My Record Collection 161

Nobody’s Child (1990)– This is a charity album; George Harrison’s wife Olivia was from Romania and in the late 80’s there was a discovery of orphanages in terrible conditions.  George phoned a few friends who donated some rarities for this album, and very good it is too.  The Wilburys recorded the title track – a Hank Snow song, and George put on a duet with Paul Simon of ‘Homeward Bound’ live.   Other notable tracks are ‘Wonderful Remark’ by Van Morrison, ‘This Week’ by Dave Stewart and ‘Goodnight Little One’ by Rick Ocasek of the Cars.  A very nice selection of music.

NottingHillBillies This was a group put together by Mark Knopfler and Brendan Croker and a few others for a one-off album Missing, Presumed Having A Good Time.  A really great little record – makes you wonder why they only made the one album; it is a delightful marriage of soft rock and folk.  Best are ‘Railroad Worksong’, ‘Your Own Sweet Way’ and best of all ‘Will You Miss Me’. Pity they only made the one record.

Heather Nova – another you may not have heard of….she is a singer songwriter of the 90’s and beyond.  I am not sure why I bought her; I think I saw 2 or 3 of her albums in charity shops and was intrigued.  I am always on the lookout for new singers and her voice has a hypnotic quality, although I lose myself in her voice and don’t notice the words.  Anyway I have four of her albums.  Her debut was Glow Stars (1990); a quite mature sound for a new artist, as if she had been making records for ages.  Her voice floats over a gentle backing and before you know it the record is over.  Best songs are the title track, ‘Spirit In You’ and ‘Second Skin’.  The following years follow-up Oyster seems a bit more conventional, at least in the instrumentation; still a very nice album with her superb vocals.  Best songs ‘Walk This World’, ‘Maybe an Angel’ and ‘Truth and Bone’.  Her next was Siren (1998) – possibly my favourite of hers; best are ‘London Rain’, ‘I’m The Girl’ and ‘Winterblue’.  My last of hers is a live album Wonderlust (2000) – where the songs are expanded and developed better.  I particularly like ‘Heart and Shoulder’ and ‘Doubled Up’.

Laura Nyro – was a singer both ahead of her time and out of time altogether.  A New Yorker of Russian and Jewish parents she had a troubled childhood and and an even more complicated adult life.  She was ahead of her time in being a singer songwriter of extraordinary ability in the Sixties, whereas Joni and Carol King and Carly Simon rode the wave in the early Seventies.  Her music is quite undefinable, influenced by soul and jazz and with mostly sad lyrics she was briefly popular in the late sixties but did not capitalise on it.  She almost shunned fame but her records influenced many later artists including Elton John.  We start with her first album proper (actually her second but who is counting) Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968).   Not a bad record, but you have to get used to Laura’s swooping vocals and jazzy arrangements – best songs are ‘Eli’s Comin’ and ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’.  Next she released New York Tendaberry (1969) which was a bit more of a conventional sound and sold better.  Best are the title track and ‘Time and Love’ but not my fave of hers.  Christmas and The Beads Of Sweat followed in 1970 (yes, everyone was releasing an album at least every year back then).   This was a bit more commercial with a couple of minor hits – ‘When I Was A Freeport And You Were A Main Drag’, and ‘Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp’.  Best of her albums released was a surprising departure; almost all the tracks were already famous and by others, mostly Motown or Carole King.  She also shared credits on the album with a vocal group Labelle. The result – Gonna Take A Miracle – was a tour de force and easily her best record.  She sings Motown like a black woman, with real soul.  Favourite songs are ‘Met Him On A Sunday’, ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ and ‘Nowhere To Run’…a great album.  The last studio album I have of hers is Smile, which was a bit of an attempt to relaunch her; without much success.  The record seems to lack focus and is not really typical of her.  She influenced many artists but real fame eluded her.  She died in the 90s, far too early.  I also have a greatest hits Time and Love which is a good place to start and to end, best songs are ‘Wedding Day Blues’, ‘Goodbye Joe’ and by fart her best song ‘Stoney End’ – which was a hit for Barbara Streisand. 

Billy Childs' Powerful Tribute to Songwriting Icon Laura ...

My Record Collection 160

Nickleback – A good piece of advice – never buy an album on the basis of hearing one single. Silverside Up contained one excellent single ‘How You Remind Me’…and 9 pretty poor shouty songs….oh well.

Harry Nilsson – A superb singer and a flawed personality who hardly ever appeared live but recorded some brilliant songs and albums.   We start with for me a rarity, a download (because it is almost unavailable on CD) Spotlight on Nilsson (1966).  Quite a poor debut actually, which I have sought out with little luck.  Still, it is part of his legacy.  It is a compilation of his first 4 singles on Tower records – which all sold poorly, and 2 new tracks.  Nothing of any real note.  He then got picked up by RCA, the label he stayed with for most of his career…they must have had a lot of patience, I think.  His first album proper was 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.    Not at all bad, some good songs, a couple of Beatles covers and a great version of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.  My favourites are ‘1941’, ‘Sleep Late My Lady Friend’ and best of all ‘Without Her’.  A nice if now dated sounding record.  A little better was his follow up 1968’s Aerial Ballet.   The songs are better and the record seems to flow smoother, best are ‘My Good Old Desk’, ‘Little Cowboy’ and of course his breakthrough song ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ (written by Fred Neil but featured in the film Midnight Cowboy).  He later, on the back of more success released these first two albums on a single record…Pandemonium Aerial Ballet; nothing new but a couple were remixed.  1968 was a busy year – Harry was asked to write and perform some songs for a Hollywood film Skidoo (he actually had a bit part in it too).   Nilsson sings about half the album, filled out by music from the film.  A bit of a strange record really.  I love ‘The Cast and Crew’ where he sings all the credits of the actors and crew.  The film itself is unseen but sounds a bit daft.  Anyway, a couple of other songs of note are ‘The Cast and Crew’ where Nilsson sings the film credits, and ‘I Will Take You There’.  This album is strictly for completists like me. His next album proper was Harry (1969).  A better album than the first two, the songs are cleverer and quite catchy and again he remains unclassifiable – it definitely isn’t Rock or Pop or even Middle of The Road – it is simply individual.  Best songs; ‘Marching Down Broadway’, ‘The Puppy Song’ and ‘Mr. Bojangles. A delightful record.  Then came a rare diversion – a whole album of someone else’s songs – Nilsson Sings Newman (1970) where Harry devotes a whole album to the superb songs of Randy Newman (see N).  Now I hadn’t heard of Randy when I bought this record and Harry turned me on to him.  Another brilliant songwriter brought to a new dimension by the perfect singing of Harry, or rather lots of Harrys.  Nilsson overdubbed his own voice to create multi-harmonies, a technique he would employ on later records too.  The result is something quite exquisite.  Of course, the album bombed.  But I loved it, all the songs are great, if I have to pick three, they would be – ‘Love Story’, ‘I’ll Be Home’ and ‘Living Without You’.  The Point – Now, here is a strange one, and actually a real gem. Nilsson wrote and narrated a rather silly child’s story and interspersed with some sumptuously gorgeous songs.  This has long been a favourite, I used to play it for my son.  The LP came with a booklet with cartoons of the story.  Best songs are probably – ‘Poli High’, ‘Think About Your Troubles’ and ‘Life Line’.   But the best was yet to come – the same year; 1971 – he released his first Masterpiece, called stupidly Nilsson Schmilsson.   Almost every song is a winner, it includes the number 1 hit ‘Without You’, written by 2 members of Badfinger.  It was Harry’s first real ‘rock’ album and a great commercial success.  Again, hard to choose favourite tracks but ‘Early In The Morning’, ‘Jump Into the Fire’ and ‘I’ll Never Leave You’ are simply sublime.  Harry’s voice was stacked into a choir on some songs; he also had a joke song ‘Coconut’ on the record which almosty spoiled it – but not quite.  But then, as so often with Harry he went too far with his follow-up – 1972s Son Of Schmilsson; possibly his worst album – weird and almost treated as a throwaway it feels.  Okay, the production and singing and backing are good – but the songs are either stupid or worse – crass.  Oh well….but Harry has always surprised us and the following year he produced Masterpiece number two – A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night.  This was a gorgeously arranged and recorded full orchestra re-reading of many timeless classics form the forties and fifties.  Not a poor choice amongst them – I knew many but now love them all.  Harry’s voice seems perfectly attuned to these old and often slower songs, though some also swing.  My favourites are ‘For Me and My Gal’, ‘Makin Whoopee’ and ‘As Time Goes By’.  This was later reissued along with a few tracks that didn’t make the initial release as ‘As Time Goes By’.   In 1974 busy boy Harry released a soundtrack to a film starring himself and Ringo (who also produced the film) and a few other rock players.  Apparently, it was a huge mess and a flop; very amateurish.  It did feature a handful of Nilsson songs along with incidental music.  A pity as the cast of musicians on the soundtrack reads like a who’s who of the gliterratti rock world at the time. The film is called Son OF Dracula – and the soundtrack is pretty unavailable…and I don’t have it.  But, also that year he did release a solo album Pussy Cats which was produced by John Lennon.   But really the recordings should have been postponed as Harry’s voice was pretty shot – too much drinking and partying.  Still the album is sort of okay, half covers and half Nilsson originals and a stellar cast of musicians.  Best are ‘Old Forgotten Soldier’ and ‘Don’t Forget Me’.    Much better was his next, the self-produced Duit et Mon Dei – also 1974.  In fact, it is almost a return to form, but one or two songs are poor.  The album is rescued by the beautiful ‘Salmon Falls’ and ‘Down By The Sea’ – ‘What’s Your Sign’ and ‘Home’ are not bad either.  Then came Sandman (1976) which was a so-so record.  ‘Could do better’ would be on his report card. Only opener ‘I’ll Take A Tango’ really stands out for me.  Later the same year though came a better record – That’s The Way It Is.  Especially the track ‘That Is All’ an underrated effort by George Harrison which Harry sings beautifully, one of his best interpretations.  Also good are ‘Moon shine Bandit’ and Randy Newman’s ‘Sail Away’ – a lot of covers again but not a bad album.   Harry made one last album for RCA – Knilsson in ’77 – and maybe he saved the best for last.  It is a wonderful record and my favourite of his, but Harry’s luck ran out and the album was poorly promoted and sold weakly, which is such a pity as it was so good.  From the first song ‘All I Think About Is You’ to closer ‘Perfect Day’ Harry doesn’t put a foot wrong.  Hard to choose but if I have to – ‘Old Bones’ and ‘Laughin Man’ are especially good.  The album also has maybe the worst cover picture ever too.  Anyway, that was really the end of his career.  He released an album in 1980 called Flash harry which sunk without a trace and is very hard to find now.  And a posthumous one Losst and Found released recently.  I also have one of many compilations Everybody’s Talkin which is lovely.  A brilliant voice, an inventive songwriter, a drunk and a difficult man….ultimately a wasted talent, he died in 1994 aged just 53.

:: harvest ::: Portrait: Harry Nilsson zum 70.