Saturday, August 09, 2008

You're Not the Only Cuddly Toy Cover

Aimee Mann's notable cover of Harry Nilsson's One from the Magnolia soundtrack distinctly kicks off with a voice uttering "OK, Mr. Mix." This snippet actually comes from the beginning of another Harry Nilsson song, Cuddly Toy. Every now and then I'll be reminded of Nilsson's genius, inevitably when I discover a song that I love was originally written by him. This began with the Magnolia soundtrack and Aimee Mann's cover of One, also famously covered by Three Dog Night. Later on another Paul Thomas Anderson film scored by Jon Brion, Punch-Drunk Love, the wonderful song He Needs Me is used, which was originally from Robert Altman's 1980 Popeye film and sung by Shelley Duvall who plays Olive Oyl. As it turns out, Harry Nilsson wrote all the original songs for that film.

This trend reached a peak when Harvey Danger singer Sean Nelson started to work on his Nelson Sings Nilsson album of Nilsson cover songs, which ultimately has never been released in the 2 years since it's been completed, though I've been assured it'll come out "someday". There have been some great-sounding demos and tracks on myspace, which led me to check out all the Harry Nilsson albums from the library.

This latest instance came while listening to Toronto indie band The Bicycles' 2006 debut album The Good, The Bad and the Cuddly, which I bought recently. This is when I first heard Cuddly Toy and I really shouldn't have been shocked to find out the only cover from the album was written by Harry Nilsson. Despite its jaunty sound, I've read conflicting stories that it's about either a promiscuous girl or a victim of gang-rape(!).

Harry Nilsson - Cuddly Toy [Demo]
This demo was recorded in March 1967 as Nilsson auditioned material for The Monkees. Before the song starts, he says "I don't really have a title... I guess you can call it the Cuddly Toy Song, why not?" I got this from For the Love of Harry, an incredibly comprehensive blog archive of Harry Nilsson material.

The Monkees - Cuddly Toy [originally by Harry Nilsson]
The Monkees did end up choosing to cover Cuddly Toy for their 1967 album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., an early break for Nilsson who at the time was still held a job at a bank. The Monkees would also later cover Nilsson's Daddy's Song for their 1968 film Head.

Harry Nilsson - Cuddly Toy
Nilsson's own album recording of the song was also released in 1967 on Pandemonium Shadow Show.

The Bicycles - Cuddly Toy [originally by Harry Nilsson]
Here's the cuddly cover that inspired this post. More info on The Bicycles, their debut album, and hilarious DVD board game(!) can be found here.

Ben Gibbard & Nada Surf - Cuddly Toy (live) [orginally by Harry Nilsson]
A live cover from the Death Cab for Cutie frontman and Nada Surf taken from a benefit concert for Rogue Wave's drummer, Pat Spurgeon, in 2006.


Anonymous said...

I had no idea HN wrote the Popeye tracks. PT Anderson was Altman's acolyte -- great that Nilsson was part of the wisdom passed along.

Did Nilsson write poly-high? That's due for a cover.

tarty said...

reading your blog is often like doing a paint-by-numbers project but on a time/space continuum, thanks for adding Harry to the mix today!

Fongolia said...

db - that's true, I forgot P.T. Anderson was Altman's "standby" director on Prairie Home Companion. With Altman and Nilsson imvolved (Robin Williams first film too), I'm curious to see Popeye, though it's not supposed to be very good.

tarty - "paint-by-numbers on a time/space continuum" is now my favourite description of this blog. Thanks!