Feb 17, 2020
Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter
Posted by Alyn Shipton

Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles favorite group, he won Grammy awards, wrote and recorded hit songs, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox, or as underrated, as Harry Nilsson.In this first ever full length biography, Alyn Shipton traces Nilsson s life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and his graduPaul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles favorite group, he won Grammy awards, wrote and recorded hit songs, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox, or as underrated, as Harry Nilsson.In this first ever full length biography, Alyn Shipton traces Nilsson s life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and his gradual emergence as a uniquely talented singer songwriter With interviews from friends, family, and associates, and material drawn from an unfinished autobiography, Shipton probes beneath the enigma to discover the real Harry Nilsson A major celebrity at a time when huge concerts and festivals were becoming the norm, Nilsson shunned live performance His venue was the studio, his stage the dubbing booth, his greatest triumphs masterful examples of studio craft He was a gifted composer of songs for a wide variety of performers, including the Ronettes, the Yardbirds, and the Monkees, yet Nilsson s own biggest hits were almost all written by other songwriters He won two Grammy awards, in 1969 for Everybody s Talkin the theme song for Midnight Cowboy , and in 1972 for Without You, had two top ten singles, numerous album successes, and wrote a number of songs Coconut and Jump into the Fire, to name just two that still sound remarkably fresh and original today He was once described by his producer Richard Perry as the finest white male singer on the planet, but near the end of his life, Nilsson s career was marked by voice damaging substance abuse and the infamous deaths of both Keith Moon and Mama Cass in his London flat.Drawing on exclusive access to Nilsson s papers, Alyn Shipton s biography offers readers an intimate portrait of a man who has seemed both famous and unknowable until now.

  • Title: Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter
  • Author: Alyn Shipton
  • ISBN: 9780199756575
  • Page: 291
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Nilsson The Life of a Singer Songwriter Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles favorite group he won Grammy awards wrote and recorded hit songs and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox or as underr


    Idol of my lonely teenage nights, subject of Book of the Week at BBC Radio 4 bbc programmes b038xmch Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles favorite group, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox as Harry Nilsson A major celebrity at a time when stadium rock was in its infancy and huge concerts and festivals were becoming the norm, Nilsson s instrument was the studio, his stage the dubbing booth, his greatest technical triumphs were masterful examples of s [...]


    Harry Nilsson is a fascinating music artist For me, he was someone that was around, but never the focus on any scene On one hand he had direct contact with The Beatles who admired Harry s work greatly as well as a friend and on the other he was very much in tuned with the pop music market In one way he can be seen as the bridge between music underground and music overground He was very much the professional music songwriter and yet on his solo recordings took great chances And I think now becaus [...]


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    Carol -Reading Writing and Riesling

    My View Let me preface my review with the statement I am a big Harry Nilsson fan And I thought I knew a lot about this musician, his music and his life I have listened to and bought his music and have watched and enjoyed the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson And Why Is Everybody Talkin About Him but in reality I knew nothing about this complex paradox of a man who inspired and was inspired by the world and what it had to offer Nilsson produced so many albums than I was aware of, he made movies, [...]

    Aaron Briggs

    For a Nilsson obsessive, this is a great look into Harry s life including many great details in his young life, which illuminated new meaning in many of his songs It s also ripe with stories of his later life, both from his notes for an autobiography and from his friends and drinking buddies, which just furthers that cult of personality thing that makes it hard to be anything less that a Nilsson super fan That said, if you re not a super fan, you might be scratching your head at why at least hal [...]


    Well written and researched, this is a fantastic biography of an incredible talent that wisely and welcomely gives equal focus to Nilsson s early life, his writing, his musical collaborators, his rambunctious social life, and his idyllic family life Unlike most of the biographies and memoirs I ve come across recently, Alyn Shipton s Nilsson doesn t thin out or lose focus toward the end just about every conceivable aspect of Harry s life and career is covered If there s any complaint to be made a [...]


    Excellent I disagree with the writer s point of view on some of Nilsson s work, especially the later stuff, but differences of opinion aside, this is a fascinating, sad, well researched look at an artist who s long deserved the biography treatment.


    Harry s voice was considered by many including the author to be the greatest male tenor in the the 70s This biography starts off very strong, and that s not often the case with biographies, even the good ones It really surprised me that Harry Nilsson s life actually began in Bushwick, Brooklyn There, it was tough going for Harry and family The father basically abandoned them, and one day Harry and his mother got attacked by a gang of girls near their home After that, the mother picked up and spl [...]

    Ray Campbell

    This was a solid, highly detailed story of Harry and his career While the book begins with his rather difficult childhood, Shipton s main concern is the music As Harry s music career begins, Shipton tells the story song by song Shipton includes details on everything from who played each instrument to what inspired the tunes As Harry s career takes flight, the story goes from parties in London with the Beatles to LA for sessions with his Laurel Canyon friends.I am a bit surprised that such a deta [...]


    I actually finished reading this book a few months ago I haven t read much in the time since, and this has been the longest I ve gone without reading on a daily basis for a long, long time probably about the last decade I blame a combination of a change in jobs, plus no longer spending a few hours every day sitting on a train, plus just not really finding anything I felt a strong urge to read It s been kind of nice, actually sort of hitting the restart button.Anyway, about the book yeah, it s my [...]

    David Siegel

    If you re a fan of Nilsson s music, you will love this.A great rundown of Nilsson s life and music A bit inadequate on the level of analysis regarding the fact that Nilsson was essentially an alcoholic and drug addict over the course of his entire adult life the book delves deeply into his drug use, but never once uses the word, addiction, which I found a bit jarring, honestly I understand that it s about Nilsson s music, but really his descent into deep addiction alcohol and cocaine coincides s [...]


    I enjoyed this biography, which I heard about through an author interview on public radio, and was hooked within the first few pages If you re interested in 60s and 70s pop music, an inside view of songwriting and the music business during that time, the ups and downs of the rock n roll lifestyle with the Beatles, Monty Python, the Monkees, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Webb and much of the rest of the pop celebrity world in LA, NY and London through the early 90s , and its ultimate costs, you ll enjoy it [...]

    Christian Lynch

    Nilsson is a wonderful read for avid Harry Nilsson fans, but is likely unapproachable for those unfamiliar with his entire recording catalogue.As one would expect from a biography, Shipton covers Nilsson s entire life chronologically starting with childhood, working into his banking days, then his early albums and seminal Nilsson Schmilsson recording, and finally his slow decline into drunken drug fueled obscurity contextualizing entire albums song by song In this sense, the book is a tad bit cl [...]

    Simon Reid

    It s surprising that this is the very first biography of Harry Nilsson, but it s very good indeed, so arguably renders any future attempts superfluous.Every few pages, I was compelled to reach for some of Harry s music, and I would appreciate new things within it, thanks to Shipton s observations With expert, careful reference to the technical aspects and a the lyrics, he champions the unique singing and songwriting talents of a man who unjustly remains best known for two admittedly top drawer c [...]


    A solid sole biography of one of the greatest singer songwriters I ve ever heard Nilsson s life ranged from touching to inspiring to almost grotesquely self destructive He seemed to function within the classic genius idiot mold, able to write brilliant songs and sing them like God, yet also capable of disassociating himself from the people who had supported him during the lean years and turning his back on his young family to have some hedonistic good times Ultimately, I learned that, virtually [...]

    Sam Torode

    Even if you ve never heard of Harry Nilsson, you probably know three or of his songs I enjoyed the documentary than the book, but what a life Amazing that it s possible to consume that much alcohol and cocaine and still make it to age 52, producing some astounding music along the way Everything about Nilsson was paradoxical, and his life seems simultaneously jubilant and sad, tragic and charmed.

    Mister Mank

    A fair portrait of Nilsson, equally flawed and talented Far comprehensive than the recent documentary, this book fanned the flames of my fandom which were already quite high Shipton understands that to love Nilsson, is to accept him for all his misdirected energy and unfocused, half baked work Rife with lurid tales of rock royalty and music biz shenanigans, this was certainly a life worth reading about.


    This is a sad story, but one worth telling Flash Harry had one of the greatest voices in music You should read this after watching the documentary Who is Harry Nilsson and at the same time listen to the new Legacy edition of his oeuvre all 17 CDs The guy was a genius, but really liked boozea lot.

    Beth Shorten

    Harry Nilsson was a fascinating man It seems everyone that met him had a Harry story I have heard many of these first hand and laughed While this book is factual, I never once laughed Maybe I cracked a smile once or twice How could the life of Nilsson come off as so dull Facts are captured, but not the essence Harry deserved betterd so does the reader.

    Rob Wade

    Well told tale of the demise of one of the most amazing voices in popular music four seamless octaves and a truly gifted writer despite the fact that his two biggest hits were covers Although it ends tragically it s no secret that Nilsson lost his voice, fame and fortune it s a fun, interesting read.

    Danae Callister

    Also a big Nilsson fan I enjoyed the analysis of his music and the insight into his life From his childhood through to his death in 1994, it was a wild ride It was amazing that a singer songwriter managed to burn so bright without performing in public Conform he did not, but thankfully he gifted us with a great legacy of music.


    For the first time, Nilsson s life work is presented through the lens of musical scholarship Context is given for artistic development and career milestones Shipton relays anecdotes, shares laughs, but ultimately keeps the focus on the work itself those clever, heartbreaking lyrics that effortlessly superlative voice Bravo

    Barbara Adde

    Always wondered what happened to him and about his life.Very well researched, written and covers his life and music together.Well done.I really enjoyed listening to Harry s songs while I was reading


    Fantastic story of someone I d not heard of until now, even though I grew up in the sixties and seventies This book, and listening to Nilsson s music has been a spiritual experience has spoken to my heart and soul that much

    Emily Smith

    This is a really detailed and enlightening account of the life of one of the worlds greatest singer songwriters Nilsson s life was anything but boring and I recommend this to anyone with an interest in his work.

    Dale Stonehouse

    I tried to get through this but just did not have enough familiarity with Nilsson s music to relate very well I was interested in his relationships with Elton John and the Beatles, but that comprised a small portion of his story.


    Despite a large number of errors that a decent fact checker should have caught, this is an absorbing account of one of the great artists of the last fifty years.

    Thierry Côté

    A flawless, fascinating, unparalleled biography for a flawed, fascinating, unparalleled talent.

    James R. C.

    My favorite part concerned The Point.

    Wayne Conrad

    A sad story for a such a gifted man I lost interest though for the last part of the book after he stopped really making any music not due to the writing.

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