For years I listened to this song without properly appreciating how amazing the string arrangement is at the start of Everybody’s Talkin: a stupendously beautiful long note that plays through the verse, and into the chorus. One note, held for 20 bars. Then, coming into the chorus, it rises, returns, falls, returns. Only when Nilsson gets near the end of the chorus - skipping over the ocean like a stone - does it threaten to break free, and even then you have to wait until over a minute in, when Nilsson embarks on the first of those wonderful wah-waaaaahs of his, for the strings to drop down and join him. Soon they’re off into the sky again; when he stops, the strings take one last current of air: a seamless and transcending transition.
If you read yesterday’s post, Landed, you’ll know that Paul Buckmaster arranged that track. Buckmaster also often worked with Nilsson, but this isn’t one of his arrangements: on this occasion the plaudits go to another regular Nilsson collaborator, George Tipton.
The arrangement is bold stuff - I suppose not fully noticing its glory is the price I pay for getting to know a song through a dodgy pirated cassette played through a car stereo in the 80s. Not the best environment in which to savour greatness, it has to be said.
Everybody’s Talkin’ was originally written and released by Fred Neil in 1966; his original has a curiously Hawaiian lilt, and no strings, but if anything it captures more truly the song’s desire for escape away from the world. The Nilsson version dates from 1969, when it became the de facto theme tune to the John Schlesinger film Midnight Cowboy. The song has since been covered by everyone from The Beautiful South to Moose (a ton of other versions exist, but since I don’t know them, they are clearly inferior…), and was even sampled by Paul Oakenfold on Starry Eyed Surprise in 2002.