At the recommendation of erstwhile Debris Slider Eric, I recently caught up with the 2006 documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Did They Give This Movie a Long, Dumb Parenthetical Title?), which was re-released in 2010 with additional found interview footage of Nilsson. I believe it's the latter version that I saw on Netflix. While the film didn't answer my most fundamental question about the man - why did he bill himself as just "Nilsson" rather than "Harry Nilsson"? - it was enlightening nevertheless.
Everyone knows that John Lennon and Ringo Starr spent much of the early 1970s pub-rolling around Los Angeles with Nilsson, but the Beatles actually became big fans after Nilsson's 1966 album Pandemonium Shadow Show. At the press conference introducing Apple, Lennon and Paul McCartney both named Nilsson as their favorite American srtist. Lennon of course later produced Nilsson's 1974 album Pussy Cats, and Ringo was best man at Nilsson's third and final wedding.
One thing I did not know before seeing the movie was that Nilsson did not do live performances - he never toured, and never even performed in concert, near as I could tell. There's a clip in the movie of Nilsson singing on the TV show Playboy After Dark, with luminaries such as Otto Preminger and Norm Crosby gathered round, but that's apparently as close as Harry ever got.
Nilsson was noted as much for his songwriting as for his singing, which made it kind of odd that his first hit single was Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'," which Nilsson took to Number Six in 1969, and his biggest hit was his Number One cover of Badfinger's "Without You," in 1972. He also wrote "One," (he based the opening one-note riff on a busy signal) which Three Dog Night took into the Top Ten in 1969, and took his own composition "Coconut" into the Top Ten in the summer of '72. That's how you know he was an exceptional songwriter, that he could come up with something that so effortlessly resembled an old Jamaican folk song, which I had always assumed it was.
So Nilsson had a Top Ten hit with a cover and with his own song, plus wrote a Top Ten hit for another artist, which is quite the trifecta. Bruce Springsteen did that, with several of his own Top Tens, covers by Manfred Mann's Earth Band ("Blinded by the Light") and the Pointer Sisters ("Fire"), and his live cover of Edwin Starr's "War," which went to Number Eight in 1986. Tommy James sorta did it as well, although he only co-wrote "Mony, Mony." Anyone else?