Harry Nilsson was a singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter, one who was known primarily through his definitive renditions of other people's songs as well as other people's hits with his tunes. Like the post-Sgt. Pepper Beatles who soon became his closest friends and biggest fans, he did not tour. Instead, he sang like an angel while writing about his inner demons with wit and whimsy. But soon after he topped the early '70s charts, he undermined the talent that put him on par with his famous pals. His work became far less popular and far more uneven, even as it cemented his current status as a cult icon who presaged today's similarly headstrong indie heroes.
His rise and fall is documented in a new 17-disc set, The RCA Albums Collection, and an equally new biography, Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter. To honor his legacy, we've assembled a playlist that tells his story through his best songs. He's one of the few rock-era songwriters whose best work often had little to do with rock. But when he did get heavy, he could out-rock much of the competition. It's safe to say that he's the only artist covered by both Barbra Streisand and LCD Soundsystem.