#281: Nilsson Schmilsson, Harry Nilsson
What if I told you that the guy that sings “Coconut” — you know, You put de lime in de coconut and drink them both up — what if I told you that guy has been called “the American Beatle?” If you’re cool then you already knew that, but I suspect more than a few of you shouted “WHAT!” I did.
“Coconut” might be the catchiest song of all time, sticking to the sides of your skull no matter how many times you bleach it out. Put de lime in de coconut/Drink them both together/Put de lime in de coconut/Then you’ll feel better. (Singing this over and over is a great way to drive away your significant other when you need some alone time.) (Although he was delighted when the doctor character says You’re such a silly woman.)
When I learned that Harry Nilsson was the coconut guy, I didn’t know WHAT to expect of this album. I didn’t expect him to have a nearly four-octave range, I didn’t expect him to have created the first remix album. Not only was he compared to the Beatles, but the Beatles were admirers of his music, and he eventually became best buds with John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Also Keith Moon and Mama Cass died in his apartment? What a wild life. Not bad for a guy who apparently got his start as a computer programmer.
The key theme here is fun. All of these songs are fun, but some are extra fun. Like opener “Gotta Get Up” (which is a major whiplash from 50 Cent, let me tell you) which was so fun it was stressful, perfectly capturing the feeling of waking up in the wreckage of a party and then having to run to work, which has never happened to me ever. And “Driving Along,” which is as cheerful as it sad, following Harry as he drives along at 57,000 miles an hour, which I’ve also definitely never done before.
There were other weird moments, like whisper-quiet falsetto-drenched “The Moonbeam Song,” but then there were several straight rock/blues songs. “Down” could actually be a Beatles song, especially when he goes Da-da-down/Da-da-down, and “Let The Good Times Roll” has almost a country-western sensibility. And “Jump Into The Fire,” which was apparently a strange, massive hit, ROCKS. I thought that Spotify might have screwed up and switched the record on me. We can make each other happy! Check out LCD Soundsystem’s cover.
The thing that shocked me was how beautiful his voice was. The masterpiece of this record is “Without You,” a cover of a Badfinger song that takes his voice incredibly high and was apparently recorded in a single take. Closer “I’ll Never Leave You” has that earnest, pretty falsetto plus some impeccable runs. It hurt my heart a little bit to learn that his voice was fairly trashed at the end of his life (partying with John Lennon will do that to you), and also suffered some major financial setbacks after his financial adviser freaking embezzled all his money.
Nilsson died of heart failure in 1994, the same year Kurt Cobain died. It’s interesting that Cobain’s cultural impact increased about tenfold after his death, but Nilsson is mostly remembered for putting de lime in de coconut and shaking it all up. This was someone who Little Richard said sang “good for a white boy.” It’s crazy, who we forget, who we remember.
Time will bury us all, but some of us stay a little closer to the surface than others. That just makes the people we have to dig a little deeper for buried treasure. (Too morbid?)
Surprise Favorite: A cover of a tune by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, “Early in the Morning.”