Cohen had written a sheet of verses, which he brought to Robinson. She told Billboard.com, “I remember coming up with a couple of different ideas, and he picked one and just said, ‘This is perfect.’ We came up with the chorus, musically, together, after I brought in a basic vibe. You know, it’s a protest song, a tough song. It’s not pretty or feminine in any way, and I had to come up with music that was in that spirit.”
Robinson chose a minor key to match Cohen’s melancholic lyrics. Everybody Knows was recorded in 1988 for Cohen’s synth-pop “I’m Your Man” album (Columbia 44191), produced in Montreal by Michel Robidoux and featuring Jennifer Warnes on backing vocals. The album was released in February 1988 in the U.K. and Europe; Cohen’s solid European fan base took the album to No. 1 and it then went gold in Canada.
Like Hallelujah, Everybody Knows did not leap into the public consciousness immediately. The song gained mainstream popularity a few years after its release when a cover version by alternative rockers Concrete Blonde was used in the soundtrack for the 1990 teen movie “Pump Up the Volume,” starring Christian Slater; it reached No. 20.
Everybody Knows also appeared in the popular 1994 Atom Egoyan film “Exotica,” and was then covered by Don Henley on the 1995 Cohen tribute album “Tower of Song.” The Henley single sped up the charts to the Top 20 in Canada that year. Henley later included the song on his “Actual Miles: Henley’s Greatest Hits” album.)
Additional artists who have covered Everybody Knows include Bryan Adams, Dark Gift, Elizabeth and The Catapult, Garou, Keith Hancock, Dayna Kurtz, Mean Larry & Friends, Bette Midler, Peter Mulvey, Patricia O’Callaghan, Sigrid, Grace Slick, Jean-Claude Toran, Florent Vollant (in Innu), Rufus Wainwright, and The Washington Squares.
Everybody Knows also appears on “Cohen Live: Leonard Cohen in Concert,” and Sharon Robinson herself has recorded it. Folk icon Judy Collins (who has recorded many Cohen songs as well as songs by Joni Mitchell and Ian Tyson) teamed up with another legend, folk-rocker Stephen Stills, in 2017 on their album “Everybody Knows,” which charted in the Top 50.
These varying musical acts have brought their own interpretations to the lyrics of Everybody Knows, which range from the personal to the philosophical; they speak unspoken rules aloud, bringing forbidden subjects into the open. Infidelity is the elephant in the room, which Cohen treats with trademark dark humour: “Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful / Ah, give or take a night or two,” and “But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed / That will disclose / What everybody knows.”
The shoulder-shrugging chorus “Everybody knows / That’s how it goes” resigns us to accepting what we can’t change. Robinson told “Rolling Stone”: “It says we're not really in control of our destiny. There are others running things, and we go about our daily lives with that in the background.”
The inimitable poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016) was born in Montreal. His honours have been many: he is in the Rock and Roll and Canadian Music halls of fame and the U.S. Songwriters Hall of Fame, and received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He made multiple gold and platinum recordings, and was a nine-time Juno winner.
Grammy-winner Sharon Robinson (born in San Francisco) toured extensively with Leonard Cohen as a vocalist and continues with a solo career. She has written for such artists as Patti LaBelle, Aaron Neville and Roberta Flack.