The genius of Harry Nilsson stays pretty underground. I got hip to him as an adult a few years ago but had actually loved his music since the cradle. My folks played it (the lime was in the coconut at my house!) and my two favorite movies as a kiddie were The Muppet Movie and Popeye.
Come to think of it, they are still two of my favorite movies. The music in each is amazing.
To learn that the quirky singalongs in Popeye were created by John Lennon’s drinking buddy who could out-sing all the Beatles combined, who made complex, crazy albums for over a decade, a man who hated fame so much he wouldn’t play a single live gig anywhere… damn. This is my dude.
So I stumbled upon the wonders of Youtube unreleased stuff and compiled a list of Harry Nilsson’s Popeye soundtrack demoes. Outstanding work here. This guy was writing about a beloved & goofy cartoon and it has as much or more texture as anything else he’s done. Amazing.
Some of these feature Harry on vocals, some are sung by the actors cast for the film, with Harry on background voices and sounds.
It’s rumored that the hiring of Nilsson as composer was controversial and director Robert Altman was warned of Harry’s antics, but lead actor Robin Williams lobbied strongly for Harry, and Harry impressed upon Altman that he was up to the task of creating music for this unique film.
Take a listen to the demoes he delivered while they were filming on Malta: