You’re never alone with an alien symbiote. Just ask Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), whose body-roomie Venom is almost helpful in the kitchen in the new Venom: Let There Be Carnage trailer. But his counterpart Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) only sees red, and is on a mission to wreak carnage. Meanwhile, he writer of the song in the Venom 2 trailer only wanted to bring some bittersweet pandemonium.
Harry Nilsson’s song “One” appeared on his 1968 album Aerial Ballet. The album title was a tribute to his grandparents, who were highwire circus act performers. It was the follow-up to his Pandemonium Shadow Show album, which got everybody talkin’ about the singer-songwriter from Brooklyn. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney were asked to name their favorite American group during their highly-covered 1968 press conference to announce the formation of The Beatles’ Apple Corps, each of the songwriting duo independently answered “Nilsson.”
You might think, with all that attention, Nilsson could connect with anyone, but the song “One” was inspired by a dial-tone disconnect. Harry wrote the song after making a phone call and getting a busy signal. As he listened to the beeps, he heard the sad C minor of his opening chord. “One is the loneliest number,” the line which opens the song, has become part of common jargon and is often mistaken for the song title.
The first line, “one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” hits the listener with an immediate detachment. It doesn’t quite go where it’s expected. This subtly adds to the isolation of the number before Harry further distances the listener with emotional contradictions. “No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know. Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know.” Each affirmation is aurally negated and internally confounding. It only works “because one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”
While the lyrics are deceptively simple, the arrangement is sublime. Nilsson, who died in 1996, was a master of overdubs, and his voice performs acrobatics like triple flips on a trapeze. His electric piano is accompanied by classical sounding violin and woodwinds, over subtle guitars and drums. In spite of the intricate arrangement, the song remains intimate.
The most famous version of the song was done by Three Dog Night. Vocalist Chuck Negron builds the song to an almost operatic overkill, letting the world know how lonely loneliness can be. Three Dog Night’s cover hit number five on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.
Nilsson was an amazingly prolific and successful songwriter. He started out writing for Little Richard before becoming part of the Phil Spector songwriting stable. Nilsson’s songs were covered by Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, The Shangri-Las, and The Yardbirds. He wrote the opening theme to The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
He gave The Monkees one of their most controversial songs, “Cuddly Toy,” which was rumored to be about a gang bang. The TV-ready band got possessive when they made their move to major motion pictures. Nilsson wanted to open Ariel Ballet with his “Daddy’s Song,” but The Monkees liked it so much they paid him $35,000 so they could put it in the film Head.
Nilsson is best known as a songwriter, but loved the works of his contemporaries. Most of his own hits were covers of other writers. His somber hit “Without You” was written by Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans. The only cover song on Aerial Ballet is Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which became Nilsson’s biggest hit after it was featured in the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy. It also earned Harry his first Grammy Award, for Best Contemporary Male Vocalist. His second was also for his cover of “Without You,” another score for his vocal talents, not his compositions.
Nilsson’s connection with the Beatles was immersive. George Harrison played on his albums, as did Ringo Starr, who also co-starred with Harry in the unreleased Hammer Horror film The Son of Dracula. Ringo also narrated Nilsson’s animated musical movie The Point. Lennon would later catch the blame for his and Harry’s antics during the infamous “Lost Weekend” era which spawned the Hollywood Vampires. Much like Eddie Brock does for his Klyntar friend.
“Who do we leave behind, and how do we leave them?” Cletus Kasady asks in the Venom 2 trailer. “Waiting in the darkness for the rescuer who never comes.” One is a much, much more lonely number than two. As long as Eddie Brock and Venom are one, they’ll never be lonely.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is scheduled for a Sept. 24, 2021 release date.