Music Musings – May 2013

The Old is New Again

It seems entirely odd to me that I would have lived through the 70’s, musically, and never have heard or even been exposed to Nick Drake. Yet, while driving to work the other day and listening to “The Loft” on SiriusXM radio, I heard for the first time One Of These Things First. It grabbed me enough that I had to take my eyes off the road long enough to push Info and see who this artist was. I filed it in memory and Googled it at first opportunity. Sure, I’ve heard references to Nick Drake before. I may have even heard his music out of context in the background somewhere, but it had never left me with an impression as striking as this. A few hours later I’d purchased Bryter Layter (1970)from which One Of These Things First comes and thanks to Amazon’s AutoRip, was able to listen to the entire CD. The music is breath taking. 

Nick Drake never achieved critical appeal in his life time-he died in 1974 from an overdose of anti-depressants, his music languishing in the vaults for many years. In the mid-1980’s, however, his musical fortunes began to change posthumously. Drake’s music was cited as influencing many artists of that time, including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. The pop band The Dream Academy even stated that their hit of that time, Life In A Northern Town, was for and about Drake

It is likely because of subtle influences through the back doors of the music industry that Nick Drake’s catalog has remained available. It certainly was not because of the sales he racked up during his living years. Bryter Layter for instance sold fewer than 3,000 copies following its release-and perhaps that is why Nick Drake’s music has eluded me all these years. At any rate, it is a truly good thing that Drake’s meager catalog still exists and that it was converted to digital at some point: Drake’s debut album Five Years Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972).

From a digital sound point of view, there are problems with Bryter Layter. The 1970’s recording techniques, combined with the age of the masters, produced low bass notes that are a bit muddy and highs that are not quite crisp enough. That these masters existed at all, given the reclusive, painfully shy, Drake’s refusal in most cases to perform live or to give interviews, and their poor sales figures, is an absolute miracle. It is very easy to forgive the sound quality of these recordings: the music stands out easily from the production. It is a testament to Nick Drake that his music sounds fresh and new today. In fact, it could have been recorded by some up-and-coming folk musician a week ago, but the stories would not have been the same or have had the same feel.

To find more information on Nick Drake, visit the estate web site, the Wikipedia page link and the Amazon purchase link. For a listen to the song that inspired this piece and my individual purchase of Bryter Layter, visit this link


Just a reminder that your feedback is always welcome. Send musical advice, rantings or just say “hello” by sending an email to sspencerwire (at) gmail dot com.