Nilsson’s "Isolation"

Michael Gerber
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Aerial Pandemonium Ballet

Some people get Mania, others get Pandemonium

Brother/good influence Jack Gerber just sent me this great cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” by JL’s close friend/bad influence Harry Nilsson. It was unreleased until 2008, when it appeared as a bonus track on Aerial Pandemonium Ballet.

Lennon covers almost never come close to the original; Lennon’s paramount gift was to make his material feel so personal, indubitably his. It bothered him, especially post-Beatles, that fewer people covered his songs than covered Paul’s, but you can understand why — who could possibly equal his originals. Still, this version of Isolation holds its own, and if he heard it, probably pleased him.

Almost all of Nilsson’s work has this bittersweetness to it; and if anybody could be famous and isolated — surrounded by people, yet fundamentally alone, as the phrase goes — it was Harry Nilsson. (Update 2015: The New Yorker named this song one of Harry’s ten best lesser-known songs. See the rest here.)

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  1. “Power to the People” – Black Eyed Peas

    “I’m Losing You” – Corinne Bailey Rae

  2. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    Mike — won’t say what this is, when he starts to sing i get shivers…

  3. Avatar Wolynski wrote:

    Working Class Hero by Marianne Faithfull on her great Broken English album.

    Very few covers of post-Beatle Lennon – let’s face it, he wrote dirges. The Beatles managed to undirge his songs (Help was originally a ballad). Everything is soooo slow…

    Sorry, Lennon and McCartney were crap without each other.

  4. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Donny Hathaway covered “Jealous Guy” on his live 1971 album “Everything Is Everything” –

  5. Avatar Kilgore Trout wrote:

    Oddly enough, an American Idol contestant (named Casey James) did a great cover of Jealous Guy last year.

    And I’m a sucker for Rufus Wainwright’s Across the Universe.

    But Mike, I think you’re right that some of his (especially solo) stuff is almost un-coverable. “Watching the Wheels” is a great song but I almost don’t want to see anybody try it.

  6. Avatar Mollie wrote:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Avatar Mollie wrote:

    Both of the covers Glaven mentions are from the Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur album. I wrote about that on my own blog, here (in pre-Dullblog days). Despite a few duds (and I personally would count the Black Eyed Peas’ contribution among them), it’s a good concentration of interesting Lennon covers. (On the other hand, the earlier tribute album Working Class Hero, despite the intriguing lineup of alternative bands, turned out to be a concentration of not-at-all-interesting Lennon covers. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Grow Old With Me” is nice, though.)

  8. Glen Campbell did a beautiful “Grow Old with Me” on his album “Meet Glen Campbell” (2008, I think).

  9. Avatar Ingrid wrote:

    REM’s cover of #9 Dream, also from the Darfur album.

  10. Avatar Pascal Deweze wrote:

    Don’t agree about the Lennon solo dirges, first couple of years give a lot of Beatle filler a run for their money in unfiltered delivery.

    And now over to some blatant self-promotion : here’s a cover I did on the 8th last year for a Belgian radiostation, song works in any version it seems…:)

    Hope you don’t dislike it,

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