Friday, September 3, 2021

Nilsson 2: Pandemonium Shadow Show

This is where the legend of Harry Nilsson really begins, and mostly by a fluke. Beatles insider Derek Taylor heard one of its songs on the radio while doing publicity in California, told his old bosses about it, and soon they were trumpeting “Nilsson” as their favorite band. Coming so soon after their previous endorsement of the Monkees, who’d already recorded some of his songs, it kinda makes sense.

Still, that kind of advance hype doesn’t make Pandemonium Shadow Show the type of album everyone has to own. While gifted with a versatile voice, and a grasp of olde American musical styles, one gets a distinct “inside joke” vibe from it. Most of his originals are delivered in a cross between “vo-de-oh-doe” vaudeville—right down to the constant scat vocal breaks—and the circus element that ties in with the title. Even “She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune”, which he didn’t write, sounds like it should be accompanying someone on flying trapeze, while “Freckles” dates back to 1919.

The songs are catchy, yet hardly cliché. “Ten Little Indians” recasts the nursery rhyme with Ten Commandments connotations in a brass-heavy track, and “1941” is a bold, unforgiving autobiography. “Cuddly Toy” would get exposure on TV in the Monkees’ rendition, just as “Without Her” would be covered by everyone from Glen Campbell to Blood, Sweat & Tears. “Sleep Late, My Lady Friend” is a nice diversion, with its Bacharach-style bridges. “There Will Never Be” is near-Latin pop in a maddening 5/4 time signature, while “It’s Been So Long” evokes Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys as well as the Fab Four—who figure prominently in the grooves, too. “You Can’t Do That” is indeed a cover of their tune, delivered straight except for the backing vocals, which sing over a dozen Beatle song titles into the mix. If that wasn’t enough, his version of “She’s Leaving Home” was recorded just days after the original record came out. The grand finale is “River Deep—Mountain High”, the previous year’s flop by Ike & Tina Turner, and Harry’s version is very close to (former mentor) Phil Spector’s original production, but with more bongos.

Lots of people love Pandemonium Shadow Show. Again, that doesn’t guarantee everyone will. We’re not even sure if we like it—we never liked Davy Jones’ soft-shoe routines on The Monkees either. There’s a lot of sameness, and many of the songs blend together, and not conceptually either. Proceed with caution.

Nilsson Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967)—

1 comment:

  1. Ike and Tina's "River Deep; Mountain High" was a flop in the USA.It is still the song the duo are best remembered for in the UK and much of Europe where it was a huge success.