BMG has acquired the songbook of beloved, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson for an undisclosed amount, the company announced Monday (Nov. 14).
The deal includes Nilsson’s publishing catalog and writer revenue streams of songs including “One,” “Coconut,” “Jump Into the Fire,” “Gotta Get Up” and “Me and My Arrow” as well as songs co-written with John Lennon (“Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga” and “Old Dirt Road”), Danny Kortchmar (“(Thursday) Here’s Why I Did Not Go to Work Today” and “Moonshine Bandit”), Dr. John (“Daylight Has Caught Me”) and Ringo Starr (“How Long Can Disco On”). The deal additionally includes artist revenue streams of Nilsson’s recordings, also including hits he didn’t write like “Everybody’s Talkin'” and “Without You.”
Over his career, Nilsson released 18 studio albums, including his 1966 debut Spotlight on Nilsson, Harry, Nilsson Sings Newman, Nilsson Schilsson, A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, the Lennon-produced Pussy Cats, Knnillssonn and Flash Harry. The list also includes soundtracks for Skidoo, Son of Dracula and Popeye, as well as the posthumous album Losst and Found. Nilsson died of a heart attack in 1994 at age 52 while recording the latter album, which was finished and released 25 years later in 2019.
As part of the acquisition, BMG will collaborate with Nilsson’s family to explore opportunities around his other creative assets. These include Nilsson’s story for The Point! — the 1971 ABC TV special for which he also wrote the soundtrack — as well as his name, image and likeness, including for film, TV, stage and books.
Nilsson launched his music career in 1960s Los Angeles as a songwriter for groups including The Monkees and Three Dog Night. He broke through with his cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” in 1969, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and netting him a Grammy for best contemporary vocal performance, male. He cemented his status as a left-field hitmaker with his seventh album, 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson. That set, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, was nominated for album of the year at the 1973 Grammys and ultimately was RIAA-certified gold on the strength of hit singles, including the No. 1 smash “Without You” (a cover of the song by Badfinger), “Jump Into the Fire” and “Coconut.” He followed that with the Gold-selling Son of Schmilsson the following year. That album’s biggest hit, “Spaceman,” peaked at No. 23 on the Hot 100.
Nilsson’s catalog has logged 289.5 million on-demand official U.S. streams, while his biggest hit, “Without You,” has logged 73.4 million on-demand official U.S. streams, according to Luminate.
Over the decades, Nilsson’s music has found new generations of fans thanks to placements in films and TV shows like Goodfellas (“Jump Into the Fire”), Reservoir Dogs (“Coconut”), Russian Doll (“Gotta Get Up”), Forrest Gump (“Everybody’s Talkin'”) and You’ve Got Mail (“The Puppy Song”).
The Nilsson family’s team was led by John Rudolph of 1.618 Industries, Inc. (formerly Music Analytics) with counsel provided by Jason Karlov and Amanda Taber of Barnes & Thornburg.
“We are delighted to have found a partner that shares our love and reverence for Harry’s legacy,” said the Nilsson family in a statement. “We look forward to a long relationship with BMG, working together to celebrate this true genius of pop music.”
Thomas Scherer, BMG president of repertoire & marketing, Los Angeles and New York, added, “For generations, Harry Nilsson’s timeless music has captivated millions of people all around the world. A brilliant songwriter with an exceptionally beautiful and unique voice, we will ensure his spirit thrives for generations to come. We are honored the Nilsson family chose BMG to entrust as the custodians of his musical legacy and are proud to represent the cherished works of Harry Nilsson.”