What should have been a new beginning became a rather inauspicious end to a remarkable career. Harry Nilsson’s final studio album, 1980’s amusingly-titled Flash Harry, was his first on the Mercury label. It followed a decade-plus stint at RCA and signaled a fresh start. But despite its starry array of musicians, and typically solid songwriting, the album produced by Stax guitar legend Steve Cropper with engineer Bruce Robb was withheld from release in North America. Flash Harry only was issued in Europe and Japan, and soon after, it was gone without a trace. Much to the chagrin of Nilsson fans, the album had never resurfaced in any format…until now. We’re excited to report that Varese Vintage has just announced that Flash Harry will be making its North American premiere, on both CD and vinyl. This long-awaited reissue is due on August 13.
Flash Harry will arrive in stores just a couple of weeks following RCA/Legacy’s The RCA Albums Collection, the mammoth 17-CD box set containing all of the singer-songwriter’s solo albums for the label plus over 50 unreleased tracks. Yet that’s not all residing in the Nilsson House vaults! Like that box, Varese’s Flash Harry will premiere some never-before-released Nilsson music via four bonus tracks. And it deserves a place on your shelf next to that box set for the complete album experience…or The Full Harry, if you will.
In retrospect, the loose, spirited Flash Harry seems a fitting conclusion to Nilsson’s album career. In addition to Cropper, guests and co-writers on the Los Angeles-recorded album include Van Dyke Parks, Lowell George, Eric Idle, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Keith Allison, Dr. John, Klaus Voormann, and two of the Beatles – Harry’s pals John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Idle’s contributions bookend the album. For the opening song “Harry,” he joins Charlie Dore in warbling a tongue-in-cheek theme for a “pretty nifty guy.” (The track was a gift from the Monty Python man to his new friend Nilsson.) And Harry returned the favor, ending the album with a rendition of the comedian/songwriter’s “(Always Look on) The Bright Side of Life.” (This Monty Python’s Life of Brian tune would later become the centerpiece of Idle’s Broadway musical Spamalot.)
Van Dyke Parks’ influence is felt on his two tropical-flavored collaborations, “Cheek to Cheek” and “Best Move.” Nilsson reteamed with arranger Perry Botkin, Jr. (Pandemonium Shadow Show, Sandman) for “I’ve Got It,” a tune written for their musical Zapata. The show received its premiere production at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House in late 1980, but didn’t enjoy a further life. Harry and Paul Stallworth co-wrote the sleek soul of “It’s So Easy,” its arrangement recalling “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Nilsson even recalled past ballad triumphs like “Without You” with Rick Christian’s reflective “I Don’t Need You,” later a hit single for Kenny Rogers. His only solo songwriting credit on Flash Harry, “Rain,” is another breezy pop confection.
What else will you find on Flash Harry? We have more details, plus the scoop on bonus tracks and more!
The Mutual Admiration Society between Nilsson and the Fab Four continued on Flash Harry. Ringo Starr (for whom Harry had produced a couple of tracks for 1981’s Stop and Smell the Roses) co-wrote the punningly-titled “How Long Can Disco On,” and Nilsson tapped his “Lost Weekend” with John Lennon for a revival of “Old Dirt Road.” The song was first recorded by Lennon on 1974’s Walls and Bridges, with Nilsson among the backing vocalists. For Harry’s solo version, Starr took the drummer’s seat.
Varese is adding four bonus tracks to the CD version of Flash Harry. An alternate version of “Old Dirt Road” will be joined by three previously unissued outtakes: Danny Kortchmar’s “Feet,” Allen Toussaint’s “Leave the Rest to Molly,” and John Agostino’s “She Drifted Away.” In addition, the CD’s booklet will include reminisces by Eric Idle, Van Dyke Parks, Jim Keltner and Rick Christian. A limited-edition vinyl LP will also be released. The vinyl release follows the original track listing, sans bonus tracks, and reprints the 1980 liner notes from publicity guru Derek Taylor.
Following Flash Harry, Nilsson never released another full-length album, preferring to concentrate on projects like stage musicals, soundtrack performances and guest appearances. While fans still patiently wait for his final recordings – only a handful of which have been released, and on a publishing promo rather than a commercially available release – Varese’s Flash Harry fills yet another major gap in the Nilsson CD discography. Derek Taylor wrote in the original album liner notes, “As usual, his A&R instincts are intriguing…the mixture has great colour, vigour, and the spice of vulgarity and humour with which 45 minutes in his company is always illuminated.”
It’s taken years to get these 45 or so minutes on CD, but Flash Harry is almost here! Both CD and vinyl editions are due on August 13, and we’ll add pre-order links soon as they become active!
Harry Nilsson, Flash Harry (Mercury 6302 022, 1980 – reissued Varese Vintage 302 067 195 2, 2013)
- Harry – Eric Idle and Charlie Dore
- Cheek to Cheek
- Best Move
- Old Dirt Road
- I Don’t Need You
- I’ve Got It
- It’s So Easy
- How Long Can Disco On
- Bright Side of Life
- Old Dirt Road (Alternate Take)
- Feet (Outtake)
- Leave the Rest to Molly (Outtake)
- She Drifted Away (Outtake)
Tracks 11-14 are previously unreleased