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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 14 November 2013
Harry Nilsson deserved a good biography, and Mr. Alyn Shipton has done a fine job of it.

Mr. Shipton's book has a couple of really strong points:

First, he had access to the Nilsson family and the Nilsson Estate, and in particular to the unfinished autobiography Nilsson was composing, both in form of recorded tapes (the "oral" autobiography) and written drafts (the "draft" autobiography)
So there's quite a deal of fresh input. By the way, the quoted parts of Nilsson's draft autobiography are extremely well written and full of humour... too bad he didn't have the chance to complete it...

Second, Mr. Shipton is a musician himself - unlike so many "music critics" who couldn't tell a major chord from a minor one if their lives depended on it - and therefore his primary focus is always the music (the songwriting and recording process, the production choices) rather than the personal/sordid/gossipy bits. Which are there, of course, it's "hell raiser" Nilsson we're talking about after all. But the spotlight is always on the artist and on his music first.

To be perfectly fair, it must also be said that Shipton draws, I mean, A LOT, from director John Scheinfeld & LSL Productions' documentary film "Who is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)". This film is truly a must-see for any Nilsson fan, a 5-star treasure trove of interviews and archive material, currently available as a Region-free DVD which adds about 90' of bonus material, making it about 3 hours of material. I really advice any Nilsson fan to give it a look.

Shipton's book is also (very slightly) marred by a few minor omissions (Nilsson's 1968 BBC session for "Saturday Club with Brian Matthew" goes totally indiscussed, only passingly mentioned in a quote from Nilsson's then wife: and yet it's the rarest of the events, being one of the the very few occasions Nilsson performed [and recorded] live in public); and there is the odd disputable assertion ("In 1967 the Monkees were the closest thing America had to the Beatles" - well I don't know really... what about the Beach Boys?) and a bit of shaky judgement here and there (I honestly don't believe 1976's "...That's the Way It Is" to be better than the previous two records... and when discussing "Duit on Mon Dei", the author completely forgets "Puget Sound", the little gem of the album and the closest things to Nilsson's early stuff; and utterly fails to aknowledge the incredible duet with Gloria Jones on "What's Your Sign").

But all considered, a very fine book.

The only thing that really puzzles me is the cover picture. I've seen dozens of portraits of Nilsson, some of them funny, others witty, or moving, or all these things combined and then some... but the publishers decided to go with the most dull, insignificant, nondescript picture of Nilsson I've ever seen... Do these people know anything about marketing and advertising?
Don't they know that a good cover alone could consistently improve sales figures?...
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on 19 August 2013
This is a wonderful biography of one of the truly great singer-songwriters. It will have you crying with laughter and weeping with sadness. Full of information about Harry's younger life, details of his struggle to make it and a no-holds barred account of his tragic decline and untimely (but probably expected) death. A gripping read from start to finish. I really enjoyed the descriptions of how Harry put each album together. He was obviously adored by the majority of people he worked with, befriended or loved. I've been a fan of the music of Nilsson for over 45 years but after reading Alan Shiptons well researched book I now feel that I actually know Harry. Recommended.
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on 22 May 2014
It's been a long wait for an in depth look at Nilsson's life and recording career and this book fills the void superbly. Well sourced quotes and even draws from Nilsson's personal papers. The book is well paced, well written and well worth the few bob it costs. An interesting thing to see if that Nilsson put down an oral bio of his life while also getting some march on the written one but it was left incomplete at the time of his death. Having reacquired by Nilsson love through Shipton's book I'd be very interested to see if something could be put together by his estate and see some more of this material. Hope this helps any prospective buyers.
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on 13 September 2013
The book`s a highly detailed account of Harry Nilsson`s life and suibsequent tragic ending. Beginning, with the early years and in many ways the source later, of a number of his songs, it goes systematically through the cause & effect of events in his ultimate, self destruction.

In the days of instant fame & commercial / financial success leading to equally rapid obscurity, some will disbelieve the early days years of struggles, to succeed.

Sometimes, there is an excess of detail, but the book is well researched & a good source material, for anyone `discovering` one of the most unique singers & songwriters, of C20th. Definitely, worth listening to the early days material; however, you have to understand the humour as well as the lyrics, or you`ll miss some of the unique flavour of his songs & production techniques, and why things just happened, as they did.

Almost everything in his life was an extreme. So much talent, so much lost.

However, it`s a recommended read; then listen to the songs.

4star, because I found it a bit overdetailed, at times. Not a major fault; some will love the detail.

Still a fan, after all these years.
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on 22 December 2015
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Harry Nilsson was a huge talent as both a singer and songwriter, but he was also something of an enigma - and ultimately an under-achiever.

This book traces some of the major events of his life, including:

* the early albums he released in the mid-to-late 60s, together with his songwriting stint for a certain manufactured TV group named The Monkees;

* the release of two singles - ironically both written by other songwriters - that brought him to worldwide attention; namely: 'Without You' (written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger) and 'Everybody's Talkin'' (Fred Neil);

* his relationship with super-talented producer Richard Perry who came to define his sound for a while;

* his involvement with soundtracks and musicals, including 'Skidoo' and the charming animated tale 'The Point'

* the major endorsement by the Beatles as their favourite American songwriter. He came to know John and Ringo from both a personal and
professional viewpoint: writing a song with John, 'Old Dirt Road', which later appeared on solo albums by both artists, while both he and Ringo regularly guested on each other's albums.

* regular nights out with his numerous celebrity drinking buddies including (during his time in London) Keith Moon, a couple of Pythons and various other luminaries both here and in the U.S. His alcoholism sadly contributed to his decline as a musician, and added to his health worries.

Inevitably, he failed to live up to the huge promise he demonstrated on his early albums, and he died aged only 53 in 1994.

The above are selected snapshots from the album of his life delineated in this fine biography. It's delivered in a refreshingly factual style that eschews any sensationalism.

A fine read.
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on 6 July 2016
Always loved the music of Harry Nillson. This,I believe, is the first and only biography written about him. I bought this book having heard the author talk about Harry on a recent Word podcast and I am about half way through it at the moment. It is a well written, detailed account of Harry's life told in a chronological order. I am enjoying reading about the minutiae of the recording sessions for each album and then listening to them right away on Spotify. It is well documented that Harry was hell bent on destroying his career and voice through copious amounts of alcohol and substance abuse. Whilst he died far too young, I believe that the story has a happy ending with Harry finding domestic happiness with a loving wife and a load of kids. Like I said, only half way through but can recommend this book if you are at all interested in a man who many regard ( including me ) as the finest singer of the late 60's / early 70’s.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a detailed, well sourced biography of a singer who never quite received the recognition he was due while stil alive. Famously acknowledged as being the Beatles' "favourite group", his dislike of performing, and his general lifestyle conspired to ensure he would never quite graduate from respected singer and songwriter to bona fide superstardom. (Ironically, despite his reputation as a song-writer, his two most successful recordings were both written by others.) Perhaps this suited him.

One or two reviewers have commented that there is a lot of overlap between this biography, and the 2010 documentary "Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?" which has been shown on UK television several times recently. I would counter that by asking what these reviewers expect. If you compare biographies of any individual, there is bound to be a great deal of overlap; much of what is covered is undispute fact, which should remain the same, regardless of how, or by whom it is presented. The real question is whether one would really need the book if they had already seen the documentary, and I think both contain enough in the way of unique material to make the book worth reading.

Personally, I found the book to be an ideal companion to The RCA Albums Collection , a seventeen disc box set of all his work, sometimes available on Amazon for as little as £30.00. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 3 January 2016
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is only likely to be of interest of anyone who enjoys Nilsson's music but for those who do, this provides an excellent resource to the life and works of the singer/writer musician.

Unlike an autobiography which is largely anecdotal, the book provides detailed information about songs, recording sessions and record releases (both his own and other artists recordings of his songs). Despite this, the narrative flows nicely and the author manages to keep it entertaining throughout.

Nilsson's childhood is mainly glossed over (thankfully IMHO) in the first chapter but the periods of struggle and success are given the bulk of the book. Having extensive access to Nilsson's family has been a great benefit to this book, which remains interesting throughout.

If you are familiar with Nilsson's music, then read this book. If you are not, then go and listen to some THEN read this book. Either way, you won't be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I 'heard' extracts from this book when it was a BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week' back in 2013. I was greatly impressed by the way that the author presented Nilsson's life and times, and how Nilsson entered The Beatles orbit in the late sixties, not long before their break-up, and his global success in the early seventies. Nilsson was prey to over-indulgence in drugs and alcohol, and his 'Party Animal' reputation overshadowed his genuine musical gifts in the end. Alyn Shipton tells Nilsson's story unsensationally, and occasionally underplays it, but his biography is an absorbing, revealing and ultimately bitter-sweet read. It navigates a fine path between the sex and drugs and rock and roll story and a genuine appraisal of a rare and unusual, contradictory talent and fatally flawed character, often fascinating, never less than thoroughly readable, and a very thorough, revealing biography well worth your time and attention
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on 21 September 2013
This is a superb book about one of the greatest singers and finest songwriters ever. Unfortunately, Harry Nilsson was also a dreadful alcoholic and drug addict, which damaged his voice, sank his career and ultimately killed him far too young.

The insights here are astonishing and will make you reappraise even the latter works of his career, long considered - unfairly - to have no merit.
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