letting the hollow feeling of the song set in. Buckley’s vocals soar, as per usual, reveling in the soul and emotion of Hayes’ words. As a closer to Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk and a bookend to his career, it’s a gut-wrenching moment that celebrates Buckley’s way to find the emotional center of a song. – Zach Schonfeld

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12. “Dream Brother”

From Grace

“Dream Brother” is a surprisingly dark and moody note for Grace to end on. On the track, Buckley pleads with his friend Chris Dowd not to leave his pregnant girlfriend, citing his experience of abandonment with his own father. But more than that, it’s one of the album’s most adventurous moments of studio production. Experimenting with ambient guitar tones, escalating rhythms, and vocal effects, the song morphs into the eerie abyss before culminating in a cathartic guitar breakdown. Each instrument builds off the next with Buckley giving one of his most haunting and disturbing vocal performances. It’s a sinister omen to Dowd, but also a look into Buckley’s inventive arrangement skills. – Dusty Henry

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11. “The Sky Is a Landfill”

From Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk

One of the more complete works from Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, “The Sky Is a Landfill” sees Buckley take aim at the man. Adapted from an essay by journalist Al Giordano, the song’s chord structure continually returns to dissonance to highlight the disillusionment its lyrics present. Buckley sarcastically implores us to “take a drag” of the airwaves that the media (in his dystopic view) had turned to garbage. Carrying the hard edge of Grace track “Eternal Life”, it throws more wood on the speculative fire of just how his career would have turned out. – Kevin McMahon

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10. “Eternal Life”

From Grace

Buckley Goes Metal. No, not quite, but “Eternal Life” is still the most explosive rocker on Grace and, perhaps, in the singer’s sadly truncated catalog. The music was likely inspired by Zeppelin, with pounding bass growls and a powerful rhythmic thrust that almost resembles a sped-up “When the Levee Breaks”, while the lyrics are pointedly political: “Racist everyman, what have you done/ Man, you’ve made a killer of your unborn son/ Crown my fear your king at the point of a gun/ All I want to do is love everyone.” Buckley said those words were inspired by “the man that shot Martin Luther King, World War II, slaughter in Guyana and the Manson murders,” and though he was never known for angry or politically charged songwriting, “Eternal Life” is a stark hint of what he might have been capable of exploring more had he lived. – Zach Schonfeld

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09. “I Shall Be Released”

From Live at Sin-é (Legacy Edition) (originally by The Band)

Originally penned by Bob Dylan but recorded by the Band, “I Shall Be Released” gives us the full spectrum of the musician’s talent. It is a stripped-down solo performance in which his guitar flutters through the loose, improv-ready track. The realness in his voice communicates his understanding of the song’s entendre — written from Dylan’s obsession with the literal and metaphorical prison he observed of the inmates he encountered. – Kevin McMahon

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08. “Everybody Here Wants You”

From Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk

Buckley was, without question, an emotional songwriter traversing the craggy, often desolate landscape of love. Considering how unexpectedly his career was cut short, we know not what new and unknown terra incognita he may have mapped. We do know that on Grace his focus is on the ugly kiss of heartbreak. But on this standout from the Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk sessions, Buckley explores a side of love that is downright … sensual. While the lyrics remain focused on anxiety and lingering burn of jealousy, the tone is focused and defiant. Buckley sings in a throaty purr, calling on his falsetto to push harmonies almost too lovely to behold. The ticking high hat, meandering bass, and funk-infused guitar riffs foreshadow the weird-but-sexy R&B of Embrya-era Maxwell. The song’s bridge is as hopeful and optimistic, in both tone and intent, as any other recorded moment of Buckley. The song, like so many others in his catalog, stands as a beautiful reminder that we never truly began to plumb the depths of Buckley’s diverse creative potential. – Kristofer Lenz

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07. “Lilac Wine”

From Grace

Buckley’s catalog is loaded with covers of pop standards, many made famous by jazz icon Nina Simone. It only makes sense that one would show up on his magnum opus, Grace. It’s also one of the most simplistic arrangements on the album outside of “Hallelujah”. Even though we’ve seen Buckley shred and wail, “Lilac Wine” shows the he knew the value of tasteful restraint. The words seem to crawl from his lips, sounding smooth and serenely easy. To be able to play as both a raucous indie rocker and a sultry crooner is a range that’s largely unparalleled. – Dusty Henry

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06. “So Real”

From Grace

Reportedly recorded at 3:00 in the morning, and in a single take, “So Real” was a late addition to Grace (taking the place of “Forget Her”) but now seems entirely irreplaceable. The song rides along the contrast between the measured, hazy verses, which describe a sort of dreamlike encounter with a lover, and insistent choruses, which repeat the titular refrain: “Oh, that was soooo reeeee-aaal!” (which is also frequently heard as “All that was soooo reeeee-aaal!”). Semantics aside, “So Real” contains two especially unforgettable moments: that burst of guitar noise that begins at 2:18 and sounds a little like something imported from a My Bloody Valentine record, and that whispered, seductive refrain that begins around 2:41: “I love you/ I’m afraid to love you/ I love you/ But I’m afraid to love you.” Buckley’s spoken intonation at 2:56 — “I … love you” — makes every falsetto squeal, yelp, or scream worth it. – Zach Schonfeld

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05. “Mojo Pin”

From Grace

Buckley is correctly lionized for his remarkable vocal and guitar prowess. On the opening track of Grace, he wastes no time establishing his credentials on both accounts. The song opens with a beautifully rolling guitar line, composed during his time with guitar guru Gary Lucas, and Buckley’s voice wordlessly reaching out into emotional registers where only he plays. The lyrics are a mix of psychedelic imagery, supposedly penned to a black female lover Buckley imagined in a dream. But currents of obsession and the dissolving self of drug addiction haunt shadowed corners. Buckley had a gift for high-low dynamics and one of the best examples can be found in the percussive build and crescendo that crests into a bridge where Buckley cries out, “The welts of your scorn, my love, give me more/ The whips of opinion down my back give me more.” Here we have Buckley, open, honest, and decidedly masochistic. But rarely more endearing for just that reason. – Kristofer Lenz

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04. “Hallelujah”

From Grace (originally by Leonard Cohen)

You can’t praise Buckley for writing the song (that would be Leonard Cohen in the early ’80s, though the version is hardly recognizable), and you can’t laud him for rescuing it from obscurity, either (that’s John Cale), so there’s only the full force of the performance: a remarkably raw, emotive moan that favors unadorned electric guitar and unaccompanied vocal swells where Cohen went for backing vocals and suffocating reverb. Buckley described his rendition as “a hallelujah to the orgasm,” and before “Hallelujah” was the stuff of Shrek soundtracks and American Idol episodes, he made it unquestionably his own. – Zach Schonfeld

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03. “Grace”

From Grace

How many ways can we say, “Jeff Buckley is really good at guitar”? “Grace” might not be a shred-fest like Van Halen’s “Eruption”, but it gives a primer for what to expect with Buckley’s versatile guitar playing. The riffs aren’t in your face but are more subtly inventive with rapid arpeggios and jittering chords. Buckley never stays in the same place for too long on “Grace”. He forgoes typical verse, chorus, verse song structure and instead opts to chart new territory in each section between a refrain of “Wait in the fire.” As he madly screams and makes vocal embellishments near the end as the guitar moves frantically about, it’s a great moment to put your face in your hands and say to yourself, “Life isn’t fair.” – Dusty Henry

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02. “Last Goodbye”

From Grace

Capturing that final moment, the one where both parties swallow the futility of continuing to try, is no small task. It’s a wrinkle in time that’s been pored over by the sentimental crooner since the position existed. Buckley gives the moment its true weight — and we are smashed under its thumb. Light, scratched acoustic strums accompany bowed strings adding textures that hang the background like stained glass in the vaulted windows of a church. His lyrics are direct but unique, delicately communicating the instant pain of the moment, while deftly sidestepping the lyrical toes of those who have gone before him. – Kevin McMahon

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01. “Lover, You Should Have Come Over”

From Grace

Calling this song “great” doesn’t do it justice. It exists in the rare echelon of songs that defy rote categorization and should instead be listed among life experiences around which memories, lives, and loves are simply rearranged. An anthem for those who feel too much. Those whose love consumes in a blaze, or overwhelms and drowns in a flood. Those whose love is wild, ranging, and impossible to control, vacillating wildly between soul-emptying care and defiant and angry passion. Buckley’s narrator has created a living nightmare of the heartsick and is seemingly out of options. His burgeoning maturity cuts both ways; he acknowledges this disaster of his own making, but is too weak to rescue or abandon this metastasized love. Crippled and bound, in a last ditch attempt to reassert agency, he turns passivity into action. Waiting as an act of will. “It’s never over,” Buckley cries out. “She is a tear that hangs inside my soul forever.”

Despite this acknowledgement, the power is the subject’s: “Lover, you should have come over.” But wasn’t it the narrator who “gets carried away” and “can’t see the damage he’s done?” Through the mix of tense, heart-wrenching sentiment and subtle blame-shifting, Buckley creates a true and iconic portrait of a young heart reeling. The song begins with the chillingly portentous image of rain-soaked funeral mourners whose “shoes fill up with rain.” Doubly poignant considering Buckley’s own final chapter, not yet written. Yet by the song’s end, a glimmer of hope remains. Like Andromache, Buckley’s narrator dips a toe in a river that flows in one direction. Nothing will ever be the same, but good may come. And, statue-like, he waits. – Kristofer Lenz

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