Nov 13

Nick Drake: “At the Chime of a City Clock”


Note from Dave G.: For some time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of featuring occasional guest bloggers here at Reselect. And given that I’ve had a bit of difficulty posting as frequently as I would like in recent months, it seems like as good a time as any to try that out. So I’ve lined up a couple of folks to contribute here, following the same format as my usual posts: pick a great song and write about it. (Bet you didn’t realize it was that simple.)

And to kick off the guest posts, here’s one from another Dave: Dave Franson . . .

Bryter Layter

“Bryter Later”? I sure hope so . . .

Nick Drake tends to get lumped into the “folk rock” or “singer-songwriter” categories, but the truth isn’t so simple. Take a closer look, and there are a lot of contradictions. This is a guy who can have a somber, low-tech song of his appropriated to sell cars to hipsters, and strangely, it works (Volkswagen, “Pink Moon” . . . over half a million people have voluntarily watched this commercial on YouTube).

Or have a listen to “At the Chime of a City Clock,” from Drake’s 1970 album, Bryter Later. It’s a folk-rock song with jazz chords, lush strings, and a featured horn part. The vocal delivery is mellow and unforced, but the lyrics are distanced and ironic, verging into sarcasm. They’re in second person, too, a postmodern tactic about a decade ahead of its time.

Finally, there’s the lyrical content itself. This is a song that won’t tell you what it’s about, exactly, but city life is the main theme. Other themes might include anonymity, or the transitional times of life when there are both opportunities and risks. You may need to “pray for warmth and green paper,” but you could still find yourself a “bride” if you’re lucky. If you’ve ever set out to seek your fortune, you can relate. That’s one of the things that makes this song special – its story can easily become your own.


  1. Johnno says:

    I’ve always wondered what the reference to “green paper” is. Is Nick talking about money, or as a friend suggests could it be cigarette papers he is talking about for rolling a “green cigarette”. My first thought was that it must be some waterproof waxed paper that would stop a street sleeper getting wet but it remains a mystery to me. Anyone?

    1. Good question! At first thought, I’d imagine it was money, as that certainly fits the “down and out” part. However, since Nick is British, the money in England isn’t green, so unless he was writing for an American audience, which somehow I doubt, your guess about cigarette paper seems pretty valid. Not so sure about the waterproof waxed paper, though… ?

      1. I suppose Dave, it will, like so many things Nick, remain a mystery forever ?

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