Sunday, June 7, 2009

Randy Newman is a brilliant man

I think many people these days only know Randy Newman from his work in movies. Many people have come to associate him with Pixar, after their many collaborations, especially "You've Got a Friend" from Toy Story. But I'm sitting here listening to his 1972 album Sail Away, which is one of my 10 or 15 favorite albums ever made, and I'm always blown away by the way he skirts between genres both musically and lyrically. The album has songs like "Old Man", a sad tale of dying, the anti-religion "God's Song" (partially told from God's point of view, subtly conceding that there just may be a God), and the humorous title song, which is told from the side of a slave trader trying to convince Africans to get on his boat to America. Of course, there are also songs like "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear", which is about exactly what the title says it's about, and "Burn On", about Cleveland's Cuyahoga River catching on fire (it was used as the opening song in the baseball movie Major League, which is where I first heard it).

But Sail Away isn't his only brilliant album, there were others like 12 Songs and Good Ole Boys. Good Ole Boys contains one of Newman's most famous satirical songs, "Rednecks". For people that only know Newman from his Pixar work, they might be surprised to hear the chorus, whose lyrics are:

We're Rednecks, we're Rednecks
We don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're Rednecks, we're Rednecks
We're keepin' the niggers down

Newman was sort of a 1970's Stephen Colbert, with lyrics like that. And just like Colbert, people often weren't in on the joke. Newman said he had to stop playing his satirical song "Political Science", about an American led nuclear war, after people took it seriously. The opening lines are:

No one likes us, I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens

It's one of my favorite songs, and Newman actually performed it on The Colbert Report a couple of years ago. To show just how often his satire is misunderstood, even in Colbert's audience, almost no one laughed at the song. Even later when Newman gives such well thought out reasons for nuclear holocaust as:

Asia's crowded and Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot and Canada's too cold
South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one
There'll be no one left to blame us

We'll save Australia
Don't wanna hurt no kangaroo
We'll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin', too

I really wish more people knew him for his brilliant singer/songwriter stuff like that. I like his movie scores and songs, but not nearly as much as I love his work from that early-mid 70's period. Check it out if you don't know it already. Thank me later.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

You could share a copy with an old lady, couldn't ya?