Song 115: Nick Drake, “Which Will” (1972)


This sounds ridiculous, but I kind of forgot about Nick Drake. I got on board during the first wave of his “comeback” in the late nineties, when the musicians he influenced and music critics who rediscovered him started singing his praises. I don’t know why that happened when it did—I’m guessing it had something to do with the early-nineties “unplugged” craze—but whatever the reason, I’m glad Drake’s songs got some more attention. They really are something.

Nick Drake songs are somehow both delicate and substantial, inviting and intense. His gentle voice is sneakily dark, like someone whispering to you about something terrible. But it’s gentle nonetheless, and oddly reassuring.

What I love most about Nick Drake songs is the guitar. He was clearly an excellent guitar player, but he didn’t show off; the instrumentation was always in the service of the song. In “Which Will,” he’s playing a seemingly simple phrase, but it requires some attention to detail, especially when he sings “tell me now.”

Another thing: the guitar tone here is so great. It’s not the bright sound of new strings, it’s the sound of a well-loved, much-used instrument. After I put new strings on my own guitar, I get impatient waiting for the time when it finally sounds like this: warm and inviting, and not distractingly new. New works well for some things, but not Nick Drake songs.


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