The following is in regards to your question, “If I could own only one Nick CD, which would you suggest?” An excellent query.
To those of you who are not familiar with the music of Nick Drake, for shame. (Cmon! The link has been on my site since time was invented! You should have checked it out by now!)
Tragically, Nick Drake passed away in 1974 due to an accidental medication overdose. It’s devastating to think of the impact Nick might have had on the contemporary folk music industry if he were still alive. Nonetheless, almost three decades after his death, Nick’s music grows more popular and influential all the time. It is unfortunate that the success of Nick’s music came so late. I wonder what he would think or feel if he knew how many people he’s touched with his sultry voice, poetic lyrics, and creative guitar riffs.
I would write out exactly what makes each one of Nick’s albums fantastic, wonderful, special, breathtaking, etc. etc. etc. However, you didn’t ask to know about each album. You wanted to know what I, personally, feel is the album I would suggest to you if you could only buy one.
Three albums were made. Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon were released and in that order. A fourth album, Way to Blue, was made after Nick’s death, containing four songs that would have been on his fourth album, demos, and never before heard material.
Five Leaves Left is a truly masterful first album. It’s beautiful. It’s unlike any new artist release you’ve ever heard. Very professional. The maturity level of the album is striking, even for a 20 year old British kid from Cambridge. Songs like “Fruit Tree,” “Time Has Told Me,” or “River Man” aren’t songs you’d typically hear on a first album, yet there they are for your listening pleasure.
Bryter Layter has been considered Nick’s “best work.” The producer, Joe Boyd, believed the album was the only “perfect album” he ever made and would make Nick Drake a star. This album was supported by a full house band including bass, drums, lead guitar, piano, and organ. Really great tracks include “Hazey Jane I” and “Hazey Jane II,” “At the Chime of a City Clock,” “Fly,” and “Northern Sky.”
Pink Moon. The first Nick album I bought. The last he made. This album is raw, plain, simple, and absolutely incredible in every way. Other than it’s title track “Pink Moon,” the entire album consists of Nick’s sultry voice soaring through some of the most creative guitar riffs I’ve ever heard. The songs sound simple and easy, but being someone who’s played the guitar for nearly five years, I can tell you that Nick’s compositions are 20 times more difficult than people might believe. Every single song on the album is good. I say “good” because they’re all so freaking good that no other word is good enough to explain how really good they are.
Songs like “Know” absolutely enthrall me. The lyrics are as follows, “Know that I love you/Know I don’t care/Know that I see you/Know I’m not there” and the remainder of the song consists of Nick humming melodically until the very end. People might read those few lines and accuse the song of lacking substance or length, but that’s where their problem lies. There should not be any sort of formula to songwriting. Songs are written and become exactly what they are for a very specific reason. Minimums or maximums should not be a factor in judging whether or not a song is good. I believe, whether he knew it about himself or not, that Nick Drake understood this very, very well. Making him a songwriting genius.
“Pink Moon,” “Place to Be,” “Horn” (instrumental), “Know,” “Parasite,” and “From the Morning,” are the tracks that come to mind at the present time. But all the tracks are good. Every last one.
My recommendation: Pink Moon.