A-side label of 1969 US vinyl rerelease
|Single by Nilsson|
|from the album Aerial Ballet|
|B-side||"Don't Leave Me"|
|Format||7-inch 45 rpm|
|Nilsson singles chronology|
"Everybody's Talkin'" is a song written and recorded by singer-songwriter Fred Neil in 1966. A version of the song performed by Harry Nilsson became a hit in 1969, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and winning a Grammy Award after it was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy. The song, which describes the singer's desire to retreat from other people to the ocean, is among the most famous works of both artists, and has been covered by many other notable performers. The song later appeared in the 1994 film Forrest Gump and is also on the film's soundtrack album. It also appeared in the comedy film Borat, on The Hangover Part III soundtrack, in the English television show Black Books and the action comedy Crank.
The song was first released on Neil's second album, the self-titled Fred Neil, released in early 1967. It was composed towards the end of the session, after Neil had become anxious to wrap the album so he could return to his home in Miami, Florida. Manager Herb Cohen promised that if Neil wrote and recorded a final track, he could go. "Everybody's Talkin'", recorded in one take, was the result.
Toby Creswell of 1001 Songs noted that the song had parallels to Neil's later life—like the hero of Midnight Cowboy, he looked "for fame to match his talents, discover[ed] that success in his profession isn't all its cracked up to be" and wanted to retreat. Five years later, Neil permanently fulfilled the promise of the speaker in the song, rejecting fame to live the rest of his life in relative obscurity "where the sun keeps shining / thru' the pouring rain" in his home in Coconut Grove, Miami.
Nilsson was searching for a potentially successful song when Rick Jarrard played the track for him, and he decided to release it on his 1968 album Aerial Ballet. When released as a single in July 1968, it only managed to reach No. 113 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart. After the song was featured as the theme song in the film Midnight Cowboy in 1969, the song was re-released as a single and became a hit, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 2 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.
When Derek Taylor recommended Nilsson for the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack to director John Schlesinger, Schlesinger selected "Everybody's Talkin'", preferring the cover to the song Nilsson proposed, "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City".
The song was used as the theme song for the movie and became closely identified with it; Nilsson's cover is also known as "Everybody's Talkin' (Theme from Midnight Cowboy)". William J. Mann, in his biography of Schlesinger, noted that "one cannot imagine Midnight Cowboy now without 'Everybody's Talkin'".
Described in The Rock Snob*s Dictionary as an "anti-urban plaint", "Everybody's Talkin'" depicts the introverted speaker's inability to connect with others. Not hearing or truly seeing them, the speaker declares an intention to leave for the ocean and the summer breeze. AllMusic's Denise Sullivan describes Neil's version as "positively spooky and Spartan" by comparison to Nilsson's better-known cover, whose arrangement she felt captured the "freedom, shrouded in regret and loss, implied in the lyric".
Nilsson's single for the song sold over a million copies and charted on both Billboard's Adult Contemporary and Pop Singles charts, reaching numbers 2 and 6 respectively in 1969. Nilsson's single also won a Grammy that year. The song became a global success and was followed by international appearances by Nilsson to perform it.
Although Nilsson himself denied that the song made him successful, 1001 Songs indicates that the hit "made Nilsson a superstar," exposing him to a much broader fan base and altering his reputation from solely that of a songwriter to a singer. After Nilsson's death, Billboard noted that Nilsson remained popularly remembered for his covers of "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Without You". Neil, too, is largely remembered for this song. But although Neil's second album was re-released in 1969 under the title Everybody's Talkin' in order to capitalize on the success of the song, Neil himself shunned the limelight, retiring from the industry after his final album in 1971 to live quietly in the Florida Keys with the millions of dollars he is estimated to have earned on royalties from the song. In keeping with the song's position in the works of both artists, it has been used to title several "greatest hits" compilation albums—a 1997 release by BMG, a 2001 release by Armoury and a 2006 release by RCA for Nilsson and a 2005 release for Neil by Raven Records entitled Echoes of My Mind: The Best of 1963–1971.
The song is highly regarded in the industry, having become a standard. Songwriter Jerry Leiber described it as "a very strange and beautiful song", among the "truly beautiful melodically and lyrically" songs by Fred Neil, who was described by Rolling Stone as "[r]eclusive, mysterious and extravagantly gifted". A 2006 New York Times article characterizes the song as "a landmark of the classic-rock era." The song's popularity has proven persistent; through 2005, according to figures from Broadcast Music Incorporated reported in New York Times, the song had aired on radio and television 6.7 million times. The song's usage in Midnight Cowboy has become iconic. In 2004, the song was listed by the American Film Institute as #20 in its "top 100 movie songs" for the first 100 years of film.
Since Nilsson's version of the song achieved chart success, the song has been covered by many other artists—almost 100 as of 2006. The more notable artists include Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, Liza Minnelli, Tony Bennett, Luna, Bill Withers, Madeleine Peyroux, Louis Armstrong, Leonard Nimoy, Julio Iglesias, Lena Horne, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Beautiful South, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nilsson's version was sampled in 2002 by Paul Oakenfold on "Starry Eyed Surprise" and in 2004 by the Go! Team on "Everyone's a V.I.P. to Someone".
Nilsson had submitted his own song for the Dustin Hoffman—John Voigt film, but the producers preferred the Neil tune. Undaunted, Harry released "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" as his second single, and it peaked at 34 in November 1969.