The late 1960s was a very different time. It was a time when an explosion of creativity, much of it fueled by illegal drugs, collided with a push for more early childhood education. It’s the time that brought us Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Point.
You’re probably familiar with the first two, but you might not remember The Point. Its story is about as quintessential 1960s as you can get.
It starts with Harry Nilsson, who probably would have been an unknown except for a single incident. In a 1960 press conference, the Beatles were asked who their favorite rock artist was, John Lennon replied, “Nilsson.” You’ve probably heard some of Nilsson’s songs over the years, and you also might recognize “Gotta Get Up,” the repetitive tune from the Netflix’s Russian Doll. Here’s his artist page on Spotify. By 1969, Nilsson (he preferred simply being called that) was dominant enough to do a song for that year’s best picture entry, Midnight Cowboy.
His next album was a concept piece called The Point! which was followed by an animated adaptation.
The Point! tells the story of a world where every person was born with a point on the top of their head. In fact everything in this world ends in a pointed tip, except for one baby, Oblio. He was born with a round head, and was therefore pointless.
He goes on a voyage of discovery which eventually leads him to realize that having a point isn’t something physical, it’s something inside. In many ways the story echoes The Who’s Tommy, but with a much more child-friendly message.
The record came with a cartoon pullout which is much sought-after today, if you can find one that a kid didn’t color all over.
The cartoon movie
The Point! was released a few weeks before an animated special (called, curiously, The Point without an exclamation point.) Both projects were developed together and the release of the feature-length cartoon on broadcast TV helped fuel acceptance of the album. By itself, the album was not viewed as Nilsson’s best work, but when viewed as a parable for kids, it popularized the artist and made him seem even more relevant.
The Point is currently streaming on Prime Video, and is also on YouTube:
It aired several times throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It’s largely forgotten today, and I think that’s a shame. It’s now a cartoon kids might get into, and it’s certainly going to be a hit with their grandparents who will like the music.
The story of Harry Nilsson
Sadly, Harry Nilsson’s popularity faded by the mid 1970s and he died in 1994 at the age of 52. His life was the subject of a documentary, Who is Harry Nilsson (and why is everyone talkin’ about him?) which can occasionally be found on various streaming services. Right now it’s on Kanopy, which is a streaming service you can probably get for free from your public library.
Despite the anonymity of his later years and his sad and premature end, Nilsson’s music will be remembered for decades as incredibly complex yet easy to listen to. And perhaps, being remembered as opposed to being successful, is “the point” of Nilsson’s life.