One is the loneliest number
Do you remember the old EMI singles from the 70s, where the flip side of the sleeve listed other EMI singles to purchase? My immediate association to names like Tony Joe White, Badfinger and Cilla Black is the listings on the flip side of those sleeves. Some years later notorious Stiff Records adopted the same – good – habit and duly recommended good music from other labels on one of its inner sleeves – I specifically recall a recommendation to by an old ABBA album. Anyway, for a pop music nerd – most likely with some kind of disorder! – those old sleeves were a great resource for knowledge and acquaintances.
A name frequently listed on those sleeves was Harry Nilsson, who nowadays seems to be name dropped by todays´s artists every other week. In the early 70s I didn´t know much of his music but some years ago I decided to listen through his back catalogue – and there are some great, great stuff there to be found!
Nilsson was born in 1941 i Brooklyn. His grand parents were circus artists from Sweden and he later dedicated his album Aerial ballet – their speciality – to them. In the early 60s he worked both as a bankman as well as a singer and a tunesmith, all with improving success. His vocal range was extraordinary; is was hardly a coincidence that Mariah Carey was to cover “his” top hit Without You and it has also been said that Little Richard one time thrusted ”My! You sing good for a white boy!” when he heard him sing. During these early years he wrote music together with Phil Spector in the latter´s pop factory as well as music for Monkees – their hit Cuddly Toy is easy to recognize as a Nilsson song.
His first album was released in 1967 by RCA, namely Pandemonium Shadow Show. One duly impressed by the album was Derek Taylor, Beatles´ press manager, Taylor soon linked Nilsson with the four Beatles´who all took a liking to each other. On the press conference when the establishing of Apple records was disclosed, John Lennon was asked about his favourite US artist and Paul McCartney of his favourite US band – they both replied Nilsson! Taylor made it possible for Nilsson to come to London where he actually came to participate on the recording of Beatles ´great White Album.
1968 then saw the release of his album Aerial Ballet. The album included the Fred Neil cover Everybody’s Talkin´ who became a huge success. However, the best song on the album is One, later a hit for Three Dog Knight. Aimee Mann has made a great cover of that song on the tribute album For The Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson but no other version can match his own.
During the stormy year of 1973, when he, John Lennon and Keith Moon led a sturm-und-drang life on the US west coast, he recorded the album Pussy Cats, with Lennon as the producer. His life during that and other periods is a life full of storeys and anecdotes, many of them told over and over. Some has also been written about his stay in the 2 room flat in Mayfair London, previously owned by Ringo Starr. The flat was lent by Nilsson to Mama Cass Elliot, who tragically died in the flat in 1974. Four years later, his old drinking buddy Keith Moon also died in the same flat!
Nilsson himself died in 1994, leaving a rich heritage of music. A great introduction that his music is the previously mentioned tribute album For The Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson from 1995, with participation from Aimee Mann, Jellyfish, Bill Lloyd, Brian Wilson and many, many more.
Below is a clip with my favourite Nilsson song – the great One!