Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Nilsson 8: Nilsson Schmilsson

The world was finally ready for Harry Nilsson, and so was he. Hooked up with rising producer Richard Perry, who’d brought Barbra Streisand firmly into the present-day, they decamped to London and recruited such Beatle-centric aces as Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, and Gary Wright to create Nilsson Schmilsson. The blurry photo of a distinctly non-sexy photo of the bathrobe-clad artiste holding a hash pipe in front of an open refrigerator notwithstanding, this was the pinnacle of his pop journey.

Still, that cover photo nicely sets up the jaunty “Gotta Get Up”, complete with some in-context dreams, before canned car noises continue the story in “Driving Along”, which provides further chance for observation. Despite the optimistic sound of those tracks, a cover of “Early In The Morning”, accompanied by solely by a pawed organ, suggests our hero is stuck somehow. Suddenly it’s hours later and “The Moonbeam Song” has us pondering not only the skies but “bits of crap”. Horns weren’t a new thing on Nilsson albums thus far, but Jim Horn’s soulful arrangement on “Down” is firmly contemporary.

While side one is short, it’s a strong record so far, but side two is where everything goes into the stratosphere. It took Harry’s vision to turn Badfinger’s “Without You” from a middling album track to a soaring plaint, and the template for everyone thereafter. He follows it with the goofy “Coconut”, a song made for the Muppets if there ever was one. Following a sprightly take on Shirley & Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll”, “Jump Into The Fire” doubles down on the one-chord challenge of “Coconut” for seven minutes, pounding the riff into submission over an audibly detuned bass while Henry Hill watches out for helicopters. The mildly mewling “I’ll Never Leave You” provides a mildly paranoid ending, but when you consider that it was left over from The Point!, it makes more sense.

If anything made Harry a household name, Nilsson Schmilsson was it. But then he had something to live up to, which was an impossible task. Still, he should have been proud of it. (The eventual expanded CD included some interesting bonuses: a “Without You” that’s even more overwrought in Spanish; “Lamaze”, a Smile-sounding track that dissolves into laughter after a recitation; a 1968 take of “Gotta Get Up” still in vaudeville mode; an alternate “Moonbeam”; and two songs that would be reworked on future albums.)

Nilsson Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)—
2004 CD reissue: same as 1971, plus 6 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. The blurry photo of a distinctly non-sexy photo of the bathrobe-clad artiste holding a hash pipe in front of an open refrigerator notwithstanding. Great!