In the early 70’s my mother with those actual beautiful hands had the record Nilsson Schmilsson, playing it over and over on her Braun radiogram in France. We’d only recently met again, after having been separated since I was two, but that’s a whole other story. There was one ‘loud’ song on that record that she didn’t care too much for, and it was my job to leap up and move the needle across as soon as it began playing. That record was my introduction to Harry Nilsson, and it sprouted an emotional attachment that lasted the next forty-eight years, and counting.
The LP included the heart-tugging Without You, a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic and was the reason my mum bought it in the first place. Add some really catchy tunes like Gotta Get Up and Early In The Morning, and the ingredients were in place for an outstanding musical experience.
On side two, the eight-minute heavy rock anthem Jump Into The Fire, complete with its drum duel and bass detuning kept me busy on my mother’s behalf. It’s best played very loud while quite drunk, and that’s what I can do now that I’m all grown up. I’m glad Mum found sanctuary two Nilsson albums later with A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night, more her cup of tea and full of the old tunes that she loved singing along with. I wasn’t required to move the needle along once. Cancer got her in 2015 and I miss her.
Back to my teens; I was hooked on that Schmilsson record and I wanted to learn more about Nilsson. A study of the sleeve notes taught me that the singer’s first name was Harry. In those pre-Internet days, I relied on books, the music press and basement record shops to discover what else he’d recorded.
Before too long I’d managed to obtain the back catalogue of all his earlier albums, and I loved every one; Aerial Ballet, Harry, The Point and more – they were all so good. And so different to anything else I’d heard. I then eagerly bought each subsequent release; Pussycats, Sandman, Flash Harry and others, me poring over the sleeve note information with an obsession that I’d never previously, or since, experienced.
Years later my son asked me why I liked Nilsson so much. I had to think, because there was no definitive answer; perhaps it was because of his extensive vocal range. Was it his off-the-wall funny and poignant lyrics? Or his catchy melodies? It was all of those things and some, but one reason stood out for me – Harry Nilsson and his music were, and still are, unique. They’re in a class of their own. And now I have another reason – he reminds me of my dear old mum with the beautiful hands, bless her.