Harry Nilsson. The name alone seems to elicit an automatic sigh from those of us who love the music and the spirit of this man who died far too young. Stories of legendary partying (I especially love Micky Dolenz story of starting out in LA and waking up a few days later at a massage parlor in Phoenix) sometimes cast a shadow over the brilliance of his music; his vocal on "Without You" is one of those performances that is at the top echelon of immortal pieces of THE BEST of what talent has to offer.
Working as a bank computer programmer by night, young Harry spent his days in the mid '60's writing songs, which eventually got him a contract with Capitol records offshoot Tower. Two 45's were released, neither of which made much in the way of commercial inroads. "Good Times" had some serious hit potential, and perhaps its short length ruined whatever chances it had to be a hit. The song was also demo'd specifically for The Monkees, who instead chose to cover "Cuddly Toy"- the royalties from which allowed Harry to quit his bank job, and helped in his siging to RCA Records (where he spent the rest of his recording career).
While some great singles were drawn from Harry's LP's during the '70's, he was truly one of the great album artists of the first half of the decade. By 1980, a failed score (Popeye) and several albums that didn't live up to the earlier quality turned Harry basically into a retired artist. Tragically, due to the death of his friend John in December of that year, Harry found a new cause to devote his energy to; The National Coalition To Ban Handguns. One of the quirks of Harry's career was that he never performed live, yet against the odds became an enormously succesful recording artist. Harry's devotion to the gun control cause saw him make numerous appearances to speak on behalf of the crusade, and for this fan it makes him all the more heroic.
Harry also began making regular appearances at Beatlefest conventions, and he was known to blow minds of the crowds when he would get up and sing a song or two. For the 1982 fest, Harry spontaneously cut his second-to-last original release (discounting a few soundtrack and compilation cameos), With A Bullet.
Taking a very serious situation (Harry stages a faux-robbery during the song while sharing the shocking statistics of handgun violence) and placing it over a jaunty track was a brilliant way for Harry to spread the message. Too bad more people didn't get to hear this limited edition record which was sold only at Beatlefest! Of course its message today, 31 years later, is just as strong. The flip side, "Judy" was written when tall, glasses wearing Judy stepped forward to pledge $500 to the N.C.B.H cause after Harry said he would write a song for whoever made the pledge. The track is pure Harry, with its whimsical nature and trademark stacked vocals.
As a bonus, here's the snappy radio edit of the blazing "Jump Into The Fire".
until next time! Derek See