Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

TWO WONDERFUL SIDES, capable of delivering the Nilsson Schmilsson GENIUS in a way few copies out there can! We’re just wild about Harry ’round these parts, but it’s unbelievably difficult to find copies of his albums that sound any good. Beyond that, most of the Nilsson records out there in used record land are noisy, thanks to that super-high-quality RCA Dynaflex vinyl. (Your sarcasm detector should be going off like crazy right about now.)

Ah, but here’s a Nilsson Schmilsson that’s dramatically more audiophile-friendly than other copies.

Harry’s vocals sound great throughout and the overall sound is BIG, present, powerful, spacious, smooth and rich. Side one earned each and every plus of its White Hot Stamper Three Plus (A+++) rating. Folks, that’s shorthand for a copy that’s As Good As It Gets!

The Schmilsson Story

We’ve been talking about this album a lot lately around these parts, so we threw a copy on the table to see if it sounded as bright and distorted as I remembered. I love this music; why does it have to sound so painfully aggressive? The MOFI Gold CD that I play in the car is pretty good, though far from perfect. Can’t I find a copy that’s mastered right?

Well, yes and no. You need good stampers, and luckily the copy I had thrown on had them.

But that’s not enough. Advances in record cleaning and improvements in the quality of our playback are the other two legs of the stool that have allowed us to hear Nilsson’s Masterpiece in all its glory. (There are actually four legs to that stool, or Four Pillars of Success, the fourth being the acquisition of Critical Listening Skills, which naturally come about when you do large numbers of these shootouts.

Two Knockout Sides

Side one is big and bold, with the kind of jumpin’-outta-the speakers sound that we love here at Better Records. The overall sound is tubey — rich, full and warm. I don’t know if we’ve ever heard the brass on this album sound so good!

Side two is also strong, but it lacks some of the size and presence that the A+++ side one gives you. It’s got punchier bass than most copies and lots of energy, qualities that helped this side earn an A++ grade.

Big Production Out of Control Pop

Big production pop like this is hard to pull off. Richard Perry, the producer, and Phill Brown, the engineer, did an amazing job, but the recording is not perfect judging by the dozen or so copies I played this week and the scores and scores I’ve suffered through before. Let’s face it: Jump Into The Fire will never be smooth and sweet; neither will Down on side one. But other tracks on this album have DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND.

Track Commentary

The Track Listing tab above will take you to an extensive song by song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen for advice.

Phill Brown

I just now looked up the engineer for the album and am rather shocked that I never paid much attention to his body of work before.

He assisted on some amazing sounding records, many that we’ve auditioned and some that we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for and know to be superb recordings:

Arthur Brown – Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends (Superb)
Small Faces – Ogden’s Nutgone Flake
Traffic – Mr Fantasy (WOW! The Best of the Best)
Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower
Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
Steve Miller Band – Sailor
Spooky Tooth – Spooky Two (Superb)

And these are a sample of favorites he engineered:

Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
Jeff Beck – Rough and Ready
Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley
Roxy music – Manifesto

The first and third can be superb, the other two merely good in our experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Gotta Get Up Track Commentary

A tough one right off the bat. If you have an aggressive sounding copy, you’ll know it pretty quick!

Driving Along Track Commentary

A lot like the first track. Love those strummed acoustic guitars — so rich and full.

Early in the Morning Track Commentary

Pure audiophile magic! So spacious, open and sweet.

The Moonbeam Song Track Commentary

Tons of processing on his voice. The more natural it sounds without being dull, the better side one is going to be overall.

Down Track Commentary

With Nilsson screaming at the top of his lungs you better have a good copy to get through this track.

Side Two

Without You Track Commentary

The big hit from this album, and one of Harry’s best performances. He’s got the pipes that the writers (Badfinger) didn’t, and his arrangement is perfection. The sound goes right up to the edge but never over it on the best copies. On bright copies watch out! (By the way, it’s almost always a bit noisy.)

Coconut Track Commentary

Again, sonic perfection. What a song — pure Nilsson madness, the kind of pop genius that works on any level, even over the car radio. The percussion here can be wonderfully delicate when you get a good pressing.

Let the Good Times Roll Track Commentary

A tough one; only the best pressings get this one right.

Jump Into The Fire Track Commentary

Again, with Nilsson screaming at the top of his lungs you better have a good copy to get through this track, and even then it’s a bit of a problem.

This is one of the best tests I used for side two. Copies that are too smooth make the “just bass and drums” intro sound thick and smeared. Too bright and the vocals will tear your head off. The “just right” copies rock from the start and never get too far out of control, even when Harry does. The best we can hope for is that the loudest vocal parts stay tolerable. Believe me, it is not that easy to find a copy that’s listenable all the way through, not at the volumes I play at anyway (!).

A tough test for the old stereo, that’s for sure. Make sure your equipment is tuned up and the electricity is good before you get anywhere near a pressing of this album.

I’ll Never Leave You Track Commentary

A lovely arrangement with excellent sound.

AMG Review

Harry Nilsson had a hit, a Grammy, and critical success, yet he still didn’t have a genuine blockbuster to his name when it came time to finally deliver a full-fledged follow-up to Nilsson Sings Newman, so he decided it was time to make that unabashed, mainstream pop/rock album.

Hiring Barbra Streisand producer Richard Perry as a collaborator, Nilsson made a streamlined, slightly domesticated, unashamed set of mature pop/rock, with a slight twist. This is an album, after all, that begins by pining for the reckless days of youth, then segues into a snapshot of suburban disconnectedness before winding through a salute to and covers of old R&B tunes (“Early in the Morning” and “Let the Good Times Roll,” respectively), druggie humor (“Coconut”), and surging hard rock (“Jump Into the Fire”).

There are certainly hints of the Nilsson of old, particularly in his fondness for Tin Pan Alley and McCartney melodicism — as well as his impish wit — yet he hadn’t made a record as cohesive as this since his first time out, nor had he ever made something as shiny and appealing as this. It may be more accessible than before, yet it’s anchored by his mischievous humor and wonderful idiosyncrasies.

Chances are that those lured in by the grandly melodramatic “Without You” will not be prepared for either the subtle charms of “The Moonbeam Song” or the off-kilter sensibility that makes even his breeziest pop slightly strange. In short, it’s a near-perfect summary of everything Nilsson could do; he could be craftier and stranger, but never did he achieve the perfect balance as he did here.

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