Two musical acts separated by a single differentiating letter – there must be some connection? But no, Swedish band Hardy Nilsson are not some Harry Nilsson cover band. Nor do they seem influenced by the commercially successful American friend of the Beatles, originator of a kind of baroque pop and the mash-up song. Hardy Nilsson actually take their name from a Swedish championship hockey player and coach. I guess everything in music doesn’t revolve around an Anglo-American axis after all. Well now that we’ve brought them together we might as well dig into what they do a bit.
A lot has been written about Harry Nilsson. He wrote hits for himself (“Me and My Arrow,” “Spaceman”) and others (“One” for Three Dog Night, “Cuddly Toy” for the Monkees), made other people’s songs big hits (Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Badfinger’s “Without You”), and managed to be a big star in the early 1970s without ever touring or playing live much at all, a feat very much against the grain of the times. But eventually his music career appeared to be eclipsed by his more outrageous public behaviour, particularly repeated drunken outings with John Lennon. By the mid-1970s his records had stopped selling and after 1980 he never released another one in his lifetime. To get a sense of his playful inventiveness and what would become his trend-setting production techniques, check out his revisionist take on the Beatles “You Can’t Do That” from his 1967 album Pandemonium Shadow Show. Nilsson slows the song down and then proceeds to invent the ‘mash-up’ form, incorporating snippet references to 18 other Beatles songs into the track. He also recorded a version in Italian.
Swedish band Hardy Nilsson put out three albums in the 1990s, all very pleasant Teenage Fanclubby poprock outings. Shortly after starting one band the same members started another, Tommy 16, with a similar musical MO, though perhaps with a touch of Badfinger thrown in. The big difference between the two was a swap on lead singing duties and a shift from Swedish to English lyrics. Fans of both bands still debate which had the best shot at success and should have been the main focus of the musicians and record companies involved. A good illustration of what both produced can be found in the singles singled out below. Hardy Nilsson’s “Popsang” was a minor hit for them while “Come On Come On” was a single for Tommy 16 that got included on a number of 1990s compilations of Swedish acts.
Harry Nilsson died not long after Hardy Nilsson put out their first album. It would have been cool if he’d heard about them, even if he wasn’t their inspiration. Could have made a great double bill.