top of page

Nick Drake notes

Friday 9/22/23

Contemporary reviews of Nick Drake's three records often stated how similar his songs were to each other just as Drake's music overall is discussed in the same terms as if it's all of the same stylistic piece. In reality, there is great variation from song to song, and the three albums are nearly as different as three albums can be.

Those three albums comprise a trilogy. Five Leaves Left is Saturday; Bryter Layter is Sunday; Pink Moon is Monday.

Five Leaves Left, Pink Moon, the Peel session, and the "Final Five" recordings--I include "Tow the Line" with what had been called the "Final Four"--represent some of the best guitar playing in all of popular music. I'll take things that Drake does on the guitar over things that Jimi Hendrix did.

I esteem Nick Drake's music the way I do the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They come from a similar place in that Drake told his mother that what he wanted to do in this life with his work was help people. His music is for you. Its purpose is to help you.

"Tow the Line"--the last song Drake recorded in his life--could have been an Oasis song. A good Oasis song, before they lost it, which they did early.

There is no more moving instrumental song in popular music than the guitar-only version of "Black Eyed Dog." Listen to the scratch of his nails on the strings.

On September 24, 1969, Nick Drake opened for Fairport Convention at the Royal Albert Hall. It's hard to imagine Drake on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. Perhaps. But also perhaps not. Obviously this was before Drake said he wouldn't perform live anymore, which he decided because it made him uncomfortable and worsened his depression that audiences did not know what to make of his music. For me, I have never heard music that makes more sense or speaks so directly from one person to another. What may be harder to imagine is that for this show, Drake soundchecked with "Things Behind the Sun," which would appear in February 1972 on Pink Moon.

No record has been mischaracterized more often than Pink Moon. I don't think any critic, journalist, historian, or musicologist has ever gotten it close to right, and I question how many of them have ever actually really listened to it. It's described as this bleak LP, this haunting, hellish, nightmare of an album, wracked with pain, indicative of a man who would shortly be dead, as Drake would soon be dead.

This is arrant nonsense. One could not be more wrong about this record. What I think has happened is this: Very few of those people have ever actually listened to Drake's art. They have taken his life and applied that to something like Pink Moon in some juicy, gossipy, lazy, parasitic way; projecting parasitism.

Pink Moon is the most joyous musical work of art I know. It is essential human joy. Its power, in this massing and understanding and sharing of joy, makes it one of the most moving works of art I have ever experienced. That one can be in great pain and create a work of fundamental joy meant to help people is something I think very few people can think on their own. They'll just default to the plot lines of biography, without taking the time and the care to experience the work. To just experience it. Not to bring preconceptions to the experience.

The album also has an all-timer of an opening line, which is like a greeting, too, a hailing: "Saw it written and I saw it say." No one else would have written that line.

Pink Moon was recorded in two late night sessions on back to back days in late October 1971, with just Drake and producer John Wood present.

These are YouTube comments regarding "Pink Moon":

"12:49am July 29, 2021 I'm writing this comment. I had an emotional conversation with my dad about my own personal hell I've gone through these past couple weeks, decided randomly after all was said and done to listen to this album for the first time. I know nothing about Nick Drake other than he has a couple albums. After listening through it and coming back to the first track, I felt what I can only describe as love.Whoever sees this and reads this, may you have a day, a night, a week, a life, filled with love."

"For anyone listening to this for the first time: congrats, you won"

"one of those songs that just walks right up to your soul and pokes it"

"I know this sounds mad but I have listened to this song countless times and just now realised how few words he actually says throughout, always felt like he was saying much more - perhaps those few lines are enough to say everything you possibly can..."

"This is such a special little private, secret joy that someone shared with us before they left. It's beautiful"

"When I was still in the womb my mom used to play this song and she said she swears I danced, and when I was born it would stop me from crying, now when I listen to this it helps me sleep. This song has an emotional connection to me if u would put it that way I guess"

"Which Will" makes me cry tears of gratitude for this form of human wisdom and joy every time I hear it. The way he says, "Tell me now." The singer is not pushing anything on you because the singer knows that that's not how it works, even if you may never know it yourself, but you might.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page