Being a Nick Drake fan, you’re often confronted with the fact that he made only 3 albums and you will never get to hear anything new. With the exception of an odds and ends collection, some early demos, and a few outtakes, this has proven to be fairly immutable.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I happened across a Drake biography from 1998 by Patrick Humphries which mentioned that there had been a few unlikely covers of Nick’s songs in the early 70’s.
Joe Boyd, Nick’s producer, was doing everything he could to expose Drake’s songs to the world. To make them more palatable, and maybe less cryptic, he hired a studio singer to sing basic demos of the songs. The singer’s name was Reginald Dwight, but you might know him better as Elton John.
I’d vaguely been aware that John made these demos for Joe Boyd‘s Warlock Publishing, but had never heard them. Luckily they’ve since turned up on youtube, along with everything else in the world.
Perhaps the most surprising cover wasn’t directly related to the Warlock demos, but involved Joe sharing an early Drake demo with the producers behind Jamaican singer Millie, of My Boy Lollypop fame. It’s somewhat disconcerting hearing Nick’s Mayfair sung in a jaunty rocksteady/ska version, “jaunty” and “ska” being words you wouldn’t wager would ever show up in the same sentence as Nick Drake. But, Mayfair was recorded before Nick’s debut, Five Leaves Left, and is a little less structurally ambitious than his later work. As a result, it lends itself fairly well to this treatment. Check it out:
As for the Elton John demos? They’re hit or miss. His version of Saturday Sun is quite nice and Way to Blue succeeds by becoming a proto-Elton song. There are also fairly amusing comments between EJ and ND fans, neither of whom seem to like each other very much.
Apparently when Elton sold his voluminous LP collection for charity, the only two records he kept back were a signed copy of Sgt. Pepper and his copy of these demos. Here are a few to peruse:
Time Has Told Me
Way To Blue
When the Day is Done
I would be remiss not to mention one of the more successful (if better known) Nick Drake covers, Lucinda Williams’ Which Will. This is one of the few that nails the sadness inherent in Nick’s work.
If you have any other favorite Nick Drake covers feel free to share them below.