The Essential Harry Nilsson Playlist
Harry Nilsson is one of those weird, extreme cases in popular music: you’ve either never heard of him, or you are hopelessly, forever in love with him. With his velvety voice and stunningly timeless compositions, Harry Nilsson remains one of the most talented singer-songwriters of the late ‘60s/’70s (the Beatles would call him their “favourite American group”), and still one of the most overlooked.
He defied the established paradigm of the music business at the time (which, to some extent, still prevails today) by refusing to tour or even play the odd live concert, which led to the recording of his 1971 BBC special The Music of Nilsson happening without the audience actually being present. However, and against all odds, he still managed to maintain a successful career without promoting his albums on the road, with anthems such as ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’, ‘Without You’ (initially a Badfinger hit), ‘Coconut’, ‘Gotta Get Up’, and ‘One’ (later covered by the likes of Three Dog Night, Al Kooper and Aimee Mann) securing him a much-deserved place in the history of popular music.
His most fruitful period was undoubtedly between 1970 and 1974, when he re-released the Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967) and Aerial Ballet (1968) albums as the remix LP Aerial Pandemonium Ballet (a rather rare move in the early seventies), as well as his masterpiece Nilsson Schmilsson and its 1972 follow-up Son of Schmilsson. 1974’s John Lennon-produced album Pussy Cats would, nevertheless, dictate the beginning of his downfall: having seriously damaged his voice during the recording sessions and engaging in increasingly self-destructive behaviour (he was one of Lennon’s most party-faithful companions during the ex-Beatle’s “Lost Weekend”), he would still manage to put out some fine material in the following years ( Duit on Mon Dei, the cover LP …That’s The Way It Is, Knnillsson), but RCA ended up paying him off the label.
Putting a Harry Nilsson playlist together may be a difficult task since his career is extensively filled with beautiful gems, but this may entice you to (re)listen to his catalogue and (re)discover one of the most underrated songwriting genius’ of the 20th century.
- ‘Good Old Desk’
- ‘Mr Richland’s Favourite Song’
- ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’
- ‘Me and My Arrow’
- ‘Gotta Get Up’
- ‘Without You’
- ‘Remember (Christmas)’
- ‘You’re Breaking My Heart’
- ‘I’d Rather Be Dead’
- ‘Many Rivers To Cross’
- ‘All I Think About is You’
Originally published at The 405 in September 2015