Music History: Nick Drake

To start with a bold statement, I am willing to put money down that I am in a very small group of Bucknell students that has heard of and listens to the music of Nick Drake. An English singer-songwriter and musician during the late sixties, early seventies, Drake obviously did not make as big of a name for himself in the U.S. as other artists like Bowie, Jagger, and all four Beatles did, to name a few. He was extremely introverted, averse to perform live or be interviewed, and suffered from major depression during his short, 26-year lifetime. Drake’s unwelcoming personality undoubtedly contributed to the low amount of recognition he received, but today, his music is getting more attention than ever before, and deservingly so.

Drake released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969, when he was a 20-year-old student at the University of Cambridge. After signing to Island Records, he was introduced to American producer Joe Boyd, one of the most distinguished personalities on the United Kingdom folk scene at the time. Q Magazine alluded to the album as “The pinnacle of a melancholy canon of work so distinctive that admirers can only speculate miserably on what might have been,” and Pitchfork gave the album a rating of 9.5 out of 10.

Drake’s follow up, Bryter Layter, my favorite of his three albums, was released in 1971. On this album, he was accompanied by many British musicians, including John Cale from The Velvet Underground. Tracks such as “At the Chime of a City Clock,” “One of These Things First,” and “Northern Sky” offer a beautiful balance between Drake’s intimate vocal style and layered instrumentation. Drake’s third and final studio album, Pink Moon, an album that many fans of his consider to be his opus, was released in 1972. An 11-track album with a total length of less than 30 minutes, Pink Moon is one of the most organic-sounding albums I have ever heard. It was recorded without a backing band, as it generally features Drake’s voice and his guitar only. Once again, this album bleeds intimacy and is definitely powerful enough to bum you out, but it encapsulates every musical aspect that Drake excelled in during his unfortunately short career.

In 1974, Drake died of an overdose of a prescribed antidepressant, and his cause of death was eventually verified as suicide. Along with influential artists who died young, whether it’s Hendrix, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, the list goes on, Drake’s ceiling was high, but we’ll never know how much he would have taken advantage of it.

All in all, Nick Drake has become one of my favorite artists in a very short amount of time, and if you decide to give him a listen, I think it will be easy to see why.