HARRY NILSSON & GORDON JENKINS Live On The BBC – A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night

Live On The BBC – A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night (1973)
Nilsson’s Only Full Length Concert Performance

2012 Edition.  It might be hard to justify calling a sit down evening of easy listening music “daring.” But, that’s exactly what this 1973 live BBC performance of A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night was… a daring move for an artist already accustomed to following his own whims. Nilsson decided that for his very first, full-length live concert, he would do it with a world renown arranger, an orchestra and… why not, in front of the BBC’s running cameras. If Harry Nilsson suffered from stage fright, as so many around him have suggested, then he picked a hell of a way to combat the fear. Consider also that no modern rocker-type had ever tackled the standards straight-faced before. Ringo warbled the oldies for his debut solo album, Sentimental Journey, but it was nothing like this. Gordon Jenkins was the famed arranger for Sinatra and Nat Cole, who created a simply gorgeous, intermingling song cycle for the LP, A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night, boasting the best of what 20th Century song craft had to offer. For his part, Harry had no intention of hiding behind a 16-track machine and a mountain of harmonies, performing every take live in front of the orchestra. So, after a week in the studio with Jenkins recording the album, Harry seemed to walk fearlessly into his first, full-length, audience-free live performance.

The music you should already know, but there are two moments here that are worth your attention. Nearing the end of the show, arranger Jenkins warns the orchestra to pay attention on the next piece, then lobs a dig in Harry’s direction. As you might imagine, the idea that an arranger would diss his singer during a show seems to take Harry off guard, and he can only sheepishly respond, “Whatchu mean?” “You know what I mean, Jack!,” Jenkins retorts, putting Harry in his place with an air of authority you’d expect from someone accustomed to dealing with Sinatra’s shit. If you listen closely, you can hear Harry mutter “okaaay” under his breath, as if to say… ‘ok, if that’s the way you want to play it.’ What happens next is a riot (at least, for an orchestral evening), as Harry refuses to take the perceived slight sitting down. Jenkins still gets in the last word, but only because he cued the orchestra immediately after asking, “Is there a baritone in the house?” As much fun as this warm exchange is (it’s on the streaming player, below), it’s surpassed by the performance of “This Is All I Ask.” Harry’s interpretation of Jenkins’ own original composition (about “approaching the prime of his life”) is one of this live set’s warmest performances, as two generational greats find common ground on a tune that’s not as weathered as some of the other chestnuts covered here. Listen to how brandy-smooth Harry sounds at 2:20, as the strings tip-toe in behind him. Heaven. The recording of the original album and the live concert, took place over the course of only around 10 days in March, 1973. A Note About Sound: I never fully embraced this live set because of the sound, which is sourced from video. But our new 2012 Edition has been de-hissed and is warmer and more expressive as a result. It’s not studio perfect, but it’s a version that’s a joy to pull out to listen to, instead of just collect.


Tuning (1:10
)
Intro/As TIme Goes By
(0:54)
Lazy Moon
(2:32)
For Me And My Gal
(2:47)
It Had To Be You (2:25)
Always
(2:02)
Makin’ Whoopee
(4:41)
I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
(3:20)
I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now
(2:36)
What’ll I Do
(2:33)
Nevertheless (I’m In Love With You)
(3:12)
This Is All I Ask
(3:33)
Over The Rainbow
(3:52)
As Time Goes By
(3:10)
Outro
(1:27)

19 Comments

  • 1
    Willard
    January 9, 2012 - 15:24 | Permalink

    Search HERE

  • 2
    Art Ducko
    January 9, 2012 - 15:51 | Permalink

    God bless Harry.

  • 3
    MarcC
    January 9, 2012 - 19:27 | Permalink

    Incredible. That’s all I can say.

  • 4
    Rah
    January 9, 2012 - 21:43 | Permalink

    Harry – what a talent. Great. Thanks. Lovit.

  • 5
    Tom Wheeler
    January 10, 2012 - 00:21 | Permalink

    I think you can place “A Touch of Smillson” comfortably enough in the company of artists in the early seventies approaching standards as source material for purposes other than merely hokum & novelties send ups such as; Maria Muldar, Pointer Sisters, Bette Midler, & Leon Redbone. It also worth noting, Nilsson picked Perry because of his production for Tiny Tim. I think what makes Nilsson’s album stand out, besides recording live with the orchestra & Jenkings as an arranger’s, is the song choice. It’s somber and sad collection of tunes, it wasn’t just looking back with rosy nostalgia; but rather using the material to sing about the loss of love. Even “For and Me and My Gal” & ” Makin’ Whoopee” are played for pathos. Like a lot of Harry’s work there is a dark undertow beneath the beautiful surface.

    • 6
      Willard
      January 10, 2012 - 08:02 | Permalink

      Very nice analysis, though Richard Perry refused to produce the original LP. Thanks.

  • 7
    Gummo
    January 10, 2012 - 09:19 | Permalink

    Thanks, Willard.

    It’s all your fault, you know, that I’ve turned into a Nilssoniac.

  • 8
    Willard
    January 10, 2012 - 09:32 | Permalink

    There you go… blaming others for your addictions again. Nilssoniac… I like that.

  • 9
    Joe
    January 10, 2012 - 10:35 | Permalink

    Thanks so much! This is incredible stuff!

  • 10
    MIchael Hockinson
    January 10, 2012 - 11:08 | Permalink

    Thanks, Willard. There was talk of calling this “A Little Touch Of Schmilsson On The Bottom,” but cooler heads prevailed.

  • 11
    January 10, 2012 - 16:08 | Permalink

    What a treat – I’d heard about this but never run across it.

    Two music masters working side by side! Thank you, Willard.

  • 12
    Leon
    January 11, 2012 - 21:24 | Permalink

    WOW! Amazing. Thanks so much Willard ~

  • 13
    Chollie
    January 19, 2012 - 12:09 | Permalink

    YouTube has his ‘Playboy After Dark’ appearances – no stage fright there!

  • 14
    Curtis
    June 17, 2013 - 21:38 | Permalink

    Any suggestions how to get hold of the arrangements themselves???

    • 15
      Willard
      June 17, 2013 - 22:55 | Permalink

      You’d probably have to dig into the Gordon Jenkins Estate somehow. See if there are any libraries or archives that are dedicated to his work.

  • 16
    Darren
    October 29, 2013 - 13:36 | Permalink

    I think it’s interesting that “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and “Over The Rainbow” were included in this live performance but not in the original LP release. They sit much better here than as bonus tracks (as they became on later releases) and both songs are referenced within Gordon Jenkins’ orchestration on the album whilst not being on it. This makes me wonder whether this set list for the BBC was actually the original proposed tracklisting of the album. This would have “Chasing Rainbows” making a lovely low-key ending to Side 1 whilst Side 2 would begin strongly with the fanfare opening of “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”. Also their ‘replacements’ “You Made Me Love You” and “Lullaby in Ragtime” aren’t referenced in the orchestration at all and don’t link together in the same way as other songs on the record. Just a theory. If that’s the case though I wonder why they were swapped. I guess we’ll never know… Don’t suppose you have any idea, Willard?

    • 17
      Willard
      October 29, 2013 - 14:00 | Permalink

      Not really. Sounds like you’ve dissected it more than I ever have. Thanks.

  • 18
    Darren
    October 30, 2013 - 04:53 | Permalink

    It’s true, I am a bit obsessed with this album at the moment. I love it!

  • 19
    Willard
    January 18, 2014 - 08:02 | Permalink

    Before you even ask… For The Love Of Harry is closed for business.

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