Nilsson On Fire!

By Madeline Bocaro 

© Madeline Bocaro, 2019. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.


 ‘Jump into the Fire’ was the second single from Brooklyn-born Harry Nilsson’s 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson. I’ve always loved this song – especially the long version. Despite hearing it for the first time on a small AM radio speaker (thankfully they would sometimes play the full 7-minute version rather than the edit) I knew this track was really special. The extreme vocal echo is super cool, and this is absolute ground zero for drums and bass! The bass intro is a thumping heartbeat. What other song has a long tribal drum solo followed by a long bass solo?

LISTEN – Full version:

The bigger hit from Nilsson Schmilsson was the first single ‘Without You’ co-written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans of Badfinger. (Ham and Evans both committed suicide – Pete in 1975 and Tom in 1983 – over separate financial issues).  Nilsson fell in love with Badfinger’s demo thinking it was a Beatles song. The power ballad was later made even more popular worldwide by Mariah Carey.

Listen to the Badfinger demo ‘Without You’:

Badfinger album track:

John Lennon and Paul McCartney considered Harry their favorite American artist. Nilsson was also an early Beatles fan – he recorded a song in 1964 commemorating their arrival in the USA called ‘All for the Beatles’ (re-named and released as ‘Stand Up and Holler’). John and Paul were admirers of Nilsson’s smooth vocal ability and range (listen to ‘Everybody’s Talkin’). However, Nilsson’s voice is highly manipulated with echo on Jump into the Fire’.

You can climb a mountain, you can swim the sea
You can jump into the fire / but you’ll never be free
You can shake me up / or I can break you down
Oh, oh / 
We can make each other happy

This song has an AMAZINGLY stellar line-up of musicians. The wild beat is supplied by Jim Gordon, drummer for Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton and John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band. Jim’s life later took a tragic turn…

Derek and the Dominos’ Jim Gordon, Jailed for Killing His Mom,

Denied Parole for Fear ‘He’d Hurt Somebody Else’

Bass is by Herbie Flowers (of T. Rex, Elton John and Bowie’s Space Oddity and Diamond Dogs albums, AND of Lou Reed’s classic ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ on Transformer in 1972). Flowers’ stand-up bass solo on Reed’s track is astounding!!! On Nilsson’s song, Flowers connects to the heartbeat, and later lets his bass warp out of tune as it reaches lower and lower throbbing and vibrating notes. You can actually feel the buzz.

Klaus Voormann (also of Lennon’s P.O.B., John’s Imagine album and the single ‘Instant Karma’) did rhythm guitar overdubs. Klaus (also a session musician with the solo Beatles) plays the killer bass on Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ about which she utters ’son of a gun’ at the beginning of the song. Klaus also plays bass on two Lou Reed tracks on his incredible album Transformer; ‘Satellite of Love’ and ‘Perfect Day’.

The Nilsson song appears on the soundtrack of the 1990 film Goodfellas.

There’s a great version by Robin Zander of Cheap Trick on his first solo album in 1993. (I love the fact that Zander and his wife named both their daughter and their son Robin!)

Robin Zander’s version:

LCD Soundsystem did a version of “Jump Into The Fire” as well.
BBC Radio 1:

Madison Square Garden Concert (live):

A cool version by Psychic TV from their album Alienist in 2016

Harry Nilsson passed away in 1994 of heart failure.

Nilsson was the owner of the Mayfair London flat where both (Mama) Cass Elliot of The Mamas & The Papas and The Who’s Keith Moon expired in 1974 and in 1978 respectively.

Watch – ‘Jump Into The Fire’ HD – Nilsson Schmilsson-1971 (Son Of Dracula Movie)

Nilsson Schmilsson 1971

Harry Nilsson – vocals, electric piano

John Uribe – lead guitar

Chris Spedding – rhythm guitar

Klaus Voormann – rhythm guitar

Jimmy Webb – piano

Herbie Flowers – bass

Jim Gordon – drums, percussion

 © Madeline Bocaro 2019. No part of the materials available through may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without the  prior written consent of Madeline Bocaro. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Madeline Bocaro is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without prior written permission of Madeline Bocaro.





5 thoughts on “Nilsson On Fire!

Leave a Reply