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Any Major Randy Newman Songbook

November 28th, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

The master storyteller Randy Newman is turning 80 today (November 28), so here is a Songbook to celebrate his great body of work.

It seems absurd now, but when Randy Newman released his song Short People in 1977, there was an outcry about the singer’s supposed bigotry directed at people of diminutive height. The opening verse’s claim that “short people have no reason to live” somehow failed to alert the scandalised kneejerkers that they were witness to pretty obvious satire, albeit one by a quite tall man.

Had they done their due diligence, these critics would have known not to take Newman songs at face value, for he had already built up a repertoire of irony-rich songs, and he would continue that practice for many years, before he became the bard of the Toy Story franchise (from which I include only one song, You’ve Got A Friend In Me).

My favourite of these is 1983’s I Love L.A., whose declarative title and catchy tune moved the organisers of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles to use the Newman composition as a theme song. You can’t really blame them for that in their arrogant enthusiasm they missed the sendup. Though the put-downs in the opening verse and the line, “Look at that bum over there, man, he’s down on his knees”, did provide clues that this was not a love letter to the City of Angels.

Newman played it totally straight on He Gives Us All His Love. The message is unspoken — in the perception of Newman, who is an atheist, love is all God gives, but no practical solutions. One may enter into theological debates about that understanding, but some Christian singers, like Wanda Jackson, covered the track as a song of praise. I assume that in his beautiful version on this Songbook collection, jazz maestro Roy Ayers also sings it straight, since he is a professing Christian.

Other times, Newman’s satire is obvious, as on 1972’s Political Science, which proposes that the US nukes everything in the world, including South America, who “stole our name”, and Canada, for the crime of being too cold. But not Australia, “Don’t want to hurt no kangaroo. We’ll build an all-American amusement park there.”

Of course, Newman also wrote movingly and without sarcasm about relationships, the human condition, even about history. The final verse of Guilty, best performed by Bonnie Raitt, just gets to you: “You know you know how it is with me baby. You know, I just can’t stand myself. And it takes a whole lot of medicine, for me to pretend that I’m somebody else.”

Much as it is with Joni Mitchell, whose 80th birthday on November 7 I marked with an Any Major Joni Mitchell Songbook, it pays to listen to Newman’s lyrics. And much like Joni, the voice can be a distraction in doing so. This Randy Newman Songbook may provide relief for those who have difficulty with his unmellifluous voice and constipated delivery.

I think this collection of covers is great, obviously, and it might serve as a good introduction to Newman’s work for those who are not familiar with it. But it is good to invest time and patience in exploring Newman’s own recordings of these songs, because, like Joni Mitchell, Newman has been a genre-fusing innovator in the singer-songwriter field, drawing from pop, rock, blues, jazz and even ragtime — but not much from folk.

Newman has, of course, featured here before. One of my favourites of his, Birmingham, was on Any Major American Road Trip Part 2, but it doesn’t feature here because I’m not aware of cover versions. The same goes for The Story Of A Rock ‘n Roll Band, which was on A Life In Vinyl 1980. I Love L.A. was on A Life In Vinyl 1983 and Any Major American Road Trip Part 3, and Dayton Ohio 1903 on Any Major American Road Trip Part 6, Lousiana on Any Major Year, and I Think It’s Gonna Rain Again on Any Major Wonder Years. (All the American Road Trip and Life In Vinyl mixes are up again.)

Mama Told Me Not To Come featured in the version by Eric Burdon and The Animals in The Originals: The 1970s Vol. 2, and I Think It’s Going To Rain Today by Maxine Wheldon on Covered With Soul Vol. 10 and then by Grady Tate on Covered With Soul Vol. 24.

Tracks 1-23 are timed to fit on a standard CD-R. Includes home-sailedaway covers, and the above in a PDF. PW in comments.

1. Randy Newman – Short People (1977)
2. Wilson Pickett – Mama Told Me Not To Come (1971)
3. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Living Without You (1972)
4. Blood Sweat & Tears – Just One Smile (1968)
5. Dusty Springfield – I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore (1969)
6. Cass Elliot – I Think It’s Going To Rain Today (1972)
7. Bonnie Raitt – Guilty (1972)
8. Nilsson – Sail Away (1976)
9. Asleep At The Wheel – Louisiana (1978)
10. Everything But The Girl – Political Science (1993)
11. Neil Diamond – Losing You (2010)
12. Kim Richey – Texas Girl At The Funeral Of Her Father (2006)
13. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt – Feels Like Home (1999)
14. Johnny Cash – My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine And Dandelion Wine) (1975)
15. Joe Cocker – Lucinda (1975)
16. Etta James – Leave Your Hat On (1973)
17. The Mills Brothers – Dayton Ohio, 1903 (1969)
18. Roy Ayers – He Gives Us All His Love (1970)
19. Irma Thomas – While The City Sleeps (1964)
20. Jackie DeShannon – Hold Your Head High (1964)
21. Alan Price Set – Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear (1967)
22. Tim Hardin – I’ll Be Home (1972)
23. Lou Rawls – Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield (1970)
24. Three Dog Night – Cowboy (1970)
25. The Doobie Brothers – Beehive State (1971)
26. The Marshall Tucker Band – Mr. President (1982)
27. Third World – Baltimore (1999)
28. OMC – I Love L.A. (1997)
29. John Martyn – God’s Song (1998)
30. Saint Etienne – Snow (1993)
31. George Jones & Kathy Mattea – You’ve Got A Friend In Me (1996)
32. Randy Newman – Rollin’ (1974)


Previous Songbooks:
Ashford & Simpson
Barry Gibb Vol. 1
Barry Gibb Vol. 2
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Brian Wilson
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Vol. 1
Burt Bacharach & Hal David Vol. 2
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Carole Bayer Sager
Carole King Vol. 1
Carole King Vol. 2
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter Vol. 1
Cole Porter Vol. 2
Elton John & Bernie Taupin
George Harrison
Gordon Lightfoot
John Prine
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Jimmy Webb Vol. 3
Joni Mitchell
Lamont Dozier
Laura Nyro
Leonard Cohen
Neil Diamond
Paul McCartney Vol. 1
Paul McCartney Vol. 2
Rod Temperton
Rolling Stones Vol. 1
Sly Stone
Steely Dan

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  1. amdwhah
    November 28th, 2023 at 08:16 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Psychfan
    November 30th, 2023 at 20:14 | #2

    Thanks very much! Looking forward to Wilson Pickett.

  3. f_lawless
    December 4th, 2023 at 14:23 | #3

    Another great Newman cover:
    “Living Without You – Mary McCaslin”

  4. amdwhah
    December 4th, 2023 at 15:47 | #4

    Oh, that is lovely.

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