Nilsson was an US singer-songwriter who pervaded the music charts in the ‘70s with pure pop-rock poetry. As a cult figure of his time Nilsson knew how to pull at the heart-strings with his trademark love-laboured songs that languished in lyrics of sadness and despair. Though Nilsson graced the air waves as a Swedish-rooted blonde beauty with his superficial good looks and romantic repertoire beneath the mask laid his own hidden depths that took on more of a Dirty Harry role than the angelic façade.
Despite his deliberate lack of convention when it came to following a music career path Nilsson still achieved two Grammy Awards in his short lifetime. The first was for ‘Best Male Pop Vocal Performance’ for the soundtrack ‘’Everybody’s Talkin’’ from the ’69 film ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and later Forest Gump.
Though following the soft rock trend, the music has a folk-feel from the onset with a silvery guitar rhythm set against a high-pitched acoustic string voice played on digital piano. Nilsson’s lethargic vocal line synchronises with the nomadic Yankee cowboy image with his nonchalant air and easy swagger. ‘’Everybody’s talkin’ at me, I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’’ etc. The constant ‘clip-clop’ of the beat suggests the movement of a horse and gives the song momentum as Nilsson tells his story complete with octave acrobatics and wide ‘Ow’s that add to the charm of the swanky Stetson ‘n’ spurs hero.
Nilsson ‘’Without You’’
Many have graced this song with their presence both prior to and après Nilsson’s 1971 version. A second Grammy Award for ‘Best Male Pop Vocal Performance’ bagged it for Nilsson and his career peaked with a wider fan base to boot.
The strident dissonance of the digital piano chords sets this power ballad apart as a ‘’killer of all time’’. Nilsson sits at his piano stool pouring out a solitary verse of despair and heartache. The second verse sees the entry of a soft instrumental, synth strings and vocal harmonies that herald the dramatic chorus ahead:
‘’Can’t Live; if Living is Without You’’ resounds with ardent strings and Nilsson’s characteristic octave leaps. Verse 3 heads off the pathos and the final chorus complete with a mighty dynamic thrust and cascading vocal harmonies show Nilsson giving his all.
A Cowboy Crusade
Nilsson had a natural talent as a singer-songwriter with his tracks often showing a Beatles/Monkees influence for story-telling lyrics and tonal shading. Though much of Nilsson’s extra-curricular ‘party all night’ habits contributed to his early death he is still gone too soon. Akin to his success with ‘Midnight Cowboy’ Nilsson coincidentally devoted his efforts to the banning of handguns and showed a strong moral stand that was as close to his heart as his love lost lyrics. Dirty Harry made good.