03/13/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
The late Harry Nilsson is generally remembered either as the partying friend of ex-Beatle John Lennon or the sad-eyed romantic who poured his heart into "Without You" (recently a hit for Mariah Carey
). But as this new two-disc box set makes abundantly clear, he was a song craftsman whose versatile tenor could handle big-band crooning ("As Time Goes By"), irreverent clowning (the goofball hit "Coconut") or furious rocking (the savage "Jump into the Fire").
Personal Best covers the years 1967-77, following Nilsson's progress from journeyman songwriter to hit maker. Disc one features early gems like "One" (a hit for Three Dog Night), "Everybody's Talkin' " and the simple, catchy kid's tune "Me and My Arrow." Though disc two is less consistent, it includes gripping, bittersweet ballads like "Don't Forget Me" and "Salmon Falls." The upcoming Nilsson tribute album may inspire renewed interest in the artist, but this collection serves as a better memorial. It lets Nilsson's work speak for itself. (RCA)