In 1999, Volkswagen featured a song called “Pink Moon” in one of its über-trendy car commercials. After the spot aired on U.S. television, thousands of calls flooded in to the VW offices, asking which intriguing new artist had produced such a beautiful composition. Ironically, these modern-day indie rock enthusiasts were stunned to discover that the album Pink Moon (from which this song is the title track) was actually released in 1972—and that English singer/songwriter Nick Drake had been dead since 1974.
Of course, if Drake had been alive at the time of the commercial’s release, he never would have allowed his song to be used in such a materialistic context. An intensely private man, he refused to do any publicity—which is perhaps why his catalogue of three albums (1969’s Five Leaves Left, 1970’s Bryer Layter, and 1972’s Pink Moon) failed to find a audience during his lifetime. Only years after he died of a drug overdose at the tender age of 26 did his music begin to seep into the public consciousness and garner accolades from the likes of R.E.M’s Peter Buck and Robert Smith of The Cure. Latter day folk musicians such as Elliot Smith and Lucinda Williams have also cited Drake as an influence, earning him the kind of posthumous popularity that had previously been reserved for such under-appreciated artists as Hemingway, Dickinson and Van Gogh.
While more starkly simplistic than the lush orchestrations of Five Leaves Left and Bryer Lyter, the elegiac Pink Moon is still highly regarded as Drake’s greatest work. At just 28 minutes, this 11 track LP is one of the most musically stripped-down and emotionally naked albums ever recorded, with only Drake’s haunting voice and acoustic guitar conveying the deepest desires of his soul. In life, Drake had an overwhelming fear of intimacy and couldn’t stand to be touched. The only way he knew how to connect with others was through his music, and with Pink Moon, he allowed himself to be open, honest, and heartbreakingly vulnerable for one last time.
The titular opening track contains the only overdub on the entire album—a plaintive piano interlude that glides seamlessly over Drake’s softly strumming guitar. Although the chords sound gentle and soothing, the harrowing lyrics tell a different story: “Saw it written and I saw it say/Pink moon is on its way/And none of you stand so tall/Pink moon gonna get ye all.” This hint of dread continues to pervade every song that follows, casting a dark and resonant magic over the album’s dream-like atmosphere.
“Place to Be” examines both Drake’s fear of love and his innate desire to obtain it—a wretched dichotomy that threatens to tear him apart: “Now I’m weaker than the palest blue/Oh, so weak in this need for you.”
Folkloric melodies act as metaphors for Drake’s own existential loneliness, with his velvety vocals serving as the perfect medium for his troubled state of mind. Alluringly androgynous in its sensuality, the effect of his voice is chilling at times—especially when he gives in to self-imposed isolation and despair (“Know that I love you/Know I don’t care/Know that I see you/Know that I’m not there”). However, “Parasite” is the most devastating track of all, with gut-renching lyrics that speak to Drake’s core feelings of worthlessness while also foreshadowing his imminent demise: “Take a look you may see me in the dirt/For I am the parasite that hangs from your skirt.”
“From the Morning” closes the album on a somewhat hopeful note, as Drake poignantly contemplates a life worth living: “So look see the days/The endless colored ways/And go play the game you learnt/From the morning.” Sadly, Drake found no way out of his depression, and ultimately succumbed to his demons less than 2 years later. Another line from this song is inscribed on his gravestone (“Now we rise/and we are everywhere”), capturing both the lasting impact of Pink Moon and the enduring legacy of Drake himself as an artist, poet, and visionary.
Nick Drake- Pink Moon tracklist
- “Pink Moon”
- “Place to Be”
- “Which Will”
- “Things Behind The Sun”
- “Free Ride”
- “Harvest Breed”
- “From the Morning”