Rock Flashback: “Nilsson Schmilsson”

In 1968, both [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]John Lennon[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Paul McCartney[/lastfm] were asked to name their favorite American artist. They responded with the same name: [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Nilsson[/lastfm]. Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson had covered “She’s Leaving Home” on his 1967 album Pandemonium Shadow Show, which also included “You Can’t Do That,” a proto-mashup of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Beatles[/lastfm] tunes. But he would remain mostly a cult figure until the release of Nilsson Schmilsson 40 years ago this month.

Nilsson aficionados know just how much their man was capable of, which gives Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s assessment of the album at even more punch: “It’s a near-perfect summary of everything Nilsson could do.” There’s a grand romantic ballad, the #1 hit “Without You.” There’s a balls-out rocker, “Jump Into the Fire.” And there’s something head-scratchingly weird, the top 10 hit “Coconut.”

nilsson schmilsson album cover Rock Flashback: Nilsson Schmilsson

Nilsson is backed by some impressive talent: [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Klaus Voorman[/lastfm] on bass, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jim Gordon[/lastfm] on drums, and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Gary Wright[/lastfm] on piano. The album package included a poster, but another promotional item was also circulated: a paper shopping bag with a picture of a pregnant Nilsson on one side and a picture of the stars of the TV show Sanford and Son on the other. (See it here.)

Nilsson Schmilsson was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys, and “Without You” won one, for Best Male Pop Performance. Although Nilsson would continue to make interesting records throughout the remainder of the ’70s, Nilsson Schmilsson remains his biggest seller.

Here’s a 1971 TV performance of “Without Her,” a song from Pandemonium Shadow Show, paired with a not-entirely-unexpected staging of “Coconut.”

Experience more Rock Flashbacks.

  • Stu

    Listening to “Without Her” reminded me of how good the first BS&T LP was. Sometimes a really good first LP gets overshadowed by a monster follow-up. In this case, BS&T dumped Al Kooper (giving him the time to “discover” Lynyrd Skynyrd), went more jazz-pop and hit the REALLY big time with “Spinning Wheel” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”.

    You could make the same case for the first and second Led Zep LPs.

    Several years ago (mid 90s?), Don Rickles was playing the old high school downtown. His opening act was a guy who played acoustic guitar. I think he was a local guy. Can’t recall the name. But he did a wonderful segue from a song (sorry, forgot that, too!) into Nilsson’s Coconut. Magnificent and hilarious.

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