For The Love Of Harry - The Nilsson Thread

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For The Love Of Harry - The Nilsson Thread

Postby Hotblack Desiato » 19 Aug 2006, 17:34

Ironic how one of America's greatest songwriters of the Twentieth Century should be principally remembered from the charts due to his impeccable knack of choosing cover material.

His recorded legacy is all over the place with individual albums being lisenced out for re-issue with various labels and more Best Off compilations than you can shake a stick at. Many of the re-issues are available with bonus tracks - some of which are great, some not so as is generally the case with bonus tracks - but US, European & Japanese versions rarely have identical additions and there seem no definitive versions.

All but two of his albums are available on CD, 1979's UK only "Flash Harry" and his soundtrack to Robert Altman's Popeye from the same year are both still awaiting official re-issue. Furthermore, his final album "Papa's Got A Brown New Robe", apparently finished just days prior to his death in early 1994, remains unissued.

Not one for live outings, due to an early and unsatisfactory appearance in Los Angeles, there are no live recordings of him. However he did make a BBC concert special in the early 70's, portions of which can be found on You Tube whilst we await a proper DVD release. (Likely sometime never. Harrumph)

So... to investigate in a little more depth.

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Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967) Clearly coming from Nilsson's Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building roots, this album was famously The Beatles favourite at the time and began friendships between Harry and the Fabs which were to have enduring effects over the following 20 years.
Actually its like Lennon & McCartney made one - the sweetness and light of Macca is liberally laced with the sly wit and a sour/sharp sadness of John Lennon. Generally addressing themes of abandonment and loneliness
"1941" is partly autobiographical in relating a father leaving a wife and son, and his cover of The Beatles own "She's Leaving Home" from the just released Sgt Pepper is pretty inspired. He also covers The Beatles "You Can't Do That" which manages to pack in about twenty-five other Beatles references. It's a cool homage but a little slavish! His other homage on the record is a Wall Of Sound rendition of "River Deep, Mountain High". He'd previously written with Phil Spector and had obviously been paying attention to his working methods. Sonically it's quite out of kilter with everything else on the album - but works well as a finale. There's also a cover of Jesse Lee Kincaid's "She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune" which came some months before Hearts & Flowers more famous version.

And Nilsson's originals? Well, theyr'e uniformly excellent and polished as you'd expect of a debut album. Other than the aforementioned "1941", amongst others, "Ten Little Indians" is a clever rewrite of the biblical 10 Commandments. "Without Her" is a masterpiece ballad with the first great string arrangement found on a Nilsson record. There's be many more. "Cuddly Toy" was a gift to The Monkees, who also proved important friends in the future, and a rather unpleasant little story of groupies and date rape. Quite a juxtaposition with the music, which is rather, innocous and well-behaved.

But that was Harry - he liked to shock. Quite how much wasn't initially apparent - however subsequent releases would make that quite clear much to the horror of RCA, portions of his fans and radio controllers everywhere.


In summary - a strong debut, well showcasing Nilssons extraordinary vocal range and studio skills. Possibly a little over reliant on covers for someone with a well-head of his own compositions to dip into. Certainly not my favourite of his albums but Ten Little Indians, 1941 & Without Her would most certainly make it onto my c90 compilation tape.
So... Pandemonium Shadow Show Have At It!


[Jeez - that was exhausting... I'll post the next episode later, possibly tomorrow, unless someone else would like to take a bash at 1968's "Aerial Ballet"]
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Postby Quaco » 19 Aug 2006, 19:27

I love Harry, but I really don't know his early work very well. I own all but this first one -- but I only really know the Richard Perry/Lennon years well. The lightness and jauntiness has never attracted me as much as the bathrobe. But I know there is a depth of his songwriting from the beginning, so maybe this thread is the push I need to listen to the early albums a bit more.

I'm looking forward to future installments, and I'll certainly start adding my two cents when we get to Nilsson Schmilsson.

Have you seen the new Nilsson documentary, Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)? I saw it a while ago and didn't think much of it. Mostly stuff we all knew before. It was more of a primer for the uninitiated -- which, to be fair, is exactly what the title suggested it was. It did feature a fair bit of the Son of Schmilsson footage, and it looked really good on the big screen. Apparently, they filmed tons of sessions, far more than later appeared in Did Somebody Drop His Mouse?. Now that would be a welcome release!
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Postby Sambient » 19 Aug 2006, 21:34

Jeez, I feel like I'm learning stuff about him all the time. Two posts on this thread alone and I have new information.

I like him 'nuff to have named a recently adopted feline for him. Granted, I'm just as likely to call the great orange tabby Schmilsson.
I think Nilsson Schmilsson would be a desert island disc for me. I keep thinking I should have a t-shirt made of the album cover.

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Postby Quaco » 19 Aug 2006, 21:45

Or "Sambient Schmambient" in that typeface...
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Postby My name is Spaulding » 19 Aug 2006, 23:06

Quaco wrote:Or "Sambient Schmambient" in that typeface...


Sergio Schmergio... mmm I´d buy that!

As for my dear Harry, I´m too tired to write something meaningful about him at this moment (actually, most of the time I come here, I´m too tired to try to write something meaningful about anything, which could explain my board persona :) ), but of course you al must know that all his records up until Son of Schmilsson (and a few others after that one) are essential.
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Postby Sambient » 19 Aug 2006, 23:13

It's cool to be known enough for my enjoyment of Harry Nilsson when one morning at the radio station a caller, who must've thought he was speaking with a volunteer and not the deejay, suggested a track, saying "Samantha likes Nilsson".

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Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 20 Aug 2006, 08:18

Ahhhh.....

How refreshing to log in and find this thread here.

I can't even begin to talk about what Harry Nilsson's music means to me. I wouldn't know where to start. The best I can do is say some artists are like interesting places to visit, and some are right where you live. Nilsson's like home to me.

My very earliest memories of popular music seems to swirl around Nilsson as much as anyone. Picture this. It is 1971. I'm six years old and my brother and I are being taken to the beach. Someone turns on the radio the strangest song ever envelops us as we drive down Pacific Coast Highway....

put the lime in the coconut, drink 'em both up....

What did it mean? What was this music? Driving home it is getting dark and everyone in the car is tired and quiet. The radio is on and a voice softly croons...

oh I can't forget this evening, or your face as you were leaving, but I guess that's just the way the story goes...

If you can imagine a six-year old being moved to that wonderful state of gorgeous melancholy that good music can transport you to - there I was. Years later I'd find out it was the same guy singing both of these songs. It would turn out later that he also sang that great theme song at the beginning of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and the commercial jingle for the Plymouth Arrow (which I would soon notice in an animated movie where people all had points on their heads). And the song from Midnight Cowboy. And it turned out he wrote that Three Dog Night Song "One" and that Monkey's song "Cuddley Toy."

Strangely enough, I went most of my youth simply not putting the artist together with his work. From time to time the name "Nilsson" would show up on K-Tel-esque commercials on tv, always attached to a song I loved. But who or what was "Nilsson'" A band? A person? I didn't know. (Oddly enough - as an obsessed Beatle fan I never made the Beatle connection until much later, though I noted Nilsson's participation on the Ringo album).

Later - a local radio station dedicated to 'adult rock' such as Dan Fogelberg and McGuinn, Clark and Hillman would play "The Moonbeam Song" and "Turn On Your Radio" pretty frequently. Again the name "Nilsson."

I decded to break down and buy an album. Going for a complation I was literally floored by the fact that so many songs that were practically part of my DNA could possibly have been recorded by one guy without me even knowing it. And further - the stuff I didn't already know was better.

The next step was Nilsson Sings Newman. Having heard "Marie" one night on that same station and picking up a cheap cut-out lp of Good Old Boys in a drug store while on vacation in Hawaii - I was also just discovering Randy Newman. The fact that my two new heroes made an album together was almost too much to bear. And the album didn't disappoint. In fact it literally blew my head apart. I still maintain it is among the top 3 or 4 albums ever made.

Slowly but surely I'd pick them all up. They were uneven, but brilliant. I tended to love the early stuff the most. But there were songs that killed me on all of his albums. Whatever punk rock, or post punk or grunge or whatever rock and roll phase others around me identified with as being central to their musical world - it was the Harry Nilsson's and Randy Newman's of the world that became my center. They are my Velvet Underground. My Clash. I can't even begin to be objective about Harry Nilsson. When some hear "Without Her" or "Sleep Late My Lady Friend" it undoubtedly sounds dated. To me it sounds like going home.

There simply are not words to describe how much I love Harry Nilsson's music.
Last edited by Davey the Fat Boy on 20 Aug 2006, 16:28, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Zombeels » 20 Aug 2006, 08:30

Just on a side note.
Harry Nilsson did the song for an early 70's TV show "The Courtship Of Eddie's Father". The song, I believe, was called "My Best Friend" Is that available anywhere? I have a version that sounds like it was recorded with a hand held tape-recorder while the show was on.
http://rateyourmusic.com/list/Zombeels/favourite_songs

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Postby zoomboogity » 20 Aug 2006, 08:52

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Nilsson

"Best Friend", was very popular, but Nilsson never released the song on record. An alternate version, "Girlfriend," did appear on the Personal Best anthology in 1995.


The classic "AWESOME-O" episode of South Park has a rather affectionate parody / homage to this song called My Robot Friend, sung by Butters.
Image

"Quite."

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Postby Piggly Wiggly » 20 Aug 2006, 15:18

Davey The Fat Boy wrote:Ahhhh.....

How refreshing to log in and find this thread here.

I can't even begin to talk about what Harry Nilsson's music means to me. I wouldn't know where to start. The best I can do is say some artists are like interesting places to visit, and some are right where you live. Nilsson's like home to me.

My very earliest memories of popular music seems to swirl around Nilsson as much as anyone. Picture this. It is 1971. I'm six years old and my brother and I are being taken to the beach. Someone turns on the radio the strangest song ever envelopes us as we drive down Pacific Coast Highway....

put the lime in the coconut, drink 'em both up....

What did it mean? What was this music? Driving home it is getting dark and everyone in the car is tired and quiet. The radio is on and a voice softly croons...

oh I can't forget this evening, or your face as you were leaving, but I guess that's just the way the story goes...

If you can imagine a six-year old being moved to that wonderful state of gorgeous melancholy that good music can transport you to - there I was. Years later I'd find out it was the same guy singing both of these songs. It would turn out later that he also sang that great theme song at the beginning of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and the commercial jingle for the Plymouth Arrow (which I would soon notice in an animated movie where people all had points on their heads). And the song from Midnight Cowboy. And it turned out he wrote that Three Dog Night Song "One" and that Monkey's song "Cuddley Toy."

Strangely enough, I went most of my youth simply not putting the artist together with his work. From time to time the name "Nilsson" would show up on K-Tel-esque commercials on tv, always attached to a song I loved. But who or what was "Nilsson'" A band? A person? I didn't know. (Oddly enough - as an obsessed Beatle fan I never made the Beatle connection until much later, though I noted Nilsson's participation on the Ringo album).

Later - a local radio station dedicated to 'adult rock' such as Dan Fogelberg and McGuinn, Clark and Hillman would play "The Moonbeam Song" and "Turn On Your Radio" pretty frequently. Again the name "Nilsson."

I decded to break down and buy an album. Going for a complation I was literally floored by the fact that so many songs that were practically part of my DNA could possibly have been recorded by one guy without me even knowing it. And further - the stuff I didn't already know was better.

The next step was Nilsson Sings Newman. Having heard "Marie" one night on that same station and picking up a cheap cut-out lp of Good Old Boys in a drug store while on vacation in Hawaii - I was also just discovering Randy Newman. The fact that my two new heroes made an album together was almost too much to bear. And the album didn't disappoint. In fact it literally blew my head apart. I still maintain it is among the top 3 or 4 albums ever made.

Slowly but surely I'd pick them all up. They were uneven, but brilliant. I tended to love the early stuff the most. But there were songs that killed me on all of his albums. Whatever punk rock, or post punk or grunge or whatever rock and roll phase others around me identified with as being central to their musical world - it was the Harry Nilsson's and Randy Newman's of the world that became my center. They are my Velvet Underground. My Clash. I can't even begin to be objective about Harry Nilsson. When some hear "Without Her" or "Sleep Late My Lady Friend" it undoubtedly sounds dated. To me it sounds like going home.

There simply are not words to describe how much I love Harry Nilsson's music.


That is some very fine writing, Davey.

I merely enjoy Nilsson (verging on love, granted), and can't be bothered with Newman, but that was a very evocative read.

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Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 20 Aug 2006, 16:28

Loveless wrote:
Davey The Fat Boy wrote:Ahhhh.....

How refreshing to log in and find this thread here.

I can't even begin to talk about what Harry Nilsson's music means to me. I wouldn't know where to start. The best I can do is say some artists are like interesting places to visit, and some are right where you live. Nilsson's like home to me.

My very earliest memories of popular music seems to swirl around Nilsson as much as anyone. Picture this. It is 1971. I'm six years old and my brother and I are being taken to the beach. Someone turns on the radio the strangest song ever envelopes us as we drive down Pacific Coast Highway....

put the lime in the coconut, drink 'em both up....

What did it mean? What was this music? Driving home it is getting dark and everyone in the car is tired and quiet. The radio is on and a voice softly croons...

oh I can't forget this evening, or your face as you were leaving, but I guess that's just the way the story goes...

If you can imagine a six-year old being moved to that wonderful state of gorgeous melancholy that good music can transport you to - there I was. Years later I'd find out it was the same guy singing both of these songs. It would turn out later that he also sang that great theme song at the beginning of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and the commercial jingle for the Plymouth Arrow (which I would soon notice in an animated movie where people all had points on their heads). And the song from Midnight Cowboy. And it turned out he wrote that Three Dog Night Song "One" and that Monkey's song "Cuddley Toy."

Strangely enough, I went most of my youth simply not putting the artist together with his work. From time to time the name "Nilsson" would show up on K-Tel-esque commercials on tv, always attached to a song I loved. But who or what was "Nilsson'" A band? A person? I didn't know. (Oddly enough - as an obsessed Beatle fan I never made the Beatle connection until much later, though I noted Nilsson's participation on the Ringo album).

Later - a local radio station dedicated to 'adult rock' such as Dan Fogelberg and McGuinn, Clark and Hillman would play "The Moonbeam Song" and "Turn On Your Radio" pretty frequently. Again the name "Nilsson."

I decded to break down and buy an album. Going for a complation I was literally floored by the fact that so many songs that were practically part of my DNA could possibly have been recorded by one guy without me even knowing it. And further - the stuff I didn't already know was better.

The next step was Nilsson Sings Newman. Having heard "Marie" one night on that same station and picking up a cheap cut-out lp of Good Old Boys in a drug store while on vacation in Hawaii - I was also just discovering Randy Newman. The fact that my two new heroes made an album together was almost too much to bear. And the album didn't disappoint. In fact it literally blew my head apart. I still maintain it is among the top 3 or 4 albums ever made.

Slowly but surely I'd pick them all up. They were uneven, but brilliant. I tended to love the early stuff the most. But there were songs that killed me on all of his albums. Whatever punk rock, or post punk or grunge or whatever rock and roll phase others around me identified with as being central to their musical world - it was the Harry Nilsson's and Randy Newman's of the world that became my center. They are my Velvet Underground. My Clash. I can't even begin to be objective about Harry Nilsson. When some hear "Without Her" or "Sleep Late My Lady Friend" it undoubtedly sounds dated. To me it sounds like going home.

There simply are not words to describe how much I love Harry Nilsson's music.


That is some very fine writing, Davey.

I merely enjoy Nilsson (verging on love, granted), and can't be bothered with Newman, but that was a very evocative read.


Thanks.

Lucky for all it was late when I got home and saw the thread.
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Re: For The Love Of Harry - The Nilsson Thread

Postby Charlie O. » 20 Aug 2006, 17:43

Hotblack Desiato wrote: "Cuddly Toy" was a gift to The Monkees, who also proved important friends in the future, and a rather unpleasant little story of groupies and date rape. Quite a juxtaposition with the music, which is rather, innocous and well-behaved.


And its verse chord progression would be purloined by Chicago for "Saturday In The Park"!

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Re: For The Love Of Harry - The Nilsson Thread

Postby Muskrat » 20 Aug 2006, 17:50

Quaco wrote: Have you seen the new Nilsson documentary, Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)? I saw it a while ago and didn't think much of it. Mostly stuff we all knew before. It was more of a primer for the uninitiated -- which, to be fair, is exactly what the title suggested it was. It did feature a fair bit of the Son of Schmilsson footage, and it looked really good on the big screen. Apparently, they filmed tons of sessions, far more than later appeared in Did Somebody Drop His Mouse?. Now that would be a welcome release!


For anybody unconvinced by Quaco's review, there's a screening this Wednedsay night in Santa Monica.

Hotblack Desiato wrote:He also covers The Beatles "You Can't Do That" which manages to pack in about twenty-five other Beatles references. It's a cool homage but a little slavish!


One of my favorite tracks by anybody. And I don't see how your first and second sentences agree with one another. Gimmicky? Maybe. But it must have been a mother to conceive and record; and, to me, it works.

Hotblack Desiato wrote:There's also a cover of Jesse Lee Kincaid's "She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune" which came some months before Hearts & Flowers more famous version.


That's a new one to me, though I'm not arguing. The song was just "around" at the time, like "Hey, Joe."

As you doubtless know, but others here may not, Hearts & Flowers recorded the song twice, for their first and second albums -- and vowed to continue recording new versions until they had a hit with it.

In any event, I've gotta love anybody (you) who calls anything by Hearts & Flowers "more famous."
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Postby Yyzlin » 20 Aug 2006, 21:07

The Point is the most cuddly album of all time. It just makes me smile every time I listen to it.
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Postby sloopjohnc » 20 Aug 2006, 22:09

I had a comp CD on and my daughter and son were both singing along to "Lime in the Coconut." And I too remember Courtship of Eddie's Father.

Great post Davey.

In weird ways, Billy Joel, the subject of another thread, and Harry Nilsson both resonate in similar ways to me.

Both great songwriters that were very uneven to me for different reasons. Nilsson seemed to go for the easy joke when he could've gone deeper and Joel for cloying sentimentality when he could've gone deeper.

At times they both hit the mark, but both could've been better if they hadn't gone the easy route sometimes. It makes them endearing, but frustrating too.
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Postby My name is Spaulding » 20 Aug 2006, 23:14

Loveless wrote:I merely enjoy Nilsson (verging on love, granted), and can't be bothered with Newman, but that was a very evocative read.


Whilst for me, Newman and Nilsson come from the same place (even when Newman´s strength -while being a great performer- is in the composition, and Nilsson´s strength -while being a great composer- is in the performance). I think Newman got it right when he said that they both made music in a pop language almost as if Rock and Roll hadn´t been invented (although Nilsson´s hints to the rock world in "Nilsson Schmilsson" worked perfectly).

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Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 21 Aug 2006, 01:28

sloopjohnc wrote:In weird ways, Billy Joel, the subject of another thread, and Harry Nilsson both resonate in similar ways to me.

Both great songwriters that were very uneven to me for different reasons. Nilsson seemed to go for the easy joke when he could've gone deeper and Joel for cloying sentimentality when he could've gone deeper.

At times they both hit the mark, but both could've been better if they hadn't gone the easy route sometimes. It makes them endearing, but frustrating too.


I can certainly understand that reaction to a few of his songs (notably "Spaceman," "You're Breakin' My Heart," etc), but I don't think it holds true for the bulk of his work. If anything I can't think of a songwriter who was able to marry humor, pathos and wonder more seamlessly. Take a listen to a song like "Don't Forget Me" or "The Moonbeam Song" and tell me they don't go deep enough for you.
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Postby Sir Cleveland Steamer » 21 Aug 2006, 04:39

This thread made me curious (I've heard the big hits, have the tribute album and that's all), so I went to ITunes and downloaded the greatest hits. Thanks to all for making me a new fan. Great stuff--can't wait to get the whole catalog now.

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Postby Magilla » 21 Aug 2006, 07:17

I'm not fussy about him one way or the other, but 'Jump Into The Fire' is an utter classic.
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