[Review] Nilsson: Son of Schmilsson (1972)

The Friday-night party before the lost weekend, although there are still a few winners on here.

Kronomyth 8.0: Son of a (belch).

Offhand genius mixed with off-the-leash eccentricity, there are some people who will tell you Son of Schmilsson is every bit the equal of Nilsson Schmilsson. Those people are filthy liars and not to be trusted.

The anticipated followup to Harry Nilsson’s breakthrough was a conceptual nightmare: a film crew circled the sessions hoping to make a movie of the making of the album, and producer Richard Perry had little hope of reigning in Nilsson’s idiosyncratic excesses in such an excessive atmosphere. The good news is that Nilsson’s genius and humor emerge intact. “Remember (Christmas),” “The Lottery Song,” “The Most Beautiful World in the World” and “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” are in line with his last album. The bad news is they brought a lot of baggage with them: the country send-up “Joy,” the sloppy “Take 54,” the morbid “I’d Rather Be Dead.”

Son of Schmilsson is a restless, fitfully brilliant record that smacks of self-destruction at almost every corner. The 2006 remaster includes a better take of “Take 54” that sounds like “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” the likeable throwaway “What’s Your Sign?,” a nice, quiet version of Jimmy Webb’s “Campo de Encino” and the single from Son of Dracula, “Daybreak.” The four extra tracks make a difference, as quantity compensates for a perceived lack of quality in the original eleven. (The Japanese 2007 remaster reconciled these with the two alternate versions of “Joy” appended to the 2000 remaster.)

As good as it is, it’s hard for me to hear Son of Schmilsson without thinking how much better it might have been if Nilsson hadn’t played the role of singer/songwriter/saboteur. Of not inconsequential interest to entomologists, Ringo Starr (Richie Snare) and George Harrison (Harrysong) consummate their affection for the artist with supporting roles on Son of Schmilsson, and in that sense this album served as a template for subsequent Richard Perry-produced albums by Ringo.

Original elpee version

A1. Take 54 (4:18)
A2. Remember (Christmas) (4:06)
A3. Joy (3:43)
A4. Turn On Your Radio (2:39)
A5. You’re Breakin’ My Heart (3:08)
B1. Spaceman (3:34)
B2. The Lottery Song (2:26)
B3. At My Front Door (Ewart Abner/John Moore) (3:00)
B4. Ambush (5:22)
B5. I’d Rather Be Dead (Nilsson/Richard Perry) (3:20)
B6. The Most Beautiful World in the World (3:34)

All songs written by Nilsson unless noted.

2000 CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Joy (demo version: guitar)
13. Joy (demo version: piano)

2006 CD reissue bonus tracks
12. What’s Your Sign? (Nilsson) (3:04)
13. Take 54 (alternate take) (Nilsson) (3:38)
14. Campo de Encino (Jimmy Webb) (4:54)
15. Daybreak (single version) (Nilsson) (3:06)

The Players

Harry Nilsson (vocals, electric piano, acoustic guitar), Ray Cooper (percussion, congas, tambourine), Peter Frampton (electric guitar), Nicky Hopkins (piano), Chris Spedding (bouzouki), Richie Snare (Ringo Starr) (drums), Klaus Voormann (bass, horns, electric guitar) with Paul Buckmaster (orchestral arrangement and conductor on B1), Gene Cipriano (horns on “Daybreak”), Vincent De Rosa (French horn on A4), David Duke (French horn on A4), Herbie Flowers (bass on “What’s Your Sign?”), Lowell George (guitar on A1), George Harrysong (George Harrison) (slide guitar on A5, cowbell on “Daybreak”), Milt Holland (percussion on A1/B2), Kirby Johnson (horn arrangement on A4, arrangement on B6), Paul Keough (guitar on B6), Bobby Keys (saxophone, tenor sax), The Henry Krein Quartet (rhythm section), Richard Mackey (French horn on A4), Barry Morgan (drums on A3/A5), Del Newman (string arrangement on A2, additional orchestration on B6), Richard Perry (percussion on B1/B6, arrangement and conductor on B6), Pop Arts String Quartet (strings on A2), Jim Price (trumpet, trombone & horn arrangement on B4), Red Rhodes (pedal steel guitar on A3), The Senior Citizens of the Stepney & Pinner Choir-Club No. 6 (vocals on B5), Graham Smith (harmonica on “What’s Your Sign?”), Les Thatcher (guitar on B6), Tuben (French hon on A4), John Uribe (acoustic guitar, lead guitar). Produced by Richard Perry; engineered by Robin Cable, Ken Scott, Phillip McDonald.

The Pictures

Album cover and principal photography by Michael Putland. Additional photography by Tom Hanley and Paul Misso. Graphics and lettering by Peter Agapiou.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in July 1972 in the US (RCA, LSP-4717), the UK (RCA, SF-8297) and Japan (RCA, RCA-6041) with gatefold cover and poster; reached #12 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (RCA, AYL1-3812).
  2. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2000 in Europe (BMG, 57546-2) with 2 bonus tracks.
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on May 23, 2006 in the US (RCA/Legacy, 78249-2) with 4 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (BMG, BVCM-35121) with above 6 bonus tracks.

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