Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#546 in the Series) is Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson
Although he had a wonderfully provocative voice that could go up several ranges, Harry Nilsson always thought of himself as a songwriter first and a singer second having written the song “One” which became hit for Three Dog Night as well as several minor hits for Phil Spector that were recorded by the Ronettes, and “Ten Little Indians” for the later-stage Yardbirds. The irony of course, was that Harry was at his best, and became famous for interpreting songs written by other artists including the brilliantly performed classic “Everybody’s Talking” that was written by Folk-Rock singer Fred Neil.
With the release of Nilsson Schmilsson Harry was finding himself at somewhat of a musical crossroads as far as his recording career was concerned. His previous seven proper releases were a real hodge-podge in style, content, and character including a movie score for a children’s cartoon (The Point), an album with nothing but Randy Newman Songs (Nilsson Sings Newman), and even an album that included slightly different versions of the songs that were on two of his previous records (Aerial Pandemonium Ballet). In other words, he was about due for a masterpiece, and he delivered big time.
Starting with the somewhat whimsical “Gotta Get Up” that has a carnival feel to it complete with some snappy trumpets, the tone is set for 10 nuggets of fun almost Beatle like pop tunes.
“Driving Along” is a tune the Beatles would have recorded if they had never met the Maharishi and “Early in the Morning” shows off his vocal range on a softened bed of organ chords.
“The Moonbeam Song” is a calming song that expresses the child-like innocence that is often displayed in Nilsson’s songs. Lyrically this Beach Boys influenced song is much deeper than the song title would indicate and result is pastoral bordering on beautiful in a lulling you to sleep kind of way.
“Well you gotta have soul to wash your sins away, you gotta have hope it’s the price you gotta to pay, you gotta give love or your love will walk away, you got to stay loose it’s the only way to stay.”
The next four songs are each stunners in their own right with the brilliant or obnoxious, depending on your point of view, “Coconut”, and one of the best versions of “Let the Good Times Roll” you will ever hear sandwiched between what might be Nilsson’s best known Song the Badfinger cover “Without You”, and the funk rocker “Jump into the Fire” which showcases Harry’s versatility as a musician.
The final song on the album “I’ll Never Leave You” is somewhat ironic because after this album in my opinion, he essentially did. This album was pretty much the pinnacle of his career. The follow-up “Son of Schmillson” was very uneven bordering on parody and the hard partying lifestyle he was living with pals John Lennon and Keith Moon was starting to take its toll on the once velveteen voice. Subsequent efforts were also somewhat uneven affairs with the best of the lot showcasing what Harry does best, interpreting songs written by others, which he does in fine fashion with A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night covering such classics as “Making Whoopee”, “For Me And My Gal”, and “It Had To Be You” .
Harry Nilsson left us in 1994 at the age of 53 of a heart attack leaving nothing on the table except a legacy of some brilliant tunes, one masterful album, and no regrets.
At the end of the day who can ask for anything more than that.
— Jeremy Wren
- Gotta Get Up (Nilsson) 2:24
- Driving Along (Nilsson) 2:05
- Early in the Morning (Bartley, Hickman, Jordan) 2:52
- The Moonbeam Song (Nilsson) 3:24
- Down (Nilsson) 3:26
- Without You (Evans, Ham) 3:22
- Coconut (Nilsson) 3:54
- Let the Good Times Roll (Goodman, Lee) 2:46
- Jump into the Fire (Nilsson) 7:07
- I’ll Never Leave You (Nilsson) 4:22
- Harry Nilsson – piano, vocals, mellotron, organ, harmonica, electric piano
- Jim Gordon – drums, percussion
- Klaus Voormann – bass, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar,
- Chris Spedding – guitar
- Herbie Flowers – bass
- Tom Plovanic – acoustic guitar, lead guitar
- Henry Krein – accordion
- Richard Perry – percussion, mellotrons
- Jim Price – trumpet, trombone
- Jim Keltner – drums
- Roger Coolan – organ
- Bobby Keys – saxophone
- Gary Wright – piano, organ
- Roger Pope – drums
- Caleb Quaye – guitar
- Ian Duck – acoustic guitar
- Jim Webb – piano