Harry Nilsson (June 15, 1941 — Jan. 15, 1994) was an American singer/songwriter from Brooklyn.
Nilsson was born Harry Edward Nilsson III on June 15, 1941, in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. His paternal grandparents were circus performers who did “aerial ballet,” the title of his second proper album. He was especially close to his maternal grandparents; his maternal grandmother played piano. He spent his youth between New York and California, where he got vocal lessons from his uncle.
In the mid-1950s, Nilsson entered the workforce young to help support his family. Despite dropping out of the ninth grade, he was savvy with nascent computer technology, which helped him land a graveyard shift at a Los Angeles bank. He also took a job at LA’s Paramount Theatre, where he formed a harmony duo with his friend Jerry Smith.
Nilsson first learned the ukulele, then piano and guitar. He started writing melodies to other people’s songs when he couldn’t remember a theme or chord sequence. Eventually, he started writing his own songs, notching his first credit on the 1961 Jane Morgan b-side “Homesick for New England.” In 1962, he made his vocal debut on demos for songwriter Scott Turner. The following year, he issued the Mercury single “Donna, I Understand” (b/w “Wig Job”) under the pseudonym Johnny Niles.
In 1964, Nilsson issued the singles “Do You Wanna” (b/w “Groovy Little Suzie”) and the two-part “Baa Baa Blacksheep” under the pseudonym Bo-Pete. He also had his songs recorded by Dore Alpert (“I’d Do It All Again”), The Citations (“Chicago”), The Super Stocks (“Readin’, Ridin’, and Racin'”), The Soul-Men (“Sister Sue”), and The Originals (“All For The Beatles (Stand Up and Holler)”).
Nilsson debuted under his own name with two 1964/65 singles arranged and financed by producer George Tipton: “Sixteen Tons” (b/w “I’m Gonna Lose My Mind”) and “You Can’t Take Your Love (Away From Me)” (b/w “Born In Grenada”). Both singles were issued on Capitol subsidiary Tower Records, which compiled them on the 1966 mini-album Spotlight on Nilsson with six additional two-minute numbers. Later that year, he signed to RCA Victor.
- Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967)
- Skidoo (OST, 1968)
- Aerial Ballet (1968)
- Harry (1969)
- Nilsson Sings Newman (1970)
- The Point! (TV, 1971)
- Aerial Pandemonium Ballet [remixes] (1971)
- Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)
- Son of Schmilsson (1972)
- A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973)
- Son of Dracula (OST, 1974)
- Pussy Cats (1974)
- Duit on Mon Dei (1975)
- Sandman (1976)
- …That’s the Way It Is (1976)
- Early Tymes [archival] (1977)
- Knnillssonn (1977)
- Flash Harry (1980)
- Popeye (OST, 1980)
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