Millennials and Gen-Xers may not immediately know the name Harry Nilsson, but they likely have listened to his music at some point in their lives.
The singer-songwriter, who hit the peak of commercial success in the early 1970s and died in 1994, is known for a style that was labeled “salon rock.”
Brit-authors David Roberts and Neil Watson – lifelong Nilsson fans – have released a book, “Harry & Me!” chronicling in terrific detail their fascination with his life and career.
The 362-page tome, lavishly packaged by This Day In Music from the UK contains remembrances from Micky Dolenz (The Monkees) to Danny Hutton (3 Dog Night); songwriter Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, Marc Cohn and publicist Elliot Mintz.
“Our expectations were that it would be a fun thing to work on, but it exceeded everything because the fan base of Harry Nilsson’s is just the most amazing bunch of people,” says Roberts.
“We’ve had contributions from literally everyone – from a 93-year-old nun in California to a 16-year-old schoolgirl in England.
“They’re an amazing bunch. I’ve worked on a few music books before but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fan base as fascinating as the people who contributed to this one.”
Dolenz recalls the time he met Nilsson.
At the time, Harry was working for a bank although he was beginning to see commercial success writing television jingles and songs for legendary rock producer Phil Spector.
In 1967, Nilsson signed with RCA Records. At around the same time, The Monkees were set to record Nilsson’s song, “Cuddly Toy,” after meeting him through their producer Chip Douglas.
Nilsson was so insecure about his music he refused to quit his day job. But when The Monkees turned “Cuddly Toy” into a major hit, Nilsson finally devoted full-time to his musical career.
Dolenz and Harry went on to form a lifetime bond.
Nilsson belted out songs in a voice that was gruff and at times even hoarse, according to The New York Times.
One of his top hits “Everyone’s Talkin'” with Freil Neil captured the ethos of the 1969, John Schlessinger-directed movie “Midnight Cowboy.”
The film won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 42nd Academy Awards.
Oddly, Nilsson was a recluse who shunned the limelight and never performed in concert. Yet he thrived in an era in stark contrast to most contemporary rock singers.
A tenor with a three and a half octave vocal range, Nilsson achieve a measure of commercial success that eclipsed most contemporaries.
His music lives on in movies like Netflix’s comedy-drama “Russian Doll” with Natasha Lyonne and Steve Carrell’s Spaceforce, a Netflix comedy streaming series.
Nilsson’s major radio breakthrough came in 1971 with his recording of “Without You” by Pete Ham and Tom Ham of the legendary group Badfinger.
Not surprisingly, Mariah Carey had a major hit of the same song in 1994.
His first few albums weren’t terrifically well-received until he hooked up with legendary producer Richard Perry, best known for his work with Barbra Streisand and Ringo Starr.
Their Nilsson Schmilson album, released in 1971 (containing “Without You”), was a runaway smash and is 30-years-old this month.
“I think for me, the point at which I thought, ‘Oh, now this is really becoming exciting,’ was when I was in Essex, picking up my sister who lives there,” says Watson.
I was telling her partner that I’d just started doing a book about Harry Nilsson. I think he did know who Harry was, but he wasn’t a fan. I said to him that he’d worked with loads of people.
“Then I mentioned Micky Dolenz. At that point, he said, ‘Oh yeah, well he used to live in the town in England where I used to live, Saffron Walden.
“So that was what initially spurred me on. Micky’s quote was the first celebrity that I had success with it. From then on, other cool people came on board, like Randy Newman and Mark Cohn,” he says.
For Nilsson fans, the book is a must-have. You know his music, now get to know the man.