Thursday, June 15, 2006
I think it's funny that the two songs Harry Nilsson is probably best known for are two that he didn't write: "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Without You."
Nilsson would have celebrated his 65th birthday today. Alas, he died in 1994.
I'd listened to his work since I was little, either listening to songs from his "Nilsson Schmilsson" album or hearing others sing songs that he wrote, such as Three Dog Night's cover of "One."
You know, the loneliest number that you'll ever do.
There are two artists that prompted me to become obsessed with all things Nilsson: The Monkees and the Muppets.
I loved the Monkees as a kid, and in high school, I plunked down my hard-earned funds (I begged my parents) and bought Listen to the Band, the 4-disc box set Rhino Records put out.
Turned out that some of the songs I liked the most were written by Harry Nilsson. That was weird, but it wasn't until I rediscovered the old Muppet Show record I had as a youngster.
There was a song on there -- a duet with Scooter and Fozzie Bear -- called "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear." I wanted to know who had written it. The album was a little help; it listed the writer as Newman.
A few clicks on the Internet and I found that not only was it written by Randy Newman, but Harry Nilsson had covered it as well. Newman also wrote "Mama Told Me Not to Come," which was a big hit for -- yes, Three Dog Night.
And then it really hit me. He'd always been around.
As a kid, I loved the movie "Popeye" with Robin Williams and was happy when my cousin supplied me with a tape of the film soundtrack. Guess who did all the music?
He wrote the theme song to "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," which I'd singled out as one of the best on my battered copy of "Television's Greatest Hits."
He showed up in biographies of John Lennon and Micky Dolenz. It was in his London apartment that Cass Elliot, my favorite member of The Mamas and the Papas, died of heart failure in 1974; a few year later, in the same room, the Who's Keith Moon would also die.
So I set out to get all the Nilsson stuff I could find.
There aren't many celebrities I wish I could have met; Jack Benny is one that comes to mind. I wish I'd had the chance to meet Harry if only to thank him for his music. His voice is simply amazing, and his lyrics showed a devilish sense of humor at work.
Go buy a Nilsson album. If you can't pick which one, get one of the greatest hits compilations. That'll give you an idea of where to go from there.
I had to convince my wife that our son, Brody Alexander, didn't owe his name to Nilsson's favorite drink, the Brandy Alexander.
It's true. That didn't even occur to me until later.