Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson

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Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry NilssonThe seventh studio album by Harry Nilsson, the music on 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson unfolds almost like a television variety show with its incredible diversity in musical style. The most commercially successful work of Nilsson’s career, the album was his first to fully delve into the pop/rock realm as it features a vast array of mature pop ranging from tin pan alley to contemporary rock.

With a musical career that dated back to the late fifties, Nilsson began to have some real success as a songwriter in 1963 when he wrote a songs for artists like Little Richard and producers like Phil Spector. His debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson was released in 1966 with album releases coming in rapid succession over the next several years but with very modest commercial success. However, Nilsson’s multi-octave vocals caught the ear of Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor who introduced his music to the band. By 1968, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were citing Nilsson as one of their favorite American artists. Nilsson’s first commercial breakthrough came when his rendition of Fred Neil’s song “Everybody’s Talkin'” was featured in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, becoming a Top 10 hit and leading to a subsequent Grammy Award.

Nilsson Schmilsson was produced by Richard Perry, who enlisted top-notch players to back Nilsson. This includes bassist Klaus Voormann, formally of Manfred Mann’s band, and drummer Jim Gordon who had recently been involved with Derek and the Dominos. The album was recorded at Trident Studios in London.

 


Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson
Released: November 13, 1971 (RCA/Victor)
Produced by: Jimmy Page
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, June 1971
Side One Side Two
Gotta Get Up
Driving Along
Early in the Morning
The Moonbeam Song
Down
Without You
Coconut
Let the Good Times Roll
Jump Into the Fire
I’ll Never Leave You
Primary Musicians
Harry Nilsson – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
John Uribe – Guitars
Klaus Voormann – Bass, Guitar
Jim Gordon – Drums, Percussion

 

The ten-song album features three covers and seven Nilsson originals including its first two tracks. “Gotta Get Up” is a theatrical pop/rocker driven by Nilsson’s bouncy piano, complete with a rich arrangement including slight horns and other elements packed into this song of less than two and a half minutes. The acoustic “Driving Along” follows and works well as an early seventies soft rocker with rich vocals, slight horns and a Mellotron by Perry. The album’s first cover is “Early in the Morning”, originally a late 1940s Cuban-influenced track by Louis Jordan. On this version, Nilsson nearly performs solo with a choppy reverb laden organ and extraordinarily soulful lead vocals.

“The Moonbeam Song” features slowly strummed acoustic topped by soft vocals soon accompanied by a rich backing chorus. The poetic verse structure of this song is atypical, with elongated lines at times to extenuate the overall feel. On the moderate piano rocker “Down”, Nilsson’s strained vocals and Jim Keltner‘s potent drum beats drive home the central theme strongly to finish the first side. The pop-oriented second side begins with the chart-topping cover of “Without You”, originally composed and released by Badfinger for their No Dice LP. Here, Nilsson took an incredibly dramatic ballad and made it even more emotional and melancholy as he uses his voice to max potential and performs both parts of the original duet by Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Further, the orchestration of Paul Buckmaster made this an almost operatic piece.

Harry Nilsson

Following the emotional drama of “Without You”, comes the light and nearly frivolous “Coconut”. Here, a finger-picked acoustic riff starts the rotating and persistent percussion, which does not change through the entire duration of this quirky Caribbean hit. The cover of Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” has a genuine Southern feel throughout with bouncy piano, a fine harmonica lead and slight slide guitar by John Uribe interjected between vocal lines. In contrast, the rocker “Jump Into the Fire” is built on a de-tuned bass groove by Herbie Flowers and well-treated vocals which sound unlike anything else on the album. The slow and simple piano ballad, “I’ll Never Leave You”, wraps things up with many instances of pleasant sonic additives throughout.

Nilsson Schmilsson was nominated for several Grammy awards with the song “Without You” winning for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In an attempt to build on this success, Nilsson followed with a couple of spin-offs, Son of Schmilsson in 1972 and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973, but neither of these were received nearly as well critically or commercially.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums

 

Walls and Bridges by John Lennon

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Walls and Bridges by John LennonWalls and Bridges seems to be one album that often gets lost in the John Lennon collection. It is not as dramatic as Plastic Ono Band, nor is it as popular as Imagine, nor as sad and tragic as the circumstances surrounding Double Fantasy. Still, this fifth post-Beatles album by Lennon (which he self-produced) is unique in its production and arrangements with a decidedly “modern” sound which includes sharp guitars, well-rounded yet thumping bass, dry snare drum with deep delays, and plenty of horn arrangements throughout. This album also captures Lennon’s mood during his 18 month “Lost Weekend”, his only separation form Yoko Ono during the last 13 years of Lennon’s life.

Lennon and Ono moved to New York in 1971 and escalated their anti-war message, which brought the Nixon administration and FBI to embark on a multi-year attempt at deportation. 1972’s Some Time in New York City was an overtly political album, which was mainly a commercial and critical flop. Lennon’s next album, Mind Games in 1973, was an effort to move back towards a more standard rock and roll arrangement and included Ken Ascher on keyboards and Jim Keltner on drums, both of whom would be brought back for Walls and Bridges.

After he and Ono decided to separate, Lennon moved to Los Angeles with May Pang, an assistant of Ono’s. During this time, he was drinking and was involved with many alcohol-fueled public antics, which brought the former Beatle some negative publicity. In the midst of this chaos, it was growing ever harder to get any recordings done. So Lennon and Pang settled back in New York in the Spring of 1974 and started rehearsing new material with a group of core musicians, including Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, and Klaus Voormann (who played on Lennon’s first two solo albums) on bass. After moving to the studio and recording the basic tracks, Lennon took the helm during overdubbing, which gave the album it s distinct arrangements and sound.


Walls and Bridges by John Lennon
Released: September 26, 1974 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon
Recorded: Record Plant East, New York City, July–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Going Down on Love
Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
Old Dirt Road
What You Got
Bless You
Scared
#9 Dream
Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)
Steel and Glass
Beef Jerky
Nobody Loves You
Ya Ya
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Percussion
Jesse Ed Davis – Guitars
Ken Ascher – Piano, Keyboards
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The opener “Going Down on Love” is marked by the percussion by Arthur Jenkins under the main blues riff and hook. This multi-section song with higher-register vocals contains the first horn ensemble which sets the tone for the album. This is followed by the only non-Beatles song by Lennon to top the charts, “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”. Lennon’s lead vocals are harmonized by Elton John, who also plays piano on the track and was so impressed with the final result that he made a bet with Lennon that it would reach #1 on the charts. When Lennon lost the bet, he agreed to perform a few songs at an Elton John concert on what would turn out to be Lennon’s last major public performance of his life.

Lennon also collaborated with Harry Nilsson on “Old Dirt Road”. This song contains a country flavored piano and strummed acoustic, harkening back to “Jealous Guy” from Imagine, as a slow and steady ballad with a bit of Beatles bounce in the pre-chorus. On “What You Got”, Lennon gives a wild vocal performance in a funk-infused track with piano, strong horns, and very animated drums by Keltner. “Bless You” is a soul-inspired ballad with heavy electric piano, slowly strummed acoustic, and a moody sax solo. Lennon’s vocals are very melody driven and song is perfect for soft-rock, easy listening in 1974 and he called this track the “best piece of work on the album”. Side one of Walls and Bridges wraps with “Scared”, which contains dramatic, wolf howling sound effects before breaking into a direct, bass and piano driven beat which reminds one of the Plastic Ono Band album in its raw emotion and candidness.

“#9 Dream” is one of the most indelible Lennon songs ever recorded. The slide guitar by Davis, which seems to mimic fellow Beatle George Harrison, is accompanied by strummed acoustic, deep strings, and very ethereal vocals. There are sudden but non-abrasive changes in the arrangement and a chorus of background vocals including some whispers by May Pang. Lennon claims the entire song, including the chorus hook; “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” (which has no specific meaning), came to him in a dream. “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” is the second song harmonized by Elton John through lead verses. There is a lot packed into this short song, with multiple melodies and moods. “Steel and Glass” is a dark folk song, with dramatic picked acoustic guitars in minor chords beneath strong and poignant vocals in opening verses before it breaks into richer arrangement for subsequent choruses and verses.

The mostly instrumental “Beef Jerky” starts with guitar feedback effects before morphing into an arrangement with a more “modern sound”. “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” is a sad acoustic song about fair-weather friends. Lyrically, it contains the potent line; “I’ve been across to the other, I’ve shown you everything, I’ve got nothing to hide…” while musically the strings seem to mimic those in “Mind Games” from the previous album and the bluesy guitar lead above slow horn ensemble is one of the finest moments on the album. The album closes with “Ya Ya”, a short and upbeat cover which features Julian Lennon on drums and was included as a surprise for John’s 11-year-old son with the credit; “Starring Julian Lennon on drums and Dad on piano and vocals”.

Walls and Bridges rose quickly up the charts and reached #1 in the US less than a week after its release. In 1975, Lennon released an album of cover songs called Rock n’ Roll. He also reunited with Yoko Ono and commenced a five year retirement from music when the arrival of the couple’s son, Sean, later in that year.

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1974 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band

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Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper BandThe Alice Cooper Band reached their commercial peak with 1973’s Billion Dollar Babies. This sixth Alice Cooper album, produced by Bob Ezrin, refined some of the basic rock grit of earlier work with the theatrical glam of the now famous (or infamous) live shows. The album’s title derives from the surprise the band felt about their massive success following their two 1971 albums and 1972’s School’s Out. They literally went from living together in a basement to one of the top rock acts in two years. The band’s leader Alice Cooper wrote the bulk of the album’s lyrics, some of which touched on very controversial subjects for shock value.

The album was first recorded at a mansion the band purchased called the “Galecie Estate” in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ezrin used various methods to achieve certain effects, including using a greenhouse with a marble floor as an echo chamber. The group completed the album at Morgan Studios in London, where the sessions became “party central” with many famous guests such as Harry Nilsson, Rich Grech, Marc Bolan, and Keith Moon stopping in, but all were too inebriated to contribute musically. Band guitarist Glen Buxton also struggled with substance abuse at the time and two session guitarists were needed to be brought in to finish his parts.

After the album was released, the band embarked on a massive tour that included 64 concerts in 59 cities in less than three months, which broke many U.S. box office records. These live performances featured Cooper doing skits that included tearing apart baby dolls and attacking mannequins while using several stage props and effects which required a crew of 40 to 50 people and used about 1 tons of equipment. This stagecraft all came with a cost as the tour, originally estimated to bring in $20 million, barely cleared $5 million.

 


Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper Band
Released: February 25, 1973 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin
Recorded: The Galecie Estate, Greenwich, CT, August 1972-January 1973
Side One Side Two
Hello Hooray
Raped and Freezin’
Elected
Billion Dollar Babies
Unfinished Sweet
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Generation Landslide
Sick Things
Mary Ann
I Love the Dead
Band Musicians
Alice Cooper – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Michael Bruce – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Glen Buxton – Lead Guitars
Dennis Dunaway – Bass, Vocals Guitars
Neal Smith – Drums

 
Although the majority of the music on Billion Dollar Babies was composed by guitarist/keyboardist Michael Bruce, the opener “Hello Hooray” was written by singer/songwriter Rolf Kempf and was actually originally recorded by Judy Collins. This is a true show tune with soaring vocal melodies, a Bowie-esque rock arrangement, and a climatic coda section, which truly separates Alice Cooper from any of his shock rock successors like Marilyn Manson. “Raped and Freezin'” is an upbeat rock song with a temperament much lighter than the lyrical content. The lyrics tell of someone chased through the desert in Mexico and the arrangement attempts a Mexican-flavored end section, but fall just a bit short.

The sparse lyrics of “Elected” are nicely supplemented by energetic and entertaining music. This effect-laden song is actually a remake of an earlier band track called “Reflected” and the lyrics take the form of a campaign speech. Drummer Neal Smith provides stomping drum beats and Ezrin adds a cinematic touch with brass arrangements that complement the well crafted guitar riffs. The title song “Billion Dollar Babies” is riff driven and keeps Cooper keep his hard rock cred with guest Donovan providing background vocals. “Unfinished Sweet” contains some strong sound effects with the simple guitar riffs and vocals which mimic the primary riff along with a movie-like middle section with many more effects.

The second side begins with the satirical “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, a clever story song about the sheer outrage over Cooper’s stage antics. The music is upbeat and melodic with singalong chorus and a doo wop-tinged backing. The song was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and Top 10 hit in the U.K. The album peaks with “Generation Landslide”, a unique gem which starts with blue-grassy acoustic riff before switching to a drum-marched infused verse with a throbbing bass line by Dennis Dunaway. Although not released as a single, the song became a live staple and fan favorite throughout Cooper’s career.

The rest of the album is dedicated to pure theatrics. “Sick Things” is a doomy and melodramatic tune dedicated to the band’s fan base with strong horn arrangements by Ezrin above a simple bass line. “Mary Ann” is a rare ballad where Bruce’s distant-sounding pianos offer sharp contrast to Cooper’s near-sounding vocals. “I Love the Dead” is, the most controversial song of Cooper’s career to that point with an overt theme that unabashedly promotes necrophilia. Although it was no doubt manufactured just for this shock effect, it may be a bit much for those who cherish some sliver of taste in rock and roll.

Billion Dollar Babies reached the top of the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would be the peak of the Alice Cooper Group. But just when it appeared like this hard rock band was about to step into the top echelon, tensions between the members led to a split after just one more album, Muscle of Love. Alice Cooper continued as a solo artist for decades to come while Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith went on to form a new group which took its name from this album, Billion Dollar Babies.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1973 albums.