Lonnie and I lived in a tiny mobile home. Tiny. It was 8 feet wide, and 30 feet long. My bedroom, the smaller one, was 6 feet by 8 feet, but since the hallway between the kitchen and bathroom ran through the middle, I actually had a builtin bunk on one side, and a dresser on the other, and that was it. Lonnie and I were pretty close, quite literally.
He worked at the airport, and often got home from work early in the morning, right around dawn. We frequently pulled all-nighters, driving to Arizona and back, or just driving around San Diego. When either or both of us came in at that hour, it usually took a while to relax enough to get some sleep (unless it was a work day, in which case, we skipped sleep.) Many mornings, I awoke up to Lonnie ‘relaxing’ after a long night’s work by listening to Harry Nilsson’s “Schmilsson” nice and loud, and usually, to the song “Early in the Morning.”
Written by Leo Hickman, Louis Jordan, and Dallas Bartley for the play “Five Guys Named Moe”, the original Broadway cast recording is sparse, primarily bass and sax. Harry takes it one step further, recording it with only a calliope-sounding organ and vocals.
Fading in from silence, Harry uses the pedals to create an alternating bass line he maintains throughout the song. The keyboard part is syncopated to the bass, giving the tune a real bouncy feel. Harry sings it half with tongue in cheek, half with an obvious appreciation for how blues should sound. At one point, the chorus becomes a repetition of the line “early in the morning” — which Harry sings for eight bars, followed by six repeating bars of “ain’t got nothin’ but the, ain’t got nothin’ but the, ain’t got nothin’ but the” before he finally finishes the line “ain’t got nothin’ but the blues.” Then, just to round it off, we get eight more bars of just the organ, bass and melody syncopating while we wait for Harry to do something, anything.
Despite the fact that he never performed publicly, Harry was a showman. He wanted to be the center of attention, and he was always on the lookout for a laugh in his music. His cover of “Early in the Morning” is pure Harry, leading you down the garden path, and then shoving you into the pond, laughing the whole time.