“Life in a Northern Town” by The Dream Academy
(Words/Music: Nick Laird-Clowes and Gilbert Gabriel, Album: The Dream Academy, Warner Bros. 1985)
The Dream Academy, a trio from England who deem themselves “children of the 60s” who are attempting to re-create that spirit with 80s technology, composed this hauntingly catchy song as a tribute to British folk singer Nick Drake. Drake, whose career was cut short by an overdose of antidepressants when he was 26, was best known for his sparse composition (often only a single guitar) and melancholy vocals and lyrics. The Dream Academy’s tribute to him is a song about the arrival of someone famous set in three sections – the anticipation, the arrival, and the departure. The world around this event is simple and nostalgic, like a Norman Rockwell painting of America in the 50s. We see the “Salvation Army band play”, “the children drink[ing] lemonade”, and the train station. We also hear of such media stars as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and John F. Kennedy. It can easily be assumed that that person who arrives is Nick Drake himself, appearing briefly to smoke a cigarette, reminisce about 1963, and probably play a song or two (although the song never mentions it, it does say that “everyone else came down to listen”). The mention of the Beatles, over the sampling of screaming fans, invokes the hysteria of Bealtlemania and this song tells of a quieter, more subdued version befitting Drake’s quiet and subdued songs and a small Northern Town. With their only memorable hit, The Dream Academy manages to perfectly parallel “Life in a Northern Town” with the musical stylings of Nick Drake.