“Jump Into the Fire” – Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson’s hard rock showstopper from 1971’s “Nilsson Schmillson” album.  “Fire’s” most famous appearance was as the main musical piece during the extended paranoid climax of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster-film classic “Goodfellas.”  Apparently Scorsese’s first choice for this scene was the Rolling Stones’ 1983 rocker “She Was Hot,” but since Scorsese has a strict policy of only using music that was recorded during the period he’s depicting or earlier (the scene in question took place in 1980), he went with Nilsson’s song instead.  I have to say this is a much better choice as it is a lot more ominous sounding.  And seriously, could you imagine that final climactic scene with any other music than “Fire”?  A great song for being paranoid.  And as they say, paranoia is just reality on a finer scale.

“One” – Aimee Mann


Another terrific Aimee Mann cover … this time of Harry Nilsson’s “One” which Three Dog Night turned into a big hit during the early 1970s. Mann’s version was brilliantly used over the opening of P.T. Anderson’s 1999 masterpiece “Magnolia.” I like this version WAAAAY better than Three Dog Night’s cover, which is the best known version.

“Without You” – Harry Nilsson

This may be weepie 70s AM-pop at its most maudlin, but this song packs an emotional wallop. Desite Harry Nilsson’s talent as a composer, this is actually a cover of a Badfinger song. As much as I love Badfinger, their original version of “Without You” is severely lacking, especially in emotional heft. Which is shocking, especially given how melancholy their “Straight Up” album is. But Nilsson nailed it way better in my mind. Later used to great effect in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino” and especially in Roger Avary’s 2002 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s “Rules of Attraction.”

“Smile” – The Jayhawks


Here’s something that would not have been out of place on an early 1970s Badfinger, Harry Nilsson, or John Lennon-solo album. “Smile” is the title track from their 2000 album, produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin (who produced most of Alice Cooper’s early classic albums, KISS’s “Destroyer,” Lou Reed’s “Berlin,” … and a little something by Pink Floyd called “The Wall”). This is far removed from the alt-country that initially made the Jayhawks famous, but I think this got unfairly ignored. A really lovely pop ballad.

“She Was Hot” – The Rolling Stones


One of the better songs from the 1980s era Rolling Stones, this was from the Stones’ decent but uneven 1983 album “Undercover.” The “hot” woman in the video is Anita Morris, who first gained fame starring in the original Broadway version of “Nine” and subsequently played sexy women “of a certain age” in many 1980s films (“The Hotel New Hampshire,” “Ruthless People”). It’s nice to see the Stones let a sexy older woman be the object of lust instead of the usual young bimbo. Sadly, Morris died of ovarian cancer in 1994. So, in honor of Ms. Morris and sexy older women everywhere, I’m raising a glass in tribute.

The video here is the uncensored version which was edited for MTV. From what I remember, the cut parts were the buttons flying off the pants of someone watching Ms. Morris and fire shooting out of her ass. Maybe there was more, but it’s been nearly 30 years since I watched this video.

Trivia note: this was Martin Scorsese’s original song choice to underscore the cocaine-helicopter freak-out scene from “Goodfellas.” However, he chose Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” instead, because the scene in the film took place in 1980 and “She Was Hot” came out in 1983. Scorsese advised he only uses songs that could have been out / released at the time a scene would take place. I think the Nilsson choice was better, but “She Was Hot” would have played wonderfully in that famous scene.

“You’re Breaking My Heart” – Harry Nilsson


I first heard this song over the opening credits of that immortal early 1980s Phoebe Cates/Matthew Modine T&A comedy “Private School … for Girls.” By the point it appeared in the film, the song was over 10 years old, but it was certainly memorable then … and now. Arguably one of the best opening lines of any song ever: “You’re breaking my heart, you’re tearin’ it apart, so f–k you!”

“Don’t Forget Me” – Marianne Faithfull


From her 1997 album “20th Century Blues,” Marianne Faithfull performs a moving cover of one of Harry Nilsson’s best (and least-known) songs. Faithfull gives a nice tribute to Nilsson at the beginning of this.  I can’t think of any one better to cover this song, except (maybe) for Tom Waits.

Nilsson’s original version is from his album “Pussy Cats,” credited to both Nilsson and John Lennon and recorded during Lennon’s infamous “lost weekend” period in the early-mid 1970s. You can find Nilsson’s original version of this elsewhere on Dave’s Strange World.

“He Needs Me” – Shelley Duvall / Harry Nilsson / Jon Brion (from the 1980 film “Popeye” dir. Robert Altman and the 2002 film “Punch-Drunk Love” dir. PT Anderson)


“He Needs Me” was originally composed for Robert Altman’s 1980 musical version of “Popeye.” The film is hit or miss, but the scene where Duvall’s Olive Oyl sings this lovely song to Robin Williams’s Popeye is definitely the highlight of the film.

Cut to 2002. Altman acolyte and heir P.T. Anderson is putting together “Punch Drunk Love,” his follow-up to the brilliant “Magnolia.” “Punch Drunk Love” is a wonderfully bizarre, disturbing, and moving love story that plays like Sam Peckinpah directing “When Harry Met Sally.” Anderson appropriated “He Needs Me” (with the assistance of his frequent music composer Jon Brion) for a pivotal scene where Adam Sandler (in a rare, but terrific dramatic role) flies to Hawaii to woo Emily Watson’s character. It was a great choice.By the way, if you haven’t seen “Punch Drunk Love,” please do yourself a favor and see it. It’s not your typical love story, but it’s funny, disturbing, and life-affirming all at the same time. The scene where Sandler’s character forcefully confronts the criminal who’s been ruining his one chance at happiness with the line: “I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine” always brings a lump to my throat. A great scene from a great film.

“Jar of Hearts” – Christina Perri


Continuing the melodramatic early 1970s piano/strings ballad vibe, comes this remarkably gorgeous ballad from 2010. I just heard this for the first time today and it reminded me of the type of song that would not have been out of place on a Harry Nilsson or Badfinger album back in the day. I think the accompanying video leaves much to be desired, but the song is a winner.