My First Time: Nilsson Schmilsson


Per your suggestion, I just listened for the first time (and second time, and third time) to the album Nilsson Schmillson by Harry Nilsson.  I am sort of embarrassed to admit that I knew almost nothing of Nilsson as an artist before listening to this. Nilsson albums for me fell into the category of artists that I immediately flip on past in the $5 record bin at the local flea market; similar to Pablo Cruise and Melissa Manchester. Just a lack of awareness on my part, I guess.

The album is a bit of a mind fuck when you get into it; a cornucopia of different styles and sounds. It’s crazy how the tracks bounce between goofiness, despair, joy, longing, and hope. It was a bit like being stoned at a Chinese buffet, where it’s impossible to decide whether to go with the sesame chicken, sweet and sour pork, or good old General Tso.  

The first song “Gotta Get Up,” is a rollicking trip down memory lane to the transition from carefree youth to responsible adulthood, with really quirky and oddly melodic lyrics.  It reminds me of my mid-twenties when we’d polish off a case of beer and play 20 games of slide bowling at the bar downstairs on a Tuesday night; then peel ourselves off the mat and go to work the next day stinking of booze and looking like hell.

But the three songs that were really eye-opening and display the range of Nilsson’s talents are found on side two. “Without You.” The piano and melody are pretty simple, but those vocals… that passion and sorrow hit you hard when you let yourself breathe it in. Damn you, Harry, you minstrel of sadness! (Side note - sort of funny for so prolific a songwriter to have his only number one hit be a song written by someone else.)

So right after Nilsson crushes your soul, he drops “Coconut” on you. And that’s when you know he’s just different, and maybe - just maybe - he’s fucking with you on purpose. Not only does he sing it with a crazy-ass Caribbean accent, he sings it with four distinct crazy-ass Caribbean accents. I read some reviews of the song from back in the day, and many of them describe it as a novelty or gimmick, and I wonder if Nilsson himself would even agree with that. But if it is, the gimmick works. It sort of kills me because I know the song but I’ve always just dismissed it as a silly bit of nothing. But upon further review, it is absolutely something! It’s crazy to think that Nelson does all this with a single chord, C7 repeating throughout the entire song. That’s it. He uses his vocals to make the changes to move the song along rather than chord progressions.  That’s just not something your average songwriter can do unless they have the chops to pull off the vocal part. I’m going to get pina colada drunk starting right now. Fuck all these responsibilities.

Finally, the absolute gem of this album is “Jump Into the Fire.” It’s like a rock-funk hybrid with screeching vocals that remind me of some kind of James Brown, Mick Jagger, and Ray Davies three-way love child. That’s a terrible description, but I just cannot place what it reminds me of… regardless, it is fucking exquisite, even if the dude who played it on the record killed his own mother… which he did, unfortunately.

I wasn’t going to add that last part, but then I put the lime in the coconut. Cheers!

So veering back onto the road, these three songs show that Harry Nilsson can do pretty much whatever he wants and it’ll be damn good. 

PS - Hit me up when you have that Pablo Cruise recommendation ready.



Back to blog