Friday, September 1, 2023

Nilsson 6: The Point

While he’d had some success, Harry Nilsson had yet to become a household name. Always looking for an angle, and with the help of an acid trip, he came up with an idea that would turn into not just his new album, but a feature-length children’s television special. The Point! was something of a cross between Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches” (which would be animated and broadcast two years later) and an earlier TV special, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. An otherwise inoffensive kid with a different physical attribute from his neighbors is ostracized by them, and sent off with only his canine companion for company. Along the way they meet all kinds of wacky characters and return to share valuable lessons about inclusion, conformity, and hopefully forgiveness.

Like most TV specials of the era, it’s as charming as it is dated, as befits the technology of the time and the style of the head animator, best embodied for this generation in the commercials for Tootsie Pops. (One notices the influence of Yellow Submarine and The Phantom Tollbooth as well.) Dustin Hoffman originally narrated, in a role later redubbed by Ringo Starr and then Alan Thicke, while the part of the boy in the story, as well as the boy to whom the story is told, was played by none other than Mike Lookinland, then otherwise occupied as Bobby Brady. Other roles were filled by such voice luminaries as Paul Frees, June Foray, and Lennie Weinrib.

On the album, Nilsson narrates most of the story as seen in the film, which is over twice as long. The music is only tangentially related to the plot, but tempers the “hey man” tone of his narration. (We can even hear him turn a page at one point.) Still, the songs work on their own, singalongable by adults and kids of all ages, which, if you’ll pardon the expression, was the point.

“Everything’s Got ‘Em” mostly establishes that “this is the town and this is this people”; we assume the title refers to the ubiquitous points. A narration sets the scene about a boy born without a point on his head like everyone else has, but most people seem to like him anyway. “Me And My Arrow” is a wonderful song for any kid and his or her dog, though the bridge doesn’t fit at all, in all its familiar Nilsson-ness. The contest in the story that leads to the immediate crisis is illustrated by “Poli High”, basically a cheerleading chant that sports a brief “hold that line” counterpoint we would swear he heard in “Revolution 9”. The story’s Karen equivalent banishes the boy and his dog from the town, we are informed that the next song will conveniently fill the time it takes to get to the next part of the story, and “Think About Your Troubles” does just that, with a rather straightforward explanation of how water is repurposed in nature.

Some narration condenses the action in the film to the point (sorry) where the travelers come upon a seemingly bottomless hole, setting up “Life Line”, a lonesome song with a deceptively cheerful melody. Once out of that tough spot, the pair meets more fascinating people in the film, which is glossed over on the album until a prehistoric bird picks them up for “P.O.V. Waltz”. After “flying high in the sky,” they’re dropped off, and eventually nap, to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?”, which could be a nice lullaby if not for the same bridge detour that colors “Me And My Arrow”. The boy and his dog return to the town and point out that everything has a point. Thus science and compassion prevail over ignorance and egomania, and we live happily ever after.

With The Point!, he began to develop his “rock” voice more. As more people began to take notice of this character, the concept itself would endure outside of him. The songs were expanded into stage productions, one of which would reunite two Monkees. And for all its hippy-dippyness, it’s still a nice story. Such feel-good be-yourself messages were common in that era, and frankly, the message is just as important today.

The first expanded version of the album added the standalone single “Down To The Valley”, which was in the same spirit of the album if a little too busy—and very much like mid-period Beach Boys—and the B-side “Buy My Album”, which beseeched the listener to do just that, even though “Down To The Valley” wasn’t on any album. The more elaborate package a few years later sported excellent liner notes by Nilsson uberfan Curtis Armstrong, a reproduction of the original comic book insert of the story, and different bonuses: early versions of “Think About Your Troubles” and “Life Line”, an alternate take of “Down To The Valley”, and as a hidden track, the surviving excerpt of a demo for “I’ll Never Leave You”.

Nilsson The Point! (1971)—3
1998 DCC CD: same as 1971, plus 2 extra tracks
2002 BMG Heritage CD: same as 1971, plus 4 extra tracks

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