Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nilsson -- "Everybody's Talkin'" (1969)

Truly out of another time and era, "Everybody's Talkin'" is closely aligned with the film it came from, Midnight Cowboy, that the song evokes such clear emotions from this classic late 60's John Schlesinger film about loners scraping by to make it in New York City.

Certainly the first five minutes when short order cook Joe Buck (Jon Voight in his film debut) leaves his town in the middle of nowhere, Texas to take a bus to Manhattan and make a living as a hustler. He walks the streets of the city looking out of place yet not out of place at all in a fine cowboy hat and boots, a grinning picture of blond charisma through the bustling avenues. He's checking out the sights, especially those fine rich women on the East Side, ready to use his best pick up line to get a transaction going. He walks by what seems like passed out body in the front of Tiffany's and wonders why nobody is stopping to see what's wrong with this poor fellow.

Many people think its was Nilsson who wrote "Everybody's Talkin'," but it was composed by folk singer Fred Neil and recorded by Nilsson for his 1968 Aeriel Ballet album. The original single flopped but was later picked up for the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack, where it was rediscovered and became a top 10 hit. Although this was the world's first vocal introduction on a mass basis for Nilsson, he was always a terrific songwriter and at the time, Three Dog Night was about to release its first smash, a cover of Nilsson's "One."

The beauty of "Everybody's Talkin'" is its carefree, hit the highway no matter where it goes feel. The signature major-major seventh introduction on the banjo has this down-home flavor, the bass easily going up and down on that root chord, the train motif brushes on the snare, and a rather striking George Tipton orchestration with high strings staying on one long note for most of the choruses.

The Midnight Cowboy producers couldn't have picked a better opening song, one that conveys wanting better things somewhere else, not listening to anybody else but yourself on the journey to that place...

Everybody's talkin' at me
I don't hear a word they're saying
Only the echoes of my mind.

People stopping staring
I can't see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes.

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Thru' the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Banking off of the North East wind
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone.

I remember hearing the song for the first time, captivated by the above elements, but truly moved by Nilsson's voice. He was gifted with some true emotion in his delivery, and while he put it all into the song, there was something eccentric about the wordless middle part of the song. He "woah- woah- woah" the verse melody in what would become his trademark"melodic whine," for lack of a better description. He held one note towards the end of the part, and after a decade of on the mark crooners, you couldn't help but shiver at the unusual timbre of Nilsson's tone. This is also the only part of the song that the strings go into lower octaves.

When you hear the music in the film's early sections, the mix is different from the single. Nilsson's vocals are a different take, most noticeably at the song's end. The first video is taken right from Midnight Cowboy's opening credits, and then below, a great black and white video of Nilsson lipsynching to the song on the West German TV show "Beat Club."

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