I can think of few artists more deserving of a mega-box set spanning a decade’s worth of material than Mr. Harry Nilsson. Sure, there have been reissues of his albums in the past, on various labels and formats, but nothing that could be called truly definitive. On July 30, 2013, that is about to change.
RCA/Legacy will release the 17-CD retrospective “The RCA Albums Collection”, featuring fourteen original albums spanning the years 1967-1977. Each of these albums is loaded with bonus goodies – and if that wasn’t enough – there are three additional discs filled to the brim with even more rarities.
(If you'd rather watch than read - or both - check out an exclusive unboxing of the Nilsson set:)
Where to begin….for a box you can hold in your hand, it’s so overwhelming. There’s so much “good” here. Let’s start with the art. The outer box is a classic tan/brown combination, featuring a picture of Nilsson in his prime on the front. It folds open to reveal seventeen mini-LP sleeves and a hearty booklet. The fourteen mini-LPs are faithful to their original vinyl counterparts, including gatefolds when appropriate. The three bonus discs have eye-catching designs by Steve Stanley (of Now Sounds fame), and fit right in with the look of the older albums.
The booklet is expertly annotated by Andrew Sandoval. Sandoval, a Grammy-nominated producer/engineer who has worked on countless projects that would interest you (as if you didn’t already own them all already…) gives a nice intro to the collection before briefing the reader on each disc in the collection, providing facts and filling details along the way. There are more than a few Nilsson pics here, too, along with the track listings of each disc with relevant writers’ credits and musician information.
The sound of this set is breathtaking – in this writer’s opinion, blowing away all previous issues of Nilsson on compact disc (or any other medium!). Mastering is by Vic Anesini – he made these recordings sound vibrant and fresh. The star of these recordings (it goes without saying) is Nilsson, and Harry’s voice shines through on each and every one of these tracks –the way it’s supposed to be. The bass is clear, the drums are punchy. Everything’s right here.
Oh, yeah – the music:
Nilsson’s first two albums on RCA, Pandemonium Shadow Show and Aerial Ballet, are represented in their stereo AND mono mixes. The mono mixes have never been available on compact disc before. You don’t have to choose which mix you like better, but it’s fun to compare the differences between each.
Harry and Nilsson Sings Newman have a variety of interesting bonus tracks. Highlights include the UK-only single mix of “Mournin’ Glory Story” on the former and “Snow”, a beautiful Newman song that didn’t make the final cut on the latter.
The Point!, Nilsson at the very top of his game, sounds better than ever – and I’m oh so glad that box set producers Sandoval and Rob Santos didn’t forget that irresistible alternate mix of the single-only “Down To The Valley”. It has even more Brian Wilson-esque touches than the 45!
Long before remix albums were hip, man, Nilsson made his (he called It Aerial Pandemonium Ballet) – and there’s a bevy on bonus tracks. Of note, five previously unreleased Italian language versions of songs from his first album, and a November 1968 BBC session with the incomparable Brian Matthew hosting.
The Schmilsson trilogy is next up – Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Schmilsson & A Little Bit of Schmilsson In The Night. All come alive no matter what sound system you’re using – just crank ‘em up and enjoy that voice.
The remaining albums through ’77 were recorded and released during a tough time in Nilsson’s career, but there are still many gems to discover if you haven’t given them a chance. Among my favorites, “Don’t Forget Me” from the John Lennon-produced Pussy Cats; “Turn Out The Light” on Duit on Mon Dei; “Will She Miss Me?”, the last track on Sandman; the Harrison cover “That Is All” that opens AND closes …That’s The Way It Is; and Knilsson’s ear-candy ballad “Lean on Me”.
We’re not through yet. The real treat here is the bonus discs that grace the set. Divided into three discs, part one (Sessions 1967-1968) opens with the infamous demos Harry cut with Chip Douglas for The Monkees. The piano and soulful vocal reading of “This Will Be The Night” is a mind-blower. There are outtakes from the first and second album sessions here, too – including unheard gems like “The Family” - and the most beautiful remix of “Miss Butter’s Lament” that is imaginable. Baroque Pop in all its’ glory.
Sessions 1968-1971 picks up where the first one left off – and provides even more rarities. “You Are Here” contains perhaps the best chorus Nilsson ever wrote, and it’s been sitting in the vaults for over 40 years. Tracks from the motion picture Skidoo are here –the relevant vocal ones that Harry was involved in – so no need to buy that cd separately. Among the other unreleased pieces and alternates on this disc, a stunner is “Marry Me A Little”, a five-minute Stephen Sondheim pop opus with fantastic vocals and crystal clear sound.
The final Sessions disc has material from the Schmilsson period(s). A previously unreleased alternate of “Jump Into The Fire”, with a very different arrangement, is sure to surprise even the most die-hard of fans.
NILSSON – THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION is available everywhere July 30, 2013. Don’t miss this one – it’s the box set of the year.