T he story goes
that legendary Los Angeles writer Charles Bukowski was once seen at a Randy
Newman concert, after which he declared: "Randy Newman is immortal,"
A journalist who was told this didnt hear it right and said "Did
you say that Randy Newman is immoral?"
words could describe the popular opinion of Randy Newman' s songwriting.
The rumpled fellow who writes movie scores and bouncy tunes for
animated films also had a hit with "Short People," a mock
putdown of the vertically challenged that was taken seriously by
many people. Some equally trenchant tunes appear on Newman's new
Nonesuch album, The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1, the first of a
three-album career retrospective.
"This was something I did at the behest of the record company,
really," says Newman. "It wasnt something I would
have thought to do necessarily - memorialize my own songs. It's
kind of interesting to me to do this project because it does play
to history in a way . . ."
The project involved Newman sitting down at the piano with producer
Mitchell Froom and re-recording an assortment of songs from his
more than thirty years of writing and recording. Theres no
accompaniment other than Newman himself at the keyboard (a reminder
of how a musician with skilled fingers can produce varying sound
dynamics). For those who over the years have admired Newmans
songwriting talent but had doubts about his rough-and-tumble vocals,
he observes: "Thankfully, Mitchell suggested a number of key
changes so I wasnt croaking at people on songs like 'Marie'
and 'Living Without You.' I think I sing better now which is one
of the reasons I didn't mind doing this album."
The songs included go back as far as the wistful ode to loneliness,
"I Think It's Going To Rain Today," (recorded by Judy
Collins before Newman himself had made an album), and incorporate
several of the immortal "nasties" from 1972 's Sail Away
- the title song, in which Africans are lured into slavery in America,
"You Can Leave Your Hat On," "God's Song (That's
Why I Love Mankind)," and Political Science" [Ed:
Listen to this song on the ONE WAY CD] in which Newman, as devil's
advocate, suggests that America "drop the big one" on
all other nations, except Australia ("Dont want to hurt
no kangaroos"). There are some recent songs in a similar vein
(1999s "The Great Nations of Europe" from Bad Love),
that wrap up the album. "Yeah it's sort of the political section,
if youll excuse the expression," laughs Newman.
For those who want to hear a new version of "Short People"
and more of Newmans movie tunes (a few instrumentals from
his film scores are included on Volume I), they'll have to wait
for the next installment, which will also be on the Nonesuch label.
In the meantime, they can enjoy a fair sampling of Randy Newmans
lyrical "immorality." "Im interested in how
people hear this album," he says. "Its not an unrepresentative
bunch of songs. It's not necessarily the best of them, but its
Songbook Vol 1