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Nilsson Schmilsson

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Though I’ve long owned and regularly played its first CD remastering (released by RCA as a “24 Karat Gold Disc” back in 1995), I recently purchased a copy of the new BMG Heritage remastering of Nilsson Schmilsson, an album that I’m so unabashedly fond of that I’ll probably purchase it when it’s released in whatever format is the next big thing. (C’mon, tell me you’ve got an album that you’ve bought at least three times!) The new release comes with slightly more clean-cut, farather reaching sound than the formerly state-of-the-art gold disc, but what really grabbed my fanboy interest was the selection of bonus tracks.
I’ve raved about Harry Nilsson’s breakthrough popdisc in the past – it’s one of the seventies’ musical touchstones – and if the bonus material isn’t essential, it does add to our understanding of the way this smartypants songwriter worked, something you can’t always say about reissue filler tracks. Three of the cuts are smooth-sounding demos (“The Moonbeam Song,” “Gotta Get Up,” and “Old Forgotten Soldier,” a song that would later appear on Nilsson’s collaboration with John Lennon, Pussy Cats). “Soldier” is perhaps the most surprising track: hearing it sung when Harry is still in sweet voice mode (by the time he recorded it for Lennon, his instrument had grown rougher) muffles its ironies, much as Schmilsson‘s harmonic “Moonbeam Song” hides its sardonic view of human imperception within a gorgeous arrangement.

As for the other bonus tracks: “Si No Estas Tu” is a Spanish version of Nilsson’s big hit single, “Without You.” The backing track’s exactly the same, but hearing the way the singer takes different dips with his vocals provides its own small surprises. Even more revealing is “How Can I Be Sure of You,” which provides some of the lyrical grounding for 1974’s ironic “Good for God” but still keeps things within the proto-crooner framework that Nilsson was largely (if only temporarily) abandoning with Schmilsson. A sixth track, “Lamaze,” is an instrumental throwaway with a few giggling shout-outs, but it also anticipates the excessive jokiness that would characterize the follow-up elpee, Son of Schmilsson.
Would I recommend this release to other hard-core Nilsson heads? Well, I don’t regret buying it, and I’m usually much less enthralled by bonus demo crap. (Still, if you can find a cheap copy of the gold disc remastering and you don’t own this album, I’d say get that.) So BMG, howsabout a Heritage repackaging of Son of Schmilsson, a disc that to the best of my knowledge has never received the CD remastering treatment?
UPDATE: Visiting the Harry Nilsson fan page to see if there was any news on a Son reissue, I was pleased to learn that a DVD of the Nilsson scripted and scored teevee cartoon, The Point, is set for release on March 24. (There are something like three or four different narrated versions of this ‘toon: this is the Ringo Starr model.) Clearly BMG is going through its Nilsson catalog and making it readily available once more – very good news, indeed.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent Bill, certainly one of my favorites of the time. Thanks!

  • Jon

    this was great thank you…I’m a big Nilsson fan. Do you know anything about an album he did late in his career (might be his last) called “Flash Harry”?

  • To the best of my knowledge, Flash Harry never was released in the U.S. It was recorded in 79-80 for Mercury after Nilsson left his label of over a decade (RCA). I’ve never heard it, but reportedly it contains a recording of Nilsson singing Eric Idle’s “Bright Side of Life,” which certainly sounds apt to me. . .

  • Shark

    Just an aside, and if you know this already, ignore:

    The song, “Everybody’s Talkin'” was written and performed by a ‘relatively’ obscure folk singer, the late-great Fred Neil. His version of ‘everybody’s talkin” is, imo, vastly superior.

    Anyone who wants to check out an American musical treasure, get “The Many Sides of Fred Neil”, a 2 – CD set that contains all of his masterpieces.

    You won’t regret it.

  • Eric Olsen

    Shark, excellent point (I still prefer Nilsson’s version of “Everybody’s Tlkin'”) – you should write a review of the Neil collection.

  • Shark

    re: Review – C’mon Eric, you’re not busy!

    Okay. Yeah, I might do it.

  • The Fred Neil performance I’m personally most familiar with is his duo work as half of Martin & Neil on “Tear Down the Walls,” so I’d love to read more about him. I strongly suspect, however, that whether you prefer Neil’s version of “Talkin'” to Nilsson’s is gonna be one of those folk vs. pop authenticity questions like whether the Byrds or Dylan were the best interpreters of “Tambourine Man.”