The Austin Chronicle

Box Sets

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, September 20, 2013, Music

Harry Nilsson

The RCA Albums Collection (Sony Legacy)

How much Harry Nilsson is too much? For the casual fan familiar with the hits, "Everybody's Talkin'," "Coconut," and "Without You," the 17-CD RCA Albums Collection is clearly overkill. For those who know Nilsson as the so-called Fifth Beatle, composer of songs covered by the Monkees, Three Dog Night, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and the Yardbirds, it's the mother lode for under $140. For the fanatic, 55 previously unreleased tracks are a gold mine. Collected here is the bulk of Nilsson's recorded history, 14 studio albums from 1967 to 1977, highlighted by the soundtrack to The Point! ("Me and My Arrow"); Nilsson Sings Newman, an early testimonial to the genius of Randy Newman, with the celebrant playing piano; the Seventies success of Nilsson Schmilsson and its follow-up Son of Schmilsson; 1974 John Lennon collaboration Pussy Cats; and a sublime set of standards, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. All the studio LPs are augmented with bonus material, while three discs compiled exclusively for this box are where the treasure resides. Unreleased studio sides abound, covers of the Beatles, Lennon, Little Richard, Stephen Sondheim, and others sitting side by side with a demo he made for the Monkees hoping they'd record one or two. There's also silliness like "Buy My Album" and "I Want You to Sit on My Face." Flimsy packaging and a booklet that's somewhat skimpy for such an expansive set detract from the overall presentation. When Harry Nilsson, 52, died in 1994 after a long history of alcohol abuse, he'd become a footnote in recorded history, yet he left a nearly unrivaled legacy of imagination.


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