Monday, March 25, 2019

Gotta Get Up | Lefsetz Letter

Have you been watching “Russian Doll”? If so you can give me your explanation of the ending, I’m still trying to figure it out.

And if you haven’t, it’s just a matter of time until you do, you see “Russian Doll” is this year’s “Stranger Things,” something that has built momentum sans media by early adopters who’ve brought along the curious, it’s all about the buzz I tell you. And I’m giving nothing away to say there’s a “Groundhog Day” construct, as in the main character, Nadia, keeps repeating the same day, after dying. And Natasha Lyonne as Nadia makes this whole series works, she’s so damn fine, proving once again that one person can carry a whole show, can make a difference, and the way she’s so independent, saying what she feels, is so ingratiating.

And when Nadia is reborn in the bathroom, the music that is played is Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up.”

Nilsson was a songwriter who had worked in a bank and had sung the theme to “Midnight Cowboy” that he didn’t write and now had a huge hit with a Badfinger song that most people thought he did write. In between, he’d written the music to the children’s film “The Point,” the point being he had not been a star, but now he became one.

I got “Nilsson Schmilsson” as a premium, for subscribing to or renewing some magazine, maybe “Rolling Stone” when they still did this. It came all battered, which bugged me, I wanted my albums pristine, and the opening cut was “Gotta Get Up.”

Gotta get up, gotta get out, gotta get home before the morning comes

“Gotta Get Up” is a tear with a whole story, you’re carried away, it’s infectious. It’s not what you expected in 1972, when progressive music was breaking through and if it was more pop, it was more ignored.

And eventually, that summer “Coconut” infected the airwaves, a song kinda like “Baby Shark” that you could not get out of your mind. People would start singing it spontaneously for no reason whatsoever…”put the lime in the coconut.” DOCTOR! “Now let me get this straight…” It seemed a novelty song, but it was composed by a serious songwriter.

But it was the tracks that were not hits that truly got under your skin, that you were infected by.

“Gotta Get Up” was followed by “Driving Along,” which was upbeat and groovy, kinda like driving in your car with the windows down listening to the radio. It seemed like it was the next afternoon and the same guy who had to get up had done what he had to do, and was cruising.

But the piece-de-resistance was the third cut, “Early In The Morning.” This is the kind of track that made albums an art form. Never to be heard on the radio this music meant more to you than the hits. It sounded like early in the morning, with a bluesy feel, just Nilsson with some kind of keyboard. And I’ll tell you, oftentimes early in the morning I’ve got nothin’ but the blues too. I mean when I wake up too early. And the vocal gymnastics and the reference to himself creates a mood… A professional at his peak, with nothing but his talent on view, WHEW!

And “The Moonbeam Song” could have been straight off of “The Point.” Dreamy and childlike. Sounding completely different from what came before. It was soothing.

And the closer of the first side, “Down,” was pure bluesy rock, your body moved while you listened, this guy who seemed wimpy was nothing like that.

“Let The Good Times Roll” was a left field cover made completely Nilsson’s own.

“Jump Into The Fire” was heavy, it sounded like someone who got too close to the flame, it too rocked.

“I’ll Never Leave You,” the closing cut, seemed misplaced, kind of like “Good Night” on the White Album.

“Nilsson Schmilsson” sounded like nothing else. And since it had two big radio hits, people bought the album and listened to it. It’d be like hearing a big rap hit on the radio and finding the album contained Shostakovich.

But our tastes were broader back then.

Oh, for a moment there it seemed like kids were listening to everything, but hip-hop has now dominated.

And “Son of Schmilsson”, the follow-up, employed the same formula, but was not quite as good as what came before, but it contained the indelible “You’re Breakin’ My Heart,” which got ink, but no airplay, because of the profanity. Seen as huggable, Nilsson was not.

But, “Son of Schmilsson” did contain the near masterpiece “Spaceman,” which would have fit perfectly on “Nilsson Schmilsson.”

And then Harry met John Lennon, partied too hard, blew out his voice, and lost the plot and died before his time.

Now you cannot talk about this period of Nilsson’s work without crediting producer Richard Perry. Who was famous for slickness in an era that was rougher, but it succeeded, especially with Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” with its bass then guitar and piano intro that worked so well on the radio, you heard those bubbling notes and you got ready for the story.

And the Doors came back, and maybe Led Zeppelin never left.

But Harry Nilsson’s work was positively buried until someone plucked it for use in “Russian Doll,” where it not only fits so beautifully, but embeds itself into your brain to the point where it becomes a personal hit, you want more.

But there is none, if you were a fan.

But if you were not…

Gotta Get Up


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