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…