"River Man"  is the second listed song from Nick Drake's 1969 album Five Leaves Left, remastered and released as a single in 2004. According to Drake's manager, Joe Boyd, Drake thought of the song as the centre piece of the album.

It was also a selection by Paul Weller in Desert Island Discs.

Musical structure and lyricsEdit

The song is in a 5/4 time signature and is one of the few songs Drake wrote to be played in standard tuning. The string arrangement was composed by Harry Robinson and Robert Kirby, after Drake's friend Robert Kirby felt he couldn't compose it alone, although he did most of the composing for the rest of Five Leaves Left.

Drake did not reveal the identity of the 'Betty' character in the lyrics, although Trevor Dann speculated that she may have been drawn from Betty Foy, a character in Wordsworth's "The Idiot Boy", a poem Drake had studied while attending Cambridge. However, the only similarity to the poem is the existence of a Betty.


American jazz pianist Brad Mehldau is an admirer of Drake's music, and has recorded "River Man" on numerous albums, such as Live in Tokyo — Solo Piano, usually remaining very faithful to the dark, autumnal sound that defines Drake's recording.

German jazz trumpet player Till Brönner covered "River Man" on his 2006 album Oceana.

Andy Bey's cover is on Shades of Bey, 1998.

Paul Weller covered the song; it appears as a bonus track on the compilation album Island Life: 50 years of Island Records.

English traditional folk group Rachel Unthank and the Winterset included a cover of the song on their debut album Cruel Sister.

British folk musician Norma Waterson included a cover of "River Man" on her second solo album The Very Thought of You in 1999. The song was paired with a cover of John Martyn's "Solid Air", originally dedicated to Drake on Martyn's 1973 album Solid Air. Accompanying Norma Waterson were Richard Thompson and Danny Thompson who were both on the original "Five Leaves Let" album also, Danny was the double bass player on most of the John Martyn albums of the "Solid Air" era.

Tom Barman, lead singer and guitar player of Belgian rock band dEUS, included a cover of "River Man" on the 2003 CD of his acoustic concerts with Guy Van Nueten.

Laura Michelle Kelly recorded a cover of the song for her 2006 album "The Storm Inside", then again for her 2007 album "What's It All For".

Natacha Atlas also performed a cover version of "River Man" with English and Arabic lyrics for her 2010 album Mounqaliba.

Ilona Knopfler's cover is on Some Kind of Wonderful, 2003.

David Lemaitre closes his debut album "Latitude" that comes out in April 2013 with his version of "River Man".

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