Natalie Del Castillo
Only the good die young. Nick Drake was a folk rock singer-songwriter/musician that should have musically bloomed in his later years but unfortunately, took his life in 1974. Drake, the child of two musical parents, lived the last few years of his life in a state of depression. His last album Pink Moon was more successful after his death than when he first released it. He was an artist that is almost too often forgotten when reflecting on the music in the 70s. Drake’s deliberately honest lyrics mark the hearts of listeners everywhere.
Drake lived what people would call the “normal” life as a child. He had parents who were active in his life and more specifically, actively encouraged his musical talent. His mother had him learn piano at a young age and she recorded songs that he composed, on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. After attending boarding school in Berkshire and becoming an athlete at a public school, Drake won a scholarship to study English literature at the Fitzwilliam College of the University of Cambridge. He deferred his enrollment for six months in order to study in France but this when his drug use began.
Throughout his music career, he was known for smoking large amounts of pot to deal with his depression. While he was in France and Morocco he became interested in LSD and the song written during that time, “Clothes of Sand,” made the listener wonder if he had an interest in hallucinogens. After hitting it off with the Joe Boyd, the owner of the production and management company Witchseason Productions, Drake decided to not finish out his third year at Cambridge.
His first two albums did not show successful numbers which was blamed on poor marketing. It was at this time that they realized that Drake was unable to perform in front of audiences. The crowds at folk clubs didn’t take to his awkward demeanor. There were incidents where he didn’t say a word to the crowd and he made sure the shows were brief. After his second album was released, Boyd sold Witchseason to Island Records and this caused Drake to become a recluse.
The poor sales of his two records aided in his depression and Drake’s family suggested he see a psychiatrist in 1971. After being prescribed anti-depressants, Drake only left his home in London for a concert from time to time and to buy drugs. He was never expected to complete a third album but Drake approached a sound engineer in October 1971 to create what would be his last release.
Pink Moon is one of the most uninhibited albums of all time. It is Drake, musically and emotionally naked to his listeners at a time of vulnerability. Throughout the 28 minutes of this 11-track album, it is just Drake’s voice and his guitar. The album’s title track is the only song that contains a piano overdub on it. Drake decided to go the simple route, instrumentally, because he feared that his other albums were far too extravagant with their string, brass and saxophone arrangements. He wanted this album to be about him.
After two midnight sessions, Drake finished Pink Moon. The record starts with the title track and you are immediately entranced by Drake’s smooth voice and his gentle strumming on his guitar. This is more than just “another sad song.” Drake’s voice is somewhat haunting which makes the listener wonder why his heart is so heavy. Throughout the album, each song describes different areas of his life. “Place to be” tells the story of his love for a girl that he lost. He formed his pain into a song that was poetic without being ostentatious. In the next track “Road,” Drake’s lyrics show that he has dealt with his loss in love and it’s less of a heartbreak kind of song. “Which will” is a melodious track that reveals the uncertainty people experience in life when having to make decisions.
Followed by this is the only instrumental track on the album, “Horn.” While the track is still just the acoustic guitar, it is a soft transition in the middle of the album. The next six songs are filled with almost unsettling lyrics about his ability to see depression in others, his self-loathing actions and just stark honesty. The last track “From the Morning,” catches the listener off-guard. Aside from the slightly optimistic lyrics, the guitar picks up and it becomes the most upbeat Drake has been throughout the album.Some say that this was Drake’s acceptance of death and a “new life.”
Drake wouldn’t live to see the success of his music. Pink Moon did even worse than the other two albums in opening sales. This sent Drake into an even worse depression that led to his overdose on antidepressants. Pink Moon resurfaced in 1999 when Volkswagen used the title track in a commercial which led to an increase in record sales. In the early 2000s, multiple music magazines had Pink Moon in their top lists such as Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time and Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 Albums of the 1970s.
Pink Moon is an album that was left behind by a great artist and should receive more recognition than it already has. It is definitely a must-have type of album.
Has influenced: Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine and Radiohead.