Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for... Nilsson

Harry Edward Nilsson III, usually credited as Nilsson, was an American singer-songwriter who achieved the peak of his commercial success in the early 1970s. He is known for the hit singles "Everybody's Talkin'", "Without You", and "Coconut". Nilsson also wrote the song "One" made famous by the rock band Three Dog Night. He was one of the few major pop-rock recording artists of his era to achieve significant commercial success without ever performing major public concerts or undertaking regular tours.

Here is some interesting trivia that I found on imdb:

  • The Park Street apartment that he owned in London was where Cass Elliot died from a heart attack in July 1974. In September 1978 The Who's drummer Keith Moon died at the same apartment of an overdose of Heminevrin, a prescription drug that he was taking for alcoholism.
  • His grandparents were Swedish circus performers, whose act was known as the "Aerial Ballet" (which became the title for his second album).
  • His cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" was chosen to be played over the opening titles and during the first part of Midnight Cowboy (1969). Other songs considered included Nilsson's own "I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City", and Randy Newman's "Cowboy", which he and Nilsson re-recorded later.
  • After leaving the RCA record label in the late 1970s, Nilsson's later recorded output was mostly songs for soundtracks (The World's Greatest Lover (1977), Popeye (1980), and the holiday special Ziggy's Gift (1982)), though he did contribute two vocals to a Yoko Ono all-star tribute. At the time of his death in 1994, Nilsson had just completed the vocals for a possible comeback album.
  • Became active in the anti-handgun movement after friend John Lennon's murder; appeared at several public events for this cause.
  • When approached by Ringo Starr to star with him in Son of Dracula (1974), Nilsson at first thought the idea had come from his recent 'Son of Schmilsson' album, which included some horror-movie motifs; Starr had played drums on some of the songs. Starr hadn't seen the finished album, and knew nothing of it until shown a copy later by then-wife Maureen. Nilsson starred as young Count Downe (the Son of Dracula), while Starr played the aged Merlin the Magician. Both knew the movie wasn't going to be a hit while they were making it, but they enjoyed working together.
  • Nilsson gained early recording experience by singing on commercial jingles and beds, including ads for Ban deodorant, Sea & Ski and Der Weinerschnitzel. Several Nilsson songs were also later used in commercials, including "Me And My Arrow" (for Plymouth), "Good Old Desk", and more recently a re-edited version of "Everybody's Talkin'".
  • Along with composing the soundtrack for Otto Preminger's Skidoo (1968) (he appears briefly as a stoned tower guard, and also SINGS the closing credits), Nilsson provided much of the music for The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969).
  • Met The Monkees through producer Chip Douglas; Douglas had played bass on a Nilsson collaboration with Phil Spector. Nilsson sat at a piano and played the group a selection of his recent songs, for them to possibly record. Michael Nesmith's reaction to what they heard was a delighted "Where the fuck did you COME from, man?!" Nilsson was an instant hit with the Monkees, who did record his "Cuddly Toy" for their next album, and later "Daddy's Song" for their movie Head (1968). When Nilsson heard "Cuddly Toy" on the radio, he knew he could quit his job at the bank.
  • His father was a scout for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team who lived in Palatka, Florida. Harry's half-brother, Gary Nilsson, still lives in Palatka.
  • Never made personal appearances (aside from one very brief European tour, early on) because he knew he could never recreate his complex sounds outside of a studio. Made a handful of television guest appearances in the Sixties on his manager's advice, but disliked the results.
  • Worked the night shift at a bank's computer center, to have daytimes free to pursue recording and publishing deals, and worked on songs during his breaks. Composer/publisher Perry Botkin Jr. befriended Nilsson, and gave him a key to his office so he'd have another place to write, after hours. By the time Nilsson scored his RCA recording contract, he was used to working out of an office, so he asked for one at RCA in Hollywood as part of his deal. (Nilsson often surprised fans, the press, and industry people by answering his own phone, and any questions about his performing live with a brief "I didn't." "I haven't." "I don't.").
  • Was given John Lennon's lambskin-and-wool coat when they first met in England; Nilsson passed it along to his sister (it didn't fit him), who stored it in a vault.
  • Told Hugh M. Hefner when he guested on Playboy After Dark (1969) that his song "Good Old Desk" was about God, as the first letters of the title spelled G-O-D. Admitted years later he'd been kidding, and Hefner apparently didn't catch on.
  • Is referenced in the song "Life Is A Rock But the Radio Rolled Me" by Reunion.
  • Met The Beatles, which had been impressed by his first album, "Pandemonium Shadow Show," early in 1968. Became close friends with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, in particular, and he shared a house with them in Los Angeles during 1974. The three collaborated on several records in the mid-1970s, while their off-hours drinking binges around LA became legendary.
  • During the recording of his "Pussy Cats" album (produced, co-written, and co-performed by John Lennon), he kept secret from everyone that his smoking and drinking were threatening his health. It was clear that his once-celebrated voice was taking a toll, but Nilsson, afraid that Lennon would cancel the recording sessions, kept a bucket hidden so he could spit out the blood produced after his coughing fits ruptured a vocal cord.
  • Nilsson's relationship with his record label, RCA Records, went through a gradual decline through the 1970s, largely driven by his own excesses. His "Pussy Cats" album was almost canceled because of its original title, "Strange Pussies." Shortly after that album was released, close friend John Lennon (who had produced "Pussy Cats") marched into the RCA offices and demanded that Nilsson be paid what he was worth, hinting that both he and Ringo Starr might have signed with RCA Records once their EMI contracts were up the following year but not if Nilsson didn't get a new contract. RCA pulled the stops out, offering Nilsson a royalty increase, greater creative control, and a completion bonus for each new album. As it turned out, neither Lennon nor Starr signed with RCA, and Nilsson's subsequent albums were largely critical and commercial failures. In 1977, his "Knnillssonn" album showed great promise, and RCA planned a large marketing campaign, but the death of Elvis Presley shifted the label's focus, and it turned instead to promoting Presley's back catalog. Disappointed by this, and by the release of a greatest-hits album without his input, Nilsson asked RCA to cancel his contract.
  • He suffered a massive heart attack on February 14, 1993. He died a year later in his sleep from a heart disease, on January 15, 1994, at his home in Agoura Hills, CA.
  • He had six children with his third wife, Una: Annie, Beau, Ben, Kief, Olivia, and Oscar. He also had a son, Zachary Nine, from his marriage to Diane.
  • Friend Ringo Starr served as best man at his marriage to Una O'Keeffe.

His library of music is vast, and I had a difficult time picking which song to showcase. But as I seem to be leaning toward fun earworms for this challenge, I finally chose "Coconut"

"Coconut" is a novelty song written and first recorded by Harry Nilsson. The third single from his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson, it reached #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Billboard ranked it as the No. 66 song for 1972. It features four distinct characters (the narrator, the brother, the sister, and the doctor), three of which (narrator, sister, and doctor) are sung in different voices by Nilsson. The song describes a story in which a boy and his sister concoct a beverage consisting of lime and coconut and drink it, which causes the girl to have a severe stomach ache; when she calls the doctor late at night, the doctor (annoyed at being awakened by such a complaint) laughs her off and recommends that she "put the lime in the coconut and drink 'em both up"—the exact same idea that caused the stomach ache in the first place—and then call the doctor back in the morning. "Coconut" was the first composition that Nilsson both wrote and recorded that reached the Hot 100.

What does tomorrow bring?

Will it be One Direction?  Our Lady Peace?  Oingo Boingo?

or maybe "On and On"?  "Once Bitten Twice Shy"?  "Open Arms"?

or perhaps a style/genre - Opera? Orchestral? Old School?

Tune in to find out!

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