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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