CSOTD 12/13/16: Nilsson ratings

The only element of my Christmas Song of the Day for December 13 that has any direct tie-in to the holiday is its subtitle.

After years of struggle, Harry Nilsson (1941-1994) was on top of the music world in 1972. He was known since the late 1960s as a songwriter; his song “Cuddly Toy” was recorded by the Monkees in 1967, and “One” had been the first top-10 hit for Three Dog Night in 1969. But, until early 1972, despite having many champions in the music business, Nilsson had had only one hit, “Everybody’s Talkin’,” a Top 10 hit in 1969. Ironically, he didn’t write the song; it was composed by Fred Neil.

In late 1971, Nilsson had his biggest hit album, Nilsson Schmilsson, the first single from which, “Without You,” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Once again, it was a song he didn’t write; this one came from Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the band Badfinger, who had recorded it for their 1971 album No Dice. Two singles later, Nilsson made the top 10 again, finally with one of his own songs, the novelty “Coconut” (“Put de lime in de coconut and call me in the morning”).

Nilsson followed up his successes with a new album called Son of Schmilsson. Both a continuation and clean break from its predecessor, the album didn’t have the obvious standout like “Without You,” but it still was a hit, as it got to #12 on the LP charts. One of the singles from the album was the inscrutably titled “Remember (Christmas),” which peaked at #53 in the Hot 100. Richard Perry, who produced the sessions for the album, recalled that Nilsson kicked around other possible subtitles for the song “Remember,” including “(Magic),” before settling on “(Christmas).”

The song is Nilsson singing along with only a stark piano accompaniment from Nicky Hopkins and a string section that becomes noticeable near the end. Lyrically, I can see how it can relate to Christmas, because the season can be a time for remembering, and dreaming, and living in the past.

Years later, Nilsson covered five Christmas carols as part of a CD called The Presence of Christmas in 1988. They were among his last released recordings before his 1994 death.

In the years since this was first released in 1972, I’ve sometimes seen it released on compilations without its subtitle, such as on the soundtrack from the film You’ve Got Mail. But the original LP and 45 have it.


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