Friday, December 23, 2011

25. “Remember (Christmas)”

Harry Nilsson: Son of Schmilsson (RCA, 1972);
composed by Harry Nilsson

This album’s predecessor, Schmilsson, was a great one because it instantly made tangible the frank desperation that powered what had often seemed like overly whimsical craftsmanship in his previous music, but never was. This self-mocking sequel took this process further, which is why some of it makes no sense, in both good and less good ways. Unlike the tracks this album is best known for - “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” (response in the chorus: “So, fuck you!”), and “Joy” (which makes “Far Away Eyes” sound like “Sister Morphine”) – “Remember (Christmas),” a piano-with-strings ballad, would have fit on Schmilsson, but only the way that “Que Será Será” would have fit on There’s A Riot Goin’ On. It figures that Randy Newman performed this on a tribute album, because it is unequivocally pretty the way some of Newman’s darkest songs are. Over a lustrous cadence, Harry croons “remember” over and over at the beginning of each line, until he hits the bridge and croons “dre-ee-eeam!” so cheerfully that you instantly know how sad it actually is: “Love is only in a dream.” Happiness is what we make it, and one of the things we make it out of is sadness.

Note: 25 secular essays (each one exactly 200 words long) about 25 songs, to appear one per day during Advent (or so) from Nov. 27 through Dec. 21.

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