Friday, February 6, 2009

One: One

I've always wanted an excuse to post the three most popular versions the Harry Nilsson composition, One, so away we go...

Harry Nilsson: One


As with most songs, the composer, Harry Nilsson, has the best performance of the three. Nilsson had originally released it as an independent single in 1963, under the pseudonym Bo Pete, to some small local radio airplay. Probably the most covered song of his entire catalogue, One is a straightforward tune about loneliness and the desperation it brings.

Three Dog Night: One


Three Dog Night covered One in 1969 with a completely different arrangement, more fleshed out with thick layers of instrumentation, as opposed to Nilsson's simple approach. The great success of their version (it made its way to #1 on the US charts) launched them on the road to covering other previously charted songs, such as Randy Newman's Mama Told Me Not to Come, Laura Nyro's Eli's Coming, Russ Ballard of Argent's Liar, Hoyt Axton's Joy to the World, among others. It's not my favorite take of the song, but one can still appreciate the fine Pop craftsmanship at work.

Aimee Mann: One


Aimee Mann's approach is the most stark of the three, which I feel serves the song well, since it was the opening of the 1999 American drama, Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson's film about isolation and the human condition. Mann composed the soundtrack along with her husband, Michael Penn and fellow bandmate, Jon Brion.

One can be the loneliest number - Harry Nilsson did a great job in song explaining how important interpersonal relationships can be to our humanity. Each of these three versions are unique unto themselves, the true proof of artistry is how musicians turn their interpretations into vehicles of distinctive self-expression, which all accomplish with much brilliance.

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