Nilsson Sings Newman
Vine St (all the songs on this album were written by Randy Newman)
This is actually two songs in one - just as Newman wrote it, firstly we hear 'Anita' with full band - but that serves only to be the demo...hence 'That's the tape that we made but I'm sad to say it never made the grade', by which time all that is left is Harry and Randy's piano. In the 'electric' demo we have a production reminiscent of early Nilsson albums with some great backing vocals - the irony is that this 'demo' would certainly have made the grade!
The slower, main part is a reflection on the days gone by when the demo was recorded. Once again, the backing vocals are superb - just listen to the polyphony at 1'55" - absolutely amazing! This is a sensational album opener!
I knew this song before I had the album as it appeared on the Greatest Hits LP. All those days and weeks of rehearsal paid off with recordings like this one...Harry and Randy are so 'in tune' with each other they compliment each other musically right the way through this song. Harry also showcases his breath control again on this track. He always had the talent and skill to make singing like this sound so sublimely easy! as for the song it sums up a pair of lovers' relationship in a few verses: let's get married, let's have kids (or adopt) and let them grow up, let's retire and then die some day! C'est la vie!
I'm sure the 'politically correct' fanatics who plague the modern world would want this banned (they'd probably just ban Nilsson full-stop!). The opening piano fifths tell us that we're talking about a song about someone Chinese. We then find out he 'eats rice all day'. Again the song consists of just piano and layered backing vocals (there is a bass drum beat in there too).
This is one of my two favourite tracks from the original album. Obviously a great deal of time and effort went into getting it just right (see above) so I guess Harry particularly loved this song and wanted to do it as well as he possibly could. The work was well worth it. The arrangement sees the piano joined by a vibraphone which adds a wonderful richness to the arrangement. Newman's piano playing in this is beautiful and sensitive - the backing vocals just get better and better with each track.
The wind sweeps over the concrete town where there used to be open plains...a lonesome voice bemoans the loss of his habitat. Because there is so little to listen to except the voice in this song Harry stands out and grabs the attention. In this song he showcases not just his pitch range and breathing but his dynamic range. From barely a whisper to a passionate fortissimo this is another stunning vocal performance.
With Harry still fresh from success with 'Midnight Cowboy' it was a clever touch to fade the song out with the movie theme...wonder if they paid royalties???
The Beehive State
I don't particularly like this one...there's nothing wrong with it per se but it just doesn't 'do' anything for me. I suppose if I came from Kansas or Utah I might appreciate the name check...
I find the concept of Utah's 'anonymity' a little strange - I grew up with it being a 'famous' State - I guess that was due to The Osmonds (although The Beach Boys also sang about 'Salt Lake City'). This is just another piano and multiple voice song - additional tambourine...up-tempo, kicked off side 2.
I'll Be Home
Several of the songs on this album have given me pre-echoes of future Nilssongs in the backing vocals. On this song they have an air of 'That Is All' and 'All I Think About Is You.' 'Caroline' made me think of 'The Moonbeam Song.' This is a simple song but very nicely done. The piano is lower in the mix here than on any other track on the album - almost hidden at times behind the organ and backing vocals. In the second chorus the answering "Oh, yes he will" overdub seems, at first a little out of place and context but it wouldn't be the same without it, would it?*
Living Without You
The very effective double-tracking on the lead vocal is a lovely touch. Another chance for Harry to layer more of those gorgeous backing vocals...hey I'd love a vocals only mix of this album!
Dayton, Ohio 1903
My other favourite on the record. Newman's chord sequence is so obvious but wonderful. The melody is wonderfully lazy and brings to mind quite perfectly a sunny Sunday afternoon. Harry could hardly have sounded more relaxed - he pulls off the effect with ease. The Glenn Miller (Moonlight Serenade) quote helps evoke the air of 'past times' even though it was, of course, composed many years later than 1903 (actually it was in 1941 - how about that for a year?).
So Long Dad
Another lovely song to end with. Lovely, creative piano work and another staggeringly complex chord sequence in the intro. The second part of the song is in a ragtime style. The fade is one of the places on this album where some of the 'engineering' noises were left on as a 'joke'.
In so many ways this is the pick of the entire collection. An absolutely exquisite recording where Harry's voice and Randy's piano are once again perfectly attuned. The 'sometimes wind blows through the trees' line makes me feel physically cold when I hear it, even on a summer's day. I have no problems picturing snowy scenes when I hear this. I remember Curtis Armstrong getting so excited about this when he was working on the Buddha re-release, and rightly so. His quote that it was "possibly the greatest unreleased Nilsson track from any period" was entirely justified.
Love Story (alt)
Considerably faster than the final version (it finishes 20 seconds sooner), this early version shows Nilsson and Newman 'working out' what they were going to do - lots of the lovely touches we are so used to on the final version have not yet evolved in this reading, most notably the word 'baby' in the choruses. Interesting to listen to this 'work in progress' but I'd choose the 'original'.
On this version the 'wind' noise is much quieter and the initial vocals are accompanied by the piano rather than a capella. Harry whistles again! The song also ends as originally intended (without the 'Midnight Cowboy' theme). So the differences here are considerable and well worth hearing.
I'll Be Home (alt)
I miss some of the backing vocals (* actually, I don't miss the afore-mentioned echo line one little bit!) but despite that I'm tempted to say that this is better than the album version - a really intimate version of a lovely song. Aside from 'Snow' this is the best of the bonus cuts.
Living Without You (alt)
No double-tracking (which I do miss).
One additional track 'Linda' was known to have been recorded on the same day as 'Snow'. Despite extensive research to try to find this track it is, sadly, believed lost.
Overall, I have to say this is a very much under-rated album. One of its few problems is its brevity - the original LP is just 26 minutes long and that simply is not enough. (This makes the omission of 'Snow' from the original even more of a mystery.) As a full price album in 1970 by an artist who was not yet fully established and full of songs by another artist with similar standing AND with it being such a major departure from what even his fans expected of Nilsson it is easy to see how it became overlooked and failed to chart. Having accepted that, the reception at the time was not entirely neutral (it was never a poor reception, just a very quiet one!) the album was named 'Record of the Year' by Stereo Review.
With time being our friend and the ability to look back this is a historically priceless collaboration between two men who became giants in American contemporary music. No doubt about it, this album contains some of the very, very best singing Harry Nilsson ever recorded. As I said earlier, the Buddha re-release lifts the sound to near perfection and brings Harry into your very own living room, sitting just a few feet away from you. You can't help but feel a thrill of excitement when that happens.
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