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Skidoo / The Point

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  • An oddball coupling of two of Harry Nilsson’s stranger excursions. “Skidoo” is the soundtrack to Otto Preminger’s famously misguided attempt at a “psychedelic comedy” – I think I saw it once when I was about 7 but it doesn’t seem to exist in any of my local video stores. Much of the soundtrack is fairly straight-ahead soundtrack music – difficult to know how much is Harry’s work and how much is arranger George Tipton’s. The most famous aspect of the album (and film probably!) is that the credits are sung by Nilsson! This credit track is a brilliant display of Harry’s marvellous vocal inventiveness – you often hear people say of a great singer that they could “sing the phone book and make it interesting”, well Harry not only makes the credits interesting but amusing too! Also amusing is “Garbage Can Ballet” an entertaining little bagatelle with sweetly silly and inventive lyrics. “I Will Take You There” is a simply exquisite pop ballad, released as a single it inexplicably bombed, both versions are included on this CD and, for the record, I favour the album version. The only other “song” on the album is the silly title song, sung unfortunately by Carol Channing (but then it’s unfortunate when Carol Channing sings ANY song). (By the way, Harry’s in the film too, he plays a “tower guard”, as he is at pains to point out in “The Cast and Crew”!)”The Point” was Harry’s animated parable about Oblio, his dog Arrow and the Land of Point. Like “Skidoo”, I saw this once when I was about 7, I think it probably made more sense to me than “Skidoo”! The album consists of Harry narrating the story (Dustin Hoffman narrated the film), punctuated by the odd cartoon-like song. At first hearing, the songs seem slight: the lyrics simplistic, the music even simpler but then you realise that this is an album for CHILDREN and that Harry and his arranger George Tipton get it EXACTLY right. Tipton’s arrangements are beautiful little miniatures with a twinkly, almost electronic, feel – Brian Wilson claimed that his inspiration for his mostly execrable “fairytale” on the Beach Boys’ “Holland” album had been “drinking cider and listening to Randy Newman’s “Sail Away”", the cider bit I can believe but don’t try to tell me that Brian hadn’t been very closely listening to “The Point” and Tipton’s arrangements! Nilsson’s lyrics have a sing-song nursery rhyme quality in “Everybody’s Got ‘Em” and “Poli High”. If Brian Wilson ripped Harry for “Mt. Vernon and Parkway” then Harry cops a major Beach Boys influence on “Poli High”, just listened to that backing vocal of massed Harry’s! There are good songs in amongst the fun – “Think About Your Troubles” has a marvellous intricate Zen-like lyric which demonstrates two of Harry’s greatest qualities as a songwriter: his intelligence and his lack of pretension. “Lifeline” is a just wonderful ballad – generous of Harry to give this song to a cartoon about a boy and his dog! How often you would want to listen to the narration is debatable but you can certainly spend many hours listening to the songs. Once again in this excellent series of re-issues from RCA there are good bonus tracks to savour. The single version of “I Will Take You There” I’ve mentioned but the 1969 single “Down to the Valley” is worthy of further comment. A breezy, brassy foot-stomper of a song, it’s interesting in that lyrically and musically it prefigures “The Point!” by about two years – did Harry already have “The Point” under his (pointed) hat in 1969? Anyway, the song fits the concept of the movie much more closely than say the love song “Are You Sleeping?” “Dear Friend” was the theme tune of an American TV show, “Eddie’s Father”, which I don’t recall ever having seen. Being a TV theme tune, it says all it’s going to say within the first minute the other minute is largely superfluous. All in all not the most essential CD in any Harry Nilsson collection – Nilsson nuts like myself will want it and over-worked mums with recalcitrant toddlers might want “The Point” to slip on and calm the little monsters down but the world at large can probably live without this CD, fascinating though it is.

    Posted on January 17, 2010