Nick Drake: 10 Essentials

Today marks the 40th anniversary since Nick Drake's death; and those 40 years tell a story of a cult singer-songwriter hidden among the dust - mercifully, peacefully in his Tanworth-in-Arden grave. But it's not his tragic death taking the news, or leading the tributes. Drake's music has been an important part of everyone's folk catalogue for a number of years, be it 10 or 40. Leaving behind three albums is more than some that die so young, and it's those three albums - specifically his last Pink Moon, which resonated with so many music fans across the world. Nick Drake: 10 Essentials.
~Eddie Gibson

10. Time Has Told Me

The introduction to Drake's music - album one, track one. "Time Has Told Me" evokes the spirit of Nick Drake right from the start with its slowly developing acoustic guitar, and subtle, but soulful voice. With Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention on lead guitar, this has become a staple-mark in Drake's discography, an influence on his own music, but essentially his timeless piece of folk rock.

9. Fruit Tree

Also on Five Leaves Left is "Fruit Tree", a much admired Drake recording."Fame is but a fruit tree, so very unsound. It can never flourish, til its stalk is in the ground," he sings, angelically, confidently - but that sense of lacklustre can already be heard so early on in Drake's music. The string arrangements are carried out by Robert Kirby, a partnership Drake carried with him on his first two albums, adding that classic British folk undertones heard so passionately.

8. Hazey Jane II

One uncharacteristic piece in Drake's work is "Hazey Jane II", the magnificent full-blown recording of Drake and friends including Thompson & Kirby collaborating once more, with Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention giving this track an ultimate, folk rock band sound. It's somewhat chirpy, as Kirby's brass intends to add a different dimension to Drake's sound, and it does. The coming together of Fairport Convention musicians with Drake at the forefront gives "Hazey Jane II" a complete feel of Drake's unsuccessful work within the small financially viable British folk community at the time.

7. Fly

Among the Bryter Layter gems is "Fly", a track recorded with John Cale of The Velvet Underground and Pegg from the aforementioned Fairport Convention. It's really Cale's contribution which makes "Fly" one for the list - historically traditional harpsichord played to perfection, and the viola Cale has come to be known for. It's a piece of polished instrumentals, played professionally and put together by a more than tearful Drake vocal: "Please give me a second grace."

6. From the Morning

The first Pink Moon inclusion, and arguably one of Drake's most important songs. It was of course the final track on Drake's final album, but doesn't resemble that of a goodbye. "From the Morning" highlights Pink Moon's solo aesthetic - recorded by John Wood, with only Drake as a contributing musician, it's a world apart from the earlier Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, and an iconic ending to Drake's music career. Inspires the epitaph on Drake's headstone taken from the song: "And now we rise, and we are everywhere," a beautiful ending to Pink Moon, more so in it's lyrical structure and delivery.

5. Which Will

"Which Will" is another timeless classic in Drake's repertoire. It sits comfortably on Pink Moon, separated from the previous albums and 'noise' in comparison to the clarity and persistent acoustics of Pink Moon, particularly "Which Will" - "And tell me now, which will you love the best." It's simply easy on the ear, interesting to the though, and powerful among the Pink Moon tracks.

4. Place to Be

The second track on Pink Moon carries on the energy from the opener (mentioned later.) "Place to Be" doesn't over do it on the instrumental side, it's main focus is carrying the track on and reaching the sentimental values searched on Pink Moon. Listening back, it's hush vocals and lush chord progression add dominance to Drake's sound - more so than the Kirby arrangements on the previous two albums. Drake fulfils his duties, and offers up the best lyrics on Pink Moon, taking the listener away from the Van Morrison-esque purposely flawed recording: "Now I'm darker than the deepest sea. Just hand me down, give me a place to be." 

3. One of These Things First

Easily my personal favourite Nick Drake song, "One of These Things First" stands tall as Bryter Layter's enigmatic piece of commercial viability. Unlike its single cousin "Northern Sky", this particular Drake song took on a simple, yet strange structure musically - actually including almost, just almost a chorus the folkies wanted so badly from Drake as the unknowns hearing his work for the very first time circa 1970. Of course, this song of struggle and expectation has been repeated throughout Drake's work, but none executed so well. His use of household objects as meaningful, valuable objects to others and the world brings his own desperation and depression to a whole new level, questioning his offering, and signalling what he ultimately could have been.

2. Pink Moon

A masterpiece, a recognised song to all, a pink, pink, pink, "Pink Moon". One verse, repeated once more in the latter part of the song, "Pink Moon" creates the reason why we keep coming back to Drake's music. Unpolished, yet sounding absolutely brilliant, "Pink Moon" features Drake's laden acoustic guitar and one single overdub (the only on Pink Moon,) a timely piano - a cameo almost, but it ties the song together with immense effect. One of his best and one to be remembered as the Pink Moon opener - the beginning of Nick Drake's end.

1. Northern Sky

Lyrically, "Northern Sky" is a Drake rarity. It's carefully optimistic, becoming objectified as a traditional love song. It's played so harmlessly, matched by Drake's happy, yes happy, vocals of gratuity towards his subject. "Northern Sky" is a Nick Drake single, one which was expected to propel Drake in to some sort of commercial success. The inclusion of John Cale wasn't Drake's idea, nor was it thought by Cale, but Joe Boyd, Drake's trusted producer. With Cale's inclusion on piano and overdubbing, his improvised ingenuity took what Drake had, and pushed it - just not towards the money unfortunately for Drake. "Northern Sky" is different to the typical Drake song, and it's how Drake perceived his own sound and efforts throughout his music discography that shine so bright here. He showcases his optimism, his happy side, that he wasn't depressed creating his music. He was a perfectionist of the highest calibre, and respected the music he put out - "Northern Sky", although styled towards single life, takes the heart of Drake's new and old audience and combines it with his very own tortured soul.

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Discovery: Nick Drake: 10 Essentials
Nick Drake: 10 Essentials
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