Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the 80s: background - Son of Schmilsson

The first album I ever owned was Son of Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson. It completely twisted my mind.

My mom and step dad bought it for me. They gave it to me along with one of those little plastic record players that's about the size of a donut box. Mine was red.

Must've been when I was four or five because the album came out in 1972. I have no idea why they got it for me, or why they thought it would be appropriate for a kid, because it wasn't, honestly. I'm guessing it was my step dad's idea.

Son of Schmilsson is a decidedly adult album. Not just because it has cuss words (one song goes, "You're breakin' my heart, you're tearin' it apart, so fuck you!"), but because it's full of irony, metaphors and puns, all of which can really mess with a young mind.

Remember, at this time, I had no concept of how an album was made. I thought groups just pressed record on some sort of record recorder and started playing, live. Listened to in this mindset, Son of Schmilsson has some really weird twists. It begins between the first and second songs when this weird Dracula voice shouts "Son of Schmilsson!" You can hear someone snoring, and they suddenly wake up wondering who said that and what's going on. As I listened, I was trying to figure out where this all was happening. Was the band just standing around watching? Was this guy sleeping in the middle of the room where the band was playing? Where was Dracula?

Then it goes right into this beautiful song called "Remember (Christmas)." Like, the band just started singing again as if nothing happened.

Another weird moment comes on side 2, when they start singing "Remember" again when suddenly the singer burps really loud, at which point the band kicks into some hard rocking. Out of nowhere, a crowd breaks into applause. And I'm thinking, where'd the crowd come from? They must've been sitting quietly for the whole album. But then when the guy burped and they started jamming, it must have been too much for them to contain their enthusiasm.

Beyond that, it's just weird from top to bottom. Like, it's a very accessible, poppish album. But the lyrics are filled with backward logic:

Joy to the world
Was a beautiful girl
But to me Joy meant only sorrow
You know I wanted to be a space man
That's what I wanted to be
But now that I am a space man
Nobody cares about me
The most beautiful world in the world

Well, if you haven't got an answer
Then you haven't got a question
And if you never had a question
Then you'd never have a problem
But if you never had a problem
Well, everyone would be happy
But if everyone was happy
There'd never be a love song

Seriously. Imagine a four-year-old brain chewing on that one.

It even had a song that went, "I'd rather be dead than wet my bed." I was still young enough that bedwetting was a not-so-distant memory, so that one sort of struck home. But what made it really weird was that the chorus was sung by a choir of really old people. And I just couldn't put that one together. Old people wet beds?

So there you have it. I'm a little kid in the 70s listening to this record over and over and over and my little brain is forming along with it. It should come as no surprise that by the time I hit my teens, in 1981, I wasn't to keen on Lionel Richie and Hall and Oates. I was ready for something weird.

No comments: