Harry Edward Nilsson III (June 15, 1941 – January 15, 1994), usually credited as Nilsson, was an American singer-songwriter who achieved the peak of his commercial success in the early 1970s. His most commercially successful albums, Nilsson Schmilsson (1971) and Son of Schmilsson (1972), bore the international top 10 singles "Without You" (1971) and "Coconut" (1972). His other top 10 hit, "Everybody's Talkin'" (1968), was a prominent song in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy.
During a 1968 press conference, the Beatles were asked what their favorite American group was and answered "Nilsson". He soon formed close friendships with the band's John Lennon and Ringo Starr. In the 1970s, Nilsson and Lennon were members of the Hollywood Vampires drinking club, embroiling themselves in a number of widely publicized, alcohol-fueled incidents.
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Links to Peel
"One of those great shriek-along-in-the-car records, and whenever we make up a holiday tape or anything like that, ‘Without You’ is always on there, along with the Hollies’ ‘The Air That I Breathe.’ And one of these days a blood vessel is going to snap in me head and that’ll be it really when I’m singing along with it, but I do like having a go."
(Peel on “Without You,” played as part of the Peelenium 1971 on 11 November 1999)
Peel was a big fan of the Nilsson chart-topping hit version of “Without You.” As well as appearing in the 1971 Peelenium, the track also turned up after the DJ's death among the singles found in John Peel's Record Box of special 45s, alongside two others by Nilsson, making the singer one of only seven artists with multiple releases in the collection. It has been suggested, however, that the unexpectedly high Nilsson total may be a result of a three-track EP being entered as three separate singles on the original list (see John Peel's Record Box).
Peel was doubtless aware of Nilsson's well-publicized links to members of the Beatles, particularly John Lennon. (“Without You” was originally recorded and released on a single in 1970 by Badfinger, on the Beatles's Apple label, and apparently Nilsson thought it was a Beatles song when he first heard it.) Praise from the Beatles for his debut LP, Pandemonium Shadow Show, made the singer a fashionable figure in the music industry in 1968 and he became a favourite of Kenny Everett, who played tracks from the album on Radio 1.
But Peel seemed less keen on the singer at this time. His shows increasingly tended to focus on rock, rather than the pop music heard on early editions of Top Gear, when the show was produced by Bernie Andrews, and Nilsson was always a pop singer. He recorded an LP of songs by Randy Newman in 1970 and a couple of albums of pop standards later in the decade, all of which JP ignored. However, Peel did play his cover version of reggae singer Jimmy Cliff's song "Many Rivers To Cross" when it was issued on a single in 1974.
Festive Fifty Entries
- Peelenium 1971: Without You
John Peel's Record Box
- “Without You / Gotta Get Up” (RCA) 1971
- “Everybody's Talkin' / Don't Leave Me” (RCA) 1968
- “Kojak Columbo / Turn Out The Light" (RCA) 1975
Other Shows Played
- 11 September 1973 (A Touch Of The Moon): It Had To Be You
- 24 September 1974: Many Rivers To Cross (7") RCA Victor
- 18 September 1997: The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (My Best Friend) (v/a album - Television's Greatest Hits - Volume 2 - 65 More TV Themes From The 50's & 60's) TVT TVT 1200 CD
- 11 November 1999: Without You (LP-Nilsson Schmilsson) RCA Victor Peelenium 1971