I found both those songs were on the record Nilsson Schmilsson - a record that I thought was worth buying for the title and album cover (especially for the bargain price of $1). It also has the gem Jump Into The Fire. (As I said in the link just above, it might be the greatest $1 record I own).
I also knew about Everybody's Talkin' - a great song in its own right (Fred Neil wrote some gems) but perfectly chosen as the theme to Midnight Cowboy.
I bought a Greatest Hits compilation to fill in some blanks and started finding out all sorts of things about Nilsson. His name came up. Often. He knocked around with Ringo and John Lennon. He sang a whole album of Randy Newman songs (I love that album!)
Nilsson started to figure pretty big in my life. He was already dead. He died in 1994. I seemed to really hook into Nilsson, started unwrapping the riddle, the following year. That's purely coincidental - I bought the $1 copy of Nilsson Schmilsson when I first went record-shopping in Wellington. I was new to the city, fairly new to record-buying. I'd remembered Without You and Coconut - they were on the same album, it was a bargain. From there a mini-obsession started.
But I haven't followed through - I couldn't call it a complete obsession. I've checked out other albums - I love The Point and A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night. I still love the Nilsson Sings Newman album (which might have more to do with a full blown Randy Newman obsession) but there are still albums in the Nilsson canon that I need to be introduced to.
The mini-obsession is returning though - thanks to a viewing of Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?
The film was made in 2006 and released in 2010 but it's available now on DVD in New Zealand (click the link above for details).
I'd recommend the film to fanatics and neophytes - that's how it should be with a great music documentary; those who don't know anything about the artist, or know the name and the big hits only, should feel as comfortable and interested watching a great music film as the hardcore fans, collectors and completists.
Actually that's true of documentary across any subject - it's hard to strike that balance but I want to be turned on to a subject (or further turned on to it) I don't want to watch something I already know. I don't want to just see the boxes ticked. There's no point in chronicling the life only. You have to see (as much as you can) behind the life. You have to be able to peek around the corners.
I've been lucky to see some great music documentaries lately - I mentioned the Paul Simon one and the one about A Tribe Called Quest (both were screening in the Documentary Edge Film Festival). As big as Paul Simon's Graceland was - and as important as A Tribe Called Quest is in hip-hop circles I really feel that both films should be of interest outside of just the fans.
And that's because of the angle. With the Paul Simon film you have a moment in history. There is a political angle. With A Tribe Called Quest it questioned the artistic relationship - showed the effort that is required from both sides (all sides) in keeping together the very strained and almost unnatural marriage that is a band.
These are human stories.
With the Nilsson documentary we get the overview of his music - this wonderful songwriter who was also an amazing song-stylist. Nilsson achieved as a songwriter for hire, as a covers artist and as a singer/songwriter. He didn't fit quite in any one category.
He was Brill Building and The Beatles, he was the guy that created tribute albums to other eras, that chose songs because he loved them - long before that was just a sad marketing fad.
Nilsson also did it his way. He wasn't a live performer. He was almost exclusively a studio artist - in an era where live music was so often the catalyst for success in pop music.
He was also damaged. There is the human story. The fragile artist. The self-destructive type. The guy with the golden voice who left it to become hoarse from booze and drugs, from parties that crossed time-zones, that carried on into the following week.
There are apocryphal stories, lost weekends, spent dreams and there are some of the best pop songs you could ever want to hear. There is a sadness to the way it all ended.
The documentary gives you all of this - and more. And has a cast of legends to tell their part in the story and their version of events; offering insight and wisdom, sharing in celebrations and sadness.
There are also the family members, Nilsson's wife and children. They all have stunning eyes. A gift to the kids from both their mother and their father.
The mini-obsession is creeping back in. I'm off to buy some more Nilsson. To pick up the albums I always meant to get and to pick up on some of the ones I'm yet to hear.
I like the idea of everybody talkin' about Harry Nilsson. He is one of the left-field legends in my musical world, a forlorn hero.
He was one of my favourites. He still is one of my favourites. I reckon the documentary does him proud, honours his story but doesn't hide (too much) from the darkness.
So are you a Harry Nilsson fan? What are you favourite songs and albums? And have you seen the film? What did you think? Or does it sound like something you'd like to see? Or are you not a fan at all?
Postscript: Here are some more gems from Nilsson: Me And My Arrow, One, 1941, Cuddly Toy, The Moonbeam Song, Vine St, City Life, Love Story, Always, Makin' Whoopee, I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, I'd Rather Be Dead, Gotta Get Up, Mournin' Glory Story, The Puppy Song, Pretty Soon There'll Be Nothing Left For Everybody.
And the tribute album, For The Love Of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson is possibly a good place to start. Aimee Mann's version of Nilsson's song One was later used in the movie Magnolia.
Postscript 2: Harry might have wanted to be (in) The Beatles - but he did a pretty job of being a one-man-Beatles. He wrote Paul and John songs. And Ringo and George ones too.
Postscript 3: So many wonderful songs. Dive in. Trust me. I always feel very good (about) listening to Nilsson.
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