Aerial Pandemonium Ballet

One of the things for which Harry is remembered by those who worked with him is his perfectionism.  Harry loved to tinker...constantly changing this and that melody, voice inflection, arrangement or lyric until he was satisfied...or time ran out!  Nilsson fans I have met and spoken to in the last fe years fall into two distinct camps:  those who prefer the remakes on 'APB' and those who prefer the original takes from the two albums which it is made up from.

In most cases, which they prefer is the one they first encountered.  Fans who 'discovered' Harry's music through 'APB' in 1971 grew to love the songs it contained and see these versions as 'the originals', at least to them.  I am not in that category - 'Pandemonium Shadow Show' was the 4th Nilsson LP I owned (after 'Son of Dracula' - see 'When Harry Met Harry', 'Harry' and 'A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night') therefore I knew it backwards before I ever encountered this album.  The first song I heard from 'APB' was the reworked 'Without Her' which appeared (complete with its abundance of hiss) on the Greatest Hits compilation released when Harry left RCA in the late 1970s.  I wondered why they had used  what to me was an infinitely poorer version on the package (and still do today!)

In fact Harry admitted in an interview that the re-workings he had tinkered with had varying levels of didn't stop him tinkering, he did that just the same throughout his life!

So, 'Aerial Pandemonium Ballet' is a compilation of the two LPs which make up its name.  With more people having become aware of Harry via the success of 'Everybody's Talkin'' (and through 'Skidoo' and the 'Harry' album) it was deemed a good idea to re-release his first 2 albums so his new found fans could enjoy them.  Harry was a little embarrassed by the 'dated' feel he felt they had...and so was born 'APB'.  Much of the old 'signature brass' was dropped (or at least subdued) and vocals re-recorded with his less 'boyish' voice of the 70s.

Strangely, I and many others feel that 'APB' has aged far less well than the two original albums over the ensuing 30 years or more.  In fact, it was only after the Buddha/BMG re-release in 2000 that I began to listen to it again after a gap of well over a decade.


Part of the same 'circus ring' intro is followed by the new version of 1941.  Then, the song we know but slowed down and remixed.  It is, in fact, slowed by just over a semitone.  Harry had become a little embarrassed by his high-pitched 'young' voice and, probably, simply wanted to sound a little more mature.  Had he realized that just 3 years down the line his voice was to be irrevocably damaged he may never have done so...

Daddy's Song

This was something of an unusual inclusion on this album as it was always advertised as a compilation of the two earlier albums...yet this track had not appeared on either, except for the advance copies of 'AB' before being 'pulled' to avoid competition with 'The Monkees' version.  Despite the original having not been heard a lot this version boasted new vocals and had the piano & guitar out of sync.  This ensured (I am sure, unintentionally) that the first version instantly became a much sought after rarity!  The harmony vocals were dropped and the overall production is less cluttered.

Mr Richland's Favorite Song

The biggest, and most important, change here is the inclusion of the excerpt from 'One' as the 'one' hit the singer had had.  This track was remixed and had new background vocals.

Good Old Desk

Again remixed and slightly slowed down.  You'd hardly notice unless you the question has to be asked...why?

Everybody's Talkin' (Neil)

The 4th version of this song.  Remixed and with the 2nd vocal part dropped.  It had already been a hit and a Grammy winner...but Harry the 'tinkerman' thought he knew best...


Few changes here...must some re-equalizing which makes it sound a little more 'naked' ...and, in my opinion, less finished.  Reverb has been compromised as well.

River Deep - Mountain High  (Spector/Barry/Greenwich) 

For this track Harry completely re-recorded the vocals, including changing the tune.  Why?????

Sleep Late My Lady Friend

Simply a remix.  At least you can still hear Harry's 1967 vocal sound on this one.

Don't Leave Me

Another simple remix.

Without Her

I find this song, by far, the strangest reworking of all.  Perhaps because I regard the original, 'PSS' version one of the most perfect recordings in the history of pop.  The tune is changed and, much worse even thatn that, the sound on the re-working is incredibly 'hissy' and substandard.  For nigh on 30 years I've asked myself '"Why?" and cringed whenever I've heard this version.  The biggest travesty of Nilsson's entire career...nothing else challenges it!*

(*there are worse songs - most notably 'Jesus Christ You're Tall', but no worse production or presentation (esp. in comparison with the original)


When Derek Taylor wrote in the liner notes to 'AB' that Harry did not frequent the whisky bars of the 'Strip' perhaps he did not envisage that he would do just that, and sooner rather than later!  Harry and whisky seems to be the only 'raison d'etre'  for this!  If Harry was not drunk, why else would he crucify a great song by presenting it like this?  Out of sync/time, and hacked to pieces!  An absolute travesty...gosh, I'm SO glad I discovered Harry in proper, chronological order.  This is appalling...again I have to ask why?????  Why, in the name of Harry, WHY???????  (Did he seriously think this was an improvement???)  Even the mind of a genius can be corrupted by the 'demon drink'!!!


Mr Richland's favourite song, in its own you know...this one song might, actually, have been improved by the 'APB' experience.  I said MIGHT, you geddit???


The ending from the Aerial Ballet album.


You Can't Do That (Lennon/McCartney

There are lots of differences on this version - Harry really went to town with the backing vocals.  This was the only song from 'PSS' or 'AB' that was not used on the reissued compilation.  All the elements of the first version are still here but, in his efforts to, improve upon his first attempt he succeeded only in making a cluttered arrangement.  There are several clever, new touches but it just doesn't seem to work quite as well.  In trying to 'hide' the brass under extra vocals Harry succeeds only in somewhat spoiling his original, unique Beatles cover; whereas covering Beatles songs was actually something could do rather well, as we shall see...

Isolation (Lennon)

...from the ashes of the last cut we arrive here, with one of the most sublime moments in re-issue/bonus track history!  This is all Harry:  vocals, piano and organ.  Harry keeps all the simplicity and intimacy of Lennon's original but adds his own vocal superlative to produce a recording which would have graced any of his future solo albums.  Absolutely beautiful.


This is the earliest version of the song which has appeared as a Harry bonus track more than any other and which finally turned up on 'Son Of Schmilsson'.  The song went through many incarnations from this to the final, tongue-in-cheek C&W version - though the spoken overdub here is particularly noticeable - how many songs feature the words 'lascivious conduct'?

Early In The Morning (Hickman/Johnson/Bartley)

Although this was an early take of the song which would appear on 'Nilsson Schmilsson', in truth there are not too many changes between this and the final version.  The vocals over the staccato organ chords is the same. 

The 'eatery' referred to in the song is probably New Orleans' 'Dooky Chase' - the lyric was changed in Ray Charles's version to 'Dooby' - a version of the sheet music for the song also has 'Dooby J's'. 

Walk Right Back

Harry obviously enjoyed playing around with this song and 'Cathy's Clown' once he discovered they fir together so well.  He not only recorded this studio version but recorded a very funny video for a BBC studio concert in which he also added 'Let the Good Times Roll' to make a trio he could sing with himself!


Overall, I'm extremely glad to have the alternate versions of these songs to listen to...gosh, I'd buy an album of Harry scratching his warts if they released it!  However, there's 'Harry' and there's 'APB'!  One gives me thrills every time I hear it and the other makes me think of and ask just one word..."WHY?"  (I am fully aware that many Nilsson fans would disagree if I place this album amongst my least favourites of Harry's - I know, from what they have told me, that it all depends on whether you 'learnt' these songs from the original albums (like me) or this album (like them).

For someone who discovered these albums (albeit later than officially released) in chronological order I am SO glad I did!!!  'APB' was always an afterthought and deserves, in my opinion, to be regarded as little more.  Harry WAS a revisionist...who knows how successful he might have been if this one album had been a true reflection of what he had previously passed as his best work???


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