Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pussy Cats - Harry Nilsson




Pussy Cats
Harry Nilsson
RCA CPL1-0570
1974

I was at a Neko Case show last month and I heard her do her cover of "Don't Forget Me" which she recorded on "Middle Cyclone."  That inspired me to pull out the original version which appeared on this album.  You will probably notice the smiling mug of Dr. Winston O'Boogie on the cover combing Nilsson's hair and Lennon gets co-billing as well even though he was only the producer on the album.  Ringo is on the album too but if you want to see him you have to look at the pictures in the gatefold (where you will also see Keith Moon, the other big guest star on the album.)  The album dates from the period when Yoko Ono threw Lennon out of their home and he and Nilsson were drinking buddies.  Lennon's influence is definitely felt on the record which resembles Lennon's mid-1970s work in its grandiose sound, something Lennon presumably picked up from his association with Phil Spector.  This is evident from the very first track, a splendidly heavy cover of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross" with strings and echo and a spectacular vocal from Nilsson.  Nilsson reportedly injured his vocal cords making this record and listening to his vocal here it is easy to see why.  The wall of sound continues with a rollicking cover of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues."  It is followed by the best song on the record, "Don' Forget Me."  The wall of sound is wisely replaced with Nilsson playing piano accompanied by a tasteful string arrangement.  It is a heart breaking song about divorce.  I like Neko Case's version, but Nilsson's version is superior, she has a great voice but she doesn't match the plaintive and desperate feelings he gives to the song.  "All My Life" brings a complete change of mood.  It is a light-hearted, humorous song about a guy who is all partied out and tired of getting wasted which immediately calls to mind all the stories about Lennon and Nilsson raising hell in Los Angeles.  The side ends with the subdued "Old Forgotten Soldier" on which Nilsson's voice sounds very ragged.  It is vintage Nilsson, a charming old-fashioned shuffle, like Randy Newman, Nilsson had the ability to blend classic Tin Pan Alley pop songwriting craftsmanship with a modern rock sensibility creating a very satisfying hybrid.  Side two kicks off with a slow cover of "Save The Last Dance For Me."  With its echoey sound, loud drums, stately piano and strings it sounds like an outtake from Lennon's "Mind Games."  Nilsson sings it beautifully, the song is done so seriously one almost forgets that it is a silly love song.  Lennon provides the song "Mucho Mungo" which is paired with a Nilsson song called "Mt. Elga."  It is a nice bit of pop fluff with a tropical feel.  It is followed by another oldie, a cover of Johnny Thunder's early 1960s hit "Loop De Loop."  Nilsson's voice is so raspy he sounds like Joe Cocker on it.  The song is of course completely inane, but it gets Spectorized nonetheless with a chorus and no less than three drummers, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Jim Keltner.  The results are silly but fun.  Once again the record shifts mood abruptly with the solemn "Black Sails" which is just Nilsson and strings.  It is a creepy song about a guy rhapsodizing about his lover's varicose veins, when it comes to lyrics Nilsson is nothing if not original.  The album ends on an upbeat note with a manic jumping cover of "Rock Around the Clock."  When I first heard this album back in the 70s I was disappointed, but I've come to really like it.  This is not Nilsson's best album, but it is one of his most charming and fun ones and it has aged rather well.  It has acquired a cult following it definitely didn't have when it came out.  The Walkmen even covered it in its entirety.  Recommended to fans of Lennon's "Rock 'N' Roll."

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from Helsinki, Finland! I found some LP:s at a flea market today, for the modest price of two euros (USD 2,55) each. There was "Siren" by Ronnie Spector, "The Right Place" by Gary Wright, "The Show Must Go On" by the Four Tops - and this one. As usual after such a purchase, I had to take a look at the web and see what has been written about the album. Thank you for a very interesting review!

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