Three Records From Sundown

This week on the show we’re presenting one of our favorite radio features, “Three Records from Sundown,” about singer Nick Drake. Neither the devastating beauty of Drake’s music, nor the amazing craftsmanship of the documentary itself are going to come through in this web article — so we suggest you stop reading this and just listen.

Five_Leaves_Left

The documentary, by producer Charles Maynes, retraces the roots of Drake’s legend through interviews with Drake’s producer, Joe Boyd. Boyd signed Nick Drake to Island records when Drake was just 20 years old. The first album they recorded together was Five Leaves Left, released in 1968.

Five Leaves Left did not appeal to the critics, and sold very few copies. Boyd was discouraged by this, but Drake was distraught. Still, Boyd urged Drake to quickly make a second album. Bryter Layter was released in 1970.

Bryter_Layter

Bryter Layter was met warmly by most critics, but still sold very few copies. Drake’s ability to sell records was further hampered by his difficulty performing live. He was an incredibly shy performer, and would often spend agonizingly long minutes on stage, silently retuning his guitar, and losing the audience’s attention.

After Bryter Layter, Drake, who suffered from depression, moved back in with his parents and sought out psychiatric care.

In 1972, Nick Drake recorded his third and final album, Pink Moon. Producer Joe Boyd was not invited to participate with its creation.

NickDrakePinkMoon

Pink Moon sold even fewer copies than its predecessors. Soon thereafter, Nick Drake suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized. When he was released, Drake and Boyd talked about beginning work on a new album, but the album was never finished.

In 1974, when Drake was 26 years old, he was found dead in his bedroom from an overdose of antidepressants. It remains unclear whether his death was a suicide.

After his death, loyal fans made pilgrimages to Drake’s family home in Tanworth-in-Arden, England. His parents welcomed these fans into their home and allowed them to make recordings of Drake’s music. These recordings were passed around from tape-to-tape recordings, beginning a posthumous discovery of Drake’s music.

When Boyd eventually sold his stake in Island Records, he did so with the parting condition that Drake’s three albums would never go out of print. For Boyd, it isn’t surprising that Nick Drake’s music has been become revered — only surprising, and sad, that Drake didn’t receive acclaim within his own lifetime.

One side effect of Drake’s music not having gained popularity in its own time, however, is that the music is somewhat culturally unanchored. It doesn’t evoke the spirit of the 1960s. It just exists.

Which is how it ultimately ended up in car commercial in 1999.

Credits

Production

Producer Charles Maynes spoke with Joe Boyd for this story. Three Records From Sundown won the Directors Choice award from the Third Coast Festival in 2009.

Music

“Nothing But Trouble” — Lonnie Johnson
“Cello Song”— Nick Drake
“Poor Mum”— Molly Drake
“Three Hours”— Nick Drake
“Road”— Nick Drake
“Way to Blue”— Nick Drake
“So Long Marianne”— Leonard Cohen
“Poor Boy”— Nick Drake
“River Man”— Nick Drake
“Pink Moon”— Nick Drake
“Hanging on a Star”— Nick Drake
“Fly”— Nick Drake

Comments (41)

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  1. I am so haunted and captivated by this production. I’ve been a fan of Nick Drake since the dawn of time, but I never imagined him sitting in the middle of a recording studio, surrounded by strings. I’m so sad to have lost him, and so grateful to have found him. Does that make sense?

    This presentation of his story is truly beautiful. I loved every moment.

  2. jamison

    An absolutely haunting and wonderful podcast. At the same, time i personally feel that this episode gets dangerously close to breaking the Cardinal rule: “no cardinals”. Even with the sub-theme of “tape” it kinda sits outside of what i’m used to from 99%. Still great. still happy.

  3. Lesley Picking

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for playing this important piece of ‘tape’ about Nick, the ‘Man in the Shed’!

    Here in New Zealand nobody seems to know about Nick Drake but I have been enthralled by his story for many many years. It’s wonderful to know that other other people in the world have been affected by his work. Pink Moon box set is my go-to album when I need gentle inspiration.

    There is a great documentary on You Tube about him I saw some years ago that I would highly recommend called A Skin too Few.

    RIP Nick.

  4. Interesting, unusual episode. I love 99%, and I heavily promoted the latest Kickstarter campaign, so it pains me to be motivated to criticize one the shows. I liked the music and the story here, but the heavy radio-/tape-style production on the narration seemed overdone and sometimes hard to listen to.

    1. Kelly Jackson

      Amen! I was worried everyone would love the precious, over produced narrative that detracts so heavily from the quiet, understated wonder of Mr. Drake. Glad to know I’m not the only one who found it to be stylistically grating.

  5. Garrett

    Roman, I recently listened to your featured episode on Radiolab and you mentioned that visceral feel you strive for when someone listened to 99pi, this is absolutely one of those episodes. Uncomfortable, tragic, yet beautiful, inspiring, and unexpected. Keep up the good work guys.

  6. I have to agree with Richard Gunther on this episode. Great content, but the tape-splicing gets very distracting. It’s one thing if it’s actually found tape, but this is just the producer re-cutting his on voice, and often with effects that wouldn’t even happen in a cassette. The production should help to set mood, but in the middle of a profound piece of information of his life, I’d ranter not be interrupted by a tape seeking sound.

  7. I’m with George Castillo and Richard Gunther- enthusiastic about Nick Drake and tape, turned off by the tone. I did actually turn it off several times. The combined effect of tape noises, self-important interview subject (Joe Boyd), and contrived noir voiceovers felt heavy-handed. It won the Third Coast award, so maybe it makes more sense outside the context of this podcast. However, I do enjoy the sound design and music stories- keep them coming!

  8. Andy

    This episode is a departure from regular 99pi. Loved the episode and listened to the whole thing. But it is the wrong topic and the wrong style for 99pi. I felt that the episode lacked objectivity and that normal research component that is so hard to find among this medium.

    Sorry to be critical, but we hold you to a higher standard,

  9. Tom Maxwell

    I was introduced to Nick Drake by my girlfriend when I was a teenager. During my angsty, nervous teenage years, Nick Drake was a comfort to me. Amazing songwriting. I haven’t listened to him in a long time so I am very thankful that you did this episode. Definitely a departure from the typical episode, but I liked the approach taken on telling his story. Thanks again.

  10. Adrian

    Love 99PI, to the point of obsession, but for all that is good and pure in this world please don’t bombard our ears with another of these podcasts. The mid-90s faux grunge style of editing/producing made it unlistenable, and for the first time I actually skipped a 99PI podcast. Great subject matter, horrible production. Maybe if I had listened to it through my flannel-covered headphones…

  11. RayRay

    Felt like reading a text in which each sentence is typed in a different font, some bold, some italic, some underlined.
    This is what’s wong with talk radio thats trying to be different for the sake of being different, too much effort on style over content. Overediting made this thing unbearable and cheapens the hard work put into it. I love your show man, just felt like sharing this one was a bit off from the usual.

  12. A agree with many above, this is a wonderful, sweetly tragic tail of music unrequited, that was edited/produced by a someone who thinks their technique should be above the content. Total hack job, and not what I look to this podcast for. I’d even suggest you re-cut the narrations, and post it again. The popping and clicking and volume shifts are just childishly over-done. What the hell were you thinking? After the 3rd break I had to stop listening. Frustratingly crappy, because I’d really like to hear the rest of the story. Is there a transcript available?

  13. Paul

    I disagree with many of the comments here about the episode’s presentation; I neither found it distracting nor not up to the standards, or content, of 99pi. I would be unwilling to argue the point (can’t die on every hill), but I can say that I thought that the episode was moving, and that’s enough for me.

    Part of my reaction is personal. I had a sister who managed a record store in Cambridge, MA in the 60s and early 70s. She gave me a copy of the US release of Nick Drake when it came out in 71, when I was 17. I admittedly approached his music warily at first, but grew quickly to love it. Fast forward to this year, my sister died, and as part of a reception for her I played recordings of some of the music that she had introduced me to over the years. The first song was River Man. As the intro bled into the lyric a woman who had worked with my sister – and who I had not previously known – stopped her conversation and stood transfixed by the song of a singer that she had never heard before. She made a new connection to both the music and to my sister at that moment. And, that struck me as fitting. Lovely episode.

  14. Mark

    Roman, I have been a big fan of 99% Invisible for quite some time, but Three Records From Sundown is a jarring departure in from the usual style and content of your podcast. Had the numerous clicks and pops been softened, and had the wide fluctuations in volume been ironed out, I might have actually enjoyed the episode. I certainly wouldn’t have been left with that headache and sense of frustration. Usually I am sorry when the episode comes to an end, but with this one I felt a feeling of relief and liberation.

    I don’t care what award it won–that show wasn’t even close to the high standard you have set.

    But I know this was the exception. I can’t wait until the next episode drops!

  15. Andrew Kephart

    Based on the parts I could make it through, this is an amazing story. It’s a shame that the production gets in its own way so badly. I’ll second the motion for recut narration without the gimmicky annoyances. Can’t wait for next week with what I hope is back to the usual high quality….

  16. jhhj

    Too bad we couldn’t have had a story about Nick Drake with a narrator who wasn’t making the story all about him and how much he hates most people and how terrible it is to be middle class. (I gather he’s upper class.) I decided to listen to a Nick Drake album instead.

  17. Harmon

    This is the nigh-unlistenable pretentious nonsense we have to excuse when we explain why we listen to public radio.

  18. Levent

    LOVE 99pi as well as Nick Drake’s music, but I have to join in the chorus of irritated listeners. The horribly mixed and executed “tape” effect simply makes no sense — it feels utterly unnecessary and, frankly, cowardly.

  19. Daniel

    Nick Drake is easily in my top five, but the production on this made it almost impossible to get through. I would love to listen to an edit that didn’t have such over the top tape noises and fluctuations in volume

  20. Brain

    I found this to be one of the worst episodes of 99pi I have listened to. I agree with the others who said the production was distracting, but really this was the story of a failed musician. How many of those have there been? And the entire story I kept thinking to myself “no wonder this guy failed, who wants to listen to this!?” He is clearly a talented musician, but it doesn’t matter if you are talented if you are making music no one wants to listen to. Roman, you guys do an amazing job, but this one just didn’t measure up.

  21. nine09

    I enjoyed this episode just as much as your other episodes. And thank you for introducing me to Nick Drake. I loooove his music.

  22. The fake “tape” effect was incredibly distracting. The podcast should be about the subject, not the podcaster. I wish I was able to but I couldn’t get through it. I hit stop and delete.

  23. Hawley

    I can’t thank you enough for reminding me how much I love Nick Drake. I was introduced to him 20 years ago when I was a budding spooky person. And even though I wasn’t interested in music like that at the time, I found his music beautiful and unique. Thank you sooooo much.

  24. I found the episode and its production both a departure and a WELCOME one. Hate to disagree with so many…wait, no I don’t. Love Drake, loved the presentation. Have shared the link and feel at last vindicated for having adored Drake’s music since I first heard it used in the film “Dream with the Fishes” in the mid-90s. Love you guys.

  25. ps, I had never heard the song Fly, which is at the end. I slapped my hand over my mouth and sat in awe of the beauty for the whole time. I’ve shared this podcast with many friends. Thank you.

  26. ac78

    Would have liked to listen to this to the end – I have never heard of him and found the music interesting. The clicks, pops, reverb, rewinding tape was SO distracting I never made it to the end. A little goes a long way…

  27. crying

    You utter bastard. My ex-girlfriend of 5 years and I shared an obsession for Nick Drake, with ‘Know’ being one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. I’m now dating a model, who I really thought I was happy with. But after listening to this I realise I still love her. i really fucking miss her and I didn’t have a clue. Northern Sky has torn me to pieces.

  28. Marshall

    “In history you look back and I don’t think there’s that many examples of middle class inventing anything…culturally.” This is such utter horseshit that I don’t think I need to exemplify even one of the thousands of cultural works of art created by members of the middle class throughout the history of its existence. It’s nice that this guy, Boyd, kept Drake’s work in print after he sold his stake in Island Records, but is it really any wonder that he couldn’t break him? Ironically, the two albums he was involved in are overproduced and pretentious. Maybe if he had gone with the stripped down production style of Pink Moon first, Drake would have found his audience. Also, this radio story is over-produced and “tape” is a pretty tenuous connection to the built world. Other than that, I enjoyed it!

  29. Justin

    If this podcast is about items in the built world, and the item in this one is tape, then why not make it about tape? It could be about people who developed tape recording technology or magnetic tape itself or dolby noise reduction. If this was a radio show that you simply liked very much and wanted to present to your audience, and/or you needed the material because of moving to weekly shows then please be honest about that to us and to yourselves. This does not seem to be a 99% invisible story, this is biography and not in your normal very enjoyable style. You have done other people’s stories before and done biography before and they all have fit into what seem to be the overarching themes and style of the podcast better than this one. Just confused.

  30. Ross

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the constant tape “effects” distracting. What an obnoxious way to edit such an interesting story.

  31. Melissa

    I loved this episode, and it reminded me that I have Nick Drake songs buried in my music archives somewhere that need to come back out. Fascinating story, and I had no idea about the arc of his life and career. How lucky we are to have him on tape.

  32. Martina

    Loved the music in the entire podcast… but what is that song at the end? Specifically at minute 29:00??

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