Song of the Day, November 25: Solid Air by Norma Waterson

Today’s song is Solid Air by Norma Waterson. This amazing song manages to involve three of my favorite musicians in its story. John Martyn, the outstanding folk/rock/jazz musician, wrote the song as the title track of his brilliant 1973 album. The song was dedicated to his friend, musician Nick Drake. Martyn said of the song, “It was done for a friend of mine, and it was done right with very clear motives, and I’m very pleased with it, for varying reasons. It has got a very simple message, but you’ll have to work that one out for yourself. ” Sadly, Drake died the following year from an overdose of antidepressants.

Twenty-five years later, folk legend Norma Waterson began assembling her second solo album, The Very Thought of You. The bulk of the album is recorded in pairs of songs, each pair with a story relating to a figure in 20th Century music (including Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Al Bowlly, Josef Locke, Freddie Mercury, and Nick Drake) and some personal memory of Norma’s. For the Drake pair, she selected his River Man and Martyn’s Solid Air. In her liner notes she observes, ” [the stories] include the disappointment for the unfulfilled promise of Nick Drake, that most careless (with himself) and most English of writers whose influences came from far and wide but who always makes my Martin [Carthy, Waterson’s husband] think of Ivor Novello.”

The original version is one of Martyn’s finest songs and recordings. Somehow Waterson accomplishes the magic feat of elevating it even further, giving it an ethereal ache perfectly suited to the lyrics and the subject.

You’ve been seeking the blues
You’ve been living on solid air
I don’t know what’s going on in your mind
and I can tell you, you won’t like what you find
when you’re living on solid air

Nick Drake died on this date in 1974. Celebrate his amazing musical legacy with this astonishing cautionary dedication today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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