Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Remembering Harry Nilsson

by Dee Newman

In 1974 I walked into a small record store on 21st Ave across from Peabody College (the store no longer exists). A voice I recognized was singing – What’ll I do when you are far away and I am blue what’ll I do – an old Irvin Berlin tune. I just stood there listening transfixed, mesmerized by what I was hearing. The next song was another old standard – Nevertheless (I’m still in love with you). Then came – This Is All I Ask, closing with – As Time Goes By.

As the store owner was removing the album from the turntable I asked, “Was that Nilsson singing?”

His reply was short and to the point, “Yes, it is a remarkable album, isn’t it?” He then handed me A little touch of SCHMILSSON in the night. I still have it to this very day.

The album was arranged by Gordon Jenkins and produced by Derek Taylor. Though it received only modest success, it is regarded by many to be the finest example of Nilsson's exceptional singing ability, technique, and artistry.

The title of the album is an allusion to a line in Act Four of Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth, referring to Henry's nocturnal visit to his troops as "a little touch of Harry in the night".

The album was re-released in 1988 as A Touch More of SCHMILSSON in the Night with seven additional songs from the original recording session. I regard both of these albums as treasures.

The following video is from that session:

"As Time Goes By" Harry Nilsson (1973)

A Rare Piano Demo of Harry Nilsson Singing "Without You"

From the 1971 BBC Television Broadcast – The Music Of Nilsson

In 1993 after surviving a massive heart attack, Harry began pressing RCA (his old recording label) to release a boxed-set retrospective of his career. He also began recording a final album with producer Mark Hudson, who still retains the tapes of those sessions.

On January 15, 1994, Harry died of heart failure at his home in Agoura Hills, California. According to his wife, they had been watching on television the movie Enchanted April. The last thing Harry told her before she fell asleep was, "I love you soooooooo much."

In 1995, the 2-CD anthology (Personal Best) he worked on with RCA was released.

As far as I know, Nilsson's final album, tentatively titled Papa's Got a Brown New Robe produced by Mark Hudson has not been released.

If you have never seen the documentary Who is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) produced by David Leaf and John Schienfeld, you may click here to see it at Hulu.

Here is the trailer:


Don Cobb said...

WONDERFUL Dee. All these years I've had the pleasure to know you and I didn't know you were a fan of Harry's

"A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night" is one of my all time favorite Albums. His talent is sadly missed.

mythopolis said...

It's a great tribute to someone who spoke his heart...sang his heart out...about what matters. One can only wonder how much the heart can endure.