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
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.