Harry Nilsson's discography is probably one of the most interesting and enjoyable I've ever heard, both in quality and variety (in this the excellent box set The RCA Album Collection helped a lot). Undoubtedly there have been particularly prosperous periods and others more arid, but in general there is always something worht discovering in all of his works. From the fascinating baroque pop between music hall and vaudeville of his early career to the pure and simple "alcohol and drugs induced fun" of the 70s, there is something for everyone. So, just for fun, or as a way to talk about it, I thought I'd collect all his albums and organize them based on my personal tastes. Everything is obviously highly questionable, and it is not a competition at all, and above all there are no "bad" albums.
That being said, let's get started:
Harry Nilsson - The RCA Albums Collection
Flash Harry (1980)
Let's start right from the end of his recording career while he was still alive (if we don't count varous songs from soundtracks and the unfinished last album, released posthumously). After the failed attempt to "return" with the excellent Knnilssonn in 1977, Harry is out of RCA, and he ends up releasing a last album with Mercury, which, however, only released it in some countries. Flash Harry is a strange collection of songs curiously opened by the funny Harry, sung by Eric Idle. Despite the excellent production and some good songs (like the cover of Old Dirt Road by his friend John Lennon), the album doesn't have much to say, and it ends up in the "curiosity" category, strictly for fans.
Spotlight on Nilsson (1966)
Considered his debut album, actually it is nothing more than a short collection of singles, mostly covers, recorded in the very first phase of his career in the mid-60s. There is a lot of R&B, and his iconic voice is still forming, but it's nonetheless an interesting listen. One of these tracks, Good Times, will be covered by the two remaining Monkees (Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith) on their 2016 self-titled album, while also maintaining a vocal bit by the very young Harry.
The soundtrack for the film of the same name, entirely composed by Harry and arranged by George Tipton, former collaborator on the two albums that preceded it, is largely instrumental, but the point of interest are the three sung songs. I Will Take You There could have been part of any of his other albums of the time, as well as the lively Garbage Can Ballet, while The Cast and the Crew, opening track in which Harry sings the credits of the film, is simply brilliant. Unfortunately, given its nature, one will hardly listen to the rest of the album, and that is the only reason why it is so low in the rankings.
...That's the Way It Is (1976)
After the commercial failure of the two previous albums, RCA pushed Harry to pull out a cover album, perhaps reminiscent of the early 70's success with the cover of Without You, and strangely he didn't object. The result is a somewhat atypical album, where the elegance of songs like That Is All by George Harrison contrasts with the obviously still damaged voice (more on this when it comes to the Pussy Cats album) in the not so good version of I Need You by America. We see a return of a Randy Newman song, Sail Away, while there is also the usual goliardic track with the traditional Zombie Jamboree (Back To Back), initially known as Jumbie Jamberee (the jumbee are evil spirits who were said to make people dance in a wild way). Beautiful cover, still enjoyable to listen to, but not one of his best works.
Son Of Dracula (1974)
Soundtrack of the film of the same name (with Harry, Ringo Starr and other illustrious guests such as Keith Moon, Peter Frampton, John Bonham, Klaus Voorman and so on), which in fact contains a selection of songs from Nilsson Schmilsson and Son Of Shmilsson, adding only some orchestral interludes by Paul Buckmaster (former collaborator of Elton John) and the new song Daybreak. In short, the music inside is of excellent quality, perhaps even better than the curious film (however highly recommended, even if just to have a laugh), but the fact that it is largely already published material does not allow the album to be ranked higher.
Duit on Mon Dei (1975)
In a sense, the confirmation of the downward phase of Harry's career that started with Pussy Cats and characterized by his vocal decline. Here Lennon is no longer the producer, and if we exclude the crazy idea of opening the album with a demo then completed on the next album (Jesus Christ You're Tall), Duit On Mon Dei (spoof of the motto of the British Monarchy "Dieu et mon droit", God and my right) is a sort of "mardi gras" with an overabundance of steel drums, probably given the influence of his friend Van Dyke Parks. There is a lot of fun in this album, interrupted only by a couple of unexpected songs which, ironically, raise the overall level quite a bit. I'm talking about the orchestral Easier For Me, worthy of the previous albums, and Salmon Falls, in which steel drums are used in at least an original way. For the rest, a fun and entertaining album, but far from his best.
True spiritual and stylistic sequel to Duit on Mon Dei, with which it shares most of the strengths and weaknesses. There is a bit more variety, and Harry's voice seems to pick up some more crystalline tones at times, like in the spectacular barbershop of The Ivy Covered Walls, undoubtedly among the best things of this phase of his career. There are other good songs, like Something True and the orchestral madness of Will She Miss Me, and in general everything flows better than on the previous one, but there is not a huge difference.
Losst and Founnd (2019)
In the early 90's, after more than 10 years from his last album, Harry attempted to record a new one, despite a disastrous meeting with Warner Bros. His health conditions worsened, and after a heart attack in 1993, he died on January 15, 1994, just 52 years old. He had time to record the vocal tracks for his then new album, which however remained unreleased until 2019, excluding some bootleg demos and a couple of songs in some collection. With the blessing of his family, the album was completed by producer Mark Hudson. Understandably, young Harry is a distant memory, and here we find a number of mature interpretations of good songs, generally in the style of his later albums, but better overall. Lullaby has its own magnificent interpretation, but the beautiful songs are many, from Try and Woman Oh Woman, to What Does A Woman See in a Man by Jimmy Webb. At times it's like finding an old friend after years, with all his imperfections that accompany his charm.
Curious soundtrack of an equally curious film, the real cinematic debut by Robin Williams. Harry's songs are sung by the actors of the film, but in recent reissues we can find, as a bonus, the demos he made himself. Listening to both versions, you can see how stylistically there are several references to his first albums, such as Blow Me Down, which seems to come out of the Harry album, or in the splendid Everybody's Got To Eat. The demos are a joy to listen to, thanks to a newfound clean tone in his voice, while the interpretations of the actors are still pleasant. In short, a strange job with Harry Nilsson on average more inspired than in his latest albums.
Pussy Cats (1974)
The premises for a legendary album were all there, starting with the production by none other than John Lennon (at the time in the middle of his "lost weekend") and the long list of excellent musicians involved, but fate decided otherwise. Harry's reckless, partying soul peaked in mid-1970s Los Angeles, and it cost him his voice. With considerable damage to the vocal cords, he went through the sessions without revealing anything to Lennon, who was very angry when he learned of what had happened. The result is an album of difficult definition, at times a pain to listen to, and at times funny. The collaboration between Nilsson and Lennon in Many Rivers To Cross alone is worth the album, while Harry gives the best in songs like Don't Forget Me and Black Sails, as well as unleashing a magnificent and unexpected song like All My Life. The rest ranges from curious covers of songs such as Loop De Loop, Rock Around The Clock and Subterranean Homesick Blues, to pure emotional and physical suffering in the performance of Old Forgotten Soldier. A unique album and a curious listening experience. The cover and the related pun is almost alone worth it.
Initially, this was to be Harry's big comeback album, with songs composed by him, great orchestral arrangements, a newfound vocal form... It was his best album since A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night , but to spoil the party was the death of Elvis Presley, who actually pushed RCA to invest as much as possible on its catalog to capitalize on the event, ending up killing any promotional possibility for Knnilssonn. And it was a great shame, because besides being one of the very few works entirely composed by him (along with The Point!), It is actually a great album. With his mature voice and always appropriate orchestrations, songs like All I Think About is You, Perfect Day, or funnier tracks like Who Done It? or Goin 'Down represent the best of Nilsson of the second half of the 70s. That aftertaste of a big wasted opportunity remains, but otherwise it's one of the best works by him.
Aerial Pandemonium Ballet (1971)
A very particular album, which ideally closes the first phase of Harry's career, collecting a selection of slightly modified songs from the Pandemonium Shadow Show and Aerial Ballet albums. They range from simple remixes to real new versions, some rearranged, others slowed down, and so on. Nothing to say about the selection of songs, as well as about the changes made, which although perhaps not necessary, offer a new point of view, but due to its nature it cannot be higher in the charts. There are small touches of class such as inserting a quote from One in Mr. Richland Favorite Song, or in general the whole closing sequence with Don't Leave Me, Without Her (with new beautiful vocal harmonies), Together and One (this time complete), almost without any break: beautiful.
Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967)
From here on things starts to get serious, and the differences in quality between the various albums are getting thinner. In short, the order of the next titles is relative and easily variable.
His first real album has all the characteristics typical of the first phase of his career, in addition to those of his best works. Starting with 1941 he already sets things straight, immediately showing Harry's very personal tendency to end the songs with scat vocal solos that leave you speechless. The rest is not far behind, from Cuddly Toy to the calmer Without Her up to one of the first musical mashups in pop history, You Can't Do That, cover of the homonymous Beatles song in which Harry inserts countless quotes to other songs by fab four. In short, a spectacular album that perhaps lacks just a little more conviction, which will come shortly thereafter.
Son of Schmilsson (1972)
After the great success of Nilsson Schmilsson, everyone was expecting an encore, including his producer Richard Perry. Harry, however, wanted to do his own thing, publishing a heterogeneous, funny, strange work, but without the much desired "new Without You". There is no shortage of songs with enormous charm, such as the ballads Remember (Christmas), Spaceman or Turn On The Radio, but Harry's typical goliardic spirit peeps over and over again, from the country Joy to the hilarious I'd Rather Be Dead, up to the single You're Breaking My Heart. Perhaps one of the albums that best collects all of Harry's souls, often divided into albums that are very different from each other, but which in this schizophrenia finds the only "weak" point that does not allow it to be ranked higher on this list.
A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973)
In more recent times it is not uncommon to see the many performers releasing a cover album of standards, but in 1973 this was far from usual. Perhaps aware of the fact that with his reckless lifestyle his crystalline voice would not last forever, Harry decided to reinterpret, accompanied by the orchestra, a series of pieces to which he was particularly attached. The result is spectacular: it goes from Always to As Time Goes By passing through Makin 'Whoopee, with perfect arrangements and Harry at the top of his interpretative skills. There were also various outtakes, then added in CD reissues, obviously highly recommended, if only for his version of Over The Rainbow. This album is like a hot tea on a cold snowy evening. Ironically it is actually the last album where Harry's voice can be heard still intact.
The Point! (1971)
From Harry's brilliant idea of creating a cartoon on the concept of "have a point", the story of Oblio was born, told in an animated film narrated by Ringo Starr (in other editions Dustin Hoffman was the narrator). The film is very nice in its simplicity, while the soundtrack is literally perfect. Despite the questionable choice of including narrated sections in the album (here by Harry himself), everything flows beautifully, and songs like Me And My Arrow, Poly High, Think About Your Troubles, Lifeline, Are You Sleeping? are among the best of his career.
Nilsson Sings Newman (1970)
Not a tribute, as the title may suggest, but a real collaboration. Harry greatly admired Randy Newman as a composer, and from there the idea of making an album together was born. With Harry on vocals and Newman on piano, in just under half an hour a selection of songs by the latter is given new life, with the use of vocal overdubs and an atmosphere that is difficult to describe with words. Versions of Vine Street, Love Story and Cowboy cause goosebumps. One of the best examples of Harry's performing skills, one of the best voices at the time.
Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)
Undoubtedly his most famous album thanks to the definitive version of Without You by Badfinger (sorry fans of Mariah Carey ... or Badfinger ... or Air Supply) and the hilarious Coconut, it can be said that Nilsson Schmilsson is the album of his maturity. A maturity that comes not only in the two aforementioned songs, but also in the latest reference to his earlier works in Gotta Get Up (which actually dates back to 1968), or in the extended hard rock of Jump Into The Fire (in which Herbie Flowers performs a bass "solo" in which he detunes and tunes back his bass), but also in the dramatic I'll Never Leave You, or in the magnificent Goin 'Down. An album that borders on perfection, and perhaps the best one from which to start discovering his discography.
In a certain sense, the culmination of the first phase of his career, the culmination of the period between baroque pop and music hall, as well as one of his most incredible vocal performances. There are countless songs worthy of note, from Puppy Song, written for Mary Hopkin, to Maybe, from the magnificent Rainmaker to the first sign of interest in Newman in Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear, passing through small masterpieces such as Nobody Cares About The Railroads Anymore or I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City (written by Harry specifically for the film Midnight Cowboy, only to be discarded in favor of his cover of Everybody's Talkin '). Undoubtedly one of his most dense and fascinating albums.
Aerial Ballet (1968)
Virtually any album in the top 5 is perfectly capable of taking first place depending on the time and mood in which one listens to them, but this Aerial Ballet has something more that is hard to rationalize. All the ingredients of the previous Pandemonium Shadow Show are re-proposed here with more conviction, unleashing a series of songs one more beautiful than the other. Obviously the aforementioned cover of Everybody's Talkin' is one of the peaks, onad one of the most famous songs of his entire career, but how can you not mention One, which with its phrase "one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do" gave birth to a saying still in use? Although other songs did not enjoy the same fame, they have little to envy to the aforementioned, starting from Daddy's Song (also made famous by the Monkees) to Good Old Desk, from Mr. Tinker to Together, every single song here is a pearl of blinding brightness. The triumph of all that Harry Nilsson's art has to offer.