Artist: "Harry Nilsson"
Album: "Pussy Cats"
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Review: This album has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, as much for it’s odd historical footnote aspect, which I’ll get to in a moment. I’ll tell you up front, I think the fairly universal bad reviews are crap. This has been one of my favorite all time albums since I first listened to it three years after it’s release when I was fifteen. I’ve come back to it again and again throughout my life and like the best albums it doesn’t age.
Asked at the inaugural press conference of Apple Corps records what American artists the Beatles liked, John Lennon said “Nilsson”. Asked what American bands, Lennon gave the same one word answer. It was a few years before Lennon and Nilsson met in person, during a period in time generally described as Lennon’s “Lost Weekend”, which actually lasted more like eighteen months. No biographer ever said the lowest period of Lennon's life was caused by Nilsson's friendship, but a number of them say it threw gasoline on the fire.
Their legendary and amazingly awful drunken rampage through Los Angeles (along with third partner in crime, Phil Spector, though I think he was not present this particular evening) culminated in the duo attending a performance of “The Smother’s Brothers” at a club called “The Troubadour”. Nilsson and Lennon consumed arrived drunk and at the club consumed a nearly lethal number of Brandy Alexanders. Lennon brutally and unforgivably heckled the “Smother’s Brothers” using such filthy language, aging British Brat Pack hanger-onner and Kennedy pal Peter Lawford felt called upon to protect the honor of his teenage date. The Smother’s manager tried to intervene and Lennon cold cocked him, at which point a pair of burly bouncers threw the music legend out into the street.
Apparently this was Lennon’s bottom, after which he cleaned up and stayed clean until his death.
In the midst of year and a half drunken careen, Lennon produced “Pussy Cats”. It’s my belief a lot of the shit this album gets is because a lot of professional music writers think Nilsson was bad for Lennon. I think that, because to my ear, the album is a damn masterpiece. Pretty amazing considering Nilsson tore his vocal cords during the recording, a fact he hid from Lennon for fear he’d give up on the project.
The album is a mix of covers and originals, and while I don’t think you can take this album as anything but a single cohesive statement, it’s still the covers that stand out in my mind.
Nilsson wails his way through Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to cross” and his torn, horse voice conveys just about as much information on what it’s like to be a self-aware self-destructive as I’m able to take. His brutal proto punk attack on Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is better than the original, something I don’t say lightly as I’m a huge Dylan fan and that’s my favorite song of his. But it’s his take on “Save the Last Dance for Me” that shines the most. Ben E King’s take on the song is the one you know, the Drifters 1960 three week number one hit, and it’s beautiful but simple. Nilsson finds an aching dignified agony lurking in it, left there by the songs writer, Doc Pomus. Pomus suffered from Polio and couldn’t walk without crutches. His wife was a Broadway dancer.
Long out of print, it was remastered for CD release in ’99. Add it to your dang collection.
Ike and Tina covered it in ’66, it almost made it on to The Beatles “Let It Be” but was cut from the final version, but for me it belongs to Nilsson, it belongs on Pussy Cats.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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