March Book Review

Nilsson The Life of a Singer-Songwriter

This month’s review
is by Richard Bellikoff
Nilsson, The Life of a Singer-Songwriter
by Alyn Shipton

Nilsson, The Life of a Singer-Songwriter

The Library’s New Books shelf can be a source of unexpected pleasures. This first full-length biography of Harry Nilsson explores his entire recorded legacy, not just his two biggest hits—“Everybody’s Talkin’” (the theme song from the movie “The Midnight Cowboy”) and “Without You”—in the context of his often turbulent and chaotic life. The author’s exclusive access to Nilsson’s private papers and his interviews with friends and family have produced a kaleidoscopic portrait of a musical figure who was greatly admired by the Beatles and whose producer, Richard Perry, once called “the finest white male singer on the planet.” As a musician himself, Shipton is well equipped to take the reader behind the scenes, into Nilsson’s songwriting and recording sessions. Nilsson shunned live performance. His stage was the studio, where he exhibited his astounding 3½ octave vocal range and his painstakingly constructed harmonies. In the grand tradition of the self-destructive rock star, Nilsson’s drug and alcohol abuse sabotaged his career. Nearly twenty years after his death, he’s mostly forgotten. This book should resurrect his reputation.

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