Bootleg City: Nilsson

Written by Bootleg City, Music

One of my favorite pebbles of pop-culture minutiae is that Curtis Armstrong, the actor who played Herbert Viola on Moonlighting in the late ’80s and “Booger” in four Revenge of the Nerds movies, knows everything there is to know about Harry Nilsson. He discussed his love of the late singer-songwriter’s music in an interview with the Onion AV Club in 2006.

Moonlighting enjoyed breaking the fourth wall, as did The Monkees two decades earlier. Nilsson’s song “Cuddly Toy” was performed by the made-for-TV band, which had a talented songwriter of its own — singer-guitarist Mike Nesmith penned the pop classic “Different Drum,” which was recorded by the Stone Poneys (featuring Linda Ronstadt) in 1967 and memorably covered by the Lemonheads in 1990.

According to former bassist Nic Dalton in Everett True’s The Lemonheads: The Illustrated Story, Nilsson visited the band at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles in the summer of ’93 during the recording of their sixth album, Come On Feel the Lemonheads. He “came in, smoked some pot and played us some new demos he’d just done … Mostly, they were songs looking back on his Seventies days, kind of like The Beatles meet Ween. They sounded lo-fi and cool, especially coming from this middle-aged guy with a paunch.”

In 1998, after four albums and one best-of compilation, the Lemonheads parted ways with Atlantic Records, the label cofounded by Ahmet Ertegun, who nurtured the careers of legends like Ray Charles. Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for his portrayal of Charles in Taylor Hackford’s Ray (2004), while Ertegun was played by none other than Curtis “Center of the Universe” Armstrong.

The following tracks apparently come from a bootleg called “At the BBC,” but I don’t have the complete bootleg, so I don’t know. However, it appears that both The Music of Nilsson and A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night aired on the BBC in the early ’70s; the tracks from the latter special sound like they were taped at a rehearsal, not the actual televised performance. (There’s a lot of tape hiss on these MP3s — freeloading downloader beware.)

The Music of Nilsson, 1971
Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song/One
Gotta Get Up
Walk Right Back/Cathy’s Clown/Let the Good Times Roll
Lifeline
Joy
Without Her
Coconut

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, 1973
Intro/Lazy Moon
For Me and My Gal
Always
Makin’ Whoopee
I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
This Is All I Ask
Over the Rainbow
As Time Goes By