July 7, 2017

20,000 Vinyl LPs 95: Fred Neil ~ A Midnight Cowboy

Fred Neil       
photographer unknown  

Frederick "Fred" Neil died on this date, July 7, in 2001. He was an American folk singer-songwriter in the 1960s and early 1970s who was highly regarded by contemporary folk singers; however, as he was reluctant to tour, never achieved fame nor commercial success as a performer and is mainly known through other people's recordings of his material. His song, Everybody's Talkin, became a hit for Harry Nilsson after it was used in the film Midnight Cowboy in 1969.       

vinyl LP album
front album cover: movie stills
photo of album cover by Styrous®

In late May of 1997 I was prepping for a fashion show by Obiko (link below) at the Marriott Hotel in Oakland, California to take place on the 6th of June. Entitled, Tribal Visions, it was to be a benefit for  the Asian Health Services. While going to a production meeting with the hotel staff to plan technical details, I was with a couple of members of my team, Phil Hofstetter (photographer/lighting designer) and Don Bright (video). We entered the elevator to go up to the office and a couple of men were in it. One of the men asked me which floor we wanted, I told him and he pressed the button. I thanked him and continued talking to Phil, paying no further attention to the two men who got off a floor before us. After they got out and the doors of the elevator closed, I said to Phil that the man who had talked to me reminded me of, "that guy in Midnight Cowboy but I can't remember his name." Phil said, "Jon Voight was in the movie and that was him"! So close, yet so far!       

An interesting item I discovered when researching for this blog; Michael Sarrazin was cast in the Joe Buck role but shortly before filming he pulled out over a wage dispute. Jon Voight was then brought in to replace him. Midnight Cowboy was his third film and made Voight a star.   

 Jon Voight
vinyl LP album
front album cover detail 
detail photo of album cover by Styrous®

Midnight Cowboy is a 1969 American drama film based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The film was written by Waldo Salt, directed by John Schlesinger, and stars the aforementioned Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman.      

Jon Voight plays Joe Buck, a young Texan working as a dishwasher in New York City, hoping to succeed as a male prostitute. Initially unsuccessful, he meets Enrico Salvatore "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a street con man with a limp who introduces him to a pimp (John McGiver). It's a great film and Hoffman's performance is stellar!    

vinyl LP album
back album cover: movie still
photo of album cover by Styrous®

Midnight Cowboy was the first gay-related Best Picture winner and the ONLY X-rated film EVER to win that award, though its rating has since been changed to R. It has been placed 36th on the American Film Institute list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, and 43rd on its 2007 updated version.    

vinyl LP album
album cover detail: movie still
detail photo of album cover by Styrous®

John Barry supervised the music, composed the score and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. The song, Everybody's Talkin', composed by Fred Neil, won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for Harry Nilsson. The film's director, John Schlesinger, chose the song as the theme which underscores the first part of the film. Other songs considered for the theme included, I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City, also by Nilsson, and Cowboy by Randy Newman. Bob Dylan wrote Lay Lady Lay to serve as the theme song, but did not finish it in time. The soundtrack album was released by United Artists Records in 1969.        

vinyl LP album
album cover detail
detail photo of album cover by Styrous®

The song, He Quit Me Man, was composed by Warren W. Zevon who was also responsible for  Werewolves of London, Lawyers, Guns and Money, and many other hit songs. I fell in love with Werewolves, of course, which was composed by LeRoy Marinell, Waddy Wachtel, and Zevon (link Below).     

He Quit Me is a terrific song! Lesley Miller swoops 'n soars on it in high-flyin' style. Languid and slow with a great piano and bass sax backup it meanders around with a funky feeling (link below).     


vinyl LP album
back cover detail: movie still
detail photo of album cover by Styrous®

The Midnight Cowboy main theme, by John Barry, featured harmonica by Toots Thielemans, but on the LP album version it was played by Tommy Reilly. It is heartrendingly beautiful. It is Moon River without the chorus and the schmaltz. Don't get me wrong, I love Moon River; I think it's one of the most beautiful songs ever written! But ya gotta admit, it's schmaltzy!    

The harmonica in the Theme, played by Tommy Reilly, is gorgeous! It lifts the music above the schmaltz level to something quite wondrous. It is slow and pensive but lonely and distant in a quiet, beautiful way (link below).   

vinyl LP album
back cover detail: movie still
detail photo of album cover by Styrous®

Then there is Everybody's Talkin' written by Fred Neil and sung by Harry Nilsson. To be honest, I didn't like the song when I first heard it; I can't remember why. Because I wasn't crazy about it back then, I haven't really listened to it until I started researching for this blog. I am discovering it for the first time, so to speak, and beginning to like it for reasons I hadn't found before. If I had heard the version by Neil first, I think I would have liked the song right off the bat (links below).   

The song describes a desire to retreat to the ocean, to be alone and in control of your own destiny. It dreams of a better place, maybe a better time. It is fast paced but dreamy at the same time with lush strings overlying it all. The song ends with Nilsson fading out in a "Wah Wah" howl, cry, prayer? It's hard to tell which but it's beautiful.     

Everybody's Talkin' was written and first recorded by singer-songwriter Neil in 1966 but not released until early 1967 with his second album, the self-titled Fred Neil. It was composed towards the end of the recording 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.    

The song is among the most famous works of both artists, and has been covered by many other performers. It appeared in the 1994 film Forrest Gump and on the film's soundtrack album. It also appeared in the comedy film Borat, The Hangover Part III soundtrack and in the English television show Black Books.       

vinyl LP album
back cover detail: movie still
detail photo of album cover by Styrous®

Performed by Harry Nilsson, Everybody's Talkin' became a hit in 1969, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and winning a Grammy Award after it was featured in Midnight Cowboy.     

vinyl LP, side 1
photo by Styrous®

Fred Neil was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was exposed to music at an early age, traveling around the US with his father, who was a representative for Wurlitzer Jukeboxes. I think that is totally cool! I've always had a love for Jukeboxes; I almost bought one in the late 50's but it was over a hundred bucks and that was a lot of money back then; to give some perspective, it was four times my monthly rent. 

Neil was a singer-songwriter who worked out of the Brill Building in New York City, a center for music industry offices. While composing at the Building for other artists, Neil also recorded six rockabilly-pop singles for different labels as a solo artist. He wrote songs that were recorded by early rock and roll artists such as Buddy Holly, Come Back Baby - 1958, not to be confused with the slow blues song written and recorded by the blues singer and pianist Walter Davis in 1940 (links below). Neil also wrote Candy Man, 1961, which was recorded by Roy Orbison. The Neil version is slower than the Orbison one (links below).   

Neil met Vince Martin in 1961, and they formed a singing partnership; his first LP, Tear Down The Walls (1965) was recorded with Martin; some really fine harmonizing on the song (links below).  

vinyl LP label, side 1
photo by Styrous®

He was one of the pioneers of the folk rock and singer-songwriter musical genres, and is credited with influencing these prominent musical talents: Tim Buckley, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin, Dino Valenti, Vince Martin, Peter Stampfel (of the avant-folk ensemble the Holy Modal Rounders), John Sebastian (the Lovin' Spoonful), Gram Parsons, Jerry Jeff Walker, Barry McGuire, and Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane).  WOW!    

vinyl LP, side 2
photo by Styrous®

In Neil's obituary in Rolling Stone, Anthony DeCurtis wrote, "So why is Neil a hero to David Crosby? Because back when Crosby was an aspiring folkie who just arrived in New York, Neil bothered to take an interest in him, just as he did for the young Bob Dylan, who backed Neil on harmonica at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. 'He taught me that everything was music,' Crosby says."         

In his memoir, Richie Havens recalled Neil and his then-partner Vince Martin, also an American folk singer and songwriter, making an entrance through the audience, without microphones, and getting the audience up and clapping by relying only on their harmonious vocals.        

vinyl LP label, side 2
photo by Styrous®

Many of Neil's 1970s recordings remain unissued, including a 1973 session with Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina and some Woodstock recordings with guitarist Arlen Roth. In a later interview, Ric O'Barry claimed that Neil recorded two albums of cover songs in 1977 and 1978 but that they had been buried by Columbia Records. According to Barry, he produced the first of the recordings in the sessions in Miami. Neil was joined by Pete Childs (link below) on guitar, John Sebastian on harmonica, and Harvey Brooks on bass. The second album was more fully arranged, with Neil accompanied by the New York session band Stuff and some old friends, including Slick Aguilar. The songs on these albums were written by Bobby Charles, John Braheny, Bobby Ingram, Panama Red/Billy Joe Shaver, and Billy Roberts (composer of Hey Joe).    

Neil died from skin cancer in 2001 but as they say, his music lives on and on . . .


Side 1:

A1 – Nilsson* – Everybody's Talkin’, composed by Fred Neil*, vocals by Nilsson* – 2:30

A2 – John Barry – Joe Buck Rides Again, composed by John Barry – 3:46

A3 – The Groop – A Famous Myth, composed by Jeffrey M. Comanor*, vocals by  The Groop – 3:22

A4 – John Barry – Fun City, composed by John Barry – 3:52

A5 – Leslie Miller – He Quit Me Man, composed by Warren W. Zevon*, vocal by  Leslie Miller – 2:46

A6 – Elephants Memory – Jungle Gym At The Zoo, composed by R. Sussman*, R. Frank*, S. Bronstein*, vocals by Elephants Memory – 2:15

Side 1:

B1 – John Barry – Midnight Cowboy, composed by John Barry – 2:34

B2 – Elephants Memory – Old Man Willow, composed by M. Shapiro*, M. Yules*, R. Sussman*, S. Bronstein*, vocals by Elephants Memory – 7:03

B3 – John Barry – Florida Fantasy, composed by John Barry – 2:08

B4 – The Groop - Tears And Joys, composed by Jeffrey M. Comanor*, vocals by  The Groop – 2:29

B5 – John Barry – Science Fiction, composed by John Barry – 1:57

B6 – Nilsson* – Everybody's Talkin', composed by Fred Neal*, vocal by  NIlsson* – 1:54

Barcode and Other Identifiers

    Matrix / Runout (Side A, etched, variant 1): UAS-5198A-1A 6>17-69
    Matrix / Runout (Side B, etched, variant 1): UAS-5198A-1B 10>6-69
    Matrix / Runout (Side A, etched, variant 2): UAS-5198A-1A 6-17-69
    Matrix / Runout (Side B, etched, variant 2): UAS-5198B-1A 10-6-69

Various ‎– Midnight Cowboy (Original Motion Picture Score)
Label: United Artists Records ‎– UAS 5198
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Stereo
Country: US
Released: 1969
Genre: Rock, Stage & Screen
Style: Folk Rock, Score, Soundtrack

Net links:           
Midnight Cowboy Trivia           
Midnight Cowboy Cast           
Midnight Cowboy Plot summary           
Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon
Fred Neil Discography    
Fred Neil  website   
Fred Neil & Vince Martin     
Pete Childs ~ Fred Neil     
Viewfinder links:           
YouTube links: 
Leslie Miller ~ He Quit Me Man
Midnight Cowboy ~ Theme     
The Groop ~ Tears and joys         
The Groop ~ A Famous Myth    
Warren Zevon ~ Werewolves of London            
Harry Nilsson ~ Everybody's Talkin’              
Fred Neil ~ Everybody`s Talkin      
Fred Neil & Vince Martin ~ Tear Down the Walls         
Fred Neil songs           
Buddy Holly ~ Come Back Baby     
Walter Davis ~ Come Back Baby        
Fred Neil - Candy Man       
Roy Orbison ~ Candy Man       
My thanks to Lisa who urged me to do this blog 
& for her support of many others. 


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