Album cover Losst and Found with Harry Nilsson in a jaunty hat

Maybe a decade ago I was a hockey fan. During an unexpected moment of affluence my wife and I splurged on Blue Jackets season tickets in the nosebleed section, and I would dutifully go down to see bad hockey week after week. Bad for real – this was in the latter years of the Ken Hitchcock era, with borderline NHLers like Andrew Murray and Gilbert Brule sometimes playing on the second line. 

The technical reason we cancelled our seats was that having children had made the expenditure unthinkable, but it was not a painful decision. I was done – I even cancelled my subscription to Fox Sports Ohio. They had just become painful to watch. A second broken shoulder ended my beer league career permanently. I lost the love. Even subsequent success and the playoffs didn’t bring me back. 

Except every so often. A couple of times a year I sneak down to this bar called Traditions and watch a game. Sometimes my brother comes and we talk about our own hockey glory days, but usually it's an odd and lonely ritual in a bar that is a time capsule of the early 2000’s. Same décor, same prices, same degenerate across the bar, same jukebox. I’m pretty much the only one watching the game, and the music plays on – Green Day, White Stripes, Blink 182.

But the last time I was down there somebody played the Harry Nilsson’s song “Coconut.” Sure man, I had the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack too. But then it was followed by several more Nilsson songs -- “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Jump Into the Fire,” and his staggering version of Badfinger’s “Without You.”

Wow, I hadn’t thought about Harry Nilsson in a long time. My interest in hockey evaporated. I paid my impossibly cheap bar tab and headed home to go through the record collection. I found it all, Nilsson Schmilsson, Pussy Cats, Pandemonium Shadow Show. The night ended (predictably) with a bourbon fueled session sitting at the piano bashing my way through “Spaceman” while reading Wikipedia entries. Which is how I found out that he had a new album coming out.

Who was Harry Nilsson? A singer beyond incendiary – certainly the best male voice of the baby boom generation. A devastating voice. The musician’s musician of the 70’s. The Beatles’ favorite performer. John Lennon’s drinking buddy. And, of course, the guy who sang “put the lime in the coconut.” 

The new album is posthumous of course, as Nilsson died in 1994. At the time of his death, he had just completed vocals for a new album he was working on with producer Mark Hudson. 25 years later Hudson has completed the album, which is now being released by Ominivore Records as “Losst and Found.” 

The album should be out by press time. For now I have just have two singles, “Lost and Found” and “U.C.L.A.” If the rest of the songs are anything like these, we are all in for a treat.

It was initially jarring to hear the modern production on a Nilsson record. We take for granted the lush and deep production of today. My studio engineer friend Colin's theory is that the only reason the recordings of the 60’s and 70's don’t sound dated to us is that we have been hearing most of these songs from childhood. If the Rolling Stones put out a new album this year with the same production as “Beggars’ Banquet,” it would sound raw and old to our ears – certainly not radio ready. But we’ve been hearing “Street Fighting Man” since birth, so it sounds right to us. 

There is always danger of over-production when a producer gets creative control over recordings. They can bring in as many synths and background singers and horns as they want without the artist being there to tell them to knock that shit off. On the “Lost and Found” track Hudson – most famous for his late 80’s work with Aerosmith – seems to be on verge of getting carried away. “U.C.L.A.” is thankfully free of that nonsense, and I hope the rest of the album will be as well. 

Not that it matters much. The voice is still there. Ravaged by years of cigarettes and hard drinking, but there nonetheless. Nilsson had exquisite lyrical taste in both his own material and the songs he covered, but I would listen to him sing the phone book in his intense yet vaguely apathetic way. As cool as the other side of the pillow, always and forever. He makes the folkies sound like insipid paranoids, the rock guys like warbling jerk-offs, and the jazz boys like a bunch of dorks.

Was Nilsson a hockey fan? He was living in LA when Gretzky played for the Kings, so it’s certainly possible. Whether he was or not, I haven’t look forward to an album this much in a while.

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