Its one of my personal favs, but it isn’t just sentimentality or nostalgia for my youth, when I first bought the LP by the supremely talented but lamentably under-appreciated and unknown Nilsson (although the god-awful girl-flicks of the late nineties by Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts et al seem to be reviving some great Nilsson tunes for their soundtracks!).
This album can stand alone as a great piece of music. The first track, Jimmy Cliff’s “Too Many Rivers To Cross” sets the tone of the album, loneliness, heartbreak, dark introspection. This isn’t as dreary as it sounds. Nilsson’s gut-wretching emotion on this song makes his misery reach out and grab you by the fucking throat. Listen to the break, for Christ’s sake!
“My woman left me, but she wouldn’t say why”
“So I guess I’ll, I’ll have to cry”
You can hear his throat tearing on that line.
Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, done in a Phil Specter wall-of-sound drone of jungle-beat drums and horns and guitars just rolls over you like a dirt-powered steam-driven mud-humpin’ steamroller from hell. Nilsson grinds out the words in a staccato stutter, machine-gunning out Dylan’s stark images of a acid-laced revolutionary’s druggy dream. This song, done with this arrangement, could be a monster hit today. It’s distilled anger and resentment bubbling under a venom filled diatribe of nightmare landscape images and anarchal political babblings.
Jeez, add body piercings and its every teen’s dream!!
“Don’t Forget Me” is pure smaltz, but a great tune, reminiscent of Harry’s love of the classics (see “A Little Touch Of Schmillson In The Night”). This tune could easily be a standard, but Harry sneaks in a little of his recurrent twisted humor:
“And when we’re older, and full of cancer,
It doesn’t matter now, come on, get happy!”
Fantastic melody, and his voice just caresses and wraps around the lyrics.
“All of My Life” presages the Lennon songs like “Watching the Wheels”, about life flying by while you stop and smell the roses. The high-pressure cooker of rock and roller super-duper-stardom had cooked these two pretty thoroughly, if you are aware of the “Lost Weekend” escapades of Mssrs. Nilsson and Lennon, which occurred before, during and just after Pussycats. This song seems to allude to that seamy side of “rock world”.
“Old Forgotten Soldier” is a peace paeon, one feels Nilsson nodding toward Lennon on this one, but it actually comes across very sympathetic to the veteran, giving his youth and best years to his country in war and then discarded in peace-time. The vocal work here alone is worth the listen. This guy can still _sing_ goddammit, and real vocalists have always been sorely lacking in rock and roll. Maybe its not your thing, but a voice control freak in pop music/rock like this happens once a decade, usually.
Side two opens with a very slow, soulful version of “Save the Last Dance For Me”, complete with an Elvis-style talk-over verse. Nilsson’s stacked harmonies have always been his most unique contribution to the art of recording, and they never sounded better than on this cut. His voice blends together like the syrup and butter melting off a stack of pancakes, each track still discernible and oozing with its own flavor, but the whole melding like a sugary river of sound.
“Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga” is a Nilsson/Lennon composition, actually two independent songs cobbled together, but it works. Both are very nice tunes and there is some nice guitar work by Indian Jesse Ed Davis in there. Klaus Voorman shines on his melodic bass lines, shades of McCartney, throughout the LP.
“Loop de Loop” is a throw-away, hey, they can’t all be gems. Me suspects this was an oldie fav of J & H and they thought it would be a blast as a drunken romp with a lot of party ambience going on in the background. It probably accurately reflects the mood and flavor of the recording studio at the time, but the cut could have ended up unlamented on the cutting room floor as an “oddity” for later release.
“Black Sails” is a moody, baroque piece with no band, only the dark and menacing strings. Harry’s voice is gritty and hoarse, later it was revealed he ruptured a vocal cord during this Bacchanal of a recording session, and it is evident here. He even sounds like singing give him pain, as he tells of a unfaithful lover, a desert island, a treasure map, and the black sails in the moonlight. A really haunting piece, with a jarring string arrangement by Ken Ascher.
The album ends with a star-studded jam of “Rock Around the Clock, with Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr AND Keith Moon on drums.
(“Ready Keith?” “Ready Ringo!” goes the intro)
Harry does some DJ patter and the band launches into a sloppy reprise.
This album rocks, Harry’s voice is fantastic and hits a different vibe and texture for every song, the writing is solid, the covers contain some argueably definitive versions. To dismiss this album as a load of self-indulgent crap is just facile and superficial. Listen to it. Its Harry at his most raw and and close to live as you will ever hear him. And Lennon’s production is clean and inventive, and they complement each other well. If only they had done a collaborative LP where they both sang. (For a small taste of what they could have done, listen to the Nilsson/Lennon “Old Dirt Road” on Walls and Bridges, done at about the same time, as well as Harry and John on Ringo’s Goodnight Vienna LP or Ringo, recorded around the same period.