HARRY NILSSON

OVERVIEW:
Harry Nilsson had one of the greatest voices in pop music history. He had personality to burn and wrote some incredible songs. He was also maddeningly inconsistent and too often squandered his talent on throwaway novelty tracks and mediocre covers. His 60s albums contain some of the best performances of the rock era – his 70s albums are mostly mediocre as he’d lost his voice and his talent was drowning in booze. BUT at his best he’s one of the most charming and lovable recording artists I’ve ever come across.

THE ALBUMS:

Spotlight On Nilsson
Pandemonium Shadow Show
Aerial Ballet *
Skidoo
Harry
Nilsson Sings Newman
The Point! *
Aerial Pandemonium Ballet
Nilsson Schmilsson
Son Of Schmilsson
Son Of Dracula
A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night
Pussy Cats
Duit On Mon Dei
Sandman
…That’s The Way It Is
Knnillssonn
Flash Harry
The Popeye Demos

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SPOTLIGHT ON NILSSON  (1966)

(no grade)

This is just a brief (23 minutes) compilation of early singles Harry cut for commercial consideration. Nothing on here really showcases the eccentricities to come…it’s all well performed and fun frothy 60s pop. But these tracks DO reveal the awesome singer in Harry, and he already sounds incredible. The man had a fucking great voice. A historical curiosity more than anything, but a must-hear for big fans.

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PANDEMONIUM SHADOW SHOW  (1967)

B-

Nilsson’s debut is far too commercial and dated and cover-filled for my tastes. The idiosyncrasies are there, but the melodic genius and vocal virtuosity hadn’t really blossomed yet –  as a result the album feels slight even for a simple guy like Harry. The best songs are stacked at the beginning – the martial “Ten Little Indians” sure is one goofy and exciting way to open a record! “1941” elegantly showcases Nilsson’s skill with bittersweet whimsy. That sense of alienation and sadness lurking beneath an almost bubble-gum veneer would lift his later work way beyond the similarly “fluffy” pop of his contemporaries. Then there’s the sweet and fun pop tune “Cuddly Toy,” made into a hit by The Monkees. But besides the beautiful orchestrated sad love song “Without Her,” nothing else on the record really stands up to what was right around the corner. It makes sense that Nilsson would cover “She’s Leaving Home”….but since he’s already close enough in spirit to McCartney as is, there’s nothing remotely useful about the track! He’s a great singer, so it’s not difficult to listen to him belt out “River Deep – Mountain High.” But it’s not very entertaining either, and for all it’s skill and enthusiasm…neither is this record.

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AERIAL BALLET   (1968)

A+

By the far the best Nilsson record, and one of the most charming albums ever recorded. This is under a half hour long, and it encapsulates everything great about Harry for me. It isn’t as polished or ballsy as “Nilsson Schmilsson,” which is generally considered Harry’s greatest record. But it’s more melodic, and more idiosyncratic, and for my money has all the better songs. There’s only one cover this time, but it’s one of the most famous covers ever – Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” which Harry sings beautifully and which was of course the “Midnight Cowboy” theme song. It’s Harry’s most famous track, but most people don’t even know it’s a Nilsson performance! And that famous cover is actually an anomaly on here, as most of the album is devoted to Beatles-y piano pop vignettes coupled to Harry’s oddball vocal stylings. This is where Nilsson’s children’s music-esque whimsical style really comes into it’s own…but there’s always that undercurrent of sadness and intelligence, qualities that stop things from feeling too fluffy or bubblegum. Nearly every track on here is a low-key melodic classic: “Daddy’s Song,” “Good Old Desk,” “Together,” “Bath” etc. Just wonderful stuff. And then to top it off we get Harry’s “One,” which has some more famous cover versions by people like Three Dog Night and Aimee Mann – none of them match the loneliness of the stark original version on here. This album is a must-love for any pop music fan. It’s so goddamn great.

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SKIDOO   (1968)

(no grade)

A soundtrack album for an Otto Preminger movie that I haven’t seen. This is mostly orchestrated schlocky 60s movie music, and there are only a couple actual Nilsson tracks. The first is “The Cast And Crew,” not really a song but rather a goof during which Harry sings the opening credits of the movie. Silly 60s stuff. The best original song is the pretty ballad, “I Will Take You There,” essentially the only reason to listen to this record. It sounds like it could have fit right in on “Aerial Ballet.” The other Nilsson vocal occurs on the novelty tune “Garbage Can Ballet,” which lyrically takes a garbage can full of discarded food as a metaphor for “we are all equal now.” It’s fun but slight, though also very “Aerial Ballet” in nature – even down to almost completely lifting the “Good Ol’ Desk” orchestration. The rest is skippable soundtrack instrumentals (though the album concludes with a ridiculous Carol Channing vocal performance of the title track – would have preferred Harry on there!!!)

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HARRY  (1969)

B+

Harry’s third official full-length is the first serious sign of his…shall we say, “lack of ambition.” He should have followed up “Aerial Ballet” and the big “Midnight Cowboy” single with the uber-pop masterpiece his fans must have hoped he had in him. All the pieces appeared to be in place: he was a great writer with an unrivaled voice,  he was seemingly friends with many of the best players and engineers, and he had a charming record personality. Well, this is a cute and charming little album, totally in line with the Nilsson tone and spirit,…but it’s definitely a major step back from “Ballet.” It’s just SO slight – filled with covers and novelty tracks and old-timey instrumentation. There’s no psych-pop, and very little atmosphere. Harry’s incredible voice continues to thrill me to my very core, and when he’s ON he’s really incredible. That happens a couple times on this record. The best example: “Mourning Glory Song,” which is achingly beautiful and sad and one of the best things the man ever cut. Another total gem: “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” which was the Harry original intended for “Midnight Cowboy” before the filmmakers chose the Fred Neil classic instead. The dreamy folk vibe and the rolling acoustic guitar part is almost identical to “Talkin’,” but I actually like the song MORE – I’m pretty sure it would have worked just as well in the film. Those are the two “Ballet” level tunes – but there are some other strong originals like the totally silly but totally Nilsson-esque “The Puppy Song,” the Tin Pan Alley style whimsy of “Nobody Cares About The Railroads Anymore,” and the groovy “Rainmaker.” There are two pleasant but minor songs by William Martin (who also co-wrote “Rainmaker”), a boring cover of “Mother Nature’s Son” that adds nothing to the original, a pointless “Mr. Bojangles” cover, and a couple other forgettable originals. The album ends with Randy Newman’s “Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear,” obviously pointing the way to the next album, and obviously a great song and a good choice for Harry. But this kind of album would unfortunately define Harry’s career for the rest of it – pockets of utter genius buried in covers, jokes, and general pointlessness.

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NILSSON SINGS NEWMAN   (1970)

(no grade)

One of the best pop singers of all time singing the songs of one of the best pop songwriters of all time. Sounds like a recipe for genius right? Well, it’s one lovely and engaging album – but unfortunately a huge part of what makes Randy so great comes from his delivery and his LACK of a proper singing voice! So Nilsson’s absolutely gorgeous voice ends up sugar-coating these tunes to an unnecessary degree, and he hardly betters the originals. Still – all great songs, and a great singer interpreting them in his own unique style. This is mostly just Randy on piano and Harry on vocals, though there are a lot of fun back-up harmonies (with some scratch tracks left in to emphasize the casual nature of the proceedings). So it’s stripped down and charming, and you can’t really go wrong with these amazingly precise and emotionally overwhelming early Newman songs. Definitely worth hearing for fans of both artists (and I imagine they share lots of fans)…and apparently it helped put Randy on the map as a major song-writing talent (so it’s historically important to boot).

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THE POINT!   (1971)

B+

This is the companion album to Harry’s cartoon movie – a whimsical little fable about a boy named Oblio and his dog Arrow and a land where everything has a point growing out of it…except Oblio! Harry is the perfect guy to write children’s music, and this record is very charming. There aren’t many “songs” in the traditional sense – it’s mostly backing tracks with spoken-word narration. The songs proper are all simple and repetitive, but Harry delivers them with such enthusiasm it’s difficult not to get swept up in the cuteness. The best track is easily the groovy “Me And My Arrow,” which is probably the only true keeper outside of the concept. “Are You Sleeping” and “Think About Your Troubles” come close though. As a whole, this is a very fun listen, and in some ways one of the more successful concept albums – it’s simplicity and silliness help it along! It’s basically the coolest kids album in the world, and an essential part of the Nilsson canon.

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AERIAL PANDEMONIUM BALLET  (1971)

(no grade)

A very odd project, this one. Pandemonium Shadow Show” and “Aerial Ballet” had gone out of print in the early 70s, so Harry put together what essentially amounts to a “remix” album, collapsing the two albums into one with different mixes and re-cut performances. I can’t argue with the song selection, especially since it’s almost entirely “Aerial Ballet” tunes (I could have done without the “River Deep” cover from the debut and replaced it with “Ten Little Indians”). But none of these re-arrangements matter much to me – it’s fun to hear Harry plop a verse from “One” into the middle of “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song,” but that’s the extent to which this album moves me. Now that they’re all in print, this is really just a fans-only curiosity. The best thing about my edition are the bonus tracks: “Sister Marie” was a B-side and it’s a great psych-pop song. And “Miss Butter’s Lament” comes from the “Family Tree” album Harry collaborated on (it’s a great obscure record called “Miss Butters” and a must-hear for any early Nilsson fan). It’s a melodic bouncy 60s pop song!

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NILSSON SCHMILSSON   (1971)

B

This is generally considered Harry’s peak, but I’m not buying it. Working with producer Richard Perry, Harry crafted his most normal sounding classic rock album here. There’s some actual rock instrumentation, and the quirks are dialed back considerably. The singing is totally amazing once again, but the instrumentation and songs are generally just standard early 70s singer-songwriter pop. There’s a heavier McCartney vibe than ever before, but it’s more the lighter side of WINGS than, say, the “Abbey Road” suite. All of this helped this record become Harry’s biggest commercial and critical success. It seems that in Perry’s mind, a mainstream 70s pop record can’t really accommodate Harry’s whimsical charm – and you’ll find nary a trace of the melancholic childish magic that made his 60s work so endearing. All that being said, there are some great moments on this album. The A-Side in particular flows quite nicely – it’s casual and breezy but also very enjoyable pop music. The best non-cover here is definitely the piano-driven opener “Gotta Get Up,” which is just catchy as hell. “Driving Along” and “The Moonbeam Song” are also winning originals – the first an acoustic guitar driven McCartney-esque pop song, the second a relaxed piano ballad in the typical Nilsson style. The second side opens with two of Harry’s biggest songs. First comes his famous cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” –  he sings the shit out of it and completely demolishes the original – it’s a well-deserved classic. Then the fun novelty number “Coconut,” which is one of a few Nilsson classics that everybody knows but no one knows to be Harry. The rest of the album basically sucks – a cover of “Let The Good Times Roll,” the well-sung but overlong and overly simple blues rocker “Jump Into The Fire,” and the meandering closer “I’ll Never Leave You.” Due to its being his most famous album, this is sort of an essential listen if you have any interest in Nilsson, But though it’s an often fun and sometimes excellent album, it has a lot of boring moments and too many weak tracks, and Harry’s personality is too submerged in commercial decisions.

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SON OF SCHMILSSON  (1972)

B+

This underrated platter is sort of a sequel to “Nilsson Schmilsson,” but really more of a twisted goofy cousin. The label had ordered a proper follow-up to Harry’s breakthrough, and Richard Perry was all set to work with Harry to deliver a giant commercial hit. That would necessitate a further reigning in of Nilsson’s eccentricities and drunken antics, which ultimately proved impossible and left the Perry/Nilsson relationship is disarray (and contributed to Harry’s career’s demise). The album that resulted is way messier than “Schmilsson,” but also a lot more fun and full of personality. It’s only got one cover, and the originals represent Harry’s best 70s work. The first side is tight as hell, considering the circumstances, with lots of good humor and variety and typically brilliant vocal performances. “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” is mostly famous for it’s profanity-laden hook, but it’s also a memorable and engaging 50s pastiche. “Turn On Your Radio” and ‘Remember” are both gorgeous ballads. The record showcases some deliriously goofy moments – “Joy” is a country parody with comedic spoken word sections, and “I’d Rather Be Dead” a novelty song with a bunch of actual old folks singing how they’d rather be dead than reduced to wetting their bed. “Spaceman” is a super catchy pop song with great production. The only problem spot for me is the 5 and a half minute “Ambush,” which reminds of of “Jump Into The Fire” in it’s repetitiveness and over-length. Luckily Harry was still in great voice at this point, and could make even the most drab composition entertaining with some genius phrasing and vocal acrobatics. The last essential Nilsson record.

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A LITTLE TOUCH OF SCHMILSSON IN THE NIGHT  (1974)

(no grade)

Zzzzzzzzzzz. Harry records an album consisting entirely of standards covers with lush orchestration. The man could sing the living daylights out of anything at this point, so this is always impressive from a vocal standpoint. But it’s mostly a waste of time – it lacks Harry’s personality and the romantic tone gets old very quickly (the covers are pretty much all ballads and love songs). I can barely make it through this thing, and I imagine most rock fans will feel the same way. It might have been an interesting experiment for Harry at the time (and he’s even mentioned that he did it as a means of preserving his voice in peak form)…but it’s ultimately just a boring schmaltz-fest. Interestingly enough, it’s the LAST time his voice would sound so beautiful…

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SON OF DRACULA   (1974)

(no grade)

The soundtrack to a bizarre and forgotten project – a Ringo Starr Dracula movie! There’s only one new Nilsson composition here, and the rest of the record is filled with tunes from “Nilsson Schmilsson” and “Son Of Schmilsson.” The songs proper are interlaced with little dialogue clips from the film and some hammy Paul Buckmaster orchestrations. The movie sounds absurd, and I wish they’d release it on DVD someday! Anyway, from a musical standpoint the album is really only notable for the new Nilsson track – “Daylight.” It’s an excellent song and production, as good as anything on the two Richard Perry albums – it’s buried on this ridiculous soundtrack, but it deserves to be cherished as a Nilsson classic.

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PUSSY CATS   (1974)

B

Whoa. The first question anyone has to ask when hearing this record is: “What the FUCK has happened to Harry’s voice!!!??” The answer lays in the story behind the album, which has become far more famous than anything actually recorded here. In 1974 during John’s “lost weekend” period, Lennon and Harry were nightly ruining their livers and wreaking havoc upon an unsuspecting Los Angeles. They decided to make a Nilsson record together, with Lennon producing. But before the sessions, Harry ruptured a vocal chord, didn’t tell John, pushed through the entire album (probably drunk the entire time), and ended up totally destroying his voice for good. This lends the album a certain amount of bad magic – it’s like listening to somebody destroy themselves. There aren’t very many original songs on here, but thankfully this is the best SOUNDING Nilsson record in years – John routinely pushes for weirder drum sounds, and lots of reverb, and puts a lot of his favorite slap delay on Harry’s vocals. So basically it sounds like a mid-70s Lennon solo record. The session players are all incredible, even if everyone seems to be inebriated. Oddly, there are only a handful of originals on here, and the boys chose to lay down some very famous tunes. “Many Rivers To Cross” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” open the record on a high note – these are CRAZY versions of those songs . The Jimmy Cliff tune storms in with that painful new Harry vocal sound, and toward the end of the track Harry just starts to to scream as loud and harshly as possible. It makes no real sense emotionally, but it’s startling nonetheless. The Dylan track is given an excitingly claustrophobic and thumping arrangement, and Harry switches up the phrasing in neat new ways. As for the remainder of there record…there are only three strong originals. “Don’t Forget Me” is a typically sad and haunting ballad (albeit now sung in a totally grizzled voice). “All My Life” is probably the best new track on here, as well as the most appropriate as it’s a bouncy pop song about excess. The other great original comes later – “Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga,” a Harry/John split composition. It’s got the breezy effortless vibe of these guys’ best material. You’d think that a Nilsson-Lennon collaboration would result in something closer to “Revolver” than an album this scrappy and lightweight. But it was 1974 and these guys apparently just didn’t give a shit anymore. This is still one entertaining disaster of a record!

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DUIT ON MON DEI  (1975)

C

There’s a very obvious reason why nobody talks about Harry’s post-Pussy Cats records. They all SUCK! OK, that’s not entirely true, but compared to the brilliance of his early work, it might just as well be – there’s nothing remotely exciting about the run of utterly mediocre drivel Harry cut for RCA in the mid-late 70s. His voice was shot – his song-writing often reduced to novelty – the production lazy and sloppy and sometimes totally inappropriate. This was the first of the series, and it contains not one shred of the haunting whimsical uber-melodic Harry of “Aerial Ballet,” and very little of the professional champ on the Richard Perry albums. It’s only about 30 minutes long, full of light-weight 70s pop arrangements, nearly every track has steel drums for some (most likely) drunken reason, and there isn’t one good song. Harry’s singing is ironically comparable to Randy Newman now, but he doesn’t seem interested in finding something creative to do with his new grizzled voice. He just sings most of the tunes in a speak-sing, made all the easier by a bunch of totally underwritten and not very complex vocal melodies. The steel-drum/light tropical pop grooves seem more important than the actual compositions here, with only the epic orchestrated “Salmon Falls” showing any sign of ambition. But I’m sad to say that even that track is completely unmemorable and dull. “It’s A Jungle Out There” and ‘Down By The Sea” are both fun goofy tracks, and “Puget Sound” has some of the old charm. In a sense, this is a record of sub-par “Coconut” rewrites. Everything is so slight and breezy, and full of top session playing – so it’s not like we’re dealing with a total piece of trash here. But it’s depressing to experience when you consider what Harry was capable of, and unless you’re a gigantic fan, you’d be better off avoiding it entirely and sticking to the “real” Nilsson records.

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SANDMAN   (1976)

C+

A companion of sorts to “Duit,” this gets the edge for me due to some genuine hooks and hilarity. Harry’s voice is still shot, but he’s at least TRYING on some of these songs. I want to emphasize the word “some,” as just like the previous album, this is a case of total under-achievement. It’s a 36 minute record with nearly 7 minutes taken up by a moronic sketch called “The Flying Saucer Song.” Granted, there are some laugh out loud moments in the sketch (“SPLIT! S-P-L-I-T!”), but it really just sounds like Harry improvising with himself while inebriated on top of a totally coked out 70s New Orleans funk groove. It’s not something you’ll want to hear more than once. That leaves us with the generic but very pretty ballad “Something True,” which might have been a great track had younger full-voiced Harry sung it. “Pretty Soon There’ll Be Nothing Left For Anybody” is the best of the tropical groove tracks that infect this era – it has a very memorable hook and Harry’s phrasing makes it work perfectly. “The Ivy Covered Walls” is a comedic novelty acappella number, “How To Write A Song,” a joke song about lyric composition, and “Thursday…” a sleepy formulaic piano lounge number about the laziest day of the week. “Jesus Christ You’re Tall” is a boring blues comedy song that seems to be shooting for something like “Short People” but falls way…short.  These are all complete throwaways, and while fun to hear once or twice, totally forgettable as actual compositions and performances. The closer “Will She Miss Me” at least aims for the yearning power of some of the early 70s tracks, but unfortunately I can’t remember anything about the track after hearing it multiple times. You could probably make a halfway decent record out of the previous two – but on their own they’re just obviously mediocre.

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…THAT’S THE WAY IT IS  (1976)

D

Yuck! This is easily the worst record Harry ever put out. I guess he owed his label a more commercial product after the tomfoolery of the previous two platters. But his voice hadn’t really recovered, and his ambition was apparently in the gutter…and we end up with only two new originals and 8 mediocre covers. What the fuck is that all about!!!??? Is it a real Nilsson record or a side-project covers album? To make matters worse, there’s an outside producer who makes everything sound like corny mid-70s commercial schmaltz (there are also some awkward female back-up singers). At 33 minutes and lacking even Harry’s usual eccentricities, this barely even registers as a real album. It opens with the best cover – George Harrison’s plaintive “That Is All.” Harry sounds surprisingly strong on the tune, and hits some beautiful high notes – it led me to expect return to form vocally. But unfortunately for the rest of the record he uses that same sub-Randy Newman hoarse tone, and the material nose-dives as well. “Just One Look” is awful, “I Need You” a lame faceless Bread cover, and “She Sits Down On Me” a boring and not very funny novelty obscurity. There’s a HORRIBLE cover of Newman’s amazing “Sail Away,” which mutates Randy’s subtle and haunting arrangement by throwing in a bunch of unwarranted bombast. I enjoy the steel drummy “Zombie Jamboree,” with it’s cute “belly to belly” chorus, but it’s hardly a great Nilsson track. The two originals are a bit better – “Moonshine Bandit” sounds like a “Duit On Mon Dei” outtake. It’s another tropical groove-based number – totally breezy and pointless, but moderately pleasant listening. The best track overall is the the Dr. John writing collaboration “Daylight Has Caught Me,” which sounds a lot like the Doctor with it’s funky strutting groove. It’s a pretty formulaic bluesy tune, but also sports a tight arrangement and suits Harry’s compromised voice. Harry probably should have written more songs like that one at this point. The album ends with a 1:44 reprise of “That Is All,” as if to say: yes, we’re serious. That is all. The album is over. You’ve just wasted your 33 minutes, suckers. See ya next album Harry!

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KNNILLSSONN  (1977)

B

Harry finally pulls it together! This is undoubtedly the best post-Pussy Cats Nilsson record (though the competition is absurdly slight). Harry digs back into his 60s sound on this one, with lush orchestrations and whimsical lyrics. He hadn’t really recovered his magical younger voice, but he’s obviously TRYING on this record – there are no stupid tropical throwaways or lackluster covers or sketches or obvious filler tunes. Had Harry reclaimed that old vocal virtuosity, this might have stood up to the 60s classics. It’s probably his most sonically and tonally consistent record – it consists solely of Nilsson originals and shows an unwavering focus not typical of Harry’s earlier work. But there’s a pall over the proceedings – even though Nilsson put all the pieces in place, he simply can’t recapture the simple charms of his younger days. The album doesn’t feel effortless, and Harry sounds tired. There’s no standout like “One” or “1941” or “Gotta Get Up” – the material is consistently unremarkable. But the arrangements are gorgeous, and there’s a real flow to the record that pushes it far above the directionless messes that immediately precede it. Some of the tracks almost sound like lost classics: “Blanket For A Sail” reminds me of “The Point”, and “Laughin’ Man” is a funny piece of quaint Americana in a Van Dyke Parks/Randy Newman vein. My favorite track is the gently grooving “I Never Thought I’d Get This Lonely” – in his prime, Harry could have sung the shit out of that one and perhaps turned it into a classic. But none of these songs quite make the grade, and it’s hard to put a finger on exactly why. It’s something about the atmosphere, the unconfident singing, the late-70s pop production, the slightness of the melodies…it’s just not a truly great record. But at least it’s respectable, and perhaps Harry could have bettered it had it not tanked commercially. I’m just happy he was able to end his career with something this idiosyncratic, something that reminds why he was once such a great artist – for all its flaws, this is undoubtedly a Nilsson record and that’s more than you can say about any of ’em since the early 70s.

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FLASH HARRY  (1980)

C-

I’m not sure how to really assess this final Nilsson album. It’s probably the least consequential record he ever put out, and that’s saying a lot for a guy with “…That’s The Way It Is” in his discography! It was never even released in the States, and I don’t think it ever needs to be. Simply put – it ain’t too hot. This is by far the worst Harry’s voice has ever sounded. He’s barely a shred of his former absurdly gifted singing self. He’s also buried so low in the mix, and sings everything in a whispery uncommitted tone – he’s like an afterthought on his own record! The opening song “Harry” is the only truly memorable track on the record – and it wasn’t even written or sung by Nilsson! It’s a cute little old-timey tribute to Harry from Eric Idle, and Harry returns the favor by singing Idle’s Monty Python tune “Bright Side Of Life” at the end of the record. But Idle sounds like his normal self, and Harry sounds like he’s been put through the wringer and can barely push the air through his lungs anymore. None of the Nilsson originals register at all for me on this record – “Rain” and “I’ve Got It” are silly barely-there larks in the “Duit On Mon Dei” vein. “Old Dirt Road” is a boring holdover from the “Pussy Cats” sessions. The best non-Monty Python track is the Lowell George/Van Dyke Parks/Martin Kibbee collaboration “Cheek To Cheek,” where Harry gives a LITTLE bit of thought to his vocal performance. There’s a terrible reggae joke track called “How Long Can Disco On” – it was co-written by Harry and Ringo and those two better have been seriously inebriated when they decided it was worth inclusion on an actual Nilsson album. This was NOT a graceful swan song for Sr. Nilsson – “Knilsson” would have been a perfect capper, but this is just fluffy nonsense. Luckily it wasn’t to be Harry’s last contribution to musical society…

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THE POPEYE DEMOS   (1980)

(no grade)

As far as I know, this WAS Harry’s last major musical contribution to society. And he’s pretty much the perfect songwriter for a cartoonish children’s movie musical directed by the freewheelin’ Robert Altman. But his writing had long since fallen into an overly simplistic rut, and while a narrative structure can’t help but focus him a BIT, he’s not much able to conjure up the beauty inherent in his earlier work. This project does definitely demand childish simplicity – but where “The Point” had some unique and memorable ditties, this score is full of tunes that sound made up on the spot. The only stand-out is the pretty Olive Oil sung “He Needs Me,” a song that would end up years later in PT Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” (speaking of which, THAT Altman-esque director sure loved some Nilsson…in addition to the Popeye song playing a huge part of the “Punch-Drunk” soundtrack, he had Aimee Mann cover “One” for the “Magnolia” opening credits)…The rest of the score consists of mostly bouncy Van Dyke Parks-y piano jaunts with one or two chord changes and ultra-simple melodies. The whole movie is a rambling oddity, and you get the sense from listening to the score and watching the film that EVERYBODY was high the entire time. This bootleg of Harry’s demos is worth investigating for Harry fans – but Harry’s voice ain’t too inspiring at this point, and watching the movie is the best way to hear the songs anyway (the cast sings ’em).

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    • Yuiox
    • March 14th, 2011

    THANK YOU! It’s about time someone reviewed Nilsson!

    I completely agree that Aerial ballet is better than Nilsson Schmilsson, but I personally LOVE Sandman (although you gave the right grade for new listeners).

    Once again…Thank You.

    • Ed
    • January 26th, 2012

    Nice reviews. Sandman is my favorite Nilsson album!

    • Alan
    • August 19th, 2015

    Without “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night,” Linda Ronstadt and Nelson Riddle probably never produce her oldies album. Harry was the ground breaker.

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