43 Years Ago: Tim Buckley Gets Happy Sad
On July 10, 1969, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Tim Buckley unveiled a major change of direction with the release of his third album, Happy Sad (Elektra Records). Compared to the poetic, ornately produced but relatively straightforward singer-songwriter folk-rock of his previous LPs Tim Buckley and Goodbye and Hello, Happy Sad was a bit of a shock. There's only six songs on the album, with the two-part epic "Love From Room 109 at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)" and the shambolic, seemingly improvised "Gypsy Woman" both breaking the 10-minute barrier. A west coast cool jazz vibe permeates the album, with David Friedman's vibraphone underpinning most of the songs and an open-ended looseness to the songs. (Also, opening track "Strange Feelin'" is rather blatantly lifted from Miles Davis' "All Blues.")
That said, Happy Sad is far more accessible than Blue Afternoon, Lorca and Starsailor, the increasingly knotty trio of albums that followed it, which has caused it to be looked at less favorably by a certain subset of Buckley fans. On their own merits, "Buzzin' Fly" and "Dream Letter" (the latter a wistful farewell directed at Buckley's ex-wife and their young son Jeff) are among his most haunting and emotionally direct songs, and the relaxed but exploratory vibe of the album makes it the easiest entry point into Buckley's sometimes impenetrable middle period.