This week’s article focuses on one of the truly unique records of it's, or any for that matter, time. How often do you listen to what is ostensibly a children’s album, complete with narration to propel its story, that holds up as a pristine pop record that transcends its inherently juvenile intentions? For your reconsideration, here is Harry Nilsson’s The Point!.
The Point! tells the story of Oblio, a young boy from the land of Point, a land where all of its citizen’s heads come to a sharp point. All except Oblio, that is, and to compensate he wears a pointy hat on his head to fit in. However, he is unfairly ostracized throughout his community, and later banished. Along the way, he learns lessons about acceptance, and that even if you seemingly don’t have a point, you do. Everyone does, in fact. A valuable life lesson for children, couched in hippie ethos appropriate for its time.
What’s interesting about this story is that it came from a mind as fractured and iconoclastic as Harry Nilsson’s. A notorious partier and heavy drinker, it would seem that Nilsson was not the ideal candidate to undertake such a project. In fact, he came up with the concept for the record while on acid! However, from the beginning, Nilsson’s work was couched in whimsy and simplicity, with songs like “Cuddly Toy” and “Daddy’s Song” steeped in McCartney-esque music hall style, and even on his darker material, such as his classic “One,” later memorably covered by Three Dog Night. Throw in his beautiful singing voice, which at its peak was one of the truly amazing instruments in music, and he was uniquely qualified to work on a record like The Point!
The songs written for the record, unlike a rock opera such as Tommy, or most concept albums of its ilk, are by no means tied explicitly to the story, which becomes the hidden strength of the album. Instead, they illuminate the themes present without any sort of specific ties to the narrative surrounding it. These songs stand up strongly on their own, and make this record possibly Nilsson’s most consistent listen, regardless of narration or concept.
“Everything’s Got ‘Em” starts things off with a bright, lilting melody, and witty, incisive lyrics that help introduce the town of Point, and establish a foundation for the rest of the tale to take off from. The citizens of Point are depicted as, to borrow an old hippie cliché, “straights” that are not especially welcome to change, if the line “that’s the way they wanted it, that’s the way it’s going to stay” is any indication. It’s a catchy tune, and the way Nilsson sugarcoats his message with a bouncy melody and delicate instrumentation showcases a songwriter working at a peak. “Me And My Arrow” follows, and is the highlight of this set. It could almost be considered a lullaby, with its repeating lyrics that, while simple, work wonderfully, especially since they are matched to a wonderful rhythm track, which plays what can be best described as a light funk shuffle. It’s a masterpiece of simplicity, and a perfect pop song.
The record continues along these lines, sticking with simple, unobtrusive arrangements, all the while interjected with Nilsson’s own charming narration, which is appropriately ramshackle (you can even hear him flipping through the pages of the script at certain points). It concludes with another pop gem, “Are You Sleeping?,” and a final word from Nilsson that ties everything together.
One aspect of the record that is interesting in a more contemporary context is that, because of lean towards childlike simplicity and spare arrangements, The Point! could be seen as a forbear to modern indie pop, and twee pop in particular. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that Belle and Sebastian are fans of this record.
In addition, The Point! was made into an animated movie for television in 1971, and features the voice talents of Ringo Starr as the narrator. The entire film can be watched on YouTube for free.
Overall, The Point! is a personal favorite from an artist whose unique talents have been somewhat overlooked over time. Nilsson achieved a reasonable level of commercial success, in particular with Nilsson Schmilsson, which includes his schmaltz classic “Without You,” but drug and alcohol abuse eventually left him burnt out and in poor health, leading to his death in 1995. However, before all that, Harry Nilsson crafted something remarkable with The Point!, the rare album that transcends age and can be enjoyed equally, and in different ways, by everyone.