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Harry Nilsson

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Harry Nilsson


By the time his first LP, Pandemonium Shadow Show,appeared in 1967, Harry Nilsson was a music-industry veteran. He'd quit his bank job, the story went, after hearing the Monkees' version of his "Cuddly Toy" on the radio. Soon, his inventive medley of Beatle tunes, "You Can't Do That," had caught the group's ear, if not the world's. Despite his rich variety of self-penned classicist pop gems, it wasn't until Nilsson's cover of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" was used in the film Midnight Cowboy that he scored a hit. He carried his gorgeous, vaguely precious style, rife with overdubbed voices (all his), through two more albums and the beloved kids' TV special The Point! before leaping in another direction. Hooking up with producer Richard Perry, he recorded Nilsson Schmilsson, a state-of-the-art pop-rock disc that still retained every bit of the artist's strange charm. Filled with oddball touches from a solo version of Louis Jordan's "Early in the Morning" to the mock-Caribbean "Coconut" and the thunderous rock 'n' roll of "Jump Into the Fire," it ultimately became best known for its most conventional track. Badfinger's "Without You" became a standard in Nilsson's version, which spent four weeks at No. 1. A bona fide superstar for the moment, Nilsson set off on the path of self-destruction. His excesses while recording 1974's Pussy Cats with John Lennon at the board led to his permanently damaging his voice. He continued to make occasionally striking music afterward -- most interestingly for the soundtrack to Robert Altman's Popeye -- but he never had another hit. Released around the time of his death in 1994, the two-CD anthology Personal Best did much for Nilsson's profile. His was suddenly a hip name to drop again in circles that revered the Beach Boys' and the Zombies' artier moments. He'd no doubt appreciate the irony of being at once an easy-listening oldies staple and a favorite of twentysomething indie rockers.
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