Forty-five years ago, in September 1969, Nick Drake’s debut album, “Five Leaves Left,” was released. Nick only made three records in his all-too-short 26 years. It was a third of a lifetime, really; a brief flicker of a brilliant, glowing candle snuffed out far too soon, before the daylight had a chance to break. Each of Nick’s albums is decidedly different from one another in musical mood, style, approach, content, and sensibility. And each one, from the gorgeous “Five Leaves Left,” to the full-blooded follow-up, “Bryter Layter,” to his anguished, stripped-to-the-bone swan song, “Pink Moon,” is a luminous classic. But probably it is Drake’s debut that, for me, has always felt like a burnished, close-to-the heart-and hearth favorite, steeped in a kind of autumnal poetry and melancholy. It was, and remains, a wondrous heralding of a singular talent whose full future we would never know.
I have “Five Leaves Left” in many formats, of course. But my worst, and newest, old LP version (bear with me for a moment) just may be the most special. Last week, I “liberated” (no I didn’t steal it) an old, worn radio station cut-out copy of the ’76 Island release, its tattered cover pasted over and peppered with many recording notes, comments and observations, from the gushing (“beautiful record”) to the off-the-mark (“sounds like James Taylor”). There are notated markings and dates written in different hands of black, blue, and red pen every time each song had been played over the airwaves during the years and decades.