Harry Nilsson was born on January 15, 19411, in Agoura Hills, California. He struggled to find fame throughout his career outside of singing covers or singing other people’s songs. Throughout the early days of his career, Nilsson did jingles while keeping his day job at a bank. During the mid-sixties, he wrote several songs with Phil Spector covered by several famous groups; the Ronnettes and the Monkees. In 1967, he released Pandemonium Show which was finally recognized by music critics and eventually allowed him to quit his day job. The album was so well done that the Beatles listened to it and named Harry Nilsson as their favorite American singer during a press conference. After this was said, some rumors were floating around that Nilsson was joining the Beatles. One of Nilsson’s songs was recorded by Three Dog Night in 1969 and reached number one on the top ten list.
Additionally, Nilsson released his second album, Aerial Ballet which began to define his quirky style. One of the songs on the album, Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talking, was used on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack. Despite being a cover, it was Nilsson’s first number one hit. In 1970 he released two albums; one was a cover of Randy Newman songs, and another was the soundtrack for the kid’s show The Point. His cover of Badfinger’s Me and My Arrow was his biggest hit to date. Nilsson never toured for these albums or any other. Instead, he stayed in the studio working on his musical talent. As the seventies progressed, Nilsson moved into another phase of his music; a more complex, edgier sound. Unfortunately, this experimentation cost him some of his fans. Nonetheless, in 1973, he went outside the box. He released A Little Touch of Achmillson in the Night, a cover album featuring pop standards with orchestra arrangement with famed conductor Gordon Jenkins who worked with Frank Sinatra. Some of Nilsson’s fame came from his association with John Lennon and not his music.
One night the pair were out drinking in Los Angeles and subsequently thrown out the Troubador. Lennon asked if he could produce Nilsson’s album. Nilsson ruptured a vocal chord during the recording sessions but kept it a secret since he didn’t want Lennon to stop working on the project. Their collaboration was Pussy Cats, Nillson’s last album to appear on the top 100. He also worked with another Beatle during the seventies, Ringo Starr. After his vocal cords were destroyed, Nilsson lost the part of his voice that made him famous. He released several albums that saw little to no success, so he left music instead of focusing on other projects, including lobbying for gun control after Lennon was shot in 1980. In 1994, he went back to the studio for one more album but died after a massive heart attack before he could finish the project. One of the best things about the singer is he was never linked to a specific genre. He experimented with many different types of music throughout his career, including singer-songwriter, psychedelic pop, and Baroque pop. Here are the top 10 Harry Nilsson songs of all-time
10. Lullaby In Ragtime
The original song was released in 1959 for the film The Five Pennies. This was part of his album of covers. Nilsson’s voice sounds dreamy, highlighted by lilting violins and flute trills. Even though Nilsson’s is not dynamic enough to carry over the orchestration, the two blend together for a light-hearted song.
9. I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City
The intro to this song has a touch of bluegrass. The lyrics are musings about trying to find somewhere better to be and following dreams with the help of prayer and meditation. Throughout the music, the subtle touch of banjo lends a sound comparable to Simon and Garfunkel.
8. Space Man
Nilsson opens this song with a touch of electronic fill. Throughout the song, his voice remains steady, but the instrumentation is more experimental than other songs in his catalog. Additionally, the ghost drum in the song adds a rhythm that blends the different instruments. As the song progresses, the instrumentation becomes more pronounced, sounding much like a dream we’ve all had as a child and the optimism we can accomplish it.
7. Early In The Morning
Nilsson explores blues in this song. However, with his voice and background instrumentation, it sounds like a stripped-down, updated song in the typically gritty genre. Additionally, the singer adds some vocal lifts that aren’t a staple of his catalog.
6. You’re Breakin’ My Heart
The grooves in this song are fun. Even though the overall song songs are upbeat, the lyrics tell a different story. It’s a breakup song for frustrated people who still miss the person but really just want to tell them off. Additionally, the saxophone and other jazz instrumentation drive this song making it more quirky than others in Nilsson’s catalog.
5. Jump Into The Fire
The intro to the song is an electronic guitar solo with a synthesized rhythm. It has a distinct jam band fill. This is another song where Nilsson gets out of his traditional music, even adding some haunting echo vocal lifts. The lyrics are about knowing who the character wants to be with and the right person for her.
4. Gotta Get Up
A bright piano solo opens up this song which creates a song that sounds like a smoky song that would be performed at a small piano bar. Nilsson’s voice lilts over the instrumentation. Additionally, the addition of the accordion in places makes it stand out song in his catalog.
3. Without You
Between the piano, which features prominently, and Nilsson’s voice makes for a more sorrowful piece. This song is memorable in his catalog because it’s so much moodier than others. Even though Nilsson’s voice has an ethereal quality, he typically doesn’t do songs that are quite as plaintive as Without You.
2. Everybody’s Talkin’
This song has a storied history. According to Song Facts, this song replaced Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay in Midnight Cowboy. Originally, Nillson was going to release this song as a single, but once it was slated for the movie, it was pushed back a year. Later, Nilsson won a Grammy for Everybody’s Talkin’, Best Male Contemporary Vocal Performance.
This song is another that’s popped up in many movies and tv shows. During the favorite Midnight Margaritas scene in Practical Magic, this song makes it iconic. Additionally, in the tv show Bones, it was two of the characters’ favorite songs. It’s easy to see why. After all, the lyrics are something you can’t resist singing along to. It’s such a catchy song you probably have it stuck in your head right now.