Music Monday: I’ll Be Home, Cowboy: Nilsson, Walker, Newman, by Brendan O’Malley

My talented brother Brendan O’Malley is an amazing writer and actor. He’s wonderful in the recent You & Me, directed by Alexander Baack. (I interviewed Baack about the film here.) His most recent gig was story editor/writer on the hit series Survivor’s Remorse. Brendan hasn’t blogged in years, but the “content” (dreaded word) is so good I asked if I could import some of it to my blog. I just wrapped up posting his 50 Best Albums. But I figured I’d keep “Music Monday” going with more of the stuff Bren wrote about music.

This is part of Brendan’s lengthy series of essays on Scott Walker, which I’ll be posting for the foreseeable future, one every Monday.

I’ll Be Home, Cowboy: Nilsson, Walker, Newman

After years and years of dwindling interest in music, 2011/2012 brought a double whammy of melodic obsession. First I discovered Harry Nilsson through the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson? which is still on Netflix and you should see if at all possible.

I spent the next few months buying used cheap versions of his albums, reading all about him, and generally freaking out that I hadn’t really even known who he WAS before. His career seems unthinkable when you examine it for even a split second and if you listed everything he did and everything that happened to him, you would think he lived to be 150 years old.

Nilsson inadvertently led me to Scott Walker. Here’s how that happened.

I was having trouble watching narrative film. I had been spending most of my time either listening to or reading about Harry Nilsson. But I was too tired to read and it was too late to play my guitar. I had a mini-realization. Hey, I liked that documentary about Nilsson. Maybe there’s another cool music doc about someone I don’t know much about.

The Walker doc had been on Netflix for a short while and I’d noted it in passing without giving it too much thought. The name rang zero bells. At least with Nilsson I knew the NAME even if I had no idea what songs he’d sung or written. With Walker it was a complete blank.

I watched it and obviously it had a large effect on me or you wouldn’t be reading this.

However, it took me several months before I realized there was more of a connection between Nilsson and Walker than just ME watching the documentaries in quick succession.

While delving into everything Nilsson, I bought his landmark 1969 album Nilsson Sings Newman.

Nilsson had shot to prominence a short time earlier when The Beatles had named him their “favorite American band”, which is hilarious when you think of it. So what does Nilsson do with this megaphone he’s got pointed at a giant audience? He decides to sing an entire album worth of Randy Newman songs.

To put this into some kind of perspective, this would be like Adele deciding right now to record an album of MY songs.

The resulting album was not a giant success. It seemed out of step with the times which were getting louder and more rock and roll than ever before. This album was as far from that as you can get. Newman plays the piano, Nilsson sings. That’s it. No jams, no psychedelica, no extended drum solos, nothing trippy. Were you to sit a family around the piano in 1903 (like the song on the album imagines), and have them sing all these tunes, they would hardly seem out of place.

What’s all this got to do with Scott Walker, you ask? Well, after his career had been torpedoed and he was coerced into abandoning his songwriting, occasionally Walker seemed to put his foot down and demand a level of quality in the song choices. Granted, he sang some terrible songs. But mixed in with the dreck are some gems.

Two of these gems are songs taken from the Nilsson/Newman collaboration.

Clearly Scott Walker had heard it. So, forty years before I would become obsessed with these two artists almost simultaneously, they were already connected.

The two Randy Newman songs that the Nilsson and Walker catalogs share are “I’ll Be Home” and “Cowboy”.

I love both versions and am including all four here for you to enjoy.

Nilsson “I’ll Be Home”

Nilsson “Cowboy”

Scott Walker “I’ll Be Home”

Scott Walker “Cowboy”

— Brendan O’Malley

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12 Responses to Music Monday: I’ll Be Home, Cowboy: Nilsson, Walker, Newman, by Brendan O’Malley

  1. Clary says:

    How wonderful to be alive to learn about something I didn’t know! 
    I have several albums of Nilsson, once I heard A  Little Touch of Schmilsson 20 years ago on an online radio I was entranced! And his Coconut song is so late 60s, no song is more delightful, right?
    And now Scott Walker, I’ll keep learning about him, so thank you so much for bringing him to my life. 

    • sheila says:

      Clary – so happy to hear this! Yes – for whatever reason – Scott Walker never made it to my radar – I have loved being introduced to him through Brendan’s writing. So glad you feel the same way!

  2. Brendan O'Malley says:

    Any time I can convince anyone to listen to Scott Walker I am happy! Beware, though, it gets waaaaaaaaaaaay out there by the end of his career….

  3. Brendan O'Malley says:

    That one is particularly harrowing.

  4. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Have been a big fan of Newman and Nilsson since the beginning. And now I’m learning about Scott Walker. Very strange guy. Strange voice. Compelling. But can only handle in him small doses. Fascinating coming to this stuff now. Thank you.

    • sheila says:

      I agree – it’s been fascinating following along! I love following my brother’s thoughts through these things. Will be sorry when there are no more to post – have really liked this series!

  5. Jessie says:

    what a lovely coincidence and post. I’m not as familiar with this era of Walker, thank you! It’s so interesting to hear him in that register.

  6. Brendan O'Malley says:

    He pitched his voice higger because baritones cause the listener to get waaaay too relaxed. He says, “It’s just a man singing now.”

  7. Brendan O'Malley says:

    *pitched his voice HIGHER arggh!

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