It was 51 years ago today (November 8th, 1967), that Harry Nilsson began recording his first major hit, “Everybody's Talkin'.” Ironically, the song — like his 1972 Number One hit “Without You” — wasn't written by Nilsson, who was known primarily for his songwriting.
“Everybody's Talkin',” which was written by Fred Neil, beat out Bob Dylan's “Lay Lady Lay” to become the theme song to the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. Bolstered by its appearance in the film after bombing on the charts the year before, “Everybody's Talkin'” peaked at Number Six upon its re-release. In 1969 it scored Nilsson his first Grammy, in the Other Pop/Rock & Roll/Contemporary or Instrumental category.
In 1988 Nilsson recalled hearing Neil's original recording while picking material for his second album, 1968's Aerial Ballet, and told Song Talk magazine, “I heard that one and I said, 'That could be a hit. I could do that one.' So (producer Rick Jerrard) let me try it and when we finished the vocal, we were crossing the street, and Rick said (jokingly), 'Be very careful crossing the street, we haven't finished overdubs yet.'”
Nilsson's reading of the song inspired cover versions by such diverse artists as Dion; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Chet Atkins; Tony Bennett; Jimmy Buffett; and the Four Tops, among others.
Filmmaker John Scheinfeld, who directed the recent documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?, says that the best way to paint the truest portrait of Nilsson as an artist and a man was to have his closest family and friends talk frankly about his life and career: “You look at what all of the people in our film said, and they did love Harry for what he was and they loved him for what he wasn't. And that's really important. And you see that, you feel it — it's a visceral kind of response in the film. I think that's what lends some power to this, that you might not get if you were taking to a rock critic who was talking about Harry's music, y'know?”