The profound musical gifts of Harry Nilsson are on full display in THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION. This deluxe 17-CD box set, available now, presents Nilsson’s definitive 14 U.S. albums from RCA. Bonus material on those albums add up to 65 tracks, of which 26 are previously unreleased. Adding to the box set’s historical provenance are three newly-compiled CDs containing 58 tracks, of which an additional 29 tracks are previously unreleased.
In this first ever full-length biography, author Alyn Shipton traces Harry Nilsson’s life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and his gradual emergence as a uniquely talented singer-songwriter. With interviews from friends, family, and associates, and material drawn from an unfinished autobiography, Shipton probes beneath the enigma to discover the real Harry Nilsson. The book is in stores now.
A wildly entertaining, star-studded documentary that tells the story of Harry Nilsson. Director John Scheinfeld brings added emotion and intimacy to the story with over 50 Nilsson recordings, rare or never-before-seen film clips, home movies and personal photos. The DVD also contains 93 minutes of Bonus Material Deleted Scenes, Extended Sequences, an Alternate Ending and more.
With virtual carte blanche at RCA, Harry indulged in plenty of non-commercial projects leading up to 1972. Among them, creating an animated cartoon, devoting an album to a different songwriter (Randy Newman) and remixing and re-releasing his old work (Aerial Pandemonium Ballet). But when worldwide success found him via Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry took it as a cue to pursue just how far his artistic license might take him. Son Of Schmilsson was the result. Teamed again with producer Richard Perry, the ballsy, rockin’ Son Of Schmilsson may have cost Harry as many fans as the previous year’s Nilsson Schmilsson earned him.
Nilsson Schmilsson‘s centerpiece, “Without You,” made him an overnight radio star, but Son Of Schmilsson‘s “f— you” divorce song, “You’re Breakin’ My Heart,” made Harry a radio pariah. Most of Son Of Schmilsson‘s material is littered with this blend of off-beat humor, questionable taste and pure gonzo nerve. “I’d Rather Be Dead” finds Harry leading a chorus of retirees who would “rather be dead than wet my bed.” “Joy” is a pun-filled country & western send up and “Ambush,” recorded at the height of the Vietnam War, is a bizarre saga of soldiers killed in action while singing in enemy territory.
Yet, for all the in-jokes, partying and bad boy behavior, Nilsson could still — just as effortlessly — melt hearts. “Remember (Christmas)” is one of Harry’s most loved songs, while “The Lottery Song” is as endearing as Nilsson gets. He even managed a minor hit with “Spaceman” (stymied, no doubt, by the timing of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” the same year). Even though Son Of Schmilsson is often categorized as a disappointing follow-up to Harry’s hit-filled prequel, it still stands today as a daring burst of unpredictable, though barely programmable, fun. It may not be considered the classic Nilsson Schmilsson is, but it is considered classic “Harry,” and is essential to appreciating what made Nilsson tick.
JOY by BUCK EARL: Harry had written the composition before 1971, when he first performed a live version of “Joy” for the BBC. The official studio version didn’t appear until Son of Schmilsson, but “Joy” also was released as a 7″ single, credited to a new Nilsson pseudonym, Buck Earl, in some attempt to get played on 1970s country radio stations (the flip was “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City”). Since Harry tinkered with the tune for years, there are also bonus tracks and rarities connected with it. A 2006 UK “best of” CD released the so-called “grunt” version of “Joy” — which is a different mix — so nicknamed for Nilsson’s curious shudder after the second verse. There are other differences as well, including an instrumental verse, minus the jokey spoken voiceover. There are three early demo/bonus tracks versions that show Harry wasn’t quite sure which way to take the arrangement. Many thanks to Old Bones for providing scans of Nilsson’s ultra-rare Buck Earl 45 (both retail & promo).
NILSSON NEWS: A four-page RCA promotional “newspaper” distributed by UK record shops in April 1972, Nilsson News was designed to promote Harry’s past catalog, as well as the upcoming (as yet untitled), Son Of Schmilsson. There are Nilsson quotes and a Harry bio, where he mentions his refusal to appear on Top Of The Pops, the UK’s highly-rated music show. Also mentioned is the notion that Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein offered Nilsson a contract early on, and that Harry “sold about four copies” of an early 45 recorded under the name “Johnny Miles” (actually, Johnny Niles). Also, in the errors department, “Everybody’s Talkin'” composer Fred Neil did not write “She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune.” There is even an item telling us how Harry is ahead of the technological curve, since his music is available “in the modern trend-setting way – on cassette and cartridge.” BIG thanks to Ian Drummond for sharing this cool rarity.
Turn on Your Radio
You’re Breakin’ My Heart
The Lottery Song
At My Front Door
I’d Rather Be Dead
The Most Beautiful World in the World