Thursday, June 12, 2014

Album Review - This is The Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Vol. 1

In my youth, while my friends were discovering Supertramp and Rush, I discovered the music of Harry Nilsson.  His LP's warmed my headphones on many a night.  Brooklyn indie record label Royal Potato Family has recently released 'This is The Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Vol. 1,' a 20-track collection of predominantly young and obscure artists to interpret some of Nilsson's songs.  They were kind enough to send me a copy (on yellow vinyl!) to review.

Harry Nilsson was an under appreciated songwriter, a rare talent that was misunderstood at times but loved by his peers.  His escapades with John Lennon have been well documented and he was looked upon quite fondly.

In reviewing a compilation album, I find that I have to take each song as an individual recording, and base my observations and thoughts on the specific artist's rendition of the song.

Let's start with the first cut, Langhorne Slim's "Early In The Morning" from the 1971 LP 'Nilsson Schmilsson.' His raspy voice that captures the emotional depth and rolling boogie-woogie piano that was also prominent in Nilsson's version.  Dawn Landes does a superb job of the musically simplistic, snappy, tongue-in-cheek wrath of a scorned lover on the song "You're Breakin' My Heart" (from the 1972 LP 'Son of Schmilsson').

The third cut is a remake of "Jump Into The Fire," by Low Cut Connie. The rumbling bass lines, rollicking piano and almost controlled hysteria make this one of the most memorable cuts on the album (off the 1971 Nilsson Schmilsson LP).  Singer/songwriter Jenny-O contributes a circus-like balance and masterfully voiced-rootsy folk autobiographical rendition of the Nilsson cut "1941."  The Mommyheads bring a pleasant twist to the playful song "Me And My Arrow,' a landmark rendition mixed perfectly at Storefront Music by Adam Elk of the band.

Anne Nilsson (Harry’s daughter who also provided the lovely artwork) sings an uncanny, striking redo of the song "Gotta Get Up;" blended into a playful romp, delicate and beautiful. Blueberry's remake of "Poli High" captures the inherent qualities of the cut without being overpowering.  Willy Mason reflective narrative on "Think About Your Troubles" is tackled with daring ingenuity.  Yellowbirds' "Rainmaker" brings out the hazy sweetness of the cut into a pop friendly Tommy James and the Shondells-like vibe.

Marco Benevento's take on "Are You Sleeping" flows seamlessly and is tight and structured and pure pop pleasure. Rasputina's remake of the lyrically poignant "Sweethaven" is intoxicating thrilling.  Tracy Bonham does a standout job on her piano-bar based rendition of "Everybody's Talkin,'" a cut that grows on you every time you hear it; a wistful indie pop gem if there ever was one (which was written by Fred Neil, though Nilsson was the one who scored a hit with it).

Johnny Society's jazzy storyline of the quirky cut "Mr. Richland's Favorite Song" is more of the disoriented pop and delicious catchyness that has made Nilsson's songs stand the test of time.

“Each artist has taken a Nilsson song that meant something to them, and with passion and inspiration, transformed it into something that is both a fitting tribute, and entirely their own,” Kenny Siegal explains. “In doing so, they are helping Harry Nilsson to be remembered as his songs live again through these new creative interpretations.”

Side One
1. Langhorne Slim - Early In The Morning 
2. Dawn Landes - You’re Breakin’ My Heart 
3. Low Cut Connie - Jump Into The Fire 
4. Jenny O - 1941 
5. The Mommyheads - Me and My Arrow 
6. Annie Nilsson - Gotta Get Up 
7. Blueberry - Poli High

Side Two 
8. Willy Mason - Think About Your Troubles 
9. Yellowbirds - Rainmaker (Nilsson /Martin)
10. Marco Benevento - Are You Sleeping?
11. Rasputina - Sweethaven
12. Tracy Bonham - Everybody’s Talkin’ (Fred Neil)
13. Johnny Society - Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song

Harry Nilsson became one of the most celebrated songwriters of his generation, and in the process, a reluctant pop star who none the less garnered a cult following that remains to this day.  This is a record for your collection that will be played often, just like the music of Harry Nilsson.   A wonderful, eclectic collection of Harry Nilsson's music that won't disappoint.

***** 5 out of 5 stars from the CVR blog!

Ask Mr. Music by Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Here is a topic that is not addressed in any previous articles about One Hit Wonders.

Rare as it is, there have been a few folks who, after having a No. 1 hit, never had another song appear anywhere on a Billboard or Cash Box top hits chart.

What then is the title of each of those ill-fated follow-up singles, the ones that pretty much extinguished careers, at least in the singles category?

They are more than likely songs that hardly anyone but you knows.

Oh yeah, Bubbling Under (Billboard) and Looking Ahead (Cash Box) listings are outside the Top 100 and do not qualify as charted records.
—Erik Herman, Amarillo, Texas

DEAR ERIK: I'll give you 50 years of No. 1 One Hit Wonders, essentially covering the 20th century. This is not only to work within the vinyl era, but to allow for a post-1999 artist to one day return to the charts. We don't want to apply the One Hit Wonder label prematurely.

Our list is chronological, with the artist's name and their No. 1 hit, followed by their next record, the one that unexpectedly bombed, and from which they never recovered. Comments are added when necessary, particularly with Billboard and Cash Box variances:

1950: Anton Karas - "The Third Man Theme" (London 30005) / "Vilia" (Columbia 12478)

1952: Johnny Standley - "It's in the Book" (Capitol 2249) / "Proud New Father" (Capitol 2569)
"It's in the Book" was No. 1 on Billboard, but peaked at No. 3 on Cash Box.

1955: Joan Weber - "Let Me Go, Lover" (Columbia 40366) / "It May Sound Silly" (Columbia 40440)

1958: Silhouettes - "Get a Job" (Ember 1029) / "Headin' for the Poorhouse" (Ember 1032)

1958: Laurie London - "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" (Capitol 3891) / "Joshua" (Capitol 3973)

1958: Elegants - "Little Star" (Apt 25005) / "Goodnight" (Apt 27017)
"Goodnight," as well as the flip side, "Please Believe Me," both charted on Cash Box, but not Billboard. Included here because readers using only Billboard would say we missed it.

1963: The Singing Nun - "Dominique" (Philips 40152) / Soeur Sourire (The Singing Nun) - "Tous Les Chemins (All the Roads)" (Philips 40165)
"Tous Les Chemins" made the Cash Box Top 100, but not Billboard's. Same disclaimer as for the Elegants.

1966: Napoleon XIV - "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" (Warner Bros. 5831) / "Doin' the Napoleon" (Warner Bros. 5853)
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" was No. 1 on Cash Box, but peaked at No. 3 on Billboard.

1969: Zager & Evans - "In the Year 2525 (Exordium And Terminus)" (RCA 0174) / "Mr. Turnkey" (RCA 0246)
"Mr. Turnkey," as well as their next single, "Listen to the People," charted on Cash Box, but not Billboard. Same disclaimer as for the Elegants.

1973: "Dueling Banjos" - Eric Weissberg from the Warner Bros. Film Deliverance (Warner Bros. 7659) / Eric Weissberg & Deliverance - "Reuben's Train" (Warner Bros. 7718)
"Dueling Banjos" was No. 1 on Cash Box, but peaked at No. 2 on Billboard.

1974: Byron MacGregor - "Americans" (Westbound 222) / "How Good You Have It in America" (Westbound 225)
"Americans" was No. 1 on Cash Box, but peaked at No. 4 on Billboard.

1982: Vangelis - "Chariots of Fire - Titles" (Polydor 2189) / "To the Unknown Man" (RCA 13402)
For our purpose, chart appearances by Vangelis with other artists, such as Jon Anderson, are separate from solo Vangelis recordings. If those were considered he wouldn't be on this list.

1983: Taco - "Puttin' on the Ritz" (RCA 13574) / "Cheek to Cheek" (RCA 13646)
"Puttin' on the Ritz" was No. 1 on Cash Box, but peaked at No. 4 on Billboard.

1984: Nena "99 Luftballons" (Epic 04108) / "Just a Dream" (Epic 04440)
"99 Luftballons" was No. 1 on Cash Box, but peaked at No. 2 on Billboard.

1985: Jan Hammer - "Miami Vice Theme" (MCA 52666) / "Crockett's Theme" (MCA 53259)

1985: USA for Africa - "We Are the World"
No follow-up recording was made by this all-star assemblage: Dan Aykroyd; Kim Carnes; Ray Charles; Bob Dylan; Daryl Hall; James Ingram; Michael Jackson; Jean-Michael Jarre; Al Jarreau; Waylon Jennings; Billy Joel; Quincy Jones; Cyndi Lauper; Huey Lewis; Kenny Loggins; Bette Midler; Steve Perry; Lionel Richie; Smokey Robinson; Kenny Rogers; Diana Ross; Paul Simon; Bruce Springsteen; Tina Turner; Dionne Warwick; and Stevie Wonder.

1988 Bobby McFerrin - "Don't Worry Be Happy" / "Good Lovin'" (EMI 50163)

1989 Sheriff - "When I'm with You" (Capitol 44302)
This is a reissue of a 1982 single, originally released in Canada and the U.S. (Capitol 5199). Since the band split up about three years later, no follow-up to the 1989 hit was made.

1992 The Heights - "How Do You Talk to an Angel" (Capitol 44890) / "I'm Still on Your Side" (Capitol 56798)

IZ ZAT SO? Fortunately, most artists don't fizzle immediately following a No. 1 hit.

One interesting example is Gary Lewis and the Playboys, one of a small group of acts whose very first record reached No. 1 ("This Diamond Ring").

They didn't have another chart-topper, but each of their first seven releases (1965-1966) did enter the Top 10:

"This Diamond Ring" (1); "Count Me In" (2); "Save Your Heart for Me" (2); "Everybody Loves a Clown" (4); "She's Just My Style" (3); "Sure Gonna Miss Her" (9); and "Green Grass" (8).

This odd factoid may not interest Guinness, but we think it looks nice on his resume.

Jerry Osborne answers as many questions as possible through this column.  Write Jerry at: Box 255, Port Townsend, WA 98368  E-mail:   Visit his Web site:

All values quoted in this column are for near-mint condition. 

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