[Review] Nilsson: The Point! (1970)

Nilsson’s pointed commentary about a boy and his dog is the best story/album this side of Teaser and the Firecat.

Kronomyth 6.0: Nilsson makes a very good point.

The Point! is an album and accompanying animated film featuring the music of Harry Nilsson. Although ostensibly made for children, the album/film is also a pointed commentary on how society rejects people and ideas that are different from the norm. Through society’s lens, what seems to be pointless may actually have a point, while things that seem to have a point may actually be pointless. It’s an idea that the film makes a point of repeating, over and over and over and… well, you get the point.

This film originally aired on February 2, 1971 on ABC. I was fortunate enough to see that version, as it was the only one to feature the narration of Dustin Hoffman. Because of licensing issues, subsequent re-broadcasts had to use different narrators, eventually settling on Ringo Starr. The Beatles connection doesn’t end there, as the animation for The Point! was clearly influenced by the animated film, Yellow Submarine. The animation isn’t nearly so sophisticated, but the trippy sequences (e.g., during Think About Your Troubles) are similar.

I would tell you that the real story here is the music, only it isn’t. The narration and the music are halves of the same (sea of) whole. It’s really a perfect balance: two minutes of music, two minutes of engaging storytelling as the music from the last song plays quietly in the background. From the opening Everything’s Got ‘Em, Nilsson and arranger George Tipton create a charming Pepperland peopled with polite piano melodies, well-mannered orchestration and rich layers of vocals (while shedding a few of the extra layers from his last album, Nilsson Sings Newman). The album’s most famous track is Me And My Arrow, which joined the ranks of Nilsson’s growing army of Top 40 hits. The rest of the songs, if not as instantly memorable, are in the same general vicinity in terms of quality and execution. Poli High takes a playful poke at sports, and “Think About Your Troubles” contemplates the journey of sea water into tap water (a device that would re-appear on “The Moonbeam Song”).

The second side features Life Line, a dreamy number with a wonderful arrangement from Tipton, the listing P.O.V. Waltz and Are You Sleeping? These songs are more philosophical than the opening tracks as Nilsson brings the point of his story home. Despite a few unnatural devices that move the main character, Oblio, along the story—the useless Pointless Man, their abduction by a giant bird—the narrative holds together. The closing “Are You Sleeping?” even works on two levels: as a love song and as a logical close to a film that starts with a father telling his son a story.

The Point! is a very different animal than Nilsson’s soundtrack to Skidoo, which featured relatively few songs and does not stand up as an album of new music from Nilsson. In fact, little Oblio’s pursuit of a point may be Nilsson’s crowning creation to date, at least in terms of imaginative entertainment. Harry and Nilsson Schmilsson are better albums, musically speaking, but The Point! better bespeaks the creative genius of Harry Nilsson. Firty years later, I still fondly remember the story of Oblio. As for Nilsson’s next film project, Son of Dracula, as the French would say, il vaux meilleur oublier.

Original elpee version

A1. Everything’s Got ‘Em (2:25)
A2. The Town (narration) (1:31)
A3. Me And My Arrow (2:04)
A4. The Game (narration) (1:49)
A5. Poli High (2:41)
A6. The Trial & Banishment (narration) (2:11)
A7. Think About Your Troubles (2:49)
B1. The Pointed Man (narration) (2:42)
B2. Life Line (2:21)
B3. The Birds (narration) (2:00)
B4. P.O.V. Waltz (2:12)
B5. The Clearing in the Woods (narration) (1:53)
B6. Are You Sleeping? (2:17)
B7. Oblio’s Return (narration) (3:08)

Songs by Nilsson. Arranged & conducted by George Tipton.

CD reissue bonus tracks (1998)
15. Down to the Valley (2:10)
16. Buy My Album (1:30)

CD reissue bonus tracks (2002)
15. Think About Your Troubles (alternate version)
16. Life Line (alternate version)
17. Down to the Valley (alternate mix with extending ending)

The Players

Nilsson (story, narration & vocals). Produced by Nilsson; engineered by Ritchie Schmitt, technical engineering by Dennis Smith, contributing engineers & technicians: Mike Leary, Hank McGill, Kent Tucks, Frank Trupia, Pat Ieraci.

The Pictures

Album design by Dean O. Torrence/Kittyhawk Graphics. Needle POINT by Kathy Torrence. Storybook illustration by Gary Lund.

The Product

Released on elpee in December 1970 in the US (RCA, LSPX-1003) and in 1971 in the UK (RCA, SF 8166) and Germany (RCA Victor, LSP 4417) with gatefold cover and comic booklet.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the US (RCA, AFL1-2953/2593-4-R) with gatefold cover and comic booklet.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (RCA, SRA-5516) with gatefold cover and booklet.
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on April 21, 1992 in Japan (RCA, BVCP-2070).
  4. Re-released on remastered, expanded compact disc in 1998 in the US (DCC, DZS-158) with 2 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-packaged with Skidoo on expanded 2-for-1 compact disc in 2000 in Europe (BMG/Camden Deluxe, 757432) with 4 bonus tracks.
  6. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in 2002 in the US (BMG Heritage) with 3 bonus tracks.

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