3 · Five Leaves Left

This was the year I discovered Nick Drake, after a comment in a post by Kaf inspired me to borrow the Fruit Tree boxed set from the library. My “discovery” isn’t really worthy of the name, I know: it’s not like Columbus discovering America, or even Columbus “discovering” America—more like discovering what everyone’s been talking about behind your back.

But the sense of discovery was still strong. Drake’s music sounds so fresh, even three decades after it was recorded, that it feels like an advance on all the work that’s said to be influenced by it: Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy and the rest. (Not that I have anything against Elliott Smith: his posthumous From a Basement on the Hill was one of the highlights of 2004. BDB’s newie was a disappointment, though.) Seventies folk musician he may have been, but Drake’s music sounds more contemporary than some of the new releases of last year.

It’s easy enough to explore the back-catalogue, too, because his career and life were all too short: three albums, a rarities collection (now in two incarnations), and a bootleg or two. When I was reading more about him online, I saw some critics sniffing at Nick’s fans as a death cult, over-romanticizing an average talent just because he died young. Well, I knew nothing about his life and death when I pressed play on the first album, and after two tracks I already thought his talent was anything but average. “River Man” is my song of the year, no question, and the thought that it was being written by a 19-year-old around the time I was born is strangely humbling. The nature of his death is simply irrelevant when the work is this good.

Perhaps because of that song, Five Leaves Left is my favourite Nick Drake album, although Pink Moon is a very close second, and Bryter Layter is also very good (if a little more dated in its production). Even the rarities—cleaned up in this year’s Made to Love Magic compilation—make a better-than-average album. If you haven’t discovered him yet, board the Santa Maria at any of these ports and prepare to be amazed.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

I got given a copy of the 'best of' album by an ex about 5 years ago. absolutely love ND, have listened regularly since. not so keen on the 'new' release, find it a bit over-produced. prefer the simple songs - like River Man.
Spookily enough I subsequently found out my dad went to school with him... I bought my dad a copy and he was entranced too.

Added by jen on a Wednesday in December.

So you’re two degrees from Nick Drake!

Added by Rory on a Wednesday in December.

oooh didn't realise you'd discovered the drake. sounds like they have some great stuff at the library! another excellent post...

Added by shauny on a Wednesday in December.

A friend of mine gave me a mix with "River Man" on it, years ago. Thought it wonderful but kept forgetting to follow up. Then that VW commercial with "Pink Moon" came out and suddenly Nick Drake was everywhere.

I agree with you, Rory, that Five Leaves Left is the essential ND. "Time Has Told Me" gives me shivers up the spine.

Added by BT on a Wednesday in December.