Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Nilsson


Everyone loves a piano man. No disrespect to Billy Joel, but my favorite piano man was Harry Nilsson. I'm not alone in that opinion. 

Even the Beatles loved Harry. Harry was in good company; he developed close ties with all the Fab Four. John Lennon and Nilsson were close (if not notorious) friends and found their antics splayed out in the trade magazines in the 70s.

Harry Nilsson entered the world in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. Abandoned by his father, his mother took him and his half-sister to Los Angeles. I'm not sure where the other half of his sister went. As a teen, he worked at the Paramount Theater. At the time, the Paramount was one of the largest theaters and hosted rock and roll acts. Nilsson learned piano chords from the musicians and soon became a skilled pianist. 

The next few years saw Harry honing his craft, writing and composing. All that effort paid off when he landed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1967. Over a dozen albums followed and the critics grew to love Nilsson for his performances and compositions. The film Midnight Cowboy featured the Nilsson tune "Everybody's Talkin' At Me." Some of the biggest names in recording covered his songs: Neil Diamond, Diana Ross and Barbara Streisand, to name a few. The Three Dog Night hit, "One" was a Nilsson song. The Monkee's front man, Davy Jones, sang Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy."

It's not unusual to see Harry Nilsson's name appear in the credits of many top movies, like You've Got Mail, Forrest Gump, All That Jazz, Casino, Goodfellas. Harry was prolific. 

My favorite personal Nilsson memory: the first time I ever danced with a boy, the song "Without You" was playing. Yes, I remember who it was and I know I won't name him, but thanks for for inquiring. Unsure of who sang that song, I went to the record store and bought the 45. No, youngsters, not the Colt 45...I'm talking about the little-record-with-the-big-hole 45. You kids...I swear...

If you want to see a great documentary about his life, check out Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? The film is a fair and evenhanded look at his genius and madness; drugs and alcohol would take their toll. 

Harry Nilsson passed away in 1994 at the age of 52. Poor Harry; he definitely left us too soon. It's hard to listen to the radio without you...






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54 comments:

  1. 'Everybody's Talkin'...' is a great song. I also like the following one, which my buddy Marty once put on a tape for me in the late '70s...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAXZDPO7Ar0

    After their first few albums, I kind of lost interest in Heart, but I thought they did a pretty good cover of 'Without You'.

    Also, my Sister's first dance song at her wedding was Nilsson's 'You Are So Beautiful (To Me)'.

    I know, I know. I was just checking to see if you were really paying attention.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. You just had to sneak something in with a vague Beach Boy link (a song written by Billy Preston, Bruce Fisher, and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys). See? I pay attention. And by this time of the week, I'm just trying to tread water. For some reason, the middle of the week (T, W, Th) is jammed packed with so much I have to get done that it's really the best time to put one over on me.

      But if you were going for a little Joe Cocker, it has to be this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RK9NpGr2-s

      Did you see the Stella Sisters on Robin's BoTB? Wow.

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    2. BTW, is that 2 AM your time or mine?

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    3. >>... written by Billy Preston, Bruce Fisher, and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys

      Well, it's because I couldn't think of a Howlin' Wolf connection.

      Now don't tell me you knew that off the top of your head or I will faint. I, myself, didn't know that until last night when I went looking for the song and stumbled upon that tidbit of information.

      Couldn't ever really get into Joe Cocker much. Every time I'd see him singing I'd think: Someone call a doctor! That man is having an epileptic seizure on stage!

      I do like his version of that song you URLed though. And as luck would have it, you stumbled across a song I have on my 'To Be BOTBed In The Future' list. It's a pretty long list. (Joe's version of that song isn't one I have in mind. I'm thinking of the original recording by the original band versus someone else's cover. Poor Joe. I'd like to use his version, but I'm just not going to be responsible for a man having a seizure and possibly dying mid-song on MY blog!)

      I did see the Stella Sisters on Girl Wonder's blog. I voted for the other folks. But I did say something (I thought was) funny before revealing my "true" vote.

      Oh, Dear Friend Cherdo, that is 2 AM YOUR time! By 2 AM my time, I was long fast asleep with visions of sugar plums and milkshakes dancing in my head, while dreaming of Nativity sets and those atrocious drapes of yours!

      ~ D-FensDogG

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    4. Please don't faint...there's no need. :-)

      In my logical mind, the time stamp should always be from the time zone of the one who posted it - who cares what my time zone is? Why didn't Al Gore ask me before he messed up the internet? His plan needs tweaked.

      MY DRAPES - WHICH ARE NEW - ARE BEAUTIFUL. If you don't believe me, check out this picture of my poor, abused mother volunteering to hem drapes for me: http://www.cherdoontheflipside.com/2014/10/mom-musings-and-abusings.html

      You don't want to make my Mom cry - do you???

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    5. You know, sometimes the Internet works so darn lousy that I suspect Al Gore REALLY DID invent it!

      OK, I stand corrected. I checked out the other blog bit and you're right, your drapes ARE beautiful. So... apparently it's your bath towels I'm seeing in my nightmares.

      Tennessee, eh? I'd forgotten you live in Tennessee. I really enjoyed that little article I read earlier today about that... that... that BOOK some folks are trying to make the official Book of Tennessee.

      >>... Norris said: "All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you're on your way to where he wants you."

      Ha!-Ha! Yeah, uh-huh, that's EXACTLY what satan wants, The Good Book becoming the state's official publication. I can just see "satan laughing with delight". (Can you hear me snickering with sarcasm?)

      ~ D-FensDogG

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  2. Great tunes. I'm surprised I haven't heard of him before.

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    1. Actually, you probably heard a whole lot of his songs, but his untimely death kinda eliminates the facial recognition.

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  3. I wouldn't have been able to put a name to these songs but I know all of them including Everybody's Talkin'.

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  4. I drove my poor mother loco ... every time Without You came on the radio I'd screech along at the top of my lungs, lol. My daughter paid me back for it when the Spice Girls (ugh!) came along...

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    1. Ha ha ha...I drove my parents nuts singing at the top of my lungs and playing guitar. My son got be back with Marilyn Manson. I got him back by removing all trace of MM from my home every time I saw it. I'm funny like that...

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  5. Good morning, dear Cherdo!

    I might have gone with Nanette Fabray for the block, but this could still work out. (Dated reference to Peter Marshall, host of TV game show Hollywood Squares.)

    Apparently, N isn't for Nanette in your book, nor is Napoleon XIV, but Nilsson is certainly a worthy choice. It's so cool to learn that he worked at the Brooklyn Paramount. I worked as a stage manager for a Brooklyn born promoter who organized oldies revival concerts featuring vocal groups that performed at the Paramount during the golden years of doo-wop and rock 'n' roll. One of our shows brought together the Chiffons, the Earls, the Coasters and Freddy Cannon. Another show starred Jay and the Americans.

    Midnight Cowboy is one of Mrs. Shady's favorite movies and Harry Nilsson's evocative "Everybody's Talkin' At Me" recalls that era like no other. By the time the first few notes of the melody have played, I have goose bumps and find myself running movie scenes through my mind. How well I remember "Without You," one of the most beautiful ballads I've ever heard.

    Harry Nilsson had a Bubbling Under single (#122) in the summer of 1967 with a cover of the Beatles' hit "You Can't Do That," a recording that sampled several other Mop Top songs. In 1974, at the height of John Lennon's solo career, Nilsson released "Many Rivers To Cross," produced by friend Lennon. It was another Bubbling Under performer, halting at #109 on that chart.

    Thank you, dear friend Cherdo!

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    1. I'd easily recognize Nanette Fabray (or any of the regulars in the Squares...Paul Lynde, Paul Williams, Cliff Arquette, Abby Dalton, Marty Allen...one of my favorite shows when I was a short person). Dated references are my favorite.

      Apparently, I didn't do a good transition in that paragraph: born in Brooklyn, Dad left, Mom took him to LA, worked at the Paramount in LA.

      Nilsson has so many songs I love that it was hard to nail it down. Definitely had to have "Without You" but I had trouble after that. I love "Coconut" and "Spaceman" - they're quirky. The song "Me and My Arrow" gets stuck in my head every time I hear it, but it's one of the lesser known, I suppose.

      Thanks for the wonderful comment, as always - go forth and conquer the day, Shadimus Maximus!

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    2. Sorry, I was in a rush and didn't read the text carefully enough. Please strike my testimony from the record and instruct the jury to disregard.

      Signed: Shadzilla

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  6. Everyone does love a piano man. Nilsson was brilliant!

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    1. I did love that man; I'm glad the music is still around.

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  7. Another fantastic choice! I used his "Remember" song along with a series of pictures of my siblings and I growing up. Still makes me mist up.
    Question: In the "Jump Into the Fire" video, it looked like Keith Moon at the drums. Is that true or did Keith have a lookalike?

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    1. I think it was Keith Moon. John Bonham was in there somewhere...

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  8. Records? What are those? lol First time I've ever heard any of his stuff.

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  9. I never heard of this guy. My sisters had a few of those precious 45's but they were gone by the time I started buying my own music. They played the same ones over and over again.

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    1. In my life, I've done records, LPs, 45s, 8 track, cassettes, CD, mp3, mp4...how can I get in an "all live music" situation?

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  10. I never heard of him but I heard his songs. It is so typical that the average music lover(me) would know the songs but not the artist-sad actually. It sounds like drugs and alcohol caught up with him

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    1. Talented, popular and rich...why the demons? I'll never understand.

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  11. His face looks really familiar! But I don't recognize his name. Interesting.

    2015 A to Z Challenge Co-Host
    Matthew MacNish from The QQQE

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  12. Honestly, I had no idea who Harry Nilson was, but definitely remember his songs. Good to know. Composers often get lost in the music industry (my son, also a piano composer, is one of them!). Thanks. This is the 2nd of your posts I've shared on Facebook :)

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    1. I just looked at your FB page! Thanks for the post share, Sharon!

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  13. Loved him. Loved, loved, loved. I saw the documentary. It's excellent. I always thought he wrote Without You and was surprised to learn it was written by someone in Bad Finger.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Pete Ham and Tom Evans wrote it. But Harry sang it and made it the ONLY version that I love.

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  14. I have forgotten the name completely, but the videos really brought it all back. Love a great pianist...Barry Manilow, Van Clyburne. I can't play the piano and sing at the same time! You and Shady are sure up on all these artists!

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    1. Shady and I are in musical night school.

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  15. Why are so many gifted writers also extremely disturbed to the point of excessive drinking (aka alcoholism) and drug use (aka drug use)???? Clearly I'm doing something wrong. The question is which one??? ha!

    Great "N" btw... he was prolific.

    I'm trying to think who I'd have chosen if this were my theme for the A to Z. Nothing comes to mind. No, that's wasn't a joke. Though I guess it qualifies as a pun. Ah, maybe tomorrow's comment will be better.

    Oh... and glad you enjoyed BoTB this go-round. You should consider watching the TV Show Nashville. You could get weekly (or very nearly weekly) doses of The Stella Sisters.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZQkWQW4Syg

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    1. I never thought I'd say I need more TV - but that might be the case. I loved The Stella Sisters and they were completely under my radar...sneaky angelic-voiced girls...

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  16. I know you are going to scream but I had forgotten about him.
    Or at lest not on my mind.
    But the songs yes, I remember the songs.
    It is so sad, weird or just plain stupid why all these talented people opted for drugs or booze,
    What is with this "machine" that chews these people up and spit them out ? Are all creative people in music nuts ? or just co-dependent.
    I just watched a story about Dierks Bentley on CBS news this morning.
    He is a country music artist who had a string of hits. He was touring and just seemed to make music to tour instead of making music. He walked away on 2009. Had to get off the country music treadmill. Stopped playing the game. Dropped off the grid.
    Then went back to smaller venues and had fun again. He made a bluegrass album and that just worked for him I think taking a huge step back has helped him.
    Must check out his latest album.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I wish I had seen the Dierks Bentley piece - I like him!
      Love this song of his: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8K6exvNxCg

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  17. I didn't realize he'd been gone that long. Didn't he also do the soundtrack for The Point?

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    1. Oh yes. Greatest ABC TV movie ever!

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    2. Yes, he did! That was as catchy as tunes get.

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  18. I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I do like his music.

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    1. You have my permission to be "fan-lite."

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  19. Incidentally, I remember 45s. I had 110 of them and was able to buy them for less than a dollar at Grand Way in Stratford, Connecticut. Most of them were great, but I must admit, I sometimes bought records just because I had a buck burning a hole in my pocket. How else to explain "Chick-A-Boom" and "Dead Skunk [In the Middle of the Road]"?

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    1. If I thought I could buy a record, I wouldn't even bother to put the buck in my pocket. ;-)

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  20. I get the feeling you and I might have similar playlists...

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    1. That's not a bad thing, Mr. Martin....

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  21. I'm definitely familiar with Without You, but it's been remade so many times and that version doesn't sound familiar. I know his name is attached to SOME song I like but I'll be darned if I can remember what.

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  22. I am not a fan per se, but I enjoy his music. I love "Without You." :)

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  23. Always enjoyed him. Nice post, Cherdo.

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    1. Thanks, Dixie! I think you need a place in our br-rat pack, too!

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Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo