Tiny Tim is one of the great eccentrics of the classic era of rock. Born Herbert Buckingham Khaury, he was a pretty dorky tween, holing up at the New York Public Library learning about the ancient heroes of the early days of recorded music and learning how to play the violin, the mandolin, and (of course) the ukulele. His first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, is a classic of a sort and featured the only song he would ever become famous for, “Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me,” a song that dates from the 1920s.
He sang with a falsetto and for many years was pretty much the only human being actively associated with the uke. He had terrible teeth and terrible hair and never, ever seemed to lose his sunny disposition about just about everything. If you check out pictures of him online, he sure did smile a lot, and it didn’t seem remotely like a put-on.
For reasons that are impossible to reconstruct from this distance, his 1969 marriage to Victoria Budinger was a gargantuan sensation—it happened on The Tonight Show and it landed the best ratings in the history of that show—including Johnny Carson’s final show in 1992.
Tiny Tim is a picture-perfect one-hit wonder, but the issue with such figures is, what do you do for the next 30 years of your life? Various people have tackled that issue in different ways. Tiny Tim did not release a huge amount of material but did release several albums, most of which centered on renditions of decades-old curios and self-consciously odd covers of far more recent material. Interestingly, most of his covers dispense with both the falsetto and the ukulele, relying on regular rock guitar and a surprisingly rich and deep vocal style.
God Bless Tiny Tim featured a cover of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” with Tiny Tim singing both parts, of course. It’s as odd a cover as you’re likely to find, but certainly not unpleasurable to listen to. Another early cover that featured a canny blending of falsetto and non-falsetto parts was his version of the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” which he recorded as a demo; it appeared on Rhino’s 3-CD reissue of God Bless Tiny Tim.
In 1980, for an album called Chameleon, Tiny Tim essayed a cover of the recent smash hit “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, a song that is also notable for featuring falsetto singing, which Tiny Tim didn’t use in the cover. You can find a quote online from Maurice Gibb that runs, “Tiny Tim? Anyone could sing like that. It’s atrocious. It’s hideous, really.” Ouch. I don’t know the facts of the matter, but I would imagine Maurice probably said that back when Tiny Tim was first a sensation—in any case, it’s fun to imagine Tiny Tim doing the cover as a cheeky form of revenge/solidarity.
At some point Tiny Tim perceived the tender underbelly of a certain kind of rock song that he could totally do something with. In 1993 he released an album called Rock, the second half of which is consumed mainly with jukebox hits from the 1950s. But the first half tackles three songs that might be considered classics of the arena rock era, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” All of them are quite listenable, although the Billy Idol cover stands out for being in excess of 20 minutes long! Your imagination might be concocting some nightmarishly unlistenable track but I’ve listened to it and it’d be more accurate to say that Tiny Tim just ran with it. Indeed, you might say he was genuinely inspired by it.
In 1996 Tiny Tim had a heart attack while on stage playing his hit “Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me” and died shortly afterward. This event led to this unusual headline:
A couple of years earlier, Tiny Tim had released an album for Seeland/Ponk called I Love Me, which featured a number of unusual tracks such as “I Saw Mr. Presley Tip-toeing Through The Tulips” and “She Left Me With The Herpes” as well as a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2).”
Listen to it all, after the jump…....