The Point was one of the last couple of Nilsson albums I managed to collect - I found it (like I did 'Nilsson sings Newman') in a basement shop in London's Oxford Street - how many happy days did I spent walking the length of the street (well over a mile) popping in and out of literally hundreds of little record shops finding bargains, bootlegs and records by well-loved artists that I didn't even know existed. It's just not the same with CDs...but maybe that's not the point (sic).
It was a long time later that I discovered that the LP was accompanied by a TV Movie. Made (after much pressing from Nilsson) by ABC it was the first full-length cartoon made for TV. I was flicking through my dad's movie guide (actually reading the review it contained of Skidoo - the one that read: "there are bad films, there are turkeys...THEN there's Skidoo") and I happened to come across 'The Point' - a film narrated by Ringo Starr. I had certainly never seen it (was it ever shown on UK TV?) and it was to be many, many years before I did - and then only a DivX version I downloaded from the internet! Fortunately it is now available officially on DVD although I wish it was in a multi-soundtrack version with all four narrations (the other three being by Dustin Hoffman - the original (see right) - Alan Barzman and Alan Thicke).
Maybe because I heard it first - but I don't think so...I still prefer to hear Harry reading the story himself as on the LP. I like the way you can hear him turning the pages as he reads. The cover is nice - as is the inner-LP artwork (it was a gate-fold sleeve with a cartoon booklet to boot!) and features a tapestry of Oblio. At Harryfest 2001 in London someone brought a cushion with the same tapestry (left) - it looks even better 'in the flesh' so to speak!
At the time of his death in 1994 Harry was reported (by his former PA Collette Moran) r5`1z to have been working on a 'Return to the Point' idea. Who knows what might have been?
Harry: "I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to points. I thought, 'Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn't, then there's a point to it."
Everything's Got 'Em/The Town
The opening track sets the scene. That's the point - I mean...everything's got one! Including the people - on the tops of their heads! A feature of all the music on this album is the joyous orchestration by George Tipton. He was taking a much more 'string-oriented' approach by now but the tuba in this opening song is an unmistakeable ingredient. The introduction to this song becomes the main part of the ostinato-like accompaniment to the first narration.
Me and My Arrow/The Game
Probably the most well-known track from The Point (because it was a single, no doubt) his is the happy little song about a boy and his dog. Oblio being the boy, of course - the 'pointless' boy at the centre of the story. The song has a sort of 'Latin' feel to it - with a nice syncopated ostinato. The improvised flute part over the top of the song is often overlooked but is well worth a listen. I have heard some fans hypothesizing over whether even in this 'children's piece' Harry's saucy/schoolboy humour was coming to the fore - there could, in other words, be a more sexual connotation to a man singing us a song about his long, straight arrow...but I like to think otherwise! The songs goes straight into the 2nd narrative (including one of those page turns!) as Harry tells us all about the game of Triangle-Toss.
TV ads and articles for The Point (click to enlarge each)
Poli High/The Trial
We have film of Harry performing this song (on the Smothers Brothers TV Show - click thumbnail to enlarge) where he uses it to demonstrate 'how to write a song' and discusses song-structure. To be honest, though, it aint much of a song. There are some nice harmony vocals and it serves its purpose in its place in the scheme of things. It is also the first indication, I believe, of the sort of production techniques and song-styling which Harry was to employ on his next (and most successful) album Nilsson Schmilsson. Behind the next spoken piece the extremely simple piano part is another indicator - the same two chords played over and over, if swung in 6/8 time become the start of 'Down'. Apart from that there is very little to say about this particularly unimaginative interlude (unless you simply say that it's not going to distract many listeners from the story-telling!)
Think About Your Troubles
Indisputably the stand-out track for me! From the watery, bubblicious opening sound effects it is, perhaps, the most Nilssonian track on 'The Point'. The lyrics are both humorous and directional - they tell the story of 'the life-cycle of a water droplet through 'being eaten by fishes, and by a whale that later decomposed, to a tap (faucet) and into a teacup via teapot and kettle'! And while sipping the tea why not postulate on the meaning of life and how little your own troubles are compared to...you get the point, I'm sure! The backing vocals on this track are lovely, inventive and unpredictably improvised in places. It is partly double-tracked but then one of the voices will stray and become a harmony or go into a totally new counter-melody. Instrumentally it is simple - an electric piano dominates until the flutes and strings join in courtesy of Tipton, of course. The whole things is mixed beautifully in a wide stereo - making me think a 5:1 DTS mix of this album would be a pleasure to hear one day...please!
The Pointed Man
The start of side 2 on the LP - hence its starting silence - a rarity on the whole album. Some clever recording and multi-tracking even on the narration. Behind it the thematic material is taken from the preceding track. Harry introduces his mock-Caribbean accent that would later resurface on speak-songs like 'Flying Saucer Song'. This is the longest narrative on the LP.
Life Line/The Birds
Another of the best songs on the album. One gets an interesting view on Harry's composing methods by listening to his use of the piano on tracks like this. Intrinsically, the intro is almost identical to 'Maybe' on the 'Harry' album and not too different from that on 'Think About Your Troubles' and several other Nilssongs - yet, often, the songs themselves became very different from each other. I learned to write songs by imitating Harry - my dad used to laugh 'ha...another Nilsson songs...' whenever I used to play him my latest effort - because the piano part was that particular style of broken chords again...it was all I could play then - an, of course, pretty much the extent of Harry's own piano technique. What often brought the songs into a new realm, though, was when a master keyboardist picked up on Harry's original demo piano and wove it into something far beyond its original scope - the perfect example being the direction Nicky Hopkins took 'Remember' - simply one of the best piano parts on any track ever recorded.
But I digress...back to 'Life Line'...the song captures the feel of a deep, echoing hole - which is what it was intended to do! Harry's voice is at its very best on the long, long phrases and endlessly sustained notes. In fact, listening to it again today I struggle to think of many better vocal performances in Harry's career than this. Absolutely gorgeous!
The following piece of narration rushes through some of the encounters Oblio and Arrow had in the forest.
POV Waltz/The Clearing
POV standing for Point Of View, of course. This song is, as the title suggests, a waltz - and an effective one. There is a story that Harvard Music College used Brian Wilson's 'Friends' as an example of how to write a waltz but they could just as effectively use this one by Harry. It is also a master-class in how to employ backing vocals - while Tipton's strings pre-empt the kind of writing we would hear a few years later on 'Knnillssonn', painting pictures in sound - such as the 'falling' feature. My only gripe with this song is that I feel it to be rather unfinished - almost as if Harry either ran out of time or inspiration to give it a better ending than the abrupt, ill-placed fade - a cop-out at the best of times, I reckon. Perhaps that's why Harvard don't use it after all (or to my knowledge, anyway!)
The Clearing is read over an instrumental version of the POV waltz and is fairly uneventful musically apart from that (again I wonder...were they running out of time/money to finish this?)
Are You Sleeping
This song has a nice, lazy 'Latin' feel to it and the accompaniment prominently features an accordion. The Latin feel is enhanced by the syncopated singing - particularly in the 'there was a time...' section. Just as I settle into enjoying the song, though...another crappy fade-out! What's going on, here...they're spoiling a good project!
And that's it! Oblio goes home and gets a hero's welcome. I must stop this, though...my newly-born 'conspiracy theory' is taking too big a hold of me...is Harry really reading faster and faster - as though he can't wait to get to the end (compare it with some of the narration in the early part of the album. Hmmmm...). If so I guess there is another meaning behind the chorus of applause that ends the whole thing.
the NEW Oblio and Arrow figures created for a proposed animated TV series in the 1990s and used for the cover of the DVD release.
Down to the Valley
The similarities between this track and the opening cut on The Point are unmistakable both musically and lyrically. The biggest difference is the lack of Tipton's orchestra while notable parts include the very nice a capella ending and the Penny Lane-like 'piccolo trumpet' interlude (quite hidden down in the mix though).
Buy My Album
Both this and its A side have a distinctly chaotic, unfinished feel to them leaving the listener with the question 'Why?' rattling round his head. As if to ask - 'What is the Point?' Did Harry owe RCA a single? If so, did he come out with this offering merely as a token (akin to George Harrison's 'Only A Northern Song')? Or was the alcohol beginning to fuddle Harry's previous perfectionism? This song feels like snippets from at least 2 songs welded together in an unwieldly manner and I can find little other explanation as to why than the theories I have just outlined. As for the clumsy insertion of 'I'll Be Home' from 'Nilsson Sings Newman' I suppose it took the song just past 1'30'' - and the whole single to 3'40''. If I'd bought it I might have felt as short changes as when I first took 'Early Tymes' home and side one finished before the kettle had boiled!!!!
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