Nicholas Rodney "Nick" Drake (19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974) was an independent British musician now known as of the more influential folk singer/songwriters in recent memory.
He never achieved popular success in his lifetime, and died tragically young at 26 from an overdose of antidepressants in an apparent suicide, but recognition for both him and his work grew considerably after his death, even with the small handful of works he was able to release before his death (some of which didn't sell more than 5000 copies upon release). Some of his best-known songs include "Things Behind the Sun", "Northern Sky" and "Pink Moon" (which exploded in popularity after being used for a Volkswagen Cabriolet commercial in 1999).
Nick was known for being highly reclusive, refraining from live performances and interviews (which has been said to have contributed to his lack of commercial success), to the extent that there is no known video footage of him as an adult — only still photos and footage from his youth. He also dealt with severe mental health problems, largely in the line of major depression (though at one point theorized by a therapist of his to be schizophrenia).
His big sister, Gabrielle Drake, is an actress, probably best known for TV's UFO (1970). (Indeed, when Nick was alive, what little attention he did get from the press often referred to him as Gabrielle's brother.) In recent years, as Nick's reputation has grown, she has devoted a considerable amount of time to managing his music and seeing to the release of recordings that never made it onto his albums. She can be heard singing on his posthumous Family Tree, as can their mother, Molly. Molly Drake was a singer and songwriter as well; though she apparently never intended to release any of the recordings she made in the 1950s, in 2013 an album of her music, Molly Drake, was released. Joe Boyd, Nick's producer, called Molly's music "the missing link in the Nick Drake story."
- Five Leaves Left (1969)
- Bryter Layter (1970)
- Pink Moon (1972)
Tropes present in the work and life of Nick Drake:
- Baroque Pop: His first two albums.
- Darker and Edgier: Nick's then ongoing battle with depression led to Pink Moon having much heavier lyrical content and a bleak, sorrowful tone. It also has the darkest album art from his discography.◊
- Driven to Suicide: It's often theorized that "Harvest Breed" is about suicide.
- Drowning My Sorrows: "Things Behind the Sun" has a not so subtle reference to drinking to cope with depression.Open up a broken cupLet goodly sin and sunshine in
- "Parasite" has a more direct one.Seeing the lights in a station barAnd traveling far in sin
- "Parasite" has a more direct one.
- Instrumental: "Introduction", "Bryter Layter" and "Sunday" in Bryter Layter and "Horn" in Pink Moon.
- Lighter and Softer: Bryter Layter is the most upbeat sounding of his three studio albums despite Nick's usual interpersonal and anxiety-ridden lyrics.
- Limited Lyrics Song: The title track of Pink Moon.I saw it written and I saw it sayPink moon is on its wayAnd none of you stand so tallPink moon gonna get you allIt's a pink moonIt's a pink moonPink, pink, pink, pinkPink moonThe pink, pink, pink, pinkPink moon
- Miniscule Rocking: Most songs on Pink Moon are below the three minute mark.
- The Muse: Drake is cited as an influence by a truly staggering number of musicians, when you consider how small his fanbase was when he was alive. Robert Smith of The Cure, Damon Gough (AKA Badly Drawn Boy), Beth Orton, and Peter Buck of R.E.M. are probably the most famous. Brad Pitt is a fan, and narrated the documentary Lost Boy: In Search of Nick Drake for BBC Radio 2. "Solid Air" by John Martyn and "Life in a Northern Town" by The Dream Academy were written as tributes to him. Beck's albums Sea Change and Morning Phase are in large part modeled on Drake's work.
- New Sound Album:
- Bryter Layter added some jazz textures to the arrangements.
- Pink Moon featured none of the orchestration on his first two albums, being performed completely on acoustic guitar with the exception of an overdubbed piano on the title track.
- The never completed fourth album (of which "Rider On The Wheel", "Hanging On A Star" "Voices/Voice From The Mountain", "Black Eyed Dog" and "Tow The Line" were to have formed the first side), shows Nick taking influence from the tunings of North African music, most evident in "Black Eyed Dog".
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: The Trope Codifier, if not a Trope Maker.
- Rearrange the Song: Five Leaves Left outtakes "I Was Made To Love Magic" and "Time Of No Reply" had appeared with relatively simple orchestration on the "Time Of No Reply" compilation in the 80s. However, when putting together its official replacement "Made To Love Magic" in the early 2000s, Robert Kirby rediscovered his original lusher orchestration that would have been added to the tracks had they been mixed for Five Leaves Left, and newly recorded it. As a result there are distinctly different versions of these tracks, with the version of "Magic" having a sparseness close to "Way To Blue".
- Repurposed Pop Song: "Pink Moon" was used in a Volkswagen ad, and AT&T used "From the Morning" in a 2010 commercial.
- Shout-Out: Nick's best friend Jeremy Mason gets a shoutout in "Three Hours". Whilst Nick has used other names in songs, this is the only one that definitely refers to a specific person.
- Silly Love Songs: "Northern Sky", the most unabashedly joyful song in the Nick Drake catalog.
- Single Stanza Song: "Harvest Breed", which contains only the single stanza. "Know", too, which contains only a single verse and some hums.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: After a completely depressing back half, Pink Moon concludes on the uplifting "From the Morning".
- Three Chords and the Truth: Drake's music is generally quite intricate, with Baroque guitar playing techniques and often similarly competent accompaniment, so he does not really fit this trope for the most part. However, Pink Moon is a lot more stripped back compared to the previous two albums (cf. New Sound Album above). The recording of "Place to Be" on Pink Moon might be a good example of this trope. On earlier versions, he fingerpicks it intricately, but on the album, he mostly just strums it. This is sometimes said to be a sign of his lack of enthusiasm, but it is more likely just because he found it easier to play.
- The Something Song: "'Cello Song".
- Uncommon Time: "River Man" is in 5/4.
- The version of "Hanging On A Star" on Made To Love Magic has the guitar playing and vocals in two different time signatures. It would be very hard to play both at the same time, so it's possible he overdubbed it.
- Working Title: "Three Hours" was known as "Sundown" until the last minute, leading to the first pressing of Five Leaves Left incorrectly referring to it by that title (As well as including an unused verse).