Battle of the Bands – JUMP INTO THE FIRE by Harry Nilsson

 

It’s mid-month and that means it’s time for another Battle of the Bands. (If you’re looking for my Monday’s Music Moves Me post, click on it in my sidebar or scroll down). BOTB is simple: i have chosen two covers of a favorite song; You listen to each cover version and vote on which version you like better by telling me in the comment section. And if you care to share, let us know why you chose the way you did. Then I’ll come back in 6 days, tally up the votes and determine & post the winner and the battle votes tally.

“Jump into the Fire” is a song by American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, released on his 1971 album Nilsson Schmilsson. Issued as the album’s second single, after “Without You”, it peaked at number 27 on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart and at number 16 in Canada.

Written by Nilsson, the song is in the hard rock style – a departure from his previous work. Produced by Richard Perry, it includes a segment in which bassist Herbie Flowers audibly detunes his instrument. “Jump into the Fire” gained further recognition owing to its use in a pivotal scene in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster thriller Goodfellas.

Journalist Matthew Greenwald likened the song’s style to the early 1970s sound of the Rolling Stones. He adds: “Lyrically, on the surface, it’s a hot lovers plea; however, it could easily be taken as a plea to society as a whole. Like a lot of Nilsson’s greatest songs, it works on many different levels.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes the track as “surging hard rock”, while James Parker of The Atlantic calls it “livid, dragon-bones funk”.

Nilsson recorded the song in London in 1971 for Nilsson Schmilsson. As with much of the material on the album, it marked a departure from his previous work, as Nilsson was keen for commercial success after years of recognition as a quality artist and songwriter. He later commented: “What do you say to a man who writes ‘The Puppy Song’ and then writes ‘Jump into the Fire’? I really needed [to make that change], too; that was exactly what I was hoping would happen.” Nilsson acknowledged producer Richard Perry was instrumental in this progression.

Musicians on the basic track were Nilsson (piano), Chris Spedding (guitar), Herbie Flowers (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums). Flowers recalls that Nilsson gave only vague instructions: “Lots of tom-toms, a bass riff in D major.” The bass part includes a section where, following Gordon’s drum solo, Flowers detunes as he plays. According to Flowers, he began loosening the bottom string “for a laugh”, believing the performance would be faded on the released recording. Overdubs on this take included Nilsson’s vocals, guitar solos by John Uribe and a rhythm guitar part by Klaus Voormann.

Release

“Jump into the Fire” received substantial airplay throughout the early 1970s. After the international success of Nilsson’s cover of the Badfinger ballad “Without You”, the song was a surprising choice for the second single from Nilsson Schmilsson. It was edited down from around seven minutes to three-and-a-half for this release. The single peaked at number 27 on America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, number 16 on the RPM singles chart in Canada, number 26 on Australia’s Go-Set National Top 40, and number 34 in West Germany. Later in 1972, Nilsson included “Jump into the Fire” in his musical horror film Count Downe. The film was produced by Ringo Starr and later retitled Son of Dracula for its limited cinema release in 1974.

In 1990, the song was used by director Martin Scorsese as the soundtrack to a frenetic scene in Goodfellas, when Ray Liotta’s character, a cocaine-addicted gangster, fears the authorities are closing in on his illegal activities. Rolling Stone described the effect: “This is what paranoia sounds like … the more the filmmaker fades those ‘Oh oh ooohs’ in and out, the more your own nerves start to fray.” Sean O’Neal of The A.V. Club writes: “I have to admit, even when I play ‘Jump Into The Fire’ today, I keep seeing that same helicopter.”

Michael Gallucci of the website Ultimate Classic Rock lists “Jump into the Fire” at number 3 in his list of the ten best Nilsson songs, behind “Without You” and “Everybody’s Talkin'”.

From the MediaLoper site, an interesting take on the song:

Certain Songs #581: Harry Nilsson – “Jump Into The Fire”

Posted by Jim Connelly in Certain Songs on Jun 30, 2016

Album: Nilsson Schmilsson
Year: 1971

I kinda love that Harry Nilsson chose “Jump Into The Fire” to be the single that followed the massive “Without You,” even though it barely cracked the Top Thirty, because the two songs couldn’t be more different.

Driven by a pumped-up Herbie Flowers bassline and clipped rhythm guitar from Klaus Voormann, “Jump Into The Fire” establishes its groove early and then piles on with crazy-ass lead guitar from John Uribe and a vocal performance from Harry Nilsson that starts at psychotic and only gets more unhinged from there.

Gang, this is a disturbing song on any number of levels.

Take the lyrics, for example:

You can climb a mountain
You can swim the sea
You can jump into the fire
But you’ll never be free
You can shake me up
Or I can break you down
Oh, oh, oohhhoooohhhhh

With Nilsson’s vocals swathed in loads and loads of reverb, we can tell from the start that maybe this guy isn’t in his right mind, and after the lead guitars start clattering and chittering, the chorus — which reads perfectly fine on paper — begins to sound like a veiled threat.

We can make each other happy
We can make each other happy
We can make each other happy
We can make each other happy

What’s left unspoken here, is the “or else.”

And as he shouts and screams and repeats the verses and choruses in ever more unhinged fashion, the guitars futilely rise up against Nilsson to seemingly no avail. He’s too possessed. Too obsessed.

WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!

Eventually it takes drummer Jim Gordon just surrounding him and putting him down as the rest of the musicians look on in awe.

Eventually the guitars and bass return, but Harry Nilsson is nowhere to be found. My assumption is that he used the opportunity to break out of the studio, and is now screaming “WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!!” at random people while running down the street towards the Thames.

One of the greatest songs ever written about obsession, “Jump Into the Fire” is one of those songs that gets periodically recontextualized by seemingly unrelated artists, reminding us just how uncomfortable it remains.

So Martin Scorsese used it to underscore a coke-fueled breakdown in Goodfellas, and LCD Soundsystem covered it on an early single and during their “last” show, and in both cases it fit right in.

Give a listen to this original version and you’ll maybe understand the point the author of this article was trying to get across. And by all means, TURN UP THE VOLUME! But don’t vote for this original: it’s only here for your enjoyment. Battle contenders are below.

 

THE BATTLE SHOWDOWN:

CONTENDER #1:  Low Cut Connie

Low Cut Connie is an American rock and roll band based in Philadelphia which was formed in 2010. The band has been recognized by various media in the US for their records and high-energy live show, of which the Los Angeles Weekly said “Their ferocious live show…is unmatched in all of rock right now.” Frontman Adam Weiner plays a piano named “Shondra,” after a dancer at the Clermont Lounge in Atlanta.

Weiner performed as a solo artist prior to starting Low Cut Connie. While living in New York City, he played piano in gay bars, karaoke bars, restaurants and ballet classes, often under the name Ladyfingers. He toured throughout North America and Europe playing to often unforgiving crowds in dive bars, honky tonks, anarchist squats, warehouses, drag bars, etc. Weiner started the project that would become Low Cut Connie with former members Dan Finnemore (from Birmingham, U.K.) and Neil Duncan (from Gainesville, Florida). The band’s name refers to a waitress who often wore low-cut tops at a restaurant near where Weiner grew up.

The group has released four albums, Get Out the Lotion (2010), Call Me Sylvia (2012), Hi Honey (2015) and their latest, released in 2017, Dirty Pictures (Part 1).

FUN FACTS re: their second album: The band began work on their second album, Call Me Sylvia, with the goal of trying harder to make a “real” album than they were with their debut, when their songs were less arranged. Finnemore moved to the U.S. in advance of the record release. The album was released on September 24, 2012, and currently holds a score of 80% on Metacritic, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Among these reviews was a four-star (out of five) review from AllMusic‘s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who praised them for making music in a style that originated in the 1960s, but without seeming outdated. PopMatters also reviewed the album, giving it a score of 7 out of 10 and also noting that the album’s sound resembled that of mid-20th-century music, as well as specifically comparing Weiner’s piano style to Jerry Lee Lewis. The album’s song “Boozophilia” was ranked the 31st best song of 2012 by Rolling Stone, which described it as “like Jerry Lee Lewis if he’d had his first religious experience at a Replacements show.” It was also chosen by President Barack Obama as one of the songs on his Spotify summer playlist in 2015. Weiner posted on Facebook that they were “completely humbled and honored and confused” by Obama doing this. I’d say that’s pretty cool…

Here is Low Cut Connie’s version of “Jump Into the Fire”. These guys are definitely High Energy! They are totally having a blast and really dig performing. And I like what they did with the song, incorporating elements of the Goodfellas scene that utilizes the Nilsson song.

 

CONTENDER #2:  Hollywood Vampires

Hollywood Vampires is an American rock supergroup formed in 2015 by Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and Joe Perry to honor the music of the rock stars who died from excess in the 1970s. The band name derives from The Hollywood Vampires, a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 1970s which included but was not limited to: John Lennon and Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Keith Moon of The Who, and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees. Touring members include or have included Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns ‘N Roses fame, as well as Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots.

The band has released one studio album, Hollywood Vampires (2015), featuring guest appearances by Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh, and Christopher Lee among others. Cooper and Perry have discussed plans for a future live album, stating that Depp’s schedule works differently than theirs.

The group’s debut live performances were held at Roxy Theatre (West Hollywood) in Los Angeles across September 16 and 17, 2015. The three core members were accompanied by bassist Duff McKagan, drummer Matt Sorum, rhythm guitarist Tommy Henriksen, and Bruce Witkin on keyboards and additional guitar. Guest performers for both nights were Tom Morello, Geezer Butler, Perry Farrell, Zak Starkey, and Kesha, and Marilyn Manson guesting on the second night. The next week, the group performed at Brazil’s Rock in Rio festival on September 24, 2015, and was webcast live by AOL. Guest performers were Lzzy Hale, Zak Starkey, and Andreas Kisser.

In February 2016, the group performed at the Grammy Award ceremony as a tribute to Lemmy, who had died at the end of 2015. The group also announced their first concert tour, which began at Turning Stone Resort & Casino on May 24 (2016). The group was scheduled to make their first late-night television appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on July 11, 2016; however, lead guitarist and co-founder Perry collapsed on stage during a performance on July 10. The band continued to perform without Perry prior to his return to the tour on July 22.

Current (and founding) band members:

Alice Cooper – lead and backing vocals, harmonica (2015–present)

Johnny Depp – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, slide guitar, keyboards (2015–present)

Joe Perry – lead and rhythm guitar, backing and lead vocals (2015–present)

Current touring members are Tommy Henriksen – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards (2015–present), Matt Sorum – drums, backing and lead vocals (2015–present), Bruce Witkin – rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, backing and lead vocals, percussion, bass guitar (2015–present) and Robert DeLeo – bass guitar, backing vocals (2016–present)

Former touring members were Duff McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals (2015–2016), Kesha – lead and backing vocals (2015), Lzzy Hale – lead and backing vocals, rhythm and lead guitar (2015), Brad Whitford – rhythm and lead guitar (2017) and Glen Sobel – drums (2017)

The Hollywood Vampires version of “Jump Into the Fire” is unique in that it truly highlights the group’s primary mission of honoring dead rock stars: their “Jump Into the Fire” song version starts out with a nod to another of Nilsson’s original songs: “One” (a song written by Harry Nilsson and made famous by Three Dog Night whose recording reached number five on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 and number four in Canada. The song is known for its opening line “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do”. Nilsson wrote the song after calling someone and getting a busy signal. He stayed on the line listening to the “beep, beep, beep, beep…” tone, writing the song. The busy signal became the opening notes of the song).

And the Hollywood Vampires version ends in similar fashion by including a bit of one of my favorite Nilsson songs, “Coconut” (a novelty song written and first recorded by American singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, released as the third single from his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson. It was on the U.S. Billboard charts for 10 weeks, reaching #8, and was ranked by Billboard as the #66 song for 1972. It only minorly charted in the UK, reaching #42. “Coconut” did best in Canada, where it peaked at #5).

Here it is. Kick back and give this one a listen.

 

Okay, it all comes down to this:

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back on the 21st to post the results. Until then, Rock On my friends…

 

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25 thoughts on “Battle of the Bands – JUMP INTO THE FIRE by Harry Nilsson

  1. Hi, Michele!

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the remastered full length original version of Nilsson’s “Jump.” Rolling Stone got it right: “This is what paranoia sounds like …” It has been a few years since I watched Goodfellas but I do recall the scene that used this recording and it was an inspired choice to underscore the desperation of gangster Henry Hill as the authorities closed in.

    I also enjoyed both covers. Low Cut Connie captures the frantic paranoia of the original, a very entertaining piece. However, I prefer the Vamps’ inventive version which segues seamlessly from “One” to “Jump.” I also like it more because it stands alone as a great classic rock recording and doesn’t depend on creating the sense of paranoia. The vocals and musicianship are first rate, so I am voting for the H-wood Vamps.

    Thank you very much for a great set of tunes, dear friend Michele!

    Like

    • Hey Tom,
      So glad you enjoyed both covers of Jump into the Fire. I heard a bit of the song a week or so ago in, I think, a Cloud commercial. And I thought “Wow, I haven’t heard that in soooo long. Wonder if it would make a good Battle song?” I was pleasantly surprised by the contenders that I found so, thanks for liking them both. 🙂

      First vote in and it’s for those Hollywood Vampires.
      Thanks for stopping by to vote.
      I’ll be back in a few days with the results…

      Like

  2. Michele,

    You’ll be surprised (probably not) to know that this song never registered with me when it released nor am do I know either of the competing bands. Let me take that back, I believe I’ve heard of Contender #2 and no doubt from one of the BoTBers. After giving both a fair shake, it was an easy decision who to give my vote to. Everything about Low Cut Connie seemed too bright – vocals and mewsic which didn’t grate on my nerves or anything but made it a bit difficult to enjoy whereas Hollywood Vampires (btw, love the name) did everything right! Give my vote to the BLOOD SUCKERS. Interesting & cool battle! You’re invited to check out my latest BoTB!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cathy,
      Thanks for coming by to vote. Yours is the second vote cast and it’s another for the Blood Suckers, er, I mean the Hollywood Vampires.
      I’ll be back in a few days with the results.
      Have a great week…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Can’t say I’ve ever been much of a Nillson fan–I’ve always had a kind of a “Nilsson Schmilsson” attitude towards his music. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not my cuppa.

    Between the versions, they are both good. For me the second version had an unfair advantage because I really like the song “One” and that kind of sways my vote. But also the Vampires put a different switch to the sound of “Jump into the Fire”.

    For me it’s Hollywood Vampires.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lee,
      I got a good chuckle out of your comment about your attitude being “Nilsson Schmilsson”. That was perfect timing! Well done.
      Another vote for the Hollywood Vampires.
      Thanks for coming by and casting. Will be back in a few days with the results…

      Like

  4. Howdy, MICHELE ~
    Interesting background info. I am no fan of Martin Scorsese (I think the guy’s genuinely sick in the head) and don’t normally care for gangster movies, but I did like Goodfellas (I’ve seen it twice), and primarily because of Ray Liotta’s performance. I thought he nailed it.

    I’ll never forget the first time I saw Goodfellas. My girlfriend and I watched it together. And as soon as it was over, I said, “Let’s go to Miceli’s”, and we did. [Link> MICELI’S, was our favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, which had singing waiters and waitresses and enough great atmosphere to satisfy the Mob.

    After listening to LOW CUT CONNIE, whose recording reminded me of some sort of Jerry Lee Lewis piano-banging romp, the Hollyweird Vampires sounded downright sleepy to me. In fact, I even liked LCC’s version better’n the Nilsson original.

    An enthusiastic vote for LOW CUT CONNIE.

    Now if I can just find a great plate of Manicotti, a bottle of red wine, and a cute Italian gal to sing to me, I’ll be right in the groove!

    ~ D-FensDogG
    STMcC Presents ‘Battle Of The Bands’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, I’m not Italian but almost everybody and their brother thinks I am cuz I look Italian (I also pass for Jewish by the way) and I’m pretty cute…Can’t sing worth a darn though so that’s out but I know this great Italian place right down the road and they have some wonderful Chianti….So, get a move-on and get your groove on… 🙂

      So glad that you had a good reception of Low Cut Connie. You used the word ‘enthusiastic’ in describing your vote and that’s how I would describe Low Cut Connie. They are a fun bunch!
      Thanks for your vote: yours is the first for LCC…

      Like

  5. Good afternoon, Michele!

    I don’t know that I’ve heard this song before. I enjoyed Low Cut Connie, but I was curious to hear what Alice Cooper and the gang would do with the song. They certainly did not disappoint! I love their nod to Nilsson – both at the beginning and at the end. And overall, I think I enjoyed their version just a little bit more than the other.

    Today, I am voting for Hollywood Vampires 🙂

    Hope to see you out and about. I’ve got Three Dog Night taking on Leo Sayer at my place.

    ~Mary
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Get outta here…you never heard “Jump Into the Fire”?? You must’ve been passed out when the song came on then… 🙂
      Well then, I’m so happy to have introduced you to it. I love it. It’s a cool song, I think.
      AC and the Hollywood Vamps gang definitely do it justice so no surprise that they’re rackin’ up the votes.
      Thanks for coming by. I’ll be back in a few days to post results…

      Like

    • Hey Birgit,
      A vote for those meaty Low Cut Connie dudes…
      Thanks for coming by and checking out my Jump Into the Fire battle.
      I’ll be back in a few days with the final tally…
      Have a great week.

      Like

  6. When I saw a reference to the Clermont Lounge, I said, “hmm, I think I know that place.” I’m not sure I’ve actually been there (we went to a lot of the strip clubs in Buckhead when we came down for our annual meeting many moons ago), but I know it by reputation. That there was a dancer named “Shonda” kind of tipped me off…

    Alice Cooper, for all the craziness in his shows, is actually a pretty conservative guy. I gained a new respect for him when Glen Campbell died. He and Glen were golfing buddies and even though they were miles apart as artists, respected each other and were very close friends. There’s a beautiful interview with Alice on YouTube, and you could tell he was quite sad about Glen’s death. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6q2hsdXenQ)

    Anyway, enough random thoughts. I liked both of these, though not as much as Nilsson’s (Harry was unique), but I’ll give my vote to Low Cut Connie, because I just like theirs better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh boy John, I bet you can tell some stories of those annual meetings days … I’m listening whenever you want to dish… 😉

      Thank you so much for turning me on to that interview with Alice Cooper about Glen Campbell! I had no idea they were so close. And I never saw Alice like that, real, and out of his stage persona. Gave me a whole new perspective on him. That was a wonderful interview. And something else I never knew: Alice Cooper has really pretty blue eyes…

      Thanks for coming by and placing your vote. I’ve gotcha down for Low Cut Connie…

      Like

  7. Eeghads; such a tough choice. All three were awesome. And might I say I thoroughly enjoyed all the work you put into the post. Such awesome info. This is really really a difficult choice Michelle.

    I’m voting for Lowcut; more because that is the mood I’m in tonight than because they are better than Vampires. I mean – Vampires! Johnny Depp!!

    But, I truly enjoyed the more rag-time, piano themed version of this song tonight. Tomorrow the rockin’ guitars might feel more to my mood, lol. Tonight though, Lowcut moves me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Donna! Good to see you here! Thanks for stopping by!
      And thanks for the compliment. Glad you liked all the background info. I appreciate you telling me that. I have fun putting these posts together and I like learning the backstories and therefore like sharing what I learn about them.

      Low Cut Connie is definitely getting into the ballgame here. At first all the votes were for the Vampires —and I can totally see why: they did an awesome job with the song— but I’m glad that some folks are taking a liking to Low Cut Connie. That’s a fun bunch there…

      I’ll be back in a few days with the results.
      Have a great week!

      Like

  8. AHHHHHH, I’m so torn on this one! I love Lowcut Connie’s piano, but I think the Hollywood Vampires are pretty tight (and although it isn’t part of it, I did like their version of One, which is a favorite of mine).

    Commercial break: The first time a boy ever asked me to dance (he was way out of my league, by the way), it was to Without You by Harry Nilsson. It was middle school gym magic, ha ha.

    Back to our program: LOWCUT CONNIE, I’m giving you my vote. Don’t waste it.

    GREAT battle, really top notch!

    Hugs,
    Cherdo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Cherdo!
      Thanks for sharing your “middle school gym magic” with us! I love that your first dance was to “Without You”. I bet every time you hear that song, all these years later, you get transported right back to that dance floor in the school gym… How fun!

      I’m so excited that you had a hard time choosing between my two contenders! That makes it fun, I think.
      Another vote for Low Cut Connie…
      Thanks for coming by.
      I’ll be back in a few to post the results. Stand by…

      Like

    • Hey Pamela,
      Wow, that’s cool that this was a new-to-you song! Did you like it, the song? I heard the original by Harry Nilsson a ton back in the 70s so I always wonder what does one think of the song if they’ve never heard or experienced it before?

      Thanks for coming by and voting. Gotcha down for Hollywood Vampires.
      Have a great week. I’ll be back soon with the battle results…

      Like

    • Oh hey Naila. Thanks for coming by. I kinda thought I had jumped into another post when you mentioned Dan Fogelberg. This is the Battle of the Bands post so I wasn’t expecting anyone to mention Dan Fogelberg and I kinda went “huh? What happened here?”…cuz sometimes, truly, i fall asleep at the computer and it actually just recently happened: I was at Stacy’s, I think, 4M post the other day when that happened and I was in the middle of leaving her a comment and suddenly I was on a totally different post of hers and had no idea how I had gotten there. (Then I went back to the 4M post and tried to comment again, fell asleep again and woke up to a partial sentence followed by a bunch of k’s on the screen: “I really enjokkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk…” Haha). At that point, I scrapped it and went to bed, came back to it the next day.
      Anyway, thanks for coming by and checking out my 4M post!
      Did you happen to want to cast a vote in this Jump Into the Fire battle, by any chance??

      Like

  9. Pingback: Monday’s Music Moves Me – A Kaleidoscope of Color Songs – The GOLD Edition | Angels Bark

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