Top 10 Harry Nilsson Songs

Harry Nilsson Songs

Photo: RCA Records / Public domain via Creative Commons

Our Top 10 Harry Nilsson Songs List looks at one of the most treasured artists in Rock and Roll History. Harry Nilsson was a songwriter and a song interpreter. He had tremendous success on both fronts. He was the songwriter behind Three Dog Night’s massive hit “One.” He was a song interpreter behind Badfinger’s beautiful song “Without You.” Harry Nilsson won multiple Grammy Awards. He was incredibly respected in the music industry. Harry Nilsson was great friends with some of rock and roll’s biggest legends like John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon,  and many others. Nilsson worked hard and partied hard. He was tremendously successful.

Harry Nilsson released his first album in 1966 entitled Spotlight on Nilsson. He would continue to release one or two albums a year until his final studio album, Flash Harry, in 1980. Our Top 10 Harry Nilsson songs barely touch on the songs from his excellent catalog. Nilsson was one of the most gifted musical artists of the 20th Century. We hope you enjoy taking a listen to some of these great Harry Nilsson songs. Make sure to check out his entire musical catalog.

# 10 – Jump Into The Fire

We open our top 10 Harry Nilsson Songs list with the excellent track “Jump Into The Fire.” With the song’s splendid guitar riffs and smoking Harry Nilsson vocals, this one stands as a great way to open up our Nilsson songs list. The song was released on the Harry Nilsson album titled Nilsson Schmilsson. The album was released in 1971. The song “Jump Into The Fire.” was the second single released from the album. It stood in stark contrast to the album’s massive first single, “Without You.”

Recorded at Trident Studios in London during the summer of 1971, the song showcases Nilsson’s versatility as a musician and his willingness to explore different musical styles. The album’s production was handled by Richard Perry, who played a pivotal role in shaping its sound, pushing Nilsson towards a more rock-oriented direction compared to his earlier, more whimsical work.

Musically, “Jump Into the Fire” is known for its driving bass line, played by Herbie Flowers, and its energetic, almost frenetic, percussive backdrop, courtesy of drummer Jim Gordon. These elements combine to create a track that’s both propulsive and slightly unhinged, reflecting the song’s themes of risk-taking and abandonment. Nilsson’s vocal performance is equally compelling, with his distinctive voice conveying a sense of urgency and intensity that complements the instrumentation.

Critically, “Jump Into the Fire” was well-received, noted for its departure from Nilsson’s previous, more melodic and gentle work.  Although it didn’t achieve the same level of chart success as some of Nilsson’s other hits, such as “Without You,” it has since gained recognition as a classic rock staple and has been featured in various films and television shows, further cementing its status in popular culture. The song’s inclusion in iconic scenes, particularly in Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas, has contributed to its enduring legacy and influence.

# 9 – Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga

“Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga” is a medley of two distinct yet seamlessly intertwined songs featured on Harry Nilsson’s 1974 album Pussy Cats. John Lennon produced the album. The song “Mucho Mungo/Mt Elga” was written by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. There were singles released from the album, but “Mucho Mungo/Mt Elga” was not one of them. Nonetheless, this was the album’s best and most creative track.

This album stands out in Nilsson’s discography, not only for its musical content but also for the unique circumstances surrounding its creation. Pussy Cats was produced by John Lennon during his infamous “Lost Weekend” period, a time marked by personal tumult and creative experimentation for Lennon, who was temporarily estranged from Yoko Ono. The recording sessions took place in Los Angeles, and brought together a host of talented musicians, including Ringo Starr on drums, to contribute to the album’s eclectic sound.

“Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga” is notable for its gentle, almost dreamy quality, which stands in contrast to some of the more raucous tracks on Pussy Cats. The song showcases Nilsson’s ability to craft delicate melodies and tender lyrics, with his signature vocal stylings adding depth and emotion to the piece. The production under Lennon’s direction adds a layer of sophistication to the arrangement, allowing Nilsson’s vocals to take center stage while being supported by a subtle yet effective instrumental backdrop. The track exemplifies the creative synergy that can occur between two gifted artists such as Nilsson and Lennon. It remains a testament to their friendship.

# 8 – Spaceman

Continuing with the top 10 Harry Nilsson songs list, we turn to the great  tune “Spaceman.” This classic Nilsson song was released on the great Son of Schmilsson album. The album featured an all-star cast of famous rock and roll musicians, including Peter Frampton, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Bobby Keys, Lowell George, Nicky Hopkins, and many other great players. The legendary Paul Buckmaster did the string arrangements who many rock fans knew from all the great work he did arranging string arrangements he did for Elton John

The song delves into the theme of isolation and the longing for connection, encapsulated in the metaphor of a spaceman. Nilsson’s lyrics are both poignant and playful, creating a narrative that resonates with listeners on multiple levels. The production, handled by Richard Perry again, complements the storytelling with lush arrangements and clever use of studio effects, enhancing the sense of otherworldliness and introspection that the song conveys.

# 7 – Coconut

Unlike most novelty songs, the great Nilsson song “Coconut” was one of those great novelty songs of the early 1970s that has stood the test of time. The song was released on the Nilsson Schmilsson album. The song broke into the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10, peaking at number eight. It’s one of the songs that has always found its way back into pop culture over the years, usually appearing in motion pictures such as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Nilsson’s vocals performance on this one is hysterical.

Known for its quirky lyrics and infectious calypso-inspired melody, “Coconut” is a whimsical song that tells the story of a girl who puts a lime in the coconut and drinks them both up, only to find herself feeling worse, leading to a comical chain of events involving advice from her brother and a call to the doctor.

The song’s instrumentation is minimalistic, with Nilsson playing almost all the instruments, including the marimba, which gives “Coconut” its characteristic tropical vibe. The repetitive melody and Nilsson’s multi-tracked vocals create a catchy, almost hypnotic effect, making the song stand out for its simplicity and catchy rhythm.

# 6 – Old Dirt Road

This great track, “Old Dirt Road,” was released on the album Flash Harry. The album was released in 1980. John Lennon and Harry Nilsson wrote the song. It first appeared on John Lennon’s album Walls and Bridges, released in 1974 and as Lennon’s fifth solo album.

The song carries the reflective, somewhat melancholic tone that characterizes Walls and Bridges. Its lyrics, infused with imagery of meandering down an old dirt road, metaphorically speak to life’s journey, with its ups and downs and a sense of wandering or searching for direction. The musical arrangement is understated, focusing on Lennon’s voice and piano, complemented by subtle studio effects and instrumentation that enhance the song’s reflective quality.

Though not released as a single and not as widely recognized as some of the other tracks on Walls and Bridges, “Old Dirt Road” remains a cherished deep cut among fans of both artists. It exemplifies the kind of introspective, personal songwriting that defined much of Lennon’s solo work, as well as Nilsson’s ability to meld his style with his collaborators, creating music that resonates on a deeply emotional level.

# 5 – Me And My Arrow

We love how this one just jumps right out at you. “Me and My Arrow” was featured on his 1970 concept album The Point! The album tells the story of Oblio, the only round-headed person in the Pointed Village, where, by law, everyone and everything must have a point. “Me and My Arrow” is a theme song for Oblio and his faithful dog, Arrow, highlighting their inseparable bond and adventures.

The song is characterized by its simple, catchy melody and light-hearted lyrics, which reflect the themes of friendship and loyalty present throughout The Point!. Nilsson’s delivery is gentle and playful, perfectly capturing the spirit of the story and its characters. The minimalistic arrangement allows the song’s narrative and melodic charm to take center stage.

“Me and My Arrow” quickly became one of the most beloved tracks from The Point!, appealing to children and adults with its universal message and sing-along chorus. The song and the rest of the album were later adapted into an animated film, further cementing its place in popular culture and expanding its audience.

# 4 – You’re Breakin’ My Heart

How many times have you played this song to make you feel better about that one person who constantly stabbed you in the heart? This blew me away when I first heard it. I used to drive my parents crazy playing this song really loud back in the 1970s. Now I drive my wife crazy playing it. The song ticks her off. It’s great rock and roll. The song was released on the album Son of Schmilsson in 1972. Peter Frampton played guitar in the track. The legendary Nicky Hopkins played the piano part.

# 3 – Everybody’s Talking

These following three Nilsson songs still knock me out every time I hear any one of them. These gorgeous pieces of music define the storyline of so many lives. Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talking” was written by Fred Neil in 1966. Nilsson’s version was placed in the film Midnight Cowboy. The song won a Grammy Award. It stands as one of the most covered songs in history, being recorded by various musical artists from all musical genres including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Neil Diamond, Iggy Pop, Stevie Wonder, and many more.

Nilsson’s version, featured on his 1968 album Aerial Ballet, transcended the original with its ethereal, haunting quality, mainly due to Nilsson’s delicate vocal delivery and the song’s sparse, effective arrangement.  The song’s lyrics, which convey a sense of alienation and a desire to escape the cacophony of urban life, resonated deeply with listeners and perfectly complemented the film’s themes of loneliness and disconnection.

“Everybody’s Talkin'” became one of Nilsson’s biggest hits, reaching the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earning him a Grammy Award in 1970 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The song’s success helped to cement Nilsson’s reputation as a versatile and sensitive interpreter of song, capable of imbuing the material he worked with—whether his own compositions or those of others—with a unique emotional depth. Over the years, “Everybody’s Talkin'” has been covered by numerous artists, most recently the Tedeschi Trucks Band who took the song into an entirely new place musically.

# 2 – One

Most classic rock fans relate the song “One” to the band Three Dog Night, who had a massive hit with the song.  There’s no denying that Three Dog Night released a spectacular version of the song. The song was a huge success, reaching the number five position on the Billboard Top 100 in 1968. However, this great song was written by Harry Nilsson. It was released on Harry Nilsson’s third album Aerial Ballet. The album was released in 1968.

One” showcases Nilsson’s talent for crafting songs that blend complex emotions with simple, yet profound, lyrics. The song is particularly noted for its opening line, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” which immediately establishes the theme of loneliness and the longing for connection. It’s why we all loved Harry.

# 1 – Without You

Harry Nilsson’s tremendous ballad “Without You” remains one of the most beautiful and explosive rock and roll ballads ever. The song’s melody, arrangement, production, and incredible vocal performance define one of the greatest moments in recorded history. The song has been covered many times, but none of them compare to Harry Nilsson’s cover version.

“Without You” is one of Harry Nilsson’s most iconic and enduring songs, yet it is not a Nilsson original. The ballad was written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the British rock band Badfinger and first appeared on their 1970 album No Dice. Nilsson’s version, featured on his 1971 album Nilsson Schmilsson, transformed the song into a global hit, showcasing his exceptional vocal range and emotional depth.

Nilsson’s rendition of “Without You” is characterized by its dramatic arrangement, starting with a tender, piano-led introduction and building to a powerful, orchestral climax. The song’s heartfelt lyrics and Nilsson’s emotive delivery create a poignant sense of longing and heartbreak. The production, overseen by Richard Perry, enhances the song’s impact with lush orchestration and careful attention to Nilsson’s vocal nuances.

The success of “Without You” was meteoric. It topped charts worldwide, including the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and the UK Singles Chart, cementing Nilsson’s status as a major international recording artist. The song also earned Nilsson a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1973, further acknowledging his talent as a vocalist.

Contributing writer John Tabacco says don’t forget about these great songs…..

Remember Christmas – from the album Son Of Schmilsson
Gotta Get Up – from the album Nilsson Schmilsson
Turn On Your Radio – from the album Son Of Schmilsson
I’d Rather Be Dead – from the album Son Of Schmilsson
All My Life – from the album Pussy Cats
Ambush – from the album Son Of Schmilsson
Don’t Forget Me – from the album Pussy Cats
Good Old Desk – from the album Aerial Ballet
Old Forgotten Soldier – from the album Pussy Cats
Think About Your Troubles – from the album The Point
Daybreak – from the album Dracula

 

Top 10 Harry Nilsson Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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