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 Allmusic.com 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 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.”