Harry Nilsson – ‘A’s and B’s’ (2022)
Best remembered for his cover versions of Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ (a #6 hit when re-released in 1969 after its use as the theme song for that years Academy Award winning John Schlesinger movie ‘Midnight Cowboy’) and the Pete Ham/Tom Evans penned ‘Without You’ (#1 for four weeks in 1971) first issued on Badfinger’s 1970 ‘No Dice’ LP, Brooklyn, NY born Harry Nilsson was a fine songwriter in his own right.
Among the originals, released under the simplified moniker Nilsson, were such hits as ‘I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City’ (#34 in 1969), ‘Me And My Arrow’ (#34 in 1971, composed as the theme for ‘The Point’, a children’s film), ‘Jump Into The Fire’ and ‘Coconut’ (#27 and #8 respectively in 1971, and appearing alongside ‘Without You’) included on Nilsson’s breakthrough, #3 charting, LP from the same year ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’, and ‘Spaceman’ (#23) from his followup 1972 album ‘Son Of Schmillson’ which peaked at #12.
Beat Goes On (BGO) Records, UK, has compiled 62 single sides issued between 1967 and 1978 on RCA Records in a new three disc compilation, ‘A’s and B’s’, adding a demo side as a bonus track. Along the way listeners are treated to other memorable songs such as 1972’s ‘You’re Breakin’ My Heart’ notorious for its explicit lyrics “you’re breakin’ my heart, you’re tearing it apart, so fuck you….you stepped on my ass, you’re breaking my glasses too….I’m goin’ insane, there’s no one to blame, so fuck you” and 1975’s ‘Kojak and Columbo’ in which he quipped “Kojak, Kojak, Kojak, Columbo, sell me an old one, sell me some gumbo, tell me a new one, at least once a night, show me an old one, but don’t turn out your love light”, the latter with the aid of musical coordinator Van Dyke Parks.
Also included are Nilsson’s final Top 40 hit, 1973’s ‘Daybreak’ which stalled at #39, and the songs from sessions later that year after his “lost weekend” experience shared with John Lennon, culminating in the infamous 1974 LP ‘Pussy Cats’ produced by Lennon, and yielding singles such as a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ c/w the Nilsson original ironically titled ‘Don’t Forget Me’, a 45 with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ c/w the Lennon/Nilsson penned ‘Macho Mungo/Mr. Elga’ and another with the Shuman/Pomus chestnut ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ c/w Nilsson’s ‘All My Life’, none of which charted, while the sessions caused damage resulting in Nilsson losing his “tenor, four octave vocal range from the bass low C(C2) up to the soprano high C(C6).
The victim of his own excesses, Nilsson nonetheless performed incredible cover versions of classics such as Herman Hupfeld’s ‘As Time Goes By’, Sylvia Fine’s ‘Lullaby In Ragtime’ and Gus Kahn/Tinu Heiniger’s ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ as well as contemporary composer Randy Newman’s ‘Sail Away’. The collection ends with Nilsson’s final RCA 45s, all original compositions, 1976’s ‘Who Done It?’ c/w ‘Perfect Day’, 1977’s pairing of ‘All I Think About Is You’ and the presciently titled ‘I Never Dreamed I’d Get This Lonely’ before ending with the sardonic, non-LP a-side ‘Ain’t It Kinda Wonderful”, Nilsson’s aptly titled final RCA release.
My hat is off to the folks at BGO for this long overdue anthology which celebrates the heyday of a true American icon while also documenting his Shakespearianesque tragic ending. The three disc, digitally remastered box set will appeal to fans of 1960s and 1970s pop music, classic rock music and singer/songwriters as well as collectors of singles compilations and is highly recommended.
Harry Nilsson – ‘A’s and B’s’ (BGO Records 2022)