Tag Archives: nick drake

Acclaimed Albums – Pink Moon by Nick Drake

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 312/1000
Title: Pink Moon
Artist: Nick Drake
Year: 1972

Three years ago, I listened to the first of three albums before Nick Drake died at the tender age of 26. When I first listened to him, I was that much closer to age that he died, now I am older it really hits more just how young he actually was.

Since my husband is doing his own album challenge, using the 1001 Albums book, I am leap-frogging over Drake’s second album Bryter Layter in order to listen to Pink Moon. After his previous albums didn’t take off commercially, this was an album that I am amazed was actually produced. Especially back in the 1970s when you couldn’t just self-release on a Soundcloud. Guess he did well enough for them to give it another punt.

Unlike the well-produced Five Leaves Left, Pink Moon is just Drake and his guitar – making for a more intimate sounding album. Seeing that he was also further along in his mental illness, and not taking his antidepressants because of interactions with the marijuana he smoked – the content and feeling of this album is further alone into his decline. I guess the second album will see a mid-point between the two.

That is not to say that this album destroys you like A Crow Looked At Me. The depressiveness is there, but it’s almost cozy. My husband referred to it as a depression blanket, and that’s pretty much a perfect way to describe it. It’s more a chilled out folk album with a pronounced melancholy slant (much like some songs from Bonny Light Horseman or Sufjan Steven’s Seven Swans) which makes it perfect as a mellow backing music for a lot of my coding work when I just want to go with the flow rather than power through.

1001 Songs – 1979: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Gloria – Umberto Tozzi

Okay, so like a lot of people I know the Laura Branigan version and had no idea that it was a over of this Italian disco track. When we’ve been doing tracks for the 1001 list and are thrown a French or Italian song, it’s usually to give a sample of something a bit different that was alongside the English-language songs that dominate the list.

In this instance, however, this is very much a related movement. After all this is the country that bore Morodor aka the father of disco – which would not have happened in isolation. It’s actually really cool to hear this take on disco, one without the prolonged dance breaks… but we’ve already heard a better version of this in ABBA’s ‘Voulez Vous’. Still though, I love hearing these originals.

Black Eyed Dog – Nick Drake

This is a real cheat. Nick Drake was already dead for five years by the time this demo came out on a compilation box. Granted, this was the compilation box that caused a massive re-evaluation in his music and resulted in his subsequent elevation in the musical canon – but this hauntingly beautiful song is so out of time.

‘Black Eyed Dog’ was one of the final songs that Nick Drake recorded before his suicide which gives this song about depression an even more haunting sense of relevance. It’s a real whiplash to have this in between a disco song and one of the great early electric pop songs though. I’m going to need a minute.

Are “Friends” Electric? – Gary Numan & Tubeway Army

Where ‘Black Eyed Dog’ was out of time because of the posthumous release, ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ is out of time for being so out there for 1979. At this point Kraftwerk and other electronic acts from Germany are where you can hang this, but this song by Gary Numan and Tube is already a few more stages removed from that.

It’s this weird mix of new wave, post-punk, electronica, synth-pop and ambient. I mean I would want to call it prog-synth if I wasn’t sure that existed as a sub-genre that I would probably dislike. This song is extraordinary given the time, which is all the more extraordinary given how it topped the charts in the UK. I guess people really were looking for the next thing after disco.

Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure

A bit of a nice and inoffensive pop-rock here that further serves to remind me that The Cure are actually from the UK and not, as I keep thinking, American. It’s an interesting step for the post-punk movement and a very weird to actually hear The Cure making this sort of music before that began to have more of a goth and alternative rock look rather than this piece of new wave.

The Cure is one of those bands I keep saying that I need to give more a go to. Just give me the time I guess.

Good Times – Chic

At 90 seconds in, it felt like this song had already blown it’s load. By minute three when the dance break began on this 8 minute song I had had enough. Look, it’s a product of it’s time and I am not opposed to long songs (hell, ‘Only Skin’ by Joanna Newsom is 17 minutes long and I adore that). Thing is, this dance break lacks punch and it isn’t worth the 4-5 minutes you spend on it.

What is really interesting is how the idea of ‘Good Times’ in the lyrics is tinged with irony. I wish I could have felt that more in the song, but boy do I appreciate that sentiment.

Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson

This is how you do a disco song. I have heard this song a lot in my life and it still is able to maintain that huge joie de vivre that you are meant to get from a disco song. Hell, this is still as repetitive in places as other disco songs but it has enough variation in the instrumentation and in the arrangements to keep you engaged.

There is no denying that the duo of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones led to moments of genius – but with this is just feels like they learned from the disco out at the time and found a way to right all the things that could have held it back. Such a great song.

Lost in Music – Sister Sledge

Another song in our disco stretch, the second of the three that was produced by Nile Rodgers from Chic. After hearing disco being done brilliantly by Michael Jackson it is near impossible to compare these two songs – which is a resounding loss for Sister Sledge. I was there with them for the first three minutes and then it was just this… variation-free repetition.

Disco is over soon, right?

Brass in Pocket – Pretenders

New wave. Check. Female vocalist. Check. Upbeat with a killer chorus. Check.

My husband cottoned on immediately that this was one of those songs I adore. My big smile the moment it started will have helped too because I know it very well. Plus, I crossed the parent album from this not too long ago and have been enjoying that ever since.

 

1001 Songs – 1970: Part Two

It’s been a while, nearly two months, since I was last in 1970. Hopefully it won’t take as long next time…

Black Night – Deep Purple

It’s weird to go back in musical time when the last two albums I listened to for the blog were influential for punk (Suicide and Horses). We’re still in 1970 where hard rock was beginning it’s transformation into metal, with the guitar solos being a key ingredient falling into place.

Listening to this I got a strange mix of an Easy Rider style road-trip and ‘Play That Funky Music’. I probably should be hearing more Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but you can’t help where the brain goes.

War – Edwin Starr

I should have got what the song was from the title and the year. The chanting chorus is such a simple protest against war, but it is hard to deny the effectiveness of it. As a song ‘War’ has become such a part of the culture that it is easy to forget its roots as an anti-Vietnam funk piece.

Probably didn’t help that a lot of people my age may know this song best as being part of the Rush Hour soundtrack. Whilst that helped to keep the song alive it has cheapened it somewhat.

Interesting to think how this was a song originally meant for the Temptations (see two songs down the page) but it was seen as career suicide. At least Edwin Starr was able to get his hands on a classic.

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black – Bob and Marcia

From the off, the Nina Simone version of this song is so much better. ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ is a great song from the Civil Rights movement and both Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin have given powerful renditions of this as strong black women. Then you have this… the song which typifies what happens to something fed through trends to be chart-friendly.

I mean, this version is like turning ‘Strange Fruit’ into an upbeat pop song by Rihanna as remixed by David Guetta. Just no.

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations

So the Temptations had to pass on ‘War’ and this is their equivalent, a great bit of psychedelic soul. We’ve been skirting around this sub-genre for a while and I think we have a first good example of this. I know that funk is meant to come from psychedelic soul… but it feels like the choice of songs from this book managed to leap frog over that transition.

The distortion effects, the disjointed song structure and the rapid switching between the different voices of the band members all helps to compound this idea of the titular ball of confusion. As a song this is as relevant now as it was back when it was first released, which is a bit hisheartening when you think about it too much.

Avec le temps – Léo Ferré

Within 30 seconds I can feel tears in my eyes. A minute goes by and the goosebumps start. I don’t speak French, but I understand exactly what he’s singing about because it’s there in his intonation, his timbre and in the circular piano playing the scales. I am having a visceral reaction.

‘Avec le temps’ (With time, in English) is a song about loss. About the death of love that can happen with the passing of time. The piano plays an excellent part in the illusion of time passing around you (the playing of scales, which feels like a spiral staircase) whilst you remain in place (because you only play the same set of notes in sequence).

That was an interesting reaction… then again I just have one of those brains I guess.

The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie

Here we are in 1970 and we have our first of a fair number of David Bowie songs. I guess that it was this album that was where what we understand to be Bowie actually started, so it makes sense for this song to be included as some sort of timestamp.

It feels slightly off-kilter when compared to the other psychedelic song of the time, with Bowie’s echoey vocals being used to great effect towards the end. There are some interesting parts here, but I think we’ll here something more groundbreaking from him later on.

Awaiting on You All – George Harrison

I knew this was Phil Spector the moment it started playing. That ‘Wall of Sound’ is such an obvious fingerprint that, when listening to this, I can’t help but think back on ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ or the Phil Spector Christmas album.

So you take the ‘Wall of Sound’ mix it with a pinch of Love’s psychedelia (see: ‘Alone Again Or’) and this is the song you get.

I’m a sucker for a big production number, so ‘Awaiting on You All’ got an immediate thumbs up from me. Just wish it was a bit longer.

Northern Sky – Nick Drake

Oh Nick Drake. I wish I knew that you were going to be okay.

‘Northern Sky’ feels like a different direction from Five Leaves Left, mainly because this feels a bit more upbeat. The spacious world created on the previous album is still there, but gone are the strings and the bongos and instead there’s a celeste and a light piano.

Listening to ‘Northern Sky’ makes me want to expand my albums list out from 250 because then I will have the agency to listen to it’s parent album Bryter Layter. I just need to listen to those albums faster!

Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney

Growing up in the time that I did, the formative memories that I have of Paul McCartney was the business surrounding his marriage to Heather Mills. With that and the deification of John Lennon in pop culture, I began to form a negative view of McCartney based on nothing but hearsay.

I think with ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ I need to make a re-evaluation. This not a song that you could have had from the Beatles. As classic as many of their songs are, there is always a distance between the listener and the Beatles themselves. Their stories are about other people, not them.

With ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ it feels like the first time that I have been allowed to see something personal from McCartney – and it’s great. The love that he had for Linda is so obvious in this song that you cannot but help feel uplifted.

Progress: 310/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 140/250Title: Five Leaves Left
Artist: Nick Drake
Year: 1969
Position: #157

To go back and experience classic albums, films and TV shows is to come into contact with the many stories (both heroic and tragic) of their creators. Recently, the untimely death of Carole Lombard and depression of Rita Heyworth have formed the kick-off points of blog posts. Today, we’re keeping on with the tragedy with the music of Nick Drake – who died of an overdose at the tender age of 26 in what was a possible suicide (although this is still up for debate).

You would be forgiven for not knowing who Nick Drake is. He died in relative obscurity and has been subject to a re-evaluation. His debut album Five Leaves Left and follow-up Bryter Layter are now seen as classics of the folk rock genre. If you have even a toe in the water of contemporary folk musicians you can see how the music of Nick Drake has influenced the likes of Beck, Laura Marling, Jeff Buckley and Mount Eerie.

I don’t know if it is because I’m listening to the 2004 re-mastered edition or just the quality of the album itself, but this could have been released now. It’s difficult to find an album from the 1960s that feels truly timeless, usually there’s a contemporary trend or technological limitation that gives it away. I am guessing that this was what prevented this from being noticed?

It sounds hyperbolic, but listening to this album on good headphones just transports you. The guitar is so ridiculously perfect that it doesn’t feel of this world. Similarly, the production on some songs (such as ‘Three Hours’) somehow creates this cavernous world where all the layers feel just out of reach. It’s similar to what The xx do.

Then you have the many tracks with incredibly vibrant strings. The tracks still feel as if they are being played in an observatory tower, but there’s more warmth to these thanks to the added complexity. Also, there’s sometimes a conga drum being played which is a bit unusual… then again it does fit in with the album.

Honestly, this is an album that surprised me. I was expecting something a bit melancholic (which this is) and folksy – that’s it. Instead I have an album with an emotional affect that makes you both want to reach out to Nick Drake and respect the level of detatchment that he is fostering. It isn’t a brooding album, it’s a profoundly beautiful one that really should have gotten some notice back in 1969. Maybe if it had… well we’ll never know.