20th Anniversary of Harry Nilsson's Death
Everybody’s talkin’ about Harry Nilsson. Especially today. Joey Spehar of The Morning Mix was joined by Grammy winning record producer and musician Aaron Luis Levinson to speak on behalf of Harry Nilsson and the 20th anniversary of his death.
Nilsson was born in Bushwick, Brooklyn in 1941 under striking poverty after his father left the family when Harry was just three years old. It is clear that his experiences living under these harsh conditions truly shaped his career and songwriting style. This can be seen in pieces such as “Daddy’s Song” or “1941”, Nilsson’s autobiographical song.
In 1962, Nilsson reached his first big break, singing demos for Scott Turner, who paid Nilsson five dollars per song. Once the demo album was released, Nilsson was offered royalties to Scott Turner’s songs, but refused to accept them, as he felt he was already thoroughly compensated. This sets the tone for what to expect in Nilsson’s upcoming musical career. As his popularity rises, his humbleness remains just as high, no matter how commercial he becomes, or how high his music reaches in the charts.
“I think for himself, he was so interested in making something that was true to his own muse that whether it was commercially successful or not, I don’t think it really mattered to Harry,” says Levinson
One of Nilsson’s most famous love songs, “Coconut” off of the 1972 album, Nilsson Schmilsson is an excellent example of how intricate his songwriting was. The entire song has the same chord progression throughout, yet one might not notice this because the music over the chords is so dynamic.
“He’s such a masterful singer, that the relative musical stasis of it, it’s not moving. It’s moving on many other levels: lyrically, vocally, and even in the way he adapts his voice to these different characters.”
On Valentine’s Day of 1993, Harry Nilsson suffered from a severe heart attack while working on his final album Papa’s Got a Brand New Robe. This album was unfortunately never released, as he passed away about 11 months after, but can often be found circulating the internet today.