Remember when bands made a living without touring?

Nilsson was an artist who never did concerts or toured so he had a lot of time to perfect his craft in recording studios. Today's bands don't have that luxury.

Most of today's bands view recordings as promotional tools for their concerts, they have to stay on the road to make a living. That's just the way it is, but they make a lot fewer records than bands did before, and since most recordings lose money, studio time is limited and budgets are shrinking. That's too bad, recordings are the bands' only tangible legacy, and the great bands of the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and early '90s have substantial back catalogs that continue to earn income long after the band breaks up. Performing is an important element in most music careers, but the Beatles did their best work after they stopped touring in 1966, and the subject of today's blog, Nilsson, never did concerts and still had a very successful career. This newly released box set "Nilsson: The RCA Albums Collection," features seventeen CDs of (nearly) everything he recorded for the label.

The seventeen disc set, Nilsson: The RCA Albums Collection RCA Records

Nilsson was a unique singer-songwriter. Though he could scream his guts out, he wasn't just a rock and roller, his voice could do anything, croon, belt out tunes, or sound like a little boy. He was strictly a studio artist, and a good number of his recordings were massive productions with lots of players. Nilsson's career illustrates the value of what an extremely talented artist can do if he has the time to perfect his studio craft, which might be what made the Beatles take notice of Nilsson before the public caught on. In 1968, when John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in NYC to announce the formation of their company, Apple Corps, a reporter asked Lennon to name his favorite American artist and he replied, "Nilsson," and when Paul was queried about his favorite American bands he said, "Nilsson." Suddenly everyone wanted to know who this Nilsson guy was. He went on to collaborate with Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison over the course of his career. Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin" won the Best Contemporary Vocal Grammy Award for the "Midnight Cowboy" soundtrack in 1969.

Nilsson was a brilliant songwriter, but his vocal skills were unmatched by any other pop singer. He transformed his voice to match the lyrics, and he always sounded completely spontaneous and natural. That was true with X-rated rockers like "You're Breakin' My Heart," or the lushly orchestrated gems on "A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night." The three CDs of unreleased tracks are a great addition, and not just for historical value, they're highly entertaining in their own right. You can hear how much fun he was having in the studio, Nilsson never took himself too seriously.

Nilsson recorded in the best studios in Hollywood and London, and the sound quality of the newly remastered discs is truly excellent. The early demo tracks are especially pristine, with just Nilsson alone on piano. I compared the sound of these remastered CDs to the 2008 and earlier CDs, the new ones are consistently clearer, sweeter sounding, with better soundstage depth.

Amazon sells the seventeen disc box for just under $100, so the price is very reasonable for all that music, but if you want to start with just one CD I'd go with "Nilsson, Schmilsson."

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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