Harry Nilsson


Band members                             Related acts

- Harry Nilsson (RIP 1994) - vocals, keyboards

 

 

- Bo-Pete

- Foto-Fi Four

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Aerial Ballet

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: LSP 3956

Year: 1967

Country/State: Brooklyn, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor edge wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1603

Price: $20.00

 

Yes, 1968's "Aerial Ballet" sounds a touch dated, but to my ears, that's always been part of the collection's charm.   I'd argue it was Nilsson's best album and in my mind captures a young, highly talented and creative artist, rather than the troubled wreck he became at the end of his life.  A largely original set, the tunes apparently reflected a great deal of autobiographical material, with tracks such as 'Together', 'Mr. Richland's Favorite Song' and 'I Said Goodbye To Me' serving as a wonderful example of Nilsson's knack for marrying breezy, sparkling melodies with darker lyrics.  That juxtaposition of sunshine melodies with dark and depressing lyrics has always been one of the things that makes this such a fascinating album.   Check out the way Nilsson set his ode to suicide to an easy-going waltz ('I Said Goodbye To Me'), or employed a Baroque feel to one of the best tunes ever written about loneliness ('One').  Admittedly, on occasional Nilsson got too clever for his own good.  The country-tinged 'Cowboy' was simply dull, while 'Mr. Tinker' went overboard in and 'Eleanor Rigby'-style of social commentary genre.   If you were going to start check his catalog out, this would be a great place to start.

 

"Aerial Ballet" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Good Old Desk   (Nilsson) - 2:22

Musically 'Good Old Desk' was one of the prettiest tunes Nilsson ever wrote. A perfect showcase for his beautiful voice and wonderful harmony vocals, it had one of those breezy melodies that you simply couldn't shake once you'd heard it.  Lyrically it was strange, strange, strange ...  "My old desk does an arabesque ..."     Wikipedia had this info on the tune: "Guest-starring on Playboy After Dark, Nilsson told host Hugh Hefner the song was really about its initials... "G-O-D". Even though Nilsson later admitted that he was just joking around, it is still commonly believed that the song actually is about God."   Thanks to YouTube you can see Nilsson singing the tune  over a pre-recorded instrumental track for that Playboy After Dark segment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shVTtFqJb4U   Of course, a couple of years later he told Goldmine a different story "I bullshitted him [Heffner]. I thought it was funny. Nobody else thought it was funny!". Filmed for French television, YouTube also has  two black and white promotional clips for the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DafgwTBk8pQ  and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZnJSW616Oo   

 

   

The song was also tapped as a German single:  rating: **** stars

2.) Don't Leave Me   (Nilsson) - 2:18

Say what you will about the man, but in his younger days he sure had a magical voice with an uncanny ability to layer it across sophisticated arrangements.  Another beautiful ballad that briefly displayed some of his vocal power, the only thing that kept this from the same heights as the other tunes were the extended scat singing segments.  Shame he didn't edit them out and extend the tune for another minute or so.    rating: *** stars

3.) Mr. Richland's Favorite Song   (Nilsson) - 2:12

With kind of an English music hall flavor, the song was apparently about the rise and decline of a pop star.  Wonder if he had any idea what the future held for his career ...   Guess I can see why The Beatles became big fans ... geez, there was even a reference to the walrus.   Wasn't the walrus Paul ?    For anyone interested, Nilsson performed a slowed down, much darker version of the tune on his 1971 BBC television special "The Music of Nilsson": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fs7fbdOdDjs    rating: **** stars

4.) Little Cowboy   (Nilsson) - 1:20

With a western melody, 'Little Cowboy' was clearly autobiographical, but the meaning was lost on me.   rating: ** stars

5.) Together   (Nilsson) - 2:08

With a McCartney-esque melody 'Together' was one of the album's most commercial and radio-friendly songs.  With a tear-jerk lyric that would have made Paul McCartney proud, even the horns recalled a Beatles arrangement.   YouTube has a black and white promo clip for the song at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66bVG15vINA   Nilsson's Playboy appearance also included a performance of the tune.   It starts at the 4 minute mark.  Note that upper class white audiences probably shouldn't try clapping:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shVTtFqJb4U    The song was tapped as a Spanish single:

- 1969's 'Together / Rainmaker' (RCA Victor catalog number 3-10360)

 

(side 2)
1.) Everybody's Takin'   (Fred Neil) - 2:41

Written by Fred Neil, 'Everybody's Takin'' was the album's lone cover tune.  If you've ever hard Neil's version, you'll know that Nilsson's cover didn't mess with the melody, rather sped the tune up a bit, ditching the stark folk feel for a more pop-oriented feel.  RCA tapped it as the album's US single, but the song did little commercially and was quickly pulled.   It was reissued a year later in conjunction with it's inclusion in the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack.  Released a second time as a single, it became one of Nilsson's biggest hits and scored him a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male.  Bet Neil wasn't all that thrilled with the award ...

- 1969's 'Everybody's Talkin'' b/w 'Don't Leave Me' (RCA Victor catalog number 47-9544)

2.) I Said Goodbye To Me   (Nilsson) - 2:13

Nice ballad with a waltz feel and a surprisingly dark lyric that was seemingly about suicide.  rating: **** stars

3.) Little Cowboy    (Nilsson) - 0:49

Other than demonstrating Nilsson could whistle, the largely instrumental 'Cowboy' refrain didn't do anything for me.  rating: ** stars 

4.) Mr. Tinker   (Nilsson) - 2:41

Yeah, I loved Nilsson's toytown sound, but this one was just a little too cute for his own good.   The absence of a good melody didn't help the song.   rating: *** stars

5.) One   (Nilsson) - 2:50

Ah, few folks did loneliness and desperation as well as Nilsson.  Ironically, lots of folks have heard 'One', but they know the Three Dog Night cover; it's amazing how many folks don't know Nilsson wrote it.  Shame since Nilsson's version captured the sense of loneliness far better than the hit version.  The song was tapped as the debut American single:

- 1968's 'One' b/w 'Sister Marie' (RCA Victor catalog number 47-9462)

6.) The Wailing of Willow   (Nilsson) - Ian Freebairn-Smith) - 1:57

Hum, who would have thought a bossa nova flavored ballad could sound as classy ...  I'm not sure I can explain why ...   maybe the Sergio Mendes-styled harmonies ?  One of my favorite tunes on the album.   rating: **** stars

7.) Bath   (Nilsson) - 1:44

Geez, leave it to Nilsson to paste a bouncy pop melody with a lyric that was supposedly about going home after an evening at a house of ill-repute.  YouTube has another French television promo clip for the tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7x5k2_dHgE     rating: **** stars

 

 

For hardcore fans, original copies of the album included a thirteenth track - 'Daddy's Song'.   An autobiographical tune seemingly inspired by his parent's divorce, it was another example of Nilsson juxtaposition a jaunty melody with a heartbreaking lyric.  For some reason,  the song was dropped from the album after The Monkees included an inferior cover on their "Head" album.  

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Harry

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: SP-4197

Year: 1969

Country/State: Brooklyn, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: SOLD 4

Price: SOLD $9.00

Cost: $1.00

 

Harry Nilsson is a guy I've really tried to cultivate a liking and appreciation for.  Unfortunately about the best thing I can say is that Nilsson was clearly an immensely talented guy who may simply be too sophisticated for my simpleton tastes.

 

The first couple of times I played 1969's self-produced "Harry" I remember thinking 'this is what a Randy Newman album would sound like if Newman could sing and carry a tune'.   A truly bizarre mix of period piece originals balanced with a couple of interesting pop covers, the set's simply too diverse and eclectic to accurately describe.  Nilsson himself seems to have been torn between underscoring his credentials as a true 'artist' and proving that he had what it took to be commercially successful.  Fans are drawn to the set's musical diversity and Nilsson's thoughtful lyrics ('Nobody Cares About the Railroads Anymore' and ''City Life), along with his rather warped sense of humor ('Fairfax Rag').  I'll readily admit that most of it is wasted on me.  While Nilsson had a great voice, it all sounded a little measured and precious to my ears. Tracks like 'Nobody Cares About the Railroads Anymore' and 'Mourning Glory Story' (with an admirable commentary on homelessness) are liable to give many of you ugly flashbacks to being stuck in some horrible high school English or History class ...  The best songs are also the most commercial ones - a pretty cover of Paul McCartney's 'Mother Nature's Son', 'Rainmaker' and 'I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City' (the latter was originally written for and passed over for the film "Midnight Cowboy".

 

"Harry" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) The Puppy Song   (Harry Nilsson) - 2:58

2.) Nobody Cares About the Railroads Anymore   (Harry Nilsson) - 2:47

3.) Open Your Window   (Harry Nilsson) - 2:08

4.) Mother Nature's Son   (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 2:42

5,) Fairfax Rag   (Martin) - 2:14

6.) City Life   (Martin) - 2:31

 

(side 2)
1.) Mourning Glory Story   (Harry Nilsson) - 2:13

2.) Maybe   (Harry Nilsson) - 3:20

3.) Marchin' Down Broadway   (Harry Nilsson) - 0:59

4.) I Guess the Lord Must Be In New York City   (Harry Nilsson) - 2:44

5.) Rainmaker   (Harry Nilsson - Martin) - 2:33

6.) Mr. Bonjangles   (Walker) - 3:53

7.) Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear   (Randy Newman) - 2:47

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: * (1 star)

Title:  ... That's the Way It Is

Company: RCA Victor

Catalog: APL1-1119

Year: 1976

Country/State: Brooklyn, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1209

Price: $9.00

Cost: $1.00

 

 

I guess if you had to do most things in life thirteen times over that task would begin to become repetitive and dull.   That  might help explain why Harry Nilsson's thirteenth studio album - 1976's "... That's the Way It Is" was so bad.   Seriously, in spite of support from an amazing cast of friends and sessions players (I counted close to 100 names in the liner notes), this collection had virtually nothing tp recommend it.   In fact, the five tracks on side one may be the single worst collection of performances I've got in my extensive record collection.  Having listened to this one repeatedly over the years, I've always been left with the impression Nilsson simply wasn't interested in his career at this point in time.   In fact, the album cover showing him reclining in a living room  reading a Penthouse magazine while surrounded by empty liquor bottles and cigarettes served as the perfect career summation.  With the exception of his collaboration with Dr. John ('Daylight Has Caught Me'), the few Nilsson originals were simply boring.  The cover tunes were even worse; seemingly haphazardly selected and uninspired in their performances.   Nilsson's work ranged from bland ('She Sits Down On Me') to outright horrendous ('Moonshine Bandit'), with a couple of tunes sounding like he was totally out of it.   The fact this thing actually managed to hit # 156 on the US album charts is a miracle.  As a teenager I can remember seeing stacks of them at my local Kemp Mill store (gosh, remember record stores ...).

 

"Harry" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) That Is It   (George Harrison) - 3:02

Funny but I can remember thinking that both the song arrangement and Nilsson's falsetto sounded quite similar to the George Harrison original (off of 1973's "Living in the Material World" which was ahrdly one of Harrison's creative zeniths).   Since I was never a big fan of the original tune, I can't say the cover did much for me.   rating: ** stars

2.) Just One Look / Baby. I'm Young    (Gregory Carrol - Doris Payne / Van McCoy) - 3:17

Judging by his decision to cover these pop classics, I'm guessing Nilsson was either suffering from writer's block, or was simply desperate.  Former Supreme member Lynda Lawrence 'basically swept the floor with Nilsson on this medley.   Simply bland and forgettable with about as much chemistry as a day old Egg McMUffin ....   rating:* star

3.) Moonshine Bandit    (Harry Nilsson - Danny Kortchmar) - 3:26

Hum, Brooklyn guy trying to pull of a reggae tune ...   not a good idea, especially when the song is a s lightweight and lame as 'Moonshine Bandit'.   Hideous comes to mind.   Geez, 10cc's 'Bloody Tourists' was even better than this one.   rating: * star

4.) I Need You   (Gerry Beckley) - 3:14

The band America was still selling tons of records in '76 which probably explains Nilsson's decision to cover one of their hits.  Unfortunately, his cover managed to lose the original's charm, coming off as a mixture of shrill and desperate.   Seriously bad.   rating: * star

5.) A Thousand Miles Away -  (James Sheppard - William Miller) -  2:50

Bland soul edged ballad that couldn't figure out whether to play it straight, or for laughs.  Nilsson sound totally out of it on this one.   Give me The Heartbeats' original any day of the week.    rating: * stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Sail Away   (Randy Newman) - 3:40

One of Randy Newman's most impressive tunes, the "slaver's sales pitch" lyrics were stunning ...  even as a teenager I was forced to think long and hard about them.  Hard to believe I'm saying this, but even though Nilsson had a better voice than Newman, Newman's original knocked the crap out of this cover.  Why RCA decided to tap it as a single is a complete mystery to me.   rating: *** stars

2.) She Sits Down On Me   (Austin Talbot) - 3:55

Plodding and completely forgettable 20s-jazz-styked tune that wasn't even that entertaining.   rating; * star

3.) Daylight Has Caught Me   (Nilsson - Malcolm Rebennack) - 3:47

Given how bad the rest of the album was, this collaboration with Dr. John stood as a breath of fresh air.  Nice melody and Nilsson actually sounded mildly interested in the tune.   Nothing great, but then the baseline for comparisons was so low.  rating: **** stars

4.) Zombie Jamboree  (Conrad E. Mauge, Jr.) - 3:02

Zombies and reggae ...   in theory the combination should have been entertaining, but Nilsson managed to make it thoroughly dull.     rating: *** stars

5.)  That Is It (reprise)  (George Harrison) - 1:52

So why not go out with a whimper ?  Even hardcore Beatles fanatics are liable to find this one a waste.   rating: * star

 

Two US singles were released: 

 

- 1976's 'Sail Away' b/w 'Moonshine Bandit' (RCA Victor catalog number PB-10634)

- 1976's 'Just One Look - Baby, I'm Yours' b/w 'That Is All'  (RCA Victor catalog number PB-10759)

 

 

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