Ranking: Every Jeff Buckley Song from Worst to Best

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


    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


    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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