Harry Nilsson

Singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson had a few big hits of his own and wrote

songs for bands such as Three Dog Night and the Monkees. But his

career will forever be associated with his champions the Beatles, with

whom he worked and played following the Fab Four's dissolution.

Nilsson was born Harry Edward Nelson III in Brooklyn, N.Y., on this day

in 1941. He moved with his family to California, where he worked in a

bank while trying to break into music -- he had a three-and-a-half-octave

tenor and a knack for writing clever tunes.

He made demos, sang commercial jingles, and shopped his songs to

producers and record companies. With the help of legendary producer

Phil Spector, Nilsson wrote songs for the Ronettes and the Modern Folk

Quartet. The Monkees recorded Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy," and the Yardbirds

cut his "Ten Little Indians."

In 1967, Nilsson got a recording contract of his own with RCA Records.

His The Pandemonium Shadow Show, featuring witty lyrics and a

Beatles medley called "You Can't Do That," was a commercial flop but

received good critical notices. More importantly, it attracted the attention of the Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney cited Nilsson as one of their favorite artists while addressing the media at the opening of their Apple label. Lennon even phoned Nilsson to congratulate him on the album.

Nilsson quit his day job and turned his attention to his second LP,

Aerial Ballet (1968), which included the top-10 smash

"Everybody's Talkin' " (RealAudio excerpt).

The Fred Neil tune was used in the Oscar-winning film

"Midnight Cowboy." He also enjoyed another #1 hit with a cover of

Badfinger's "Without You."

Nilsson also began writing for films and composed the catchy theme to

the TV show "The Courtship of Eddie's Father." In 1970, he recorded

an LP of Randy Newman songs and composed the soundtrack to the TV

cartoon "The Point!" (which included the top-40 hit "Me and My Arrow").

1971's Nilsson Schmilsson went platinum on the strength of

"Without You." In 1972, he had hits with "Coconut," "Jump into the Fire"

and "Space Man," but Nilsson's 1973 album with Frank Sinatra's

arranger was not a hit.

Notoriety came to Nilsson around this period when he became

Lennon's drinking buddy during the ex-Beatle's separation from

Yoko Ono. The two men often appeared in the press for being thrown

out of L.A. bars because of their drunken behavior. Lennon produced

Nilsson's Pussy Cats (and received co-credit on the LP) in 1974,

the same year Nilsson worked with Ringo Starr on the "Son of Dracula" film

and soundtrack.

After Lennon's murder, Nilsson campaigned for gun control, but

failing health slowed his music career, and he concentrated on raising

a large family. After suffering a heart attack in 1993, Nilsson began

recording again without a record contract.

Nilsson died in 1994, after completing an unreleased album. In 1995,

RCA issued Personal Best: The Harry Nilsson Anthology. Also,

various artists, including Starr, Stevie Nicks, Victoria Williams

and B-52 Fred Schneider, paid tribute to Nilsson that year on the LP

For the Love of Harry (Everybody Sings Nilsson).

Although he never played a live show, except for an occasional TV

appearance, Nilsson earned a place in rock history for his highly

personal, whimsical songwriting.

Other birthdays: Waylon Jennings, 62; Russell Hitchcock (Air Supply),

50; Noddy Holder (Slade), 49; Steve Walsh (Kansas), 48; Ice Cube, 30.