This ode to self-imprisonment and internal conflict was the first single from Fiona Apple's 2012 album The Idler Wheel..., her first since Extraordinary Machine in 2005.
The song is a remarkably intimate look into the battle that goes on in Apple's head. Introverted and extremely sensitive, she spends a lot of time with her own thoughts. Here, she provides rather vivid imagery of what it's like: the ideas trickle down her spine, swell to a blaze in her belly and crawl beneath her skin. And it happens every single night.
Apple's songs are a visceral expression of her feelings, so there's no doubt she was writing about what she endured. And while this nightly fight with her brain sounds horrifying, she makes it clear she'd rather face it head-on than repress it. "I just want to feel everything," she repeats in the chorus.
When she wrote the song, Apple was living in Los Angeles, a strange place for an intensely private person who shuns celebrity culture. She didn't drive and rarely went out. When she did perform, it was at a small club called Largo, where she felt comfortable enough to go on stage. When Apple sang "Every Single Night" and a few other songs at a pair of concerts at South By Southwest in March 2012, it marked her first performances outside of Los Angeles in over five years. Why did she stay in LA so long? Her dog was sick, and she didn't want to move her.
Apple began recording new material for The Idler Wheel… in the late 2000s, keeping her sessions secret, even from her label, Epic Records. She opted to produce the album with her touring drummer, Charley Drayton, rather than her longtime collaborator Jon Brion. Executives at Epic only discovered that Apple had recorded an album in early 2012, when she presented it to them.
The album's full title is (deep breath) The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw, And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
. Apple has a history of long poetic titles. The name of her second album started off (deeper breath) When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring…
and continued for over 400 characters of text. The songstress admitted to Pitchfork
that she came up with the name, "in a total rush." She explained: "After having stayed up all night on deadline, it just came to me right after the sun rose. I didn't realize people would be like, 'Oh s--t, another poem.' It just came out to be what it was - sorry."
Apple explained the meaning of the album title to Pitchfork: "If you think about it, the driver of the screw has one job and he is always trying to change things. But the idler wheel is there and has this great effect on what the gears do; the idler wheel knows the machine much better than just this one thing that's performing this one task.
For the second line, I had read about whipping cords in a nautical book that my last boyfriend had. I read that when ropes get frayed at sea, you can repair the frayed ends of the ropes with whipping cords that are very strong. This goes right back to the parenting thing - if I had a kid, and I had a choice between teaching somebody how to avoid trouble, or teaching them how to get out of it, I'd teach them how to get out of it."
Filmmaker Joseph Cahill (Raul Paz, Emily Loizeau) directed the song's music video, which paint a surreal picture of what's going on in Apple's brain - in some scenes, she wears a squid on her head.
It was Apple's first video in over six years, her previous one being the 2006 visual for "Not About Love."
Panic! At the Disco vocalist Brendon Urie wanted to use the song for a track on the band's 2013 Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!
album. Apple refused because her labelmate Gilbere Forté had recently sampled the same song. Urie was angry and at one point titled the track "Bad Apple" before reworking it into "Miss Jackson
In 2019, this was used in two TV shows as part of scenes where characters are at their breaking points. In the "Under His Eye" episode of The Handmaid's Tale, it plays when June (Elisabeth Moss) finally snaps and attacks a handmaid who betrayed her. In the Euphoria episode "The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed," it plays after Zendaya's character nearly dies after a crippling bout of depression.