When I was less evolved and totally unaware of political correctness, I fell in love with Short People. It was 1977 and I was in 8th grade. Through this controversial little parody ditty, I became aware of the brilliance of Randy Newman for the first time but certainly not the last.
Randy is a dichotomy. Totally talented and steeped in music knowledge and understanding, yet totally irreverent with a penchant for parody and humor. He’s passionate in music, politics, emotion and life.
Born in L.A., Randy Newman moved to New Orleans (where his mother was from) as an infant. Even though he eventually moved back to California, he spent many holidays and summers in New Orleans and the musical influence is definitely prevalent in his music. Nowhere is it more evident than in Newman’s Louisiana 1927, written and recorded in 1973. The song is about the great flood that totally changed the landscape of the South and Louisiana, in particular.
Listen to Randy Newman talk about Louisiana 1927 here. I find his description of New Orleans’ uniqueness is the most accurate I’ve heard. It also includes a wonderful version by Aaron Neville (1991) — the one that first introduced me to the song, from Warm Your Heart.
While Newman shows emotional depth in songs like I Miss You (written for his ex-wife), his real niche is the sardonic irony he is famous for. Examples:
Big Hat, No Cattle
I Love L.A.
Interestingly, Randy Newman has made quite a name for himself as a movie composer, being nominated for a record 16 Oscars, finally winning one for Best Song for If I Didn’t Have You from the Monsters, Inc. Soundtrack. One of my favorite Randy Newman songs is You’ve Got a Friend in Me from Toy Story. Some other scores attributable to Randy Newman are RagTime, The Natural, Parenthood, Meet The Parents, Meet The Fockers, Pleasantville, Maverick, Sea Biscuit, Cars (<—- previously profiled at MM) and a host of others — 20, in all. He is currently working on the score for Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, scheduled for release in 2009.
Randy discusses his writing style:
Randy continues to use his music to speak his mind and recently made headlines with his biting admonishment of the European press:
Few Words in Defense of Our Country
He’s not a technically superb singer. Matter of fact, his voice is very gravely with a distinct accent, however his ability to get to the heart of the matter provides the needed kun-NECK-shun for his music. His songs are genuinely heartfelt (regardless of the particular emotion) and on the mark.
Some other Newman songs that are favorites…..
The great Bobby Darin, covered Newman’s Sail Away on this final album:
Yes, that’s the same Birmingham that Taylor Hicks goes around singing.
TODAY’S TRIVIA: Randy Newman penned Three Dog Night’s #1 hit from 1970, Mama Told Me Not to Come. The song was written in 1966 and was originally recorded by Eric Burdon and The Animals.