Harry Nilsson

Pandemonium Shadow Show

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Harry Nilsson's debut album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, was notoriously loved by the Beatles, and it's easy to see why. This is the only record of its time that feels akin to Sgt. Pepper, and in some ways, it's every bit as impressive. Nilsson works on a much smaller scale, leaning heavily on whimsy yet cutting it with sardonic humor and embellishing it with remarkable song and studiocraft; it's as if McCartney and Lennon were fused into the same body. Pandemonium can't help but feel like a cheeky show of strength by a remarkably gifted imp, spinning out psychedelic fantasias and jokes and trumping his idols by turning out a cover of "She's Leaving Home" (recorded ten days after Sgt. Pepper's release) that rivals the original. Beneath all the light playful melodies ("There Will Never Be" is swinging London, L.A. style) or glorious laments (he rarely equaled "Sleep Late, My Lady Friend"), there are serious strains: the lyrics of "Cuddly Toy" are as unsettling as the melody catchy, the circus-stomp "Ten Little Indians" is a darkly addictive retelling of the Ten Commandments, and "1941" is quietly heartbreaking beneath its jaunty cabaret. Throughout it all, Nilsson impresses with his humor, cleverness, and above all, how his songwriting blossoms under his shockingly inventive studiocraft. Psychedelic pop albums rarely came better than this, and it remains a thorough delight.

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