Thursday, September 11, 2014

Covered Up: Harry Nilsson - "Many Rivers to Cross" (Pussy Cats)

Harry Nilsson – “Many Rivers to Cross” (Jimmy Cliff)
Pussy Cats, 1974

Jimmy Cliff’s gospel-tinged standout from the The Harder They Come soundtrack is a heartbreakingly gorgeous classic. Harry Nilsson’s cover serves as the lead-off track to Pussy Cats—his collaboration with John Lennon during his “Lost Weekend” period of serious drugs and drinking. As a result, that album sounds two guys having their own private party, and the way Nilsson belts out “Many Rivers to Cross” gives me chills every single time. The album also features covers of “Rock Around the Clock,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and a particularly wonderful and shambling rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Pussy Cats is an album I frequently recommend. It’s not really a masterpiece, or even a great, consistent record, but it so perfectly captures a time, a place, and a relationship of two men that I find it to be an enthralling listen. Plus it features the showstopping “Don’t Forget Me,” which is one of the greatest songs ever written, so there’s that. I always come back to that cover of “Many Rivers to Cross,” and while Cliff’s original is beautiful, all the blood and guts and pain Nilsson throws into his version makes it my favorite. The guitars sound stoned and reel around, but ultimately this feels like the last song they play before the lights go up and the bar closes together. Everyone standing arm and arm, drinks in hand, sloshing all over the place. Strangers becoming brothers. That's the power of song, man.

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