Two for Tuesday: Harry Nilsson

As I explained yesterday, for the next few weeks I’m going to be talking about the songwriters and composers that have been covered by Three Dog Night. First up is Harry Nilsson, whose song “One” 3DN took to #5 in 1969.

Nilsson’s musical career started in 1962, when he made demos of songs by songwriter Scott Turner. He started writing songs in 1963, and eventually caught the ear of someone at RCA Records, who signed him in 1966. Derek Taylor, The Beatles’ road manager, bought an entire box of Harry’s first album, 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. That album had a cover of “You Can’t Do That,” which included parts of other Beatles songs. Here’s that cover; see how many songs you can identify.

The Beatles became fans of his after that, with John Lennon saying Harry was his favorite American artist and Paul McCartney saying Nilsson was his favorite group. Another fan of his was Randy Newman, whose song “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” was on Nilsson’s third album, 1969’s Nilsson. Harry liked Newman’s music so much that his next album was Nilsson Sings Newman (1970), on which he sang all Newman covers with Randy backing him on piano.

Harry achieved chart success with his next album, 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson, which included “Without You,” a cover of Badfinger’s song, “Coconut,” a calypso-flavored song sung over a single chord (C7), and the rocker “Jump Into The Fire,” our second song today.

In all, Harry Nilsson recorded fifteen studio albums, his last one being 1980’s Flash Harry. He suffered a massive heart attack in February 1993, and pressed RCA to release a “Best Of” compilation. That collection, Personal Best, was released in 1995, a year after he died of heart failure, and can be found on YouTube.

Nilsson’s was a life I can hardly do justice to in a few words. His official website is here; a blog, “Harry Nilsson: A Little Touch of Schmilsson on the Web” is here, although it hasn’t been updated since last December. A Facebook group is here.

Harry Nilsson, your Two for Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

4 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Harry Nilsson

  1. I will give a token televisions I adored, additional my whole family because it began the show, “Let me tell you about my best friend. . . ” From “Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” with Bill Bixby as the lead and such a nice song sung by Harry Nilsson. To this day, I get tears in my eyes over the opening and song. I was close to my Dad who died in 2001.


  2. I like Harry Nilsson, but it was painful to hear him do You Can’t Do That after hearing the Beatles sing it. But you know me. LOL

    I didn’t know Without You was a Badfinger song! It’s my favorite by Nilsson because it really highlights his awesome voice. But I love Badfinger, so I popped over to YouTube and checked that out. It was good, but honestly, I don’t think anyone can touch Nilsson’s version.


    1. Evidently Lennon and McCartney liked his version of “You Can’t Do That.” It wasn’t bad, just not as good…

      I’ve also heard Badfinger’s “Without you” and you’re right, it’s nowhere near as good as Nilsson’s. Harry was unique. That whole album, with all the different styles, was remarkable.


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