Monday, July 14, 2008

Nilsson - You're Breakin' My Heart

"You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So fuck you"

Happy Monday people, here is a nice little kiss off song to help get your week started.

*Warning* Keep the youngin's away from the speakers for this one...

Here is the long sorted but interesting tale of Mr. Nilsson:

Harry Edward Nilsson III (June 15, 1941 – January 15, 1994) was an American songwriter, singer, pianist, and guitarist who achieved the height of his fame during the 1960s and 1970s. For most of his recordings, he did not use his first name, and was credited only as Nilsson.

Despite some significant commercial successes, including two Grammy Awards and two Top 10 singles, Nilsson's tendency to make broad stylistic jumps from one record to the next - coupled with his iconoclastic decision making - kept him from capitalizing on his career. Among Nilsson's best-known recordings are "Without You", "Everybody's Talkin'" (theme from the movie Midnight Cowboy) and "Coconut".

Early years
Nilsson was born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York in 1941. His paternal grandparents were Swedish circus performers, especially known for their "aerial ballet" (which is also the title of one of Nilsson's albums). His father, Harry Edward Nilsson, Jr., abandoned the family three years later. An autobiographical reference to this is found in the opening to Nilsson's song "1941":

Well, in 1941, the happy father had a son
And in 1944, the father walked right out the door
Nilsson's "Daddy's Song", recorded by The Monkees, also makes reference to this period in the artist's life.

Harry grew up with his mother, Bette Nilsson, and his younger half-sister. His younger half-brother Drake was left with family or friends during their moves between California and New York, sometimes living with a succession of relatives and stepfathers. One relative who had an important influence on him was his Uncle John, a mechanic in San Bernardino, California, who helped Nilsson improve his vocal and musical abilities.[1]

Drake and Diane were his half-brother and half-sister through their mother. He also had three half-sisters through his father: Carol, Barbara and Rainy, and another half brother, Gary, all of whom lived in Florida during Nilsson's childhood.

Due to the poor financial situation of his family, Nilsson worked from an early age, including a job at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. When the Paramount closed, Nilsson applied for a job at a bank, falsely stating he was a high school graduate on his application (he only completed ninth grade).[2] He turned out to have an aptitude for computers, which were just starting to be employed by banks at the time. He did so well, in fact, that the bank kept him on even after discovering the lie about his education. He worked on bank computers at night, and used the daytime to pursue his song-writing and singing career.[3]

Musical beginnings
As early as 1958, Nilsson was intrigued by emerging forms of popular music, especially rhythm and blues artists like Ray Charles. He had taken early stabs at performing while he was working at the Paramount, forming a vocal duo with his friend Jerry Smith and singing close harmonies in the style of the Everly Brothers. The manager at a favorite hangout gave Nilsson a plastic ukulele, which he learned to play, and he later developed the ability to play the guitar and piano. When Nilsson could not remember lyrics or parts of the melodies to popular songs, he began to make up his own. This led to writing original songs.

Uncle John's singing lessons, along with Nilsson's natural talent, surely helped when he got a job singing demos for songwriter Scott Turner in 1960. Turner paid Nilsson five dollars for each track they recorded. (Years later, when Nilsson became famous, Turner decided to release these early recordings, and contacted Nilsson to work out a fair payment. Nilsson replied that he had already been paid—five dollars a track.) His job with the bank was on the night shift, so Nilsson spent his days infiltrating Los Angeles music business offices, making friends and developing connections.

In 1963, Nilsson began to have some early success as a songwriter, working with John Marascalco on a song for Little Richard. Upon hearing Nilsson sing, Little Richard reportedly remarked: "My! You sing good for a white boy!"[4] Marascalco also financed some independent singles by Nilsson. One, "Baa Baa Blacksheep", was released under the pseudonym "Bo Pete" to some small local airplay. Another recording, "Donna, I Understand", convinced Mercury Records to offer Nilsson a contract, and release recordings by him under the name "Johnny Niles."[5]

In 1964, Nilsson worked with Phil Spector, writing three songs with him. He also established a relationship with songwriter and publisher Perry Botkin, Jr., who began to find a market for Nilsson's songs. Botkin also gave Nilsson a key to his office; this gave him another place to write after hours.

Nilsson's recording contract was picked up by Tower Records, who in 1966 released the first singles actually credited to him by name, as well as the debut album Spotlight on Nilsson. None of Nilsson's Tower releases charted or gained much critical attention, although his songs were being recorded by Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, the Shangri-Las, the Yardbirds, and many other artists. Despite his growing success, Nilsson was still working the night shift at the bank.

Signing with RCA Victor
Nilsson signed with RCA Victor in 1966 and released an album the following year, Pandemonium Shadow Show, which was a critical (if not commercial) success. Music industry insiders were impressed both with the songwriting and with Nilsson's pure-toned, multi-octave vocals. One such insider was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, who bought an entire box of copies of the album to share this new sound with others. With a major-label release, and continued songwriting success (most notably with The Monkees, who had a hit with Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy,"[6] after meeting him through their producer Chip Douglas), Nilsson finally felt secure enough in the music business to quit his job with the bank. Monkees member Micky Dolenz maintained a close friendship until Nilsson's death in 1994.

Cover of 1966 album Pandemonium Shadow ShowSome of the albums from Derek Taylor's box eventually ended up with the Beatles themselves,[7] who quickly became Nilsson fans. This may have been helped by the track "You Can't Do That", in which Nilsson covered one Beatles song but added 22 others in the multi-tracked background vocals. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney held a press conference in 1968 to announce the formation of Apple Corps, John was asked to name his favorite American artist. He replied, "Nilsson". Paul was then asked to name his favorite American group. He replied, "Nilsson".

Aided by the Beatles' praise, "You Can't Do That" became a minor hit in the US, and a top 10 hit in Canada.

When RCA had asked if there was anything special he wanted as a signing premium, Nilsson asked for his own office at RCA, being used to working out of one. In the weeks after the Apple press conference, Nilsson's office phone began ringing constantly, with offers and requests for interviews and inquiries about his performing schedule. Nilsson usually answered the calls himself, surprising those on the other end of the line, and answered questions candidly. (He recalled years later the flow of a typical conversation: "When did you play last?" "I didn't." "Where have you played before?" "I haven't." "When will you be playing next?" "I don't.") Nilsson acquired a manager, who steered him into a handful of TV guest appearances, and a brief run of stage performances in Europe set up by RCA. He disliked the experiences he had, though, and decided to stick to the recording studio. He later admitted this was a huge mistake on his part.

One Monday morning Nilsson answered his phone, and the caller turned out to be John Lennon, who praised Pandemonium Shadow Show, which he had listened to in a 36-hour marathon.[8] Paul McCartney called the following Monday, also expressing his admiration. Nilsson was disappointed that his next Monday did not come with a call from Ringo Starr or George Harrison,[9] but shortly after a message came, inviting him to London to meet the Beatles, watch them at work, and possibly sign with Apple Corps.

Pandemonium Shadow Show was followed in 1968 by Aerial Ballet, an album that included Nilsson's rendition of Fred Neil's song "Everybody's Talkin'". A minor US hit at the time of release (and a top 40 hit in Canada), the song would become extremely popular a year later when it was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy, and it would earn Nilsson his first Grammy Award.[10] The song would also become Nilsson's first US top 10 hit, reaching #6, and his first Canadian #1.

Aerial Ballet also contained Nilsson's version of his own composition, "One", which was later taken to the top 5 of the US charts by Three Dog Night. Nilsson was also commissioned at this time to write and perform the theme song for the ABC television series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The result, "Best Friend", was very popular, but Nilsson never released the song on record. An alternate version, "Girlfriend", did appear on the Personal Best anthology in 1995.

With the success of Nilsson's RCA recordings, Tower re-issued or re-packaged many of their early Nilsson recordings in various formats. All of these re-issues failed to chart, including a 1969 single "Good Times".

Chart success
Nilsson's next album, Harry (1969), was his first to hit the charts, and also provided a Top 40 single with "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" (written as a contender for the theme to Midnight Cowboy), but used instead in the Sophia Loren movie La Mortadella (1971) (USA title: Lady Liberty). While the album still presented Nilsson as primarily a songwriter, his astute choice of cover material included, this time, a song by a little-known composer named Randy Newman, "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear." Nilsson was so impressed with Newman's talent that he devoted his entire next album to Newman compositions, with Newman himself playing piano behind Nilsson's multi-tracked vocals.[11] The result, Nilsson Sings Newman (1970), was commercially disappointing but was named Record of the Year by Stereo Review magazine and provided momentum to Newman's career.[12]

Cover of 1971 album Nilsson SchmilssonNilsson's next project was an animated film, The Point!, created with animation director Fred Wolf, and broadcast on ABC television on February 2, 1971, as an "ABC Movie of the Week." Nilsson's album of songs from The Point! was well received, and it spawned a hit single, "Me and My Arrow."

Later that year, Nilsson went to England with producer Richard Perry to record what became the most successful album of his career. Nilsson Schmilsson yielded three very stylistically different hit singles. The first was a cover of Badfinger's song "Without You" (by Pete Ham and Tom Evans), featuring a highly emotional arrangement and soaring vocals to match, a performance that was rewarded with Nilsson's second Grammy Award.[13]

The second single was "Coconut", a novelty calypso number featuring three characters (the narrator, the sister, and the doctor) all sung in different voices by Nilsson. The song is best remembered for its chorus lyric, "Put de lime in de coconut, and drink 'em both up." Also notable is that the entire song is played using one chord, C 7th. Coconut was featured in Episode 81 (October 25, 1973) of the Flip Wilson Show. The song has since been featured in many other films, commercials. It was also used in a comedy skit on The Muppet Show, which featured Kermit the Frog in a hospital bed. In the 1995 movie "Houseguest", Sinbad's character (Kevin Franklin) says the famous line from the chorus ("Put de lime in the coconut, and drink 'em both up.") at one point in the movie. Most recently it has been heard in a television commercial for Coca-Cola with Lime. The song was also used during the end credits of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.

The third single, "Jump into the Fire", was raucous, screaming rock and roll, including a drum solo by Derek and the Dominos' Jim Gordon and a bass detuning by Klaus Voorman. The song was famously used during the May 11, 1980, scenes in the film Goodfellas.

Nilsson followed quickly with Son of Schmilsson (1972), released while its predecessor was still in the charts. Besides the problem of competing with himself, Nilsson's decision to give free rein to his bawdiness and bluntness on this release alienated some of his earlier, more conservative fan base. With lyrics like "I sang my balls off for you, baby", "Roll the world over / And give her a kiss and a feel", and the notorious "You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So fuck you", Nilsson had traveled far afield from his earlier work. Still, the album did well, and the single "Spaceman" was a Top 40 hit. However, the follow-up single "Remember (Christmas)" stalled at #53. A third single, the tongue-in-cheek C&W send up "Joy", was issued on RCA's country imprint Green and credited to Buck Earle, but it failed to chart.

The Maverick
This disregard for commercialism in favor of artistic satisfaction showed itself in Nilsson's next release, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973). Performing a selection of pop standards by the likes of Irving Berlin, Kalmar and Ruby, Nilsson sang in front of an orchestra arranged and conducted by veteran Gordon Jenkins in sessions produced by Derek Taylor. While in hindsight, the sessions showcased a talented singer in one of his best performances, this was not the sort of musical endeavor that was likely to burn up the charts in the 1970s. The session was filmed, and was broadcast as a television special by the BBC in the UK. (Nilsson fans still await this film's release on home video.)

1973 found Nilsson back in California, and when John Lennon moved there during his separation from Yoko Ono, the two musicians rekindled their earlier friendship. Lennon was intent upon producing Nilsson's next album, much to Nilsson's delight. However, their time together in California became known much more for heavy drinking and drug use than it did for musical collaboration. In a widely publicized incident, they were ejected from the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood for drunken heckling of the Smothers Brothers.[14] Both men also caused property damage during binges, with Lennon trashing a bedroom in Lou Adler's house, and Nilsson throwing a bottle through a thirty-foot hotel window.

Cover of 1977 album KnnillssonnTo make matters worse, Nilsson ruptured a vocal cord during the sessions for this album, but he hid the injury due to fear that Lennon would call a halt to the production. The resulting album, Pussy Cats, which may charitably be described as "uneven", was a shock for listeners who knew Nilsson as one of the best singers of his generation. In an effort to clean up, Lennon, Nilsson and Ringo Starr first rented a house together, then Lennon and Nilsson left for New York.

After the relative failure of his latest two albums, RCA Records considered dropping Nilsson's contract. In a show of friendship, Lennon accompanied Nilsson to negotiations, and both intimated to RCA that Lennon and Starr might want to sign with them, once their Apple Records contracts with EMI expired in 1975, but wouldn't be interested if Nilsson were no longer with the label.[15] RCA took the hint and re-signed Nilsson (adding a bonus clause, to apply to each new album completed), but neither Lennon nor Starr switched to RCA.

Nilsson's voice had mostly recovered by his next release, Duit on Mon Dei (1975), but neither it nor its follow-ups, Sandman and …That's the Way It Is (both 1976) met with chart success. Finally, Nilsson recorded what he later considered to be his favorite album, 1977's Knnillssonn. With his voice strong again, and his songs exploring musical territory reminiscent of Harry or The Point!, Nilsson had every right to expect Knnillssonn to be a comeback album. RCA Victor seemed to agree, and promised Nilsson a substantial marketing campaign for the album. However, the death of Elvis Presley caused RCA Victor to ignore everything except meeting demand for Presley's back catalog, and the promised marketing push never happened. This, combined with RCA Victor releasing a Nilsson Greatest Hits collection without consulting him, prompted Nilsson to leave the label.

Harry Nilsson's London flat
Nilsson's 1970s London flat, located in the building at 12 Curzon Street on the pricey edge of Mayfair, was a two-bedroom apartment decorated by the design company that ex-Beatle Ringo Starr and Robin Cruikshank owned at that time. Although Nilsson cumulatively spent several years at the flat, which was located near Apple Records, the Playboy Club, Tramps disco and the homes of friends and business associates. Nilsson's work and interests took him to the U.S. for extended periods, and while he was away he lent his place to numerous musician friends. During one of his absences, ex-Mamas and Papas singer Cass Elliot and a few members of her tour group stayed at the flat while she performed solo at the London Palladium, headlining with her Torch Songs and "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore." Following a strenuous performance with encores, Elliot returned to the flat to relax and sleep and was discovered in one of the bedrooms, dead of heart failure, on July 29, 1974.[16]

Four years later, on September 7, 1978, The Who's drummer Keith Moon returned to the same room in the flat after a night out, and died from an overdose of chlormethiazole, a prescribed anti-alcohol drug.[17] Nilsson, distraught over another friend's death taking place in his flat, and with little remaining need for the property, quickly sold it to Moon's bandmate Pete Townshend and consolidated his life in Los Angeles.

Winding down
Nilsson's musical work after leaving RCA Victor was sporadic. He wrote a musical, Zapata, with Perry Botkin, Jr., libretto by Allan Katz, which was produced and directed by longtime friend Bert Convy. The show was mounted at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, but never had another production. He wrote all the songs for Robert Altman's movie-musical Popeye (1980),[18] the score of which met with unfavorable reviews. Nilsson's Popeye compositions included several songs that were representative of Nilsson's accalimed "Point" era, such as "Everthing is Food" and "Sweethaven". He recorded one more album, Flash Harry, which was released in the UK but not in the USA. However, Nilsson increasingly began referring to himself as a "retired musician".

Nilsson was profoundly affected by the murder of his close friend John Lennon on December 8, 1980. He joined the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and overcame his preference for privacy in order to make public appearances solely to raise money for the gun control cause.

After a long hiatus from the studio, Nilsson started recording sporadically once again in the mid to late 1980s. Most of these recordings were commissioned songs for movies or television shows. One notable exception was his work on a Yoko Ono Lennon tribute album, "Every Man Has A Woman" (1984) (Polydor); another was a cover of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" recorded for Hal Willner's 1988 tribute album Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. Nilsson donated his performance royalties from the song to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

In 1991, the Disney CD For Our Children, a compilation of children's music performed by celebrities to benefit the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, included Nilsson's original composition Blanket for a Sail, recorded at the Shandaliza Recording Studio in Los Angeles.

In 1985 Nilsson set up a production company, Hawkeye, to oversee the various film, TV and multimedia projects he was involved in. He appointed his friend, satirist and screenwriter Terry Southern as one of the principals, and they collaborated on a number of screenplays including Obits (a Citizen Kane style story about a journalist investigating an obituary notice) and The Telephone, a one-hander about an unhinged out-of-work actor.

The Telephone was virtually the only Hawkeye project that made it to the screen. It had been written with Robin Williams in mind but he turned it down; comedian-actress Whoopi Goldberg then signed on, with Southern's old friend Rip Torn directing, but the project was troubled. Torn battled with Goldberg, who interfered in the production and constantly digressed from the script during shooting, and Torn was forced to plead with her to perform takes that stuck to the screenplay. Torn, Southern and Nilsson put together their own version of the film, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in early 1988, but it was overtaken by the "official" version put together by the studio, and this version premiered to poor reviews in late January 1988. The project reportedly had some later success when adapted as a theatre piece in Germany.[19]

In 1990 Hawkeye collapsed and Nilsson found himself in a dire financial situation after it was discovered that his financial adviser Cindy Sims had embezzled money from other business management clients to support his years of living beyond his means.

After the murder of John Lennon, he began to appear at Beatlefest conventions to raise money to end handgun violence and he would get on stage with the Beatlefest house band "Liverpool" to either sing some of his own songs or "Give Peace a Chance." Nilsson made his last concert appearance September 1, 1992 when he joined Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band on stage at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada to sing "Without You" with Todd Rundgren handling the high notes. Afterwards, a very emotional Ringo Starr embraced Nilsson on stage.

Nilsson's health had meanwhile deteriorated, and he suffered a massive heart attack in 1993. After surviving that, he began pressing his old label, RCA, to release a boxed-set retrospective of his career, and also started recording again, attempting to complete one final album. He finished the vocal tracks for the album on 15 January 1994, and then died that night of heart failure. The following year, the 2-CD anthology he worked on with RCA, Personal Best, was released.


Nilsson - You're Breakin' My Heart

1 comment:

Duncanmusic said...

Thanks for posting the Wikipedia piece...I don't know why I never saw a lot of that info before. The Nilsson Tribute CD/Cassette 'For The Love of Harry'(1995 on Music Masters..Out Of Print?) is fantastic with Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, AL Kooper, Ringo, Marshall Crenshaw and many other excellent 'power pop' icons paying their dues to Harry. I would also like to note his take on Yoko's post-assasination song 'Loneliness'as being transcendant and probably his best 'last' moment.