Saturday, February 19, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night

Harry Nilsson

RCA/Audio Fidelity AFZLP 083
Produced by: Derek Taylor
Engineered by: Phillip McDonald
Mixed by: Phillip McDonald
Mastered by: Kevin Gray at AcousTech



Audio Fidelity Reissues Nilsson's "Standards" Album
by Michael Fremer
February 01, 2011

The iconoclastic singer Harry Nilsson lived hard and mostly sang softly. His Los Angeles debauchery with his pal John Lennon and the resulting outcast behavior including being tossed with Lennon from The Troubadour for heckling The Smothers Brothers is well known, as are many of the songs he wrote, including "One" covered by Three Dog Night and "Cuddly Toy" covered by The Monkees.

Nilsson scored hits with songs written by others like Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" that was key to the film "Midnight Cowboy," and Badfinger's "Without You" written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. He also scored with novelty hits he wrote "Coconut" and "Jump Into the Fire."

Nilsson was friends with all of The Beatles and more importantly, they respected his musical abilities, particularly his singing. Beatles publicist Derek Taylor was a champion and thus his producer credit on this album recorded in a week long session at CTS Studio in Wembley, London late winter/early spring of 1973.

At the time Nilsson went in to record this album he'd had considerable success with 1971's Nilsson Schmilsson followed quickly by the more blunt forced Son of Schmilsson, which infamously contained the "hit" single "You're Breaking My Heart (you're tearing it apart so fuck you)." Actually I used to play on my late night FM radio show in Boston an edited version. The songs was a rocker featuring George Harrison (billed as "George Harrysong"), Peter Frampton, Klaus Voorman, Jim Price and Bobby Keys.

While that album didn't do as well, it did well enough. So following it up with this album of really old standards backed by a thirty nine piece orchestra lushly arranged by the great Gordon Jenkins was an odd choice to say the least—unless you were Harry Nilsson! A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night was not a commercial success but it surely was an artistic success and all these years later both showcases Nilsson's superb pipes and interpretive abilities and presages where Rod Stewart would later take his career, not because he wanted to as much as because it was the logical place for it to go. Nilsson paid the price for his move, Rod was paid a handsome price for his! Such is life.

The tunes include "For Me and My Gal," "It Had to Be You" (Woody Allen used it effectively in "Annie Hall"), Irving Berlin's "Always," "You Made Me Love You," "What'll I Do," and even an obscure "Lazy Moon" supposedly never recorded but sung by comedian Oliver Hardy in a 1930s movie. The set ends with "As Time Goes By."

The arrangements are sublime and despite Nilsson's cutting up on his previous release and grossing out some of his growing fan base, he takes everything here seriously and the results are soothing and stunning, aided by a superb orchestra and recording. Nilsson's soaring vocals, his crisp phrasing and well controlled vibrato contribute to a stellar performance that's a fitting testament to his talent.

Nilsson's later life was filled with tragedy: his flat in London was the scene of two famous deaths: that of "Mama" Cass Eliot in the midst of her triumphant Palladium solo stand and later Keith Moon's of an overdose of an anti-alcohol prescription medication.

A few years later his dear friend John Lennon was shot and at the beginning of the 1990s he found himself almost penniless when it was discovered that his "financial advisor" had embezzled virtually all of his royalties. Since he never toured, preferring the studio, he never made the kind of money touring provided. He died of heart failure at the age of 52 in 1994.

Take into account a short but adventurous life well-lived as you listen to this nicely produced reissue mastered by Kevin Gray. The original was pressed on RCA's thin Dynaflex vinyl, yet the copy I have at least is remarkably quiet and smooth-sounding.

This reissue is not as warm, nor does it possess the original's stage depth, but it is more dynamic and detailed and the bottom end is more extended. The slight edge to Nilsson's voice and to the massed strings could be a result of more honest mastering that gives you what's on the recording, even if that means delivering the microphones' rising high frequency response.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2010 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

Here is one of my favorite Nilsson cuts, he was truly a genious!

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