Debut Sessions '62/Early Tymes/Hollywood Dreamer
These recordings have now been released in several different forms over a 25-year period but not until April 2001, with the release of ‘Hollywood Dreamer’ were they heard in their original form. Previously, the songs had only been released with overdubbed backing tracks recorded by Turner using some of LA’s finest session players (including Hal Blaine and Herb Alpert).
Turner himself was a session musician from Los Angeles who had toured with many of the ‘stars of the day’ including Tommy Sands and Guy Mitchell. He was keen to build a reputation as a songwriter, having worked on songs with Buddy Holly and John Marasalco, who had written for Little Richard.
A chance encounter in a publisher’s office with a young, unknown Harry Nilsson led to the conversation which, in turn, led to these songs being recorded. Immediately impressed with the youngsters voice Turner set out both to use him to publicize his own material and also tried to spread the word about the great, new talent he had found.
Turner, with no money to pay for studio time, financed the recording with Nilsson by offering to play guitar on other sessions free of charge in return for being able to use the studio ‘after hours’. Over 20 songs were recorded and the overdubs were added later. Harry and Turner began to write songs together, one of the first ‘I’d do it all Again’ being recorded by Herb Alpert himself. Another example is ‘A Travelin’ Man’ written for and recorded by The New Christy Minstrels then, later, by Slim Whitman.
The songs Harry and Scott recorded were first released as an LP in 1977, Early Tymes (which, strangely, featured a contemporary photograph of Nilsson quite unrelated to the songs it contained). This album featured just eleven of the songs and lasted barely 22 minutes in total, one of the shortest LPs in history, I believe! (It was, perhaps, most notable to American historians by the fact that some of Turner’s songs were co-written with Audie Murphy, America’s most-decorated soldier in WWII who, of course, later went on to become a Hollywood movie star.)
Early Tymes even made it to a CD release in some countries before the demand worldwide was realised with the release of ‘The Debut Sessions’ in 1994 by British label RETRO. This release also featured extensive liner notes by Peter Doggett, the editor of Record Collector magazine. The album contains the songs from Early Tymes(1) plus the rest of the songs from the sessions, some in their original form and six with new overdubs recorded in 1994. Harry was due to be at these sessions in Nashville but, tragically, he died before they happened.
Finally, in April 2001, ‘Hollywood Dreamer’ was released on Fuel 2000 Records in the USA with liner notes written by Turner himself. This finally allowed us to hear the tracks as Harry and Scott first recorded them, ‘unplugged’ - without overdubs and as simple and naked as nature intended. Scott and Harry could never have envisaged the eventual audience for these recordings when they made them back in 1962. Whatever the original intentions Turner had for the songs he paid Nilsson $3 each to record neither would have thought they would go on to be released on new albums up to 40 years into the future. At the end of his liner notes for ‘Hollywood Dreamer’ Turner reminds us that, at the time of recording, Harry was “a mere 17 years old but a genial mind and velvet voice that far surpassed others”
It Just Ain’t Right (Turner/Marasalco)
Early signs of Nilsson's smooth singing style, massive range and vocal warmth are evident in this, one of the highlights from the sessions. Straight away, the listener can hear how confident the young Harry is with material he has only just been introduced to. One of the things Harry was to become famous for in the years to come is making other people's songs 'his own' and there is no finer early example than this one. (John Marasalco is the man who wrote some of Little Richard's biggest hits such as 'Good Golly, Miss Molly'.)
Learning From You (Turner/Marasalco)
Nice, up tempo song. Harry's voice is suited well (for one so young) to the irony of the lyrics which sarcastically credit an ex-lover with the provision of all sorts of 'life-education' for the singer! When I first heard the song I certainly hadn't 'learnt the colour of blue'! Rather sad to think Harry must have been introduced to it at such a tender age. Very much the 'Cosi Fan Tutti' of the collection! (2)
Thank Heaven for Kathy (Turner/Nilsson)
One of the few songs yet to be heard in it 'stripped back' version - it appears on 'Hollywood Dreamer' only as an 'overdubbed' bonus track. Quite a pleasant chorus but the 'poor boy' echoing backing vocal is a trite contrived. One of the songs Turner and Harry co-wrote (there are only two in this set, plus one as a threesome - a 3rd, 'I'd Do It All Again' was Herb Alpert's first single) and you can hear element of some of the early/pre RCA Nilsson singles in this song.
My Girl (Turner/Nilsson) - a.k.a. You're My Girl
The second of the co-writes and it is easy to hear young Harry's songwriting in this one. Again very reminiscent of the early singles and 'Spotlight' - some of the compositional techniques used here are way beyond what Turner had used in the rest of the set. Particularly interesting are the tempo changes. Actually, I'd like to know how much Turner actually contributed...
A Man and His Castle (Turner)
One of the few 'ordinary' songs here, even Harry's vocals find it hard to lift this cut much above the mediocre. Better on 'Debut Sessions', in my opinion where there is a little more to listen to.
My Baby’s Coming Home (Turner/Holly/Nilsson) - a.k.a. My Best Friend
Absolutely unique in that this song shares a credit with Buddy Holly. You can hear both Harry and Buddy's influence here. While the song was not 'hit material' the credits alone make in notable to Nilsson and Holly fans. The fully produced version from 'DS62' is very good, although coming in at just 1'16" it is too short to be considered complete. I have to wonder why Turner, when making arrangement etc. for the overdubbing sessions did not consider adding a guitar or harmonica solo in as appropriate then repeating a chorus to take this up to 2 minutes or so. I wonder how many Nilsson fans have simply, like I did - to be honest, 'bypassed' this song? It fails to be memorable simply because of its brevity!
Once a Loser (Turner)
Very similar, musically, to 'The Will' - almost as if Turner took a melody idea in two different directions over time. More typical, velvet Nilsson vocals - with nice arrangement on 'DS62' featuring slide guitar, piano and backing vocals.
Me Without You (Turner)
Again there are similarities with 'The Will' as far as the melody is concerned but not as pronounced as in the previous song. At times the 'fully produced' version on 'DS62' is a little 'too' fully-produced - there is an element of 'Spectorisation' when the choir enters! Unfortunately, there is not an 'unplugged' version of this song. I do have the feeling, however, that the mix on 'HD' is a little less intense, to which extent it is better.
Oh, Caroline (Turner/Marasalco)
This is the opening song on 'HD' and is one of the reasons why that album is so valuable. Doing an A/B comparison is quite an experience. I guess fans will be as split as I am about which version they prefer...it varies from song to song with me! Another bizarre thing I find is associating these songs with a Harry Nilsson barely out of his teens! I blame 'Early Tymes' to a large extent - why DID they have cover art for that LP featuring a bearded, post-Schmilsson era Harry?
The Only Light (Turner/Murphy/Mitchell)
Written with Guy Mitchell (Singing The Blues) and Audie Murphy this is a pleasant and memorable song notable inasmuch as the original version features drums.
Just Wait Till Summer Comes (Turner/Alpert)
Here is a beautiful song, accompanied by piano in the original version. Harry's voice is mature way beyond his years on this take. While this is one of the highlights of the 'HD' set, the addition of cello (and other strings) on the 'DS62' version only adds further to the songs effectiveness - I find it such a shame there is superfluous and out of place 6th in the final chord which spoils the 'aftertaste' for me.
Please, Mr. Music Man (Turner/Murphy)
One of the few tracks for which I prefer the overlaid version to the 'Nilsson Unplugged'-style 'Hollywood Dreamer'. Another song about how music can soothe the pain of a broken-heart. When I hear this sort of interpretation it is easy to wonder how Harry's career might have taken an entirely different path had he been 'adopted' by the blues/jazz world before pop/rock got him. Certainly, few modern singers could tug the heart-strings quite like Harry could.
The Will (Turner/Young)
One of the last songs to be recorded and fascinating for the extra 'snippets' provided showing how Harry read the song from scratch to performance in such a very short space of time. Turner refers to the fact that Harry picked up the songs so well in his liner notes on 'HD' - claiming that the 'mistake' we hear was his fault entirely! Slightly twee lyrics about someone leaving a legacy of nature to the world but you barely notice it while listening.
He Ain’t Gonna Get My Girl (Turner)
He's got everything...a personal phone, great big allowance but...; for so long this was my album opener. Early Tymes was all of these sessions we had when I first discovered Nilsson albums (I had been a fan for a couple of years before it was released in 1977). But ET was all over in 20 minutes or so - I, like many Nilsson fans it seems, used to play it at least twice at a time. Good, up-tempo number with catchy tune, memorable lyrics and a vocal delivery that makes you want to hear more.
All For Your Love (Turner/Farrow/Lampert)
Although Harry did not play a part in writing this song it does feature some of the same type of humour which was to pervade so much of his own material in years to come. It lists the things a lover might do in order to prove his love for his intended and Harry sounds as if he would, indeed, be prepared to do most of them! Although the full production version is a little cluttered, the 'HD' version does sound somewhat empty and lacking the vitality of the former (not to mention Scott Turner's quiet but noticeable backing vocals!)
The Ash Grove (Turner/Lampert)
Before I bought Early Tymes I thought this was a hymn tune. Turns out to be a Welsh folk-song but these are new lyrics. Not a lot else of interest, one of the weaker cuts. The fade on the overlaid version is interesting, though.
Take This Heart (Turner/Marasalco)
This song could have been a hit for the Everley Brothers - Turner hints (quietly) at the 2nd vocal/harmony part in the background. Again, this recording is, surely, unfinished (like 'My Baby's Coming Home', above). There is no overdubbed version and, whilst the sparse beauty of the original does not demand alteration, a little judicious editing might have given the song the reward of completion it deserves.
Foolish Clock (Turner/Murphy)
I loved reading Turner's recollection of how he took this song to Murphy and brought tears to the old actor/war-hero's eyes. Another of the songs that benefits from the overdubs, particularly the ticking clock.
There’s Gotta Be A Girl (Turner/Marasalco)
When I first bought Early Tymes I was hosting a French Exchange student who 'borrowed' both my room and my record player. he played this song constantly throughout his visit although his singing of it irritated me as his voice wasn't a patch on Harry's, of course! The intro sets the scene - Doobee Doobee Dum, Doobee Doobee Dum, Bee... I looked for the girl who was 'soft as the clouds with the wind in her hair' for years - then I married my wife!
Building Me Up (Turner/Marasalco)
Harry again manages to capture the 'I don't trust this girl...I'm not sure her motives are honourable' feel of this song perfectly. A lovely song with interesting melody and chords and Nilsson sings it was as much pathos and experience as a man three times his age!
In Time (Turner)
The 22nd and final song sung by Harry in the session - Turner describes how sore his voice was - and only here in rough demo form. This was the first song Turner ever wrote.
Oh, I Wonder (Turner/Marasalco)
This song's omission from 'DS62' was, surely, an unexplainable oversight. It had appeared on 'ET' and was, therefore, familiar to Nilsson fans yet it was merely conspicuous by its absence on the 'full' version for which they had waited 18 years. Restored to the set for 'HD' in its stripped back version it leaves the 'full production' version one of the hardest to find Nilsson tracks on CD, (Early Tymes having been out of print for many years). One of the things this song is notable for is the spoken middle section (à la Elvis on 'Are You Lonesome Tonight')
Nilsson's Message To Scotty
A bit of 'silliness' added to the end of both 'DS62' and 'HD' this is Harry 'goofing about' and allowing some of his 'soon to be famous' humour to surface until the tape ran out. I can't help thinking of Robin Williams as Popeye when I hear this!
Additional note: according to an article in 'Everybody's Talkin'' from Summer 1997 there is one more song from these sessions, called 'Big Daddy', which has never been released. According to archive-digger extra-ordinaire Curtis Armstrong the song tells the somewhat unusual story of "a boy who talks about how everyone in town looked up to his daddy ("the biggest man around") until, one day, someone shows up and kills him and it turns out that Daddy Was An Outlaw".
(1) Strangely, one song from ‘Early Tymes’ (‘Oh, I Wonder’) was missing from this release, which was surely due to some administration error. This made the track an instant ‘rarity’ even though it was well known to most Nilssonians.
(2) 'Cosi fan Tutti' means 'Women are like that' - not exactly a politically correct comment...but when was Harry EVER politically correct...or Mozart, for that matter...and how much better were they both for that?????
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