[Review] Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)

The Beatles loved Nilsson. You’ll love him too on this album.

Kronomyth 7.0: Shmoozing with the Beatles.

There has been much conjecture over the years regarding who, exactly, was the “fifth Beatle.” Some say George Martin, others have suggested Billy Preston or even Eric Clapton. I only ever counted the four Beatles on their album covers, so it’s not a thought I’ve entertained, but as far as which artist most naturally belonged in their orbit, it would have to be Harry Nilsson, a man who some have dubbed the “American Beatle.”

Nilsson entered their orbit by way of mutual admiration, when The Beats famously named Nilsson as their favorite American artist during an interview. Introductions followed, friendships were formed, discotheques were debauched, and endless words have been poured out to capture it for posterity. I’m sure it’s all painfully detailed somewhere, so I won’t waste your time here. The important thing is that Nilsson had now become an unofficial planet in the constellation of The Beatles—a kind of wobbly Pluto off in the fringes. And Nilsson Schmilsson was, in many ways, Nilsson’s “coming in” party, featuring many of the same guests (Richard Perry, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Gary Wright, etc.) who frequented the studios of John, George and Ringo.

Nilsson Schmilsson stands out as Nilsson’s brightest moment, the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end—the artistic equivalent of a supernova. I say “the end of the beginning” because it marks the end of his relationship with arranger George Tipton, who polished Nilsson’s nuggets much as George Martin did for The Beatles and deserves a much classier sentence. But it’s also the beginning of the end because of the drinking and the Dracula movies and the drop in quality that followed.

Ordinarily, this is where I would bore the pants off of people with a track-by-track inventory of the album but, as it turns out, I’ve already written a perfectly serviceable top ten list in the past for this, which I’m told is how to optimize your site for search engines.

The Top 10 Reasons to Raid Schmilsson’s Fridge

  1. “Gotta Get Up.” It’s like listening to a behind-the-scenes of an Italian restaurant.
  2. “Driving Along.” No one set the miserable human condition to music like Nilsson.
  3. Nilsson playing “Early in the Morning” with his organ.
  4. “The Moonbeam Song.” You will never hear the word “crap” sung any better.
  5. “Down.” When you’re da-da-down and out, you’ve still got Nilsson.
  6. “Without You.” Ham with Italian dressing and Spanish seasoning (on the expanded remaster) has never sounded so good.
  7. Coconut.” Best Nilsson song in a TV commercial, which is a more crowded field than you’d think.
  8. “Let the Good Times Roll.” A honkytonkin’ version of the Shirley and Lee classic.
  9. “Jump Into the Fire.” Joe Jackson jumps back in time to 1971.
  10. “I’ll Never Leave You.” George Tipton did, but not before leaving behind one more masterpiece.

Original elpee version

A1. Gotta Get Up (2:24)
A2. Driving Along (2:02)
A3. Early in the Morning (Leo Hickman/Louis Jordan/Dallas Bartley) (2:48)
A4. The Moonbeam Song (3:18)
A5. Down (3:24)
B1. Without You (Pete Ham/Tom Evans) (3:17)
B2. Coconut (3:48)
B3. Let the Good Times Roll (Leonard Lee) (2:42)
B4. Jump Into the Fire (6:54)
B5. I’ll Never Leave You (4:11)

All songs written by Nilsson unless noted.

Original 8-track version
A1. Gotta Get Up
A2. Early in the Morning
A3. The Moonbeam Song
B1. Coconut
B2. Jump Into the Fire (part 1)
C1. Jump Into the Fire (conclusion)
C2. Let the Good Times Roll
C3. I’ll Never Leave You
D1. Down
D2. Without You
D3. Driving Along

CD reissue bonus tracks (Japan, 2002)
11. Without You
12. Driving Along
13. Gotta Get Up
14. Coconut
15. Down
16. The Moonbeam Song
17. Jump Into the Fire
18. Per Chi
19. Si No Estas Tu

CD reissue bonus tracks (2004)
11. Si No Estas Tu
12. How Can I Be Sure of You
13. The Moonbeam Song (demo)
14. Lamaze
15. Old Forgotten Soldier (demo)
16. Gotta Get Up (demo)

The Players

Harry Nilsson (vocals, piano, mellotron, organ, harmonica, electric piano), Jim Gordon (drums, percussion), Klaus Voorman (bass, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar) with Paul Buckmaster (string/horn arrangements and conductor on B1), Roger Coolan (organ on A5), Ian Duck (acoustic guitar on B2), Herbie Flowers (bass on A2/A4/B2/B4), Jim Keltner (drums on A5/B1), Bobby Keys (sax on A5), Henry Krein (accordion on A1), Richard Perry (percussion on A1, mellotron on A2), Roger Pope (drums on B2), Jim Price (trumpet, trombone, horn arrangements on A1/A5), Caleb Quaye (guitar on B2), Chris Spedding (guitar, rhythm guitar on A1/A5/B3/B4), George Tipton (string/horn arrangement and conductor on B5), John Uribe (acoustic guitar, lead guitar on A2/A4/B1/B4), Jim Webb (acoustic piano on B4), Gary Wright (piano on B1, organ on B3). Produced by Richard Perry; engineered by Robin Geoffrey Cable, Ritchie Schmitt; additional engineering by Phil Brown; recorded by Dennis Smith.

The Pictures

Photography by Dean Torrance. Graphics by Acy Lehman.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in November 1971 in the US (RCA Victor, LSP-4515/P8S-1734), the UK (RCA Victor, SF-8242) with poster. Reached #3 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in the US (RCA, ANL1-3464).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in the UK (RCA, INTS 5002).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Japan (RCA, RPL-2119).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (RCA, PCD1-4515).
  5. Re-released on 24k gold remastered compact disc in 1990 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-541).
  6. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in the UK (Simply Vinyl, SVLP-370).
  7. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on July 29, 2002 in Japan (BMG, BVCM-37247) with 9 bonus tracks.
  8. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on January 13, 2004 in the US (RCA, 57265) with 6 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-issued on elpee in 2017 in the US (RCA Legacy, 88985403611).

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