Classic Hits & Oldies

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson would’ve celebrated his 80th birthday today

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Harry Nilsson in 1972; Stan Meagher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The late Harry Nilsson was born 80 years ago today, June 15, 1941.

The golden-voiced singer was also an accomplished songwriter, although his two biggest hits were cover songs. Nilsson scored a #6 hit in 1969 with his rendition of folk singer/songwriter Fred Neil‘s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which was featured prominently in the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy.

Then, in 1972, Harry notched his first and only #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, a cover of the Badfinger ballad “Without You.”

He won Grammy Awards for both tunes, in the Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Male and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male categories.

“Without You” was featured on Nilsson’s most successful album, Nilsson Schmilsson, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200. The album yielded two other top-40 hits, the novelty tune “Coconut” and the rocking “Jump into the Fire,” which reached #9 and #27, respectively on the Hot 100.

Early in his recording career, Nilsson was cited by John Lennon and Paul McCartney as their favorite artist.

Nilsson went on to become good friends with Lennon and Ringo Starr, and when Lennon moved to Los Angeles in 1973 for 18 months while temporarily separated from Yoko Ono, he and Harry were involved in some infamous drunken escapades. During this period, Lennon produced Nilsson’s 1974 album Pussy Cats.

Many other artists have covered Nilsson’s songs over the years, including The Monkees, who recorded “Cuddly Toy” and “Daddy’s Song”; and Three Dog Night, who had a #5 hit in 1969 with “One.”

Nilsson also did some notable television and movie soundtrack work, including writing music for The Courtship of Eddie’s Father TV series, the 1971 animated special The Point!, and the films on Son of Dracula and Popeye.

Nilsson died of heart failure in January 1994 at age 52.


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