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.
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)
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)