Song Of The Day 8/15/2015: Harry Nilsson – “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

Quarterly Covers Report – We started this Quarterly Covers Report with a Nilsson cover, so I thought we’d end it with something Nilsson covered. Harry Nilsson did quite a few covers, although he was a great songwriter – in fact Rolling Stone just named him the 62nd greatest songwriter of all time but keep in mind that U2 could release an album of Bono reading Chex Mix recipes into a converted soap dish while The Edge riffles through old issues of Life and give it to everyone who downloaded Office 360 and Rolling Stone would give it five stars* – including the landmark albums Nilsson Sings Newman and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. As an interpreter Nilsson was without peer. I could talk about Nilsson all day.

I’m thrilled that Nilsson’s genius is now properly celebrated and ranked alongside the legends of the genre, because there was a string of Nilsson albums that were so unilaterally and sharply ignored from the mid-’70s onward that constituted a vacuum in his chronology for so long. These would be the albums he made after the John Lennon-produced Pussy Cats, which I still believe is a stark and brutalized classic, but did signify something of an impending downtick. But then you had Duit On Mon Dei, Sandman and …That’s the Way It Is, all of which could be considered uneven at best, and my love for Harry in general prevents me from saying anything worse. I recall a lot of steel drums, flippancy, empty spaces, and places where I think Harry was just napping. (But even on these, there was still the occasional spark of beauty – here, try this.)

There was an album called Knnillssonn that Nilsson was quite fond of but I haven’t heard that closely; it got lost because RCA, Harry’s label, found themselves suddenly having to focus on Elvis Presley’s death. Then in 1980 there was Flash Harry, his final album, one that wasn’t even released in America until two years ago. I just now heard it for the first time. It’s not bad. It’s got a cameo from Monty Python’s Eric Idle, a nice version of a song called “I Don’t Need You” which Kenny Rogers later turned into a hit, and a sincerely exuberant song called “I’ve Got It!” about the joy of lining up a prostitute for the evening. And it includes this, Idle’s triumphant crucifixion anthem from Life of Brian, titled just “Bright Side of Life” on the album. The people in the cheaper seats can fold your hands in prayer; the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your rosaries.

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