1) Rider On The Wheel 2) Made To Love Magic 3) River Man 4) Joey 5) Thoughts Of
Mary Jane 6) Mayfair 7) Hanging On A Star 8) Three Hours
9) Clothes Of Sand 10) Voice From A Mountain 11) Time
Of No Reply 12) Black Eyed Dog 13) Tow The Line
From early 1972
until his death in late 1974, Nick Drake lived in a muted, anti-depressant induced daze in his childhood home with his parents. Family and friends claim that he was frequently isolated in his room, and from them,
not speaking or communicating in any way…just starring off into nowhere. His
state was made even more troubling because there would be brief periods of normalcy, sometimes lasting weeks, but then dramatic
drops back into his haze. His sister recalls one day where he got out of bed
and said he was leaving for town, but hours later the police phoned the family, claiming Nick was marooned at a cross walk
unable to move for over an hour.
of Nick’s most calming activities was driving his car. It appeared to act
as a sort of therapy, making it impossible for his family to have deprived him of something he so obviously enjoyed. He would sometimes just drive two or three miles and come home, but other times he
would drive for days…stopping to “visit” friends (although he would just show up at their houses and not
say a word, sleep on their floor, and be gone in the morning), or until he ran out of gas and called his father to pick him
In the final
two months of his life, Nick seemed to have a long period of calm. He listened
to language records in an attempt to relearn conversational French and planned a trip to Paris. His vacation there was spent living at a friend’s house near Notre Dame, but no one is exactly sure
what he did or even how long he stayed. Upon his return home, his parents noticed
how happy he seemed and he even talked to them about getting back into music. But
this was never to be…on a cold night in late November, Nick died in his sleep from taking an overdose of Tryptizol,
one of his three anti-depressant medications (the other two drugs he was taking were Stelazine and Disipal). Amazingly though, he did manage to call John Wood just weeks before his trip to Paris, and organized a
recording session…his last songs laid to tape.
Joe Boyd asked Drake if he
could attend the session as well, and both he and Wood have since said that Drake was in such a bad state that they had to
record his guitar first before laying down a vocal on most of the tracks. Nevertheless,
each of the five songs recorded in that lone session were better than most every song on “Pink Moon”
and one might just be the best track Nick ever recorded.
On The Wheel” is startlingly upbeat and delicate sounding, describing the brief lapses of sanity Nick felt while
driving… The cyclic rise and fall of his moods:
And now you know my name
But I don't feel the same
But I ain't gonna blame
The rider on the wheel.
round and round we go
We take it fast and slow
I must keep up a show
For the rider on the wheel
The rider on the
voice is a little hoarse and war weary, but the performance is excellent.
On A Star” describes the anger and confusion Drake felt over not being successful.
Apparently, sometime before the recording session, Drake read the lyrics to his former producer. Boyd said he was astonished because he had never heard Drake angry before that conversation. Drake sings the song with a much more unpolished voice, slightly disturbing compared to all of his other
recorded tracks. The tune itself proves Drake to still be a virtuoso on guitar,
even in his depression, strumming and picking with conviction.
From The Mountain” Drake seems to be asking god when it will all end. The
tune is almost anthem like, with its slow build up and great melody. It is one
of the catchiest songs in Drake’s catalog and he seems to know it: “I know my name, my name, but this tune is
more.” It is a little too long, but had the potential to be a hit had it
Apparently, when Joe Boyd
left England to work in America following “Bryter Layter,” Nick took his departure very seriously,
and some have claimed that Boyd was the one person who kept Nick from slipping into a depression sooner than he did. With that in mind, “Tow The Line” might be about Drake’s
former producer, hoping that this time the two partners could finally find a way to get Drake the money, fame, and success
he had long been striving towards…
And now that you’re here you can show me the way
Now that you’re here we can finally make it pay
For while you were gone it was hard it was cold
While you were gone we were time we were old
If you show us we can tow the line…
The tune is sung and played
with urgency, a strange determination, not found on any other Drake song. He
seems so much more forceful here and it actually does seem like he is singing with purpose…
And lastly, the
gripping, almost indescribable “Black Eyed Dog.” A black
dog is a sign of death creeping in, made famous by Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail.” Nick’s original version here is a dangerous sound: chilling, unsettling, and
bleak. “A black eyed dog he called at my door… A black eyed dog he
knew my name…” Drake seems to know that he is too far gone…he
seems to understand that this is all there is left…that this one song is the only way he can describe his eminent fate.
Most of these
songs can be heard on the two posthumous Nick Drake compilations of outtakes and unreleased finished tracks: “Time
on No Reply” and “Made To Love Magic.” I
have never heard the former, and in fact, have never even seen it sold, but by all accounts it is a tremendous album
that could have stood on its own. (Check out Jack Feeny's, Adrian Denning's, or Scott Floman's Review Site for detailed analysis).
To Love Magic” is the only one of the two to include all five of Drake’s song recorded at his final session. Also included on the album are new, Robert Kirby orchestrated versions of “Made
To Love Magic” and “Time of No Reply.” Both of
these songs were recorded to be included on “Five Leaves Left,” but neither was deemed good enough. “Magic” is a little too gentle and Disneyish, but is still an
excellent song. Drake’s voice here is so beautiful it makes me sad. “Time of No Reply” is one of the oldest songs Drake ever wrote
and would have been one of the best songs had it been included on “Five Leaves Left.” Your Nick Drake collection is not complete until you own this gorgeous, charming song.
not to be found on “Time of No Reply” include demoed versions of Nick performing “River
Man,” “Three Hours,” and “Mayfair.”
Hearing “River Man” without the orchestration is especially awe-inspiring, while the version of
“Three Hours” includes a flute towards the coda not found on “Five Leaves Left”
and has much more of a jam feel to it. The flute is never overbearing and adds
a little personality to this already great tune. “Mayfair”
is an upbeat, bouncing, slight, little song that Drake seems to really enjoy performing.
Despite being the happiest Nick Drake tune by far, it is a little sad to hear him having such a good time playing,
knowing that he just couldn’t keep his sanity.
The other three tracks included
are apparently the same versions found on “Time of No Reply,” although remastered. Each is expertly played on acoustic guitar and free of any orchestration.
“Joey” is a beautiful story song that is no worse than anything on “Five Leaves
Left” and even better than a few of the tracks. “Thoughts
Of Mary Jane,” heard here with Richard Thompson’s electric guitar instead of the obtrusive orchestration,
reveals the song to be excellent. The melody is absolutely lovely, no longer
too cute, and Thompson’s strange sounding tone should have been used on the original album. “Clothes
Of Sand” is something else entirely and would have been one of the better songs on any of Drake’s albums. It is dreary, but engaging, and the gorgeous vocal hooks are some of the best Drake
came up with.
These songs are all tremendous and a testament
to Nick Drake’s unique talent. As I’ve said before in this site,
knowing an artist’s tragic history makes me appreciate their music more, and I am sure that is the case with Nick Drake
as well. So, I might be a little biased in reviewing his material, but trust
me, you won’t find an artist with more beautiful songs than Drake came up with in his five, maddening, all too
brief years of recording.