Having listened to – and shared here – King Curtis’ version of “Them Changes” during Tuesday morning’s musings on impermanence, I went on to have a King Curtis mini-festival here in the Echoes In The Wind studios that afternoon. As I worked on mp3 tags, sorted slides from my college days, did some reading and caught up with at least one old friend at Facebook, Curtis Ousley’s saxophone kept me company.
And midway through the afternoon, a semi-familiar introductory riff caught my attention. “That sounds like . . .” I had time to think before Curtis launched into the familiar melody of “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the song that was used as a theme for the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. I left what I was reading and began to dig into the song.
It wasn’t hard labor, the digging. As I recalled, the song was originally written and recorded by the reclusive Fred Neil during the sessions for his second, self-titled, album, which came out in 1967. Wikipedia says the song “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.”
A year later, Harry Nilsson recorded the song for his Aerial Ballet album. Soon after that, according to Wikipedia, Derek Taylor (perhaps best known for his role as press officer for the Beatles) recommended Nilsson for soundtrack work on John Schlesinger’s film, Midnight Cowboy. Nilsson, says Wikipedia, offered his own tune, “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City,” but Schlesinger preferred Nilsson’s cover of Neil’s tune. A couple of shorter versions of the tune show up in the film’s soundtrack, nestled among work by John Barry and recordings by the Groop, Leslie Miller, Gary Sherman and Elephant’s Memory (the latter far better known for its work backing John Lennon on his 1972 album, Some Time In New York City).
And with the release of the film, Nilsson had a hit. I think the version of “Everybody’s Talkin’” that hit the Top 40 in September 1969 and went to No. 6 was the track from Aerial Ballet. Or maybe I should rephrase that and say that the version of “Everybody’s Talkin’” that has been played on radio for most of the last forty years is the Aerial Ballet version. It’s possible, I suppose, that the version from the film – which sounds different to me and is shorter – was released as the single and that oldies radio later pulled a switch. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I think Nilsson’s first recording of the tune was what hit the airwaves:
Since then, the song has become a perennial, one of those tunes that gets covered over and over. Early on, royalties from the song were plentiful enough to allow Neil to retire from songwriting and performing and live quietly in the Florida Keys. (I recall reading somewhere – perhaps one of the Rolling Stone record guides – that Neil was involved in researching dolphin behavior and preservation, an interesting tidbit considering he wrote the lovely song “The Dolphins.”) Neil died in 2001.
Cover versions of “Everybody’s Talkin’” abound. The list at All-Music Guide of CDs that contain versions of the song runs more than six hundred entries long. Some of the performers listed are Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Diamond, Ruth Brown, Johnny Mathis, the Four Tops, Willie Nelson, Ray Conniff, Bill Withers, Vikki Carr, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Claudine Longet, Vera Lynn and the Kingston Trio, among many, many more.
Perhaps the strangest cover of the song came out on one of the strangest albums of 1970, which is saying a lot. Ted Templeman, an original member of Harpers Bizarre and later one of the best-known producers in rock and pop, recorded an album, says Wikipedia, that “is now considered a cult classic. Using doubletracking, he appeared as ‘The Templeton Twins’ backed by ‘Teddy Turner & his Bunsen Burners,’ recording contemporary hits of the time such as ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Light My Fire’ in a pseudo-1920s style.”
Among those tunes was “Everybody’s Talkin’,” and here is that version:
And having gone through that (infectious) silliness, we should probably end this exercise where we began it, with King Curtis and the title tune from his 1971 album.