recess radio program

06/28/05
Harry Nilsson
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Brief Sound Clip:

You're listening to songwriter Harry Nilsson performing the TV theme from The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Always able to glide gracefully between genres of music, Nilsson could as easily pen a TV theme songs as a forties ballad, an up-tempo pop song or a children's lullaby. He had a childlike charm and a youthful zest for experimentation that carried him to the top of the charts.

Nilsson started writing songs in Hollywood in the late 1960s and early on was able to sell his compositions to some of the most successful groups of the day, including The Monkees, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Yardbirds, and the Turtles. But Nilsson's biggest break came in 1968 when John Lennon and Paul McCartney announced in an interview that their favorite musician was none-other than, Harry Nilsson.

After that, everyone wanted to know about Harry Nilsson, and he scored a string of hits including "Everybody's Talkin'," "Without You" and "One" - a song that proclaimed that "one is the loneliest number that there was" - a hit that the Children's Television Workshop quickly latched on to, producing their own version for an episode of Sesame Street.

Nilsson's next hit was so wacky it could not help but go straight to the heart of many children. Nilsson, in fact, enjoyed writing songs for children, and composed an album length children's fable called The Point, which went on to become a hit play and groundbreaking animated film. It was about a young boy named Oblio with a round head who was born in a kingdom where everyone else had pointed heads. The tale describes the adventures of Oblio and his dog Arrow as they wander into the Pointless Forest in search of other misfits. Perhaps it is not surprising that a songwriter as versatile and experimental as Nilsson would create a fable about difference - and that children, who so often feel left out the adult world around them, would relate to the fable.

Nilsson's early death in 1994 shocked and saddened his many friends and fans. As a songwriter who sang about Moonbeams, Toys and Puppies, he created a persona that seemed to live in denial of adult concerns. Writing on how it felt to be without Nilsson, longtime friend and publicist Derek Taylor put it well when he commented that "It is something like losing a merry child."

Sources:

Nilsson's Greatest Hits: CD: BMG Entertainment. 2002.
For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson (Liner notes by Derek Taylor) Musicmasters, Inc. 1995.

Copyright 2005 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Monday, 02-May-2005 12:26:10 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."