Though the title track – a rendition of Nilsson Schmilsson‘s driving opening song performed by Nilsson’s daughter Annie, with his son Zak on drums – was penned for that 1971 commercial breakthrough, most of the tracks here date from his hungry years as a songwriter. Two of Nilsson’s most famous early songs were recorded by The Monkees with lead vocals by the late Davy Jones; the biting pair of “Cuddly Toy” and “Daddy’s Song” are included here and showcase Nilsson at his most ironically showstopping and utterly theatrical. (It’s no surprise that he would later go onto pen musicals for both stage and screen.) Even more intricately-crafted is the striking autobiographical vignette “1941,” lavishly rendered in 1968 by Canadian folkie Tom Northcott as produced by Leon Russell and Lenny Waronker.
The earliest tune here, from 1965, is also one of the set’s most obscure – and one of its strongest inclusions. Jimmie Cross’ “Hey Little Girl (Do Ya Wanna Get Married)” is a sweet slice of teen-pop issued on the Leiber and Stoller-founded Red Bird label; it doesn’t anticipate Nilsson’s eventual signature sound, but shows his ability to assimilate into any genre as necessary. One can imagine Herman’s Hermits successfully covering the song. A strong Righteous Brothers feeling permeates 1966’s slow-burning “Let Me Go,” sung by Pat & Andre and arranged by Gene Page (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”). “Let Me Go” was co-written, arranged and conducted by Nilsson’s frequent early collaborator Perry Botkin, Jr., who also produced Debbie Burton’s teenage melodrama “The Next Day.” Less obscure is “The Story of Rock and Roll,” recorded by Nilsson on his 1966 private-press demos LP. The buoyant song found its way to The Monkees (who shelved it until 2000) and The Turtles (who notched a minor hit with it). Ace has instead featured the big and bright 1968 recording by the two-man, two-woman Collage.
Al Kooper is, much as Nilsson was, another musical iconoclast. With arranger Charlie Calello (The Four Seasons, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession), Kooper recorded Nilsson’s sad slice-of-life “Mournin’ Glory Story” in lush, primarily a cappella style. Calello, Robert John, and Michael Gately joined in to create the spellbinding harmonies. Kooper’s first iteration of Blood, Sweat & Tears brought a breezy jazz feel to Nilsson’s dark “Without Her” on the band’s debut album; it’s happily reprised here. The greatest might-have-been track on this set is undoubtedly The Modern Folk Quartet’s euphoric “This Could Be the Night,” co-written and produced by Phil Spector in 1965 but unreleased (other than via an appearance in the film The Big TNT Show) until 1976. It’s no wonder that Brian Wilson chose to record this song for the Kooper-helmed 1995 tribute album For the Love of Harry; it’s prime Wall of Sound bliss, showcasing the sound and instrumentation that so inspired Wilson’s masterwork Pet Sounds and beyond. Spector is also represented with “Paradise,” though not in The Ronettes’ original but in an equally dramatic, widescreen treatment by The Shangri-Las and producer Shadow Morton.
Big, complex arrangements were the norm for Nilsson in his early days, with arranger George Tipton often aiding him in bringing his musical fantasias to life. Tipton pulled out all of the orchestral stops in his arrangement of The Family Tree’s “Miss Butters Lament” (co-written by Nilsson and the group’s Bob Segarini) as well as on his own brassy instrumental rendition of one of Nilsson’s most famous songs, “One.” Another familiar classic here is “Best Friend,” originally written as “Girlfriend” but adapted to serve as theme to the television series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Ace has excavated its only released cover, by Sandy Salisbury under the alias of Puppet, from a 1969 Date single.
Nilsson’s songs were as attractive to “adult” artists as to young rockers. The most soulful performance here comes from Marilyn McCoo, handling the lead on The 5th Dimension’s smoky, sultry version of “Open Your Window” from 1973. Another attractive pop-soul ballad comes from Jose Feliciano, whose “Sleep Late, My Lady Friend” was produced, like Nilsson’s original recording, by Rick Jarrard. The purity and sheer beauty of Andy Williams’ voice made it a perfect match for the achingly reflective “Remember (Christmas),” produced by Richard Perry (as it had been when introduced on Son of Schmilsson).
European artists weren’t immune from the Nilsson bug, either. The Yardbirds certainly weren’t the most likely rock group to cover a Nilsson tune when they took on his nursery rhyme spin on the Ten Commandments, “Ten Little Indians,” in 1967. Jimmy Page’s typically searing guitar added a new dimension to the song introduced on his RCA debut Pandemonium Shadow Show. Sweden’s Doris Svensson – sounding a bit like young Lulu – tackled the quirky “Bath” from Aerial Ballet in 1970. Two years earlier, the U.K.’s The Glass Menagerie and Sandie Shaw re-interpreted two more Aerial Ballet standouts: “I Said Goodbye to Me” (in a vocal style redolent of early David Bowie) and “Together,” respectively. The briskly rocking “Good Times” is sung here in a rare version by British actor Alan Lake. The song came full circle in 2016 as the title track of The Monkees’ new studio album, with Nilsson pal Micky Dolenz adding new vocals to a track first attempted by Nilsson and the band in 1968.
Gotta Get Up! is presented in Ace’s typically lavish fashion, with Ian Johnston’s essay and Mick Patrick’s track-by-track notes in a generously illustrated 20-page full-color booklet. Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks. This release reveals the breadth and depth of Nilsson the songwriter in vivid style.
- Gotta Get Up – Annie Nilsson (Royal Potato Family LP RPF-001, 2013)
- Daddy’s Song – The Monkees (Colgems LP COSO-5008, 1968)
- Mournin’ Glory Story – Al Kooper (Columbia LP CS 9855, 1969)
- This Could Be the Night – The Modern Folk Quartet (rec. 1965, from Phil Spector International LP 2307 009, 1976) (*)
- 1941 – Tom Northcott (Warner Bros. 7160, 1968)
- Cuddly Toy – The Monkees (Colgems COS 104, 1967)
- Bath – Doris (Odeon LP E062-34193, 1970)
- Butter’s Lament – The Family Tree (RCA LP LPM-3955, 1968) (*)
- Good Times – Alan Lake (Ember EMBS 278, 1970)
- Story of Rock and Roll – Collage (Smash 2170, 1968) (*)
- Ten Little Indians – The Yardbirds (Epic 10248, 1967)
- Hey, Little Girl, Do You Wanna Get Married – Jimmy Cross (Chicken 101/Red Bird 10-042, 1965) (*)
- Best Friend – Puppet (Date 2-1666, 1969) (*)
- Poly High – Harpers Bizarre (Warner Bros. 7377, 1970)
- Open Your Window – The 5th Dimension (Bell LP 1116, 1973)
- Sleep Late My Lady Friend – Jose Feliciano (RCA LP LSP-4045, 1968)
- I Said Goodbye to Me – The Glass Menagerie (Pye 7N 17615, 1968) (*)
- Paradise – The Shangri-Las (Red Bird 10-068, 1966) (*)
- Let Me Go – Pat & Andre (Warner Bros. 5824, 1966) (*)
- The Next Day – Debbie Burton (Capitol 5666, 1966) (*)
- Together – Sandie Shaw (Pye 7N 17587, 1968)
- Without Her – Blood, Sweat & Tears (Columbia LP CS 9619, 1968)
- One – George Tipton (Warner Bros. LP WS 1867, 1970)
- Remember – Andy Williams (Columbia LP KC 3283, 1973)
Stereo except (*) mono