Randy Newman (1968)
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Love Story A
No matter what you would score the songwriting itself (i.e. the melodies, the harmonies and the development), you're going to have to bump it up a few notches, because Randy Newman is probably the most charming singer-songwriter on the planet. I mean, nobody could possibly be more likable than him. Just read the first few lines of the lyrics ( “I like your brother / I like your mother / I like you and you like me too”) Randy Newman likes everybody! The rest of the lyrics are terribly romantic; it's a sweet tribute to his one-true-love. Musically, it's a rather meandering suite. At some points it's a slow ballad with sweeping strings, at other points it's almost a rock song with heavier pounding drums. The melody isn't catchy as it is thoughtful and sweet. Its rambly nature does resemble what goes through a young man's head when dwelling on such things. Very nice!
Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad A-
This is much more straightforward than the last song. That is, it's not nearly as meandering. It's based on a very light groove from a muted, sliding electric guitar and a little harmonica here and there. The lyric matter is much darker than the last one, this time focusing on a man watching the rain thinking about the girl that left him. Though the music itself does seem mildly upbeat, and there's an ounce of sunshine in those morose vocals. I'm not sure how Randy Newman is able to make sad songs sound so hopeful this well.
Living Without You B+
This is a very low-key, twinkly song that features probably some of the coolest, wailing vocals ever. I know, I could be exaggerating, but Randy Newman is such an authentic singer-songwriter that it seems like he deserves it. Though I will say that musically, it's starting to get a tad on the boring side. Again, Newman's going for emotions instead of melody, which is fine, but we all would like something to whistle to. That build-up in the chorus is undoubtedly cool, though!
So Long Dad A
Like in “Love Story,” the heavy string arrangements make this song seem more like a stream of consciousness instead of an actual “ditty.” If there's any structure to this, it's very unpredictable. Geez, this sort of songwriting is terribly charming, especially when we get to hear Newman's charming voice. The lyrics, again, are incredibly thoughtful this time being about a young man visiting his father after a long time. ...It says a lot that I'm mentioning the lyrics so much in these song reviews. I typically only pay half-attention to them.
I Think He's Hiding B+
Wow, he has a hard time reaching those high notes! Well, maybe that's not so much of a problem, since it makes him sound more earnest. He's also delivering quite a catchy tune here with his piano and a lightly pattering drum playing throughout. Not so distinctive compared to the others, but it's nothing if not charming.
Aw, beautiful! It's no wonder the guy would eventually become a prolific film composer listening to this song prominently featuring full strings and horns, and a light mandolin and accordion playing beautifully in the background. The arrangements are really brilliant. This probably has more in common with a heartbroken montage in an old fashioned romantic comedies than rock 'n' roll. But that's why we listen to him!
Laughing Boy A-
Just like the previous song, this has nothing to do with rock 'n' roll, but rather it concentrates on these orchestral arrangements. The sort of whirlwind effect they have in the chorus, of sorts, is wonderful, as well as the sweeter strings in between. Wow, this guys is great.
This slow and sleepy song is apparently about urbanization, and the loss of the old ways. The string section creeps by very nicely throughout while Newman gives a nicely passionate vocal performances. This is very lovely to listen to and the lyrics are sentimental, but perhaps it's a tad too slow.
The Beehive State B+
This more upbeat piano-pop tune with a sprightly drum line and bass guitar is a little bit closer to that good old rock 'n' roll! The melody is as light and catchy, something that this guy was evidently able to do without even trying! The first half of the song is about Kansas. Hey! I used to live there! The second half is about Utah. That's where the Mormons live.
I Think It's Going to Rain Today B
The utterly slow and low-key quality of this song makes it seem a bit boring to me... Naturally, Randy Newman can't do anything that doesn't sound genuine, but that doesn't mean he excites us all the time! He sings very morosely to this morose ballad that starts out with a minimally played piano, and a full string section is brought in for the second half. You've at least got to appreciate the string arrangements, which manages to be far busier and surprisingly more emotive than the vocal melody.
Davy the Fat Boy A-
And the album closes with another one of his very rambly songs. It starts out as an ultra-dramatic, heavily orchestrated song, but somewhere in the middle when he starts to sing “Davy the fat boy / isn't he round?”, it turns to a piano-pop! Naturally, the melody isn't very catchy, but that doesn't seem like the point. The arrangements are amazing!
12 Songs (1970)
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Have You Seen My Baby? A-
I love Randy Newman, and I can't wait to hear another one of his complicated, cinematic string arr--- Hey, what's this? A boogie-woogie?? Um... Hey! It's a good boogie-woogie! While this obviously isn't going to as rich and complex as the stuff from his debut album, this is fun innit? Musically, it's nothing more than the generic chord progressions and the expected chugging you'd get from session musicians. But it's all performed boldly and confidently.
Let's Burn Down the Cornfield C+
This is quiet and understated blues tune with Newman mumbling along, pretending to be one of those world-weary blues singers. I gotta throw it out there that this is a bit dull so perhaps it's a little too understated, and the lyrics aren't any more interesting than authentic blues numbers. The guitarist has a bit of fun with a few wobbly licks here and there. But it's weird to hear Randy Newman do such a song. The fact that he doesn't play the piano on it makes it weirder.
Mama Told Me Not to Come A
Ah yes. Here's a bouncy and bubbly song with distinctly charming lyrics that are a lot of fun to muse over. This is the sort of song that everybody loves to hear out of Randy Newman! It keeps a steady pace with a regular drum beat and a nicely textured, organic piano. My only complaint about it is the melody, which isn't distinctive enough to earn the song an A+. But that A is as solid as it can be!
You know, the more I listen to this, the more I come to adore it. It's a slow-paced and rather understated song, and Newman's mumbling the lyrics again, but sounding more like himself. He plays a quiet groove on the lower registers of the piano while a contemplative slide guitarist noodles in the background. Halfway though, a slightly creepy organ comes in, which makes the atmosphere even more interesting. This is a really neat song.
Lover's Prayer A-
While the slow, understated Newman songs might be nice, there's nothing like his bouncy piano tunes. This is a two-minute song with a bubbly piano groove with pleasantly breezy lyrics about a man wanting to find the perfect woman (with specifications that get increasingly more ridiculous).
Well, he's being very careful to mix the album evenly between slow songs and fast songs. Every even song has been a slow one! This isn't nearly as interesting as “Suzanne,” was though mostly because it's a blues song, and we've all heard this sort of thing before. The slow pace of it also starts to grow a bit boring... It's not a terrible song at all, but ...... Eh.
Underneath the Harlem Moon B+
Hey!! Just as I noticed the pattern, he doesn't follow up the slow bluesy song with a fast-paced bubbly one. What gives? Well, it consists only of Newman singing with his piano, so it's like the same thing, I guess. Really, if the only instrument used in this album was a piano, then I'd be happy as a clam. Still, this isn't so much a fascinating song in any respect as it utterly likable.
Yellow Man A
It's weird that many of Randy Newman's most melodically memorable songs tend to be the ones that a number of idiots think are bigoted. Of course, this didn't turn out to be as big of a hit as “Short People,” but this potentially could have been more devastating since it's about an actual group that actually gets discriminated against. Anyway, this a lighthearted Americana tune with some earthly piano, a very catchy melody, and a likable vocal performance.
Old Kentucky Home B+
Just based on the music, this sounds like it was written by someone who never lived in Kentucky. It's mostly just a retread of the old country-western cliches. (Although I guess he lived in New Orleans as a kid, so he has a little bit of the Deep South in his blood.) When you delve into these incredibly playful and charming lyrics, though, it gets much richer than the vast majority of generic country-western tunes.
This is OK, but it never gets very interesting. I do like that dark rumbling piano groove he uses, but that's doesn't singlehandedly save it. I like how the vocal performance gets a little more passionate in the middle, but for some reason I'm just not getting *into* this. The lyrics are very sweet, though, and certainly constitute poetry. That's nothing new though. Most of Newman's lyrics are poetry.
If You Need Oil C-
I'm sorry. I like Randy Newman. I like him very much. But this three-minute song is just tedious. It's one of those songs where he's basically rumbling the piano and mumbling the lyrics so obscurely that I can't understand a word of what he's singing. It never, for a moment, gets out of that rut. I really don't like this. If you like it, then good for you, but I'm going to have to take a pass.
Uncle Bob's Midnight Blues B
A good but ultimately unremarkable end to the album. Not that I was expecting something terribly exciting, and it is Newman singing with only a piano (which I said earlier can make me happy as a clam). But I suppose the fact that it's blues-oriented and thus does nothing I haven't heard before makes it more difficult for me to love. Anyway, it's a nice earthly sort of song. It's not tedious at all, and it does no harm. People who like the blues more than I do will probably have a better chance of loving it.
Randy Newman Live (1971)
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Mama Told Me Not to Come A-
Since this was a radio promo, you can hear the announcer introducing Randy Newman and a rather small-sounding crowd greets him with claps. He comes on and does this very bare-bones version of that rather rockin' tune that appeared on his most recent album, 12 Songs. Well, he's such an engaging singer and songwriter that he doesn't really need a back-up band, but they were surely nice! But if you're the type of person who would seriously consider getting this live disc, then you probably don't care so much about that.
Tickle Me B+
This is a song that never appeared on any of Newman's studio albums, which means that this album is especially essential for his fans. This is a charming song in which Newman only sings with some thick rumbles and chords on the piano. You can hear the audience chortling through some of this.
I'll Be Home B-
A studio version of this very low-key piano ballad wouldn't be done in the studio until 1977's Little Criminals, and it's really interesting to hear a version of it this early! This is a slightly rawer version, without the orchestra backing, and he's singing about a higher register. The 1977 version is a little better, but I'm not head-over-heels thrilled about either version, to be honest. Just a tad boring.
So Long Dad A
The original version of this had such a heavy orchestral arrangement, this raw piano version is almost like a completely different song! The piano here sounds lighter and sweeter here, which I think fits the lyrics better. An exception is at the end when he apparently stopped being serious about it! Eh, he's being very casual with the audience; that was the spirit of the concert. At the beginning of this track, you can also hear Newman take requests and then joke around with the audience a bit.
Living Without You B
Without the orchestra, this ballad gets quite a bit bleaker with merely a slowly played piano backing up his vocals. What's most important to most of his fans, his singing voice, is still here, and there's no less of that genuine “feeling” in them. Nonetheless, I wasn't greatly enthusiastic about the original, and I feel roughly the same for this version.
Last Night I Had a Dream A-
This song wouldn't appear on one of his studio albums until Sail Away released a year later. Obviously, the guy had a crapload of songs kept under him. What's more, somebody requested that he plays it, which shows that he was performing these for awhile. At any rate, this is one of his more vibrant numbers.
I Think It's Going to Rain Today B-
I know I say the same thing about the songs he plays from his debut album, but it must be said. Without the orchestra, this bleak song is at a loss. Granted, his low-key vocal performance is valuable and earnest, but the melody isn't that memorable and I get bored through this. I'm sorry.
Lover's Prayer B
This is one of his more upbeat piano-pop songs, but not one of his more memorable ones (apart from the lyrics, that is, which are brilliant) thanks to an overly repetitive melody. The original version on 12 Songs had a drum set, which helped it become punchier.
Maybe I'm Doing it Wrong B
This is another one of those songs that was never recorded in the studio, and so this is the only place I'm aware of that you'll be able to hear it. Sure, the fans would really like to hear it, but it has such a simple melody that most other listeners probably won't consider it to be anything special.
Yellow Man A
He tells the audience what this song means before he begins to play it, which shows how much flack he was getting about the supposed racism in the lyrics. At any rate, this is easily one of his best songs at this point with a memorable melody, some bubbly piano playing, and those devilishly ironic lyrics.
My Old Kentucky Home A-
Here is the only major exception to my earlier statements that these songs have been at a loss without the studio treatment. The original had some country-western instrumentation to it. It was nice, don't get me wrong, but I find that hearing Newman sing these highly amusing lyrics with the piano is more charming. You can hear the audience laugh with these lyrics, which is another interesting factor.
Maybe the slow ballads is the one thing that separates the die hard Randy Newman fans with everyone else. While I do think these earnest compositions with the moving vocal performances and thoughtful lyrics are highly valuable, I can't say that I'm a great big fan of them. I'm also going to throw it out there that this version is slightly nicer than the studio version. Even though the studio version had the complicated string arrangements, it did seem a bit overblown there, in retrospect.
Davy the Fat Boy B
This was one of the more heavily orchestrated songs in its original incarnation in Randy Newman, and so this bare-piano version sounds quite a bit different. But this is one example where the original sounded so good that this one can't even compare. Nonetheless, his piano playing is spectacular, and the lyrics are very entertaining. (Again, you can hear the audience snickering in parts.)
Lonely At the Top B+
Yikes, here's yet another song that wouldn't surface on a studio album until Sail Away. That version had some really nice Americana trumpets, a tuba and a strumming banjo. Of course, with instrumentation like that how could I prefer the bare bones piano version? Nevertheless, both versions are fantastic, and these lyrics are as amusing as ever. That's what everybody likes about him, after all!
Sail Away (1972)
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Sail Away A
Ah, you know you're listening to a classic Randy Newman album if it starts right away with a poignant, string-heavy piano ballad. Even with the strings, this is a different sort of song than the ones from his self-titled debut album. The strings are purely uncomplicated background dressing, and the song itself is nothing more than a normal ballad. But what a ballad it is! The melody is sweet but not too sweet, and the lyrics are interesting to hear, giving us what I suppose is an immigrant's skewed vision of what life is like in America.
Lonely at the Top A
I swear, I can listen to these guys from the '70s play jazzy Americana tunes until my dying day... There's something about this laid-back instrumentation that appeals to me. Those sleepy horns, that tooting tuba and those banjo stabs are all great. Newman's melody manages to fit within its jazzy context without sounding completely unoriginal. (Since we have a different version of this in Live without the ragtime context, it's obvious that this was a good song at its core.)
He Gives Us All His Love A-
This is a gentle two-minute ballad, and this is also something I'll never get tired of hearing. The lyrics are very optimistic and religious (and he's not being sarcastic... as far as I can tell). The instrumentation consist merely of a sensitive piano with quiet strings.
Last Night I Had a Dream A
This is also a lot better than the bare-bones version that he performed previously in Live. He really takes the time and care to develop these delicate songs. He even brings in some rock 'n' roll instrumentation here, which is a nice change-of-pace. It's always good to hear some 'lectric guitar. This guy was completely on top as far as his melodies go, that's for sure. These melodies aren't ABBA-esque or anything, but they have those subtly charming hooks.
Simon Smith and the Dancing Bear A-
Here's another one of his '20s styled Americana tunes, but this time he only uses the piano and his voice as instrumentation. Well, isn't that all he needed to begin with? The playful lyrics fit right in well with the playful nature of the music.
Old Man A+
Holy crap... This is a bit of a heavy-hitting song! The lyrics revolve around an old man who's about to die unloved. The sad lyrics are matched with Newman's mournful vocal performance and the depressing strings in the background. Everything about this song seems utterly genuine. A real treasure, this.
Political Science A
This is one of his bitingly satirical songs, which is nice considering the previous one was such a serious downer! The lyrics are hilarious, about a politician talking about bombing every country and turning them into America. (Except apparently Australia can be turned into America without the bombs.) Once again, he gives us a very catchy 1920s-style melody with a well-arranged horn section.
Burn On A-
Almost a B+, but that mildly sweeping chorus is so charming that it wins me over, and this album's 7-song winning streak is extended to an 8. This piano ballad is a little less distinctive here, the melody isn't incredibly catchy, and it's somewhat slow-moving. But it's his charm, of course, that'll win you over the the end.
Memo to My Son A
Almost an A+! This is such a sweet, mid-tempo rock song about a dad who's talking to his infant son about the future. It's really cute without, for once fleeting moment, ever approaching 'saccharine' or 'syrupy.' This is Randy Newman! He always sounds sincere! Once again, the melody is very catchy. The upbeat, rock-centered instrumentation also helps its enjoyability.
Dayton, Ohio 1903 A
Randy Newman was apparently a Kinks fan! Here, he's giving us a very laid-back piano ballad that longs for the simpler times of the past. (“It's a real nice way / To spend the day / In Dayton, Ohio / On a lazy Sunday afternoon in 1903”). It's not as immediately memorable and as richly melodic as a Kinks song, but this is more of a subtly involving song. If that makes sense.
You Can Leave Your Hat On A
(“Baby, take off your coat...(real slow) / Baby, take off your shoes...(here, I'll take your shoes) / Baby, take off your dress / Yes, yes, yes / You can leave your hat on / You can leave your hat on / You can leave your hat on”) ...A little bit racy, are we? If Randy Newman didn't have such a gravelly voice, I might have thought I accidentally wandered into a Barry White song! I'm actually having a difficult time figuring out what this song is about, but the semi-seedy horn section in here gives me the impression that it's about a man infatuated with a stripper. Ah, but the lyrics are just icing on the cake... This has a superbly catchy melody!
God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind) A-
Another one of his deeply religious songs, though it's not nearly as optimistic as “He Gives Us All His Love.” It's more about the topsy-turvy relationship between God and mankind from the Old Testament. I've had occasional interests in theology over the years, so this is interesting to me. Also, I've said it plenty of times, but Newman's sincere delivery completely turns this into gold. I mean, it was a good song to begin with...
Good Old Boys (1974)
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The album starts with one of Randy Newman's signature tunes, which he identified is also one of his favorite songs. He wrote it to criticize the holier-than-thou attitude Northerners have toward Southerners, an attitude that very much exists to this day. Ah, when will we get over the Civil War? Anyway, you'll also note that this is an upbeat rock song with drums, a bass guitar and everything! There's just a small pattering of slide guitar deep in the background, appropriate for the subject matter. Obviously, this album ain't gonna be as personal as Sail Away, but the songs are sure more easily enjoyable.
Another song where he visits the South, and it's a very happy sort of song. There's not any bass or drums on this track, but a bubbly ragtimey piano, strings, horns and a light slide guitar. Everything about this instrumentation is smooth and pleasant. Newman's melody is catchy and the lyrics, as always, are thoughtful. Man, ain't this guy great?
A terribly romantic ballad with some beautiful lyrics that sound suited for a touching movie montage somewhere. The melody is gorgeous, also, proving to have some of Newman's most stunning vocal hooks ever. The heavy string section floods everything, but that's part of the reason this song is so romantic and beautiful. (Naturally, that piano playing gently in the middle range of the piano is the centerpiece of the instrumentation.)
Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man) A
He's getting political with this light country-rocker, but who's to disagree with his politics? Presidents should have pity on the working man. More importantly than the lyrics is the catchy melody, which again proves how naturally this guy was able to write melodies! Also, I mustn't neglect to mention that this song features a bass guitar. Bass guitars are awesome.
Yikes, these lyrics are getting heavy-handed! This one centers around drug addiction ruining a romantic relationship. Ouch. Also, the orchestration is beautiful with that high-pitched horn section providing a slightly dreary background texture, which is appropriate considering the subject matter.
Louisiana 1927 A
Well, this guy is clearly not going to cease giving us these thoroughly awesome tunes. Part of me is hiding behind a bush, waiting to spring out and give one of these songs an A-, but that ain't happening so far. This track in particular is closer to an A+ with its incredibly sweeping string orchestration. It also features a drum set and a vocal melody that's as catchy as the dickens! ... YEOW!
Every Man a King A-
Oh, there's our A-, but that's more of a default rating for anything that's insubstantial. The reason this is insubstantial is because it's a one-minute-long cover of a song apparently co-written by the ill-fated governor of Louisiana, Huey P. Long. For the lack of a better description, it's the sort of song you'd hear college students sing in 1920s period films.
Ah yes, Huey P. Long was the Kingfish. Newman's really taking on the South, and celebrating one of the area's more controversial figures. The slightly dissonant orchestration in the introduction recalls of Newman's debut album, but this still isn't quite as complicated. He brings in the rock 'n' roll instrumentation for the bulk of the song, which helps me enjoy it more! Once again, this guy comes up with a CATCHY MELODY. I know, every time I call a Randy Newman song “catchy,” it becomes more and more of a cliché. But there you go. I can't deny the truth. What a gifted songwriter!
Naked Man A
The instrumentation sounds a little bit like he's writing tropical music... Also it's the first time I recall one of his tracks with instrumentation that can be described as “quirky.” Well, the groove is good, and the melody once again is tough to beat. The lyrics are thoughtful. I didn't perform so hotly when I took a college literature class, so I'm not sure what this is about exactly. But they're fun to read, certainly. ......I really just like listening to the groove. It's like a less cheesy version of Jimmy Buffet, I guess.
A Wedding in Cherokee County A-
Uh oh, an A-! He's slipping! The more sluggish pace of this song threatens to get me sleepy-eyed, and I'm not greatly wild over the quality of the vocal hooks. Still, the song is more than worth listening to thanks to the fact that this is Randy Newman at the very peak of his career. Hard to deny that these lyrics are hilarious and sort of mean. (“Her papa was a midget / Her mama was a whore / Her grandad was a newsboy 'til he was eighty-four / What a slimy old bastard he was”)
Back on My Feet Again A
This is such a good country-western song that it makes me wonder why people actually listen to that Toby Keith nonsense, when there's much more interesting stuff out there! ... On the other hand, these lyrics probably don't resonate too well with country-western fans (“I'm a college man and I'm very wealthy / I've got no time to trifle with trash like you”). Oh well. But at least the melody is country-western first class with some luverly slide guitar.
And he ends the album with this very sweet laid-back ballad with lyrics apparently about a man who is set for life. Once again, the melody is excellent, and the instrumentation is excellent. The strings in the background never threaten to overshadow the piano, which is the centerpiece of the song as it should be. So, get a glass of cold lemonade and listen to this song on a nice summer's day.
Little Criminals (1977)
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Short People A+
This became Randy Newman's biggest hit (really nothing else came close). Obviously, people became to like this piano-pop tune for its extremely catchy melody and Newman's likable vocal delivery. But becoming a hit came with a price! (I remember watching a music video where Newman bitterly recalled it becoming a hit, wondering if he was being punished.) The controversy came in lyrics, which confused people. Some listened to it and thought he actually didn't like short people. ...But of course this was an anti-bigotry song, and Newman wrote this song degrading the vertically challenged just to show how ridiculous all bigotry is. I mean, everybody knows that now, right?
You Can't Fool the Fat Man B+
This is a lighter sort of shuffley song. It's pretty good, of course, and it's nice to listen to. But why isn't the hook a little more solid? All that's memorable is a single line of melody being repeated over and over, and it's not nearly as potent as many of his earlier songs. He does work in a nice horn section in the final third at least...
Little Criminals B
Still pretty good, but the melodies are getting awfully repetitive now. I remember them being a lot more complex than this in previous albums. (It's only been a few days since I reviewed Good Old Boys, so I think I know what he's talking about, dangnabit!!) The main riff is played on the piano, but he brings in a really strange, stifled guitar solo in the middle. Yeah... er... that was weird.
Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father B+
Wow, I must have really like this song once. In my original review, I gave it a 10/10. Now, I'm sitting through it and thinking it's completely boring. Granted, it's a very sad and slow-moving song, an atmosphere appropriate for the subject matter. The heavy string arrangements are nice, and I think this melody is slightly better than the previous two tracks. But still... zzzzzz...
Jolly Coppers on Parade A-
Again, I have to wonder why Newman's melodies have been getting worse, it seems. This is another repetitive melody that's still likable and catchy, but not so wholesomely great as some of the other songs. The polished instrumentation is quite nice, creating a lovely sort of atmosphere. The lyrics appear to be just about a group of policemen in a parade... There's a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek flavor to it.
In Germany Before the War A-
This sounds like it was a lost track from his self-titled debut album! It opens with a semi-drunk horn section before a low-key piano pipes up and Newman sings with sleepy vocals. Luckily, the melody is pretty complex here, just like the stuff on Randy Newman was. It's very low-key, and you might find it boring, but it's still a pretty song.
Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America A-
This song gets the high score just for the sheer amount of creativity he put into it! Slyly incorporating the German National Anthem in here, and unexpectedly closing it with “White Christmas” were both clever touches. The latter didn't seem too appropriate until you actually hear it! My only real complaint with this song is the chorus, which is just a little too loud. But the melody is very catchy, so there you go.
Yeouch... I get a bad feeling every time I hear this chorus. ...Um... I know what it is too... It sounds exactly like good old radio-friendly Crosby, Stills & Nash. I know, I kinda like that band, but I want a RANDY NEWMAN chorus in a RANDY NEWMAN album! He even brings in those CSN-styled vocal harmonies. Yikes! The verses sound like regular Randy Newman almost, except it's laden with all these thick, deep and pounding rhythm guitars. But I like that intricate texture Newman plays with his piano! Generally, the melody is pretty good also, but not his finest.
I'll Be Home B+
This verrrrrry slow ballad is quite nice, although it's especially sluggish pace threatens to put me to sleep. Funny, this isn't too different from the stuff on his previous album, but it just came after a song like “Baltimore,” so I don't think my mind is geared to soaking this up right now! But, it's a good song regardless. The melody is pretty and the instrumentation hits all the right notes.
Rider in the Rain B
It starts with a familiar old cowboy riff played with his piano, and Newman starts to sing a good old country-western tune. Again, I have to say that this is a nicely written song, but it gets awfully boring. I don't even think this song would've worked well on the previous albums... It's just a slightly bland melody.
Kathleen (Catholicism Made Easier) C+
He's getting heavier this time, but the instrumentation is so busy that it turned the song into more of a dreary nightmare than anything that could tug at you deeply. It sounds like it was written as a blues song, or something, but it doesn't have that dirty conviction that it should have! The melody is OK, but even that seems substandard. I'm sorry...
Old Man On the Farm B-
Sort of a weak conclusion to a weak overall album. So, I suppose that's not inappropriate! In a nutshell, this consists of Newman singing with his sleepy vocals and stabbing the piano at regular intervals. Again, this is something that'll probably put you to sleep more than anything.
Born Again (1979)
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It's Money That I Love A
What I wrote about this album being the black sheep in the main album review might seem a little weird when you listen to this song. Indeed, it starts with a bouncy melody with a piano pretty heavily in the mix, and it undoubtedly sounds like the regular Randy Newman style. About the only thing that's very different is the swinging horn groove that's set pretty heavily in the instrumentation. It sounds, dare I say it, a little glammy? There's even female back-up singers that surface at a few points. This groove is so thick that it nearly drowns out the vocals, which is something that doesn't always happen with Newman. In fact, I don't usually like it when that happens, but this groove is so catchy, fun and convincing that I don't care. But I can still make out the lyrics, a sort of sneering first-person-narrative of a man obsessed with the almighty dollar.
The Story of a Rock and Roll Band A+
Ah here it is. The song that nobody even in their wildest imaginations would have expected Randy Newman to do. Get this, if you're ready to handle the shock: It's an ELO parody. ELO!!! There are two glaring reasons why this was unusual: firstly, nobody expected Randy Newman to write a song like ELO; secondly, what the hell did ELO do to deserve a parody? He's not being mean to ELO, or anything—if anything it's a fond tribute (even though he gets the band history completely wrong... but only a nerd would possibly know that). ...Now I'm going to say something that's probably going to flip your toupee: I actually find this more easily lovable than any ELO song I know of. (That's not easily said, mind you; I love ELO. I even love some of their tunes from that roller-disco movie.) What's so good about it? The melody is freaking GREAT, if you ask me. The bouncy, upbeat melody is so catchy that it'll stick to the walls. And by far the most charming thing about it is the instrumentation. Those really playful strings, that wobbly synthesizer, and those slightly dissonant piano chords coming in at the ends of the lyrical phrases are really hilarious!! I also always give a hearty laugh for those really silly operatic voices that come in at the end of one of the interludes. Eat your heart out, Freddie Mercury! ...I wrote a lot about this song, and I listened to it about 10 times while working on this paragraph. I'm as high as a kite right now. That's how much I like hearing this song.
Pretty Boy B-
Ooof, it's difficult to follow-up a song like “The Story of a Rock and Roll Band,” and he doesn't do a phenomenal job of it here. While I would certainly call this low-key, it's not quite like the songs he used to compose. He's playing the piano in a very minimal way while a dark and simple synthscape rolls in the background. He takes a moment to do a solo in the middle, but it's almost easy to miss. The melody is nothing special, as he repeats basically the same phrase over and over again. Things get weird in the middle when really dark and ominous electric guitars and an organ unexpectedly pipes up! Yeah, that's the best thing about the song!
Mr. Sheep B+
This might also be why I thought of this album when I saw that herd of sheep. ...But that doesn't mean this album ain't the black sheep! For some reason or another, I thought this song was the cat's meow in my original review, but now I think it's too fruity for its own good. Musically, it's a bouncy piano-pop song that sounds like it's on helium, but the lyrics are really mean and snarling. (Really an interesting contrast, come to think of it.) Newman doesn't sing the lyrics, but he speaks them... That's a novel idea for him, because his playful speaking voice is so entertaining. I like those sound effects he brings in throughout, and the way he changed the groove very briefly in the middle of the song was just the ticket.
I sort of have mixed feelings about this. As this song starts up, I get the sinking feeling that this isn't anymore interesting than some of the bleaker ballads that we got from Little Criminals. Once again, he sings a rather forlorn melody with a minimalistic piano. He leaves the weird instrumental touches out of this one; it's just him and his piano (I might be hearing things, but I swear some strings make a cameo appearance somewhere in the final third). The melody doesn't strike me to be that interesting, at first, as he sounds like an ordinary depressed jazz singer. But after awhile, it seems to pick up a little bit of magic... and I start to care what this man is singing about.
They Just Got Married B
This is quite a bit more upbeat, and a tad goofy... But somehow it just doesn't quite pick up steam. I overall enjoy the experience of listening to this. The vocal melody is a sort of typical bluesy thing, but it's still nice hearing Newman sing such things. The instrumentation is rather heavy, and features horns, a mandolin, a tinky piano, full drums... it's pretty clear he's having quite of fun with this. And I'm having fun, too.
This is one of those songs that wouldn't have been quite as interesting if it wasn't for the instrumentation. It features a sort of dark, jazzy groove that's rumbling deeply in the background. Occasionally tiny explosions of back-up singers and tinkly noises pipe up. At one point, whoosy space-age synthesizers noodle around in the background! The vocal melody, again, is just a lot of repeated lines, so it's no great shakes there. But the instrumentation is unpredictable and funny enough to keep the experience fun.
The Girls in My Life, Part 1 A
Oh look! Here's the Randy Newman that we all know and love! It's a playful, slowly-paced, semi-jazzy song with really sweet lyrics that are, as far as I know, about the girls he loved in his day. Really, this is a minor-gem for those of us who just wanted Newman to stick with his “traditional” outings.
Half a Man A
This sounds like he was writing it for the contemporary radio, but I really like this. Hey, who said a little bit of synthesizer in the chorus was a bad thing, anyway? The melody is really fantastic, which is why I end up liking any Randy Newman song. The instrumentals are once extremely playful and delightfully complex. That spaced-out wobbly synthesizer making a brief but pivotal time makes me smile. There's even a Latin-esque atmosphere that's subtly worked in the middle. Gosh, Newman was having fun. It also goes to show how easily dazzled I am at unusual orchestration!
William Brown B+
This is a rather uninteresting piano ballad, but those very repetitive lyrics are sorta neat. And so it remains a Randy Newman ballad, so it's still good for the name brand itself. (Don't you see how completely biased I am?) But seriously, I want some more of your glam music, baby!
This song might just be too awesome for its own good. For a start that synth-heavy introduction with that scaling organ sound makes me think I've stumbled into a freaky ELP record or something! After a bit of that noodling around, a heavy rhythm starts up and Newman starts to sing “Gonna take off my pants” a few pants, and then goes in detail about how nobody is going to stop him. ...That's just silly, if you ask me. I do actually like the lyrics. They make me laugh heartily, me matey! But the song development has its ups and downs for sure, but it's just a little too clunky and, let's say it, random. It's not so delightfully flowing. On the other hand, plenty of the individual sections sound nice. When it's all said and done, it's not a perfect song, but it's an oddball one that closes this oddball album on an appropriate note.
Trouble in Paradise (1983)
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I Love L.A. A
This song starts out like he's going to sing a loungey sort of Christmas song with its low-key electric piano and his sweet vocal performance. But quickly, a buzzy synth riff pops up, and we get a sort of dance song! Ah yes, he wasn't quite ready to quit doing all those uncharacteristic things that infiltrated Born Again. And just like the uncharacteristic songs from that album were, this is unexpectedly glorious. The lyrics are a very upbeat ode to his hometown, and those rousing shouts of “We love it!” are surprisingly genuine. I wouldn't expect anyone to actually dance to this, especially since he interrupts it with a sort of cinematic interlude in the middle. But it's a terribly fun song!
Christmas in Capetown C+
Not bad, but not great either. The instrumentation is very clever with that quietly pulsating electric piano and that neat wailing synthesizer that pops up occasionally. The problem is the melody. It just ain't no good, you see? I sit through this song and I can't for a moment get caught up in the melody. Hm.
The Blues B
Cheesy! This sounds like a Kenny Loggins pop-ballad! Hear all those synthesizers and that cutesy melody! But the melody is hardly worth complaining about since it's laden with plenty of good pop hooks. I'm a little disappointed over the boring choice of synthesizers and that over-processed guitar sound, but ... that's not a huge deal, I guess. It's hardly the same level of creativity he was displaying throughout Born Again.
Same Girl B-
This is a simple piano ballad with strings, which means this is the first traditional-style Randy Nemwan song of the album! But why is it so down-key and—let's face it—boring? It's a sweet and pleasant song, but the melody is uneventful and flat, and the piano textures are rather bleak. The lyrics are even ho-hum. They don't exactly tug at the old heart-strings like they used to...
This is where Newman turned synth-pop on its ear... or at least tried to. This sounds uncannily like a song from a Super Nintendo game. (In fact I was trying to pull up YouTube videos of Super Mario RPG, because I seem to think something from that game sounded similar to this.) This isn't a particularly interesting composition since it only consists of a repetitive synthesizer groove while Newman screams over it. He brings in a saxophone for the final third to enhance the groove, but that can only do *so* much. ...Anyway, I kinda like this. It reminded me of Super Mario RPG!
My Life is Good A
Yeesh, Randy Newman develops his songs weird. It starts out sounding like he's about to sing another Christmas song, but it quickly turns into a sort of rambly, jazzy showtune. But then, out of nowhere, he brings in this soaring and surprisingly moving chorus declaring “My life is good! My life is good, you old bag!” Toward the end of the track, he talks about meeting Bruce Springsteen... GOD, I haven't laughed this hard because of a song in ages. You probably won't find it funny by just reading the lyrics; you have to listen to the delivery. You can also marvel over how freaking weird this song is.
Randy Newman loves L.A., and he loves Miami! But he doesn't love any place in the United States where it gets cold? He's so spoiled! I'm sitting up here in Eastern Washington with my blinds up watching a freaking blizzard come down! On second thought, I would like to be in Miami right now even though I'd probably end up getting shot. Anything's better than being in the middle of a blizzard. Oh! I like this song! The melody is very catchy indeed. It's much more of a solid creation than “My Life is Good,” but it's still pretty inventive. It changes rhythms, tenses and tones a few times throughout albeit not as radically. There's a tad hint of salsa in that rhythm, and his chord progressions are lovely! (...I should probably stop bringing up chord progressions since normal people don't pay attention to those .... but these are seriously good.)
Real Emotional Girl C+
Hm. I'd also call this piano ballad more “traditional” of Randy Newman, but this is BORING. Once again, he's very slowly playing a piano and singing a melody that's not very interesting. Of course, listening to Randy Newman sing a slow song has value in itself, but ... hhmmmhmmmmmmm.
Take Me Back B+
Ah, listen to that cheesy '80s organ and those tooting horns with a vague ska feel. Not that I don't want Randy Newman to return to his old glory days, but I'm having quite a lot of fun hearing him meddle in popular genres of the era. It's a catchy song, too, which is why all his experiments seem to work so well.
There's a Party at My House B-
And now Newman retaliates with this plastic boogie-woogie song. It's sort of disappointing considering the melody ain't very original, and I can't say I'm generally thrilled about boogie-woogie songs, especially plastic ones. Still, Newman's rather boisterous vocals give it enough spirit to at least make the thing stand out a bit. I might not care a great deal for it, but it's just harmless fun in the end.
I'm Different B
Ouch! Why does this sound so much like a cheesy kids song from the '50s? Except, of course, there's a distinct tongue-in-cheek quality to the lyrics. There's something pretty funny how Newman uses the word “goddamn” so casually while the sweet female back-up singers can only bear to say “goshdarn.” That weird whistling noise in the final third, I guess, was some attempt at a “Zip-a-De-Doo-Dah” parody. Weird!
Song For the Dead B+
The third of the low-key piano ballads of the album, but this is one puts to use some cold, depressing synth-scapes to use, so I guess that means it's better! I also think the melody is a little more memorable than the others... The lyrics also make it a very nice tribute to dead soldiers although a few lines make me think he doesn't quite have the purest of intentions. Ah. I won't get into trying to interpret these lyrics. You can try if you want to.
Land of Dreams (1988)
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Dixie Flyer A
This sweet, nostalgic pop-rock song is a smashing way to begin the album! No quirky synth-pop experiments or weird radio music this time; it's a piano-centered ballad, a lot like the stuff from his early '70s albums. There's even a little bit of slide guitar, making this a complete return to form. The melody is terrific, of course; it's nice to know that the advent of the late '80s didn't diminish Newman's melody-writing skills like it did to Paul McCartney and basically everyone else from the '60s and '70s. This melody is as fresh and catchy as anything he wrote in the '70s.
New Orleans Wins the War A
Here's another lighthearted pop-rock tune with a dash of ragtime. Oh! He was giving his longtime fans more things to delight over since it's been 10 years since he wrote songs like this. And Little Criminals didn't have songs this delightful in it. The breezy lyrics fondly recall his childhood years spent in that city. (According to the lyrics people in New Orleans have very short attention spans.)
Four Eyes B
Ah, so he hadn't completely given up those synth-ambitions that he had in his previous two studio albums! Heck, I can't really blame him, since synthesizers are so cool. The tone of it is very loud and dramatic with those huge '80s drums going off and somewhat P.O.'d attitude in his voice. I actually like the instrumentation... despite the '80sness of the drums, it's all very artistic. The synth-groove is dark, heavy and very disjointed. I just wish this had more *catchiness* to it.
Falling in Love A-
Randy Newman is entering the land of cutesy Caribbean tunes, and he succeeds at this just like he succeeds at just about everything. The secret to this song's success is the sheer optimistic lightheartedness of it. I don't know about you, but I like happy music, and this is happy. This is a perfect song for all the hopeless romantics out there... This is better than most of those chick flicks... I saw this one chick flick called The Wedding Date. It made me decide to live the rest of my life as whatever you'd call the male equivalent of a Cat Lady. But this is helping me restore my faith.
Something Special B
Hm. Not so special this time. This is sort of a turgid old song where he uses these very dated sounding electric piano sounds and '80s drums. On the other hand, this is a slow ballad, and it's hard to pass up the chance of hearing Randy Newman sing another one of his slow ballads. I mean, these are as genuine as they come, right? The melody isn't his catchiest, but it's still pretty good...
Bad News From Home B
Just because this song ain't a happy one, it doesn't mean that it can't possibly be a good one. I just wish these downbeat songs would have made up for that by bringing in more involved melodies, and the instrumentation would try to develop that dramatic mood a little better. This song just seems to be in a dark lull. The organ at the beginning of the song is like the start of a funeral. He only plays a very simple piano pattern after that point with a subtle, dark synth-scape in the background.
Roll With the Punches A-
Yes! He's bringing back the bubbly piano pop numbers! This one's based on a simple R&B chord progression and that tat-tat-tatting drum rhythm is cute. Newman's not so much singing these lyrics, but lightheartedly play acting them. Charming! This is yet another moment that I wish Randy Newman was one of my relatives. It takes a lot for me to say that. He's the only person I've ever reviewed that I'd like to be related to.
Masterman and Baby J A-
Well! Even though Randy Newman was getting on in years and getting bigger around the waistline, he still manages to do something to completely SHOCK you. Guess what this song is? IT'S A RAP! YEAH THAT'S RIGHT. RANDY NEWMAN IS RAPPING!!!! ... This puts my earlier statement that Randy Newman succeeds at everything he does to the ultimate test. So, can this middle-aged Jewish guy rap??? Yeah! Why not?! The secret to its success is the funny lyrics and Newman's vocal delivery. He's obviously having fun with this. And if he's having fun with it, chances are that I'll have fun listening to it. That hip-hop loop isn't bad, either. It sounds exactly like rap music did in the late '80s. The loud drums, that horn synth... Yeah. The only difference is this funny bit in the middle where he apparently transported himself in the middle of a stadium full of screaming fans.
Red Bandana B
That quirky introduction sounds theatrical... I can picture him working on a Broadway musical after hearing that! This whole song is pretty theatrical come to think of it. It's fairly disjointed, similar to “Four Eyes,” and Newman doesn't really sing but play acts through most of it. I can't say I enjoy this as much as his singing songs (or quirky raps), because I prefer his vocal melodies above all else! ...But this is still pretty good. I think.
Follow the Flag A-
This is one of his songs that has these hugely patriotic overtones, but I have a hard time figuring out the extent he was being serious about it. That's hardly the first time that's happened to me in a Randy Newman song! It seems like a pretty serious ballad about the comfort of getting behind your country. But considering how Newman comes off as anti-establishment in his other songs, I'm trying to listen very closely to figure out exactly where that tongue is in relation to his cheek. I'm having trouble. Anyway, this is a tuneful piano ballad. It's a little slow and down-beat, but his vocal performance is as engaging as ever.
It's Money That Matters B+
Oh no! He's writing power-pop ballads like John Cougar Mellencamp now! ... That polished guitar riff sounds vaguely like “Jack and Diane,” so I'm not making it up. ...I don't know what I think about Randy Newman trying out these fakish adult contemporary styling. Maybe he's making fun of it? I sorta doubt it. The melody is OK, but not great. (Yikes, I used to *love* this song, according to my original review! I must've been hopped up on anti-depressants.)
I Want You To Hurt Like I Do A+
He closes the album with this gorgeous ballad! It reminds me of John Lennon pretty strongly. It has a tender, bittersweet vibe to it. The lyrics are very sad, about a man who emotionally hurts his family and probably doesn't mean to (I know... that's the opposite of the song title... it's one of those songs with deeper meaning). It's extremely engaging, and it's the sort of song I can get into completely and listen to it over and over again. Gosh, I wish this guy wrote more pop songs in the '80s and '90s! But I guess something like this is worth its weight for a decade!
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Glory Train A-
One of Randy Newman's greatest strengths is his ability to write interesting gospels. They never seem to rely too much on cliches like most gospel songs people write are, and the melodies are usually quite good! This one's no exception. The only complaint I can come up with is the guy who plays The Lord is a boring singer. (That's James Taylor... I didn't know that when I wrote that sentence.) After The Lord and the angels have their chorus, the Devil (played by Randy Newman) interrupts it all and starts singing a more swinging, jazzier song. (Jazz, after all, is the Devil's music.) So, we get two good songs in one track here!
Can't Keep a Good Man Down A
The Devil (still Randy Newman) starts singing another breezy, jazzy tune! I guess Randy Newman's always been a bit of a devilish character in those songs... Now he's finally manifesting that character! As you'd expect from such a song, the melody is very catchy and memorable! Even though Newman has written more songs like this in his back catalogue than you can shake a stick at, this still manages to seem fresh.
How Great Our Lord A
Wow! This melody! I'm still marveling at how Randy Newman could be in the '90s and still writing melodies as instantly catchy as they've always been. Why hasn't he burned out like everyone else has? This is really sort of a brief song, but it makes quite an impression. The lyrics are very cynical!
Best Little Girl A-
Still good! It's not flashy like the others; it's another one of his lighthearted piano-jazz tunes. The melody is excellent, naturally, but it doesn't contain any of those deathly hooks like the others. It's not exceedingly memorable, but it's still nice to listen to. As you'd expect.
Northern Boy C+
This is more of a traditional musical sounding song, whereas the previous songs could have been on the ordinary Randy Newman album! I don't think that fact alone is what's warranting this a lower rating. It just sounds so stuffy and—for some reason—very British. The hooks aren't very good, either. Hm.
Bless the Children of the World B+
Don Henley takes on the role of Faust, and he manages to sound quite tortured! I wouldn't expect Don Henley of all people to turn in a decent vocal performance, but here you go. This song has got a big heavy rock sound, which is something that Broadway was never able to do well. I guess that holds even when a rock musician is at the helm... Although I think this is the first time he attempted such a thing. The last half of the track is more appropriate for Broadway, turning more into an angelic chorus, and that's pretty captivating.
Very pretty! But the melody doesn't make much of a connection with me. Again, this is not very Randy Newmanish—it's more of a Stephen Sondheim type Broadway aria. Linda Ronstadt takes on the lead vocals, who is the good girl of the story according to the lyrics. She has a very pretty voice! But the song she's singing is a bit dull.
Relax, Enjoy Yourself B+
James Taylor takes on another breezy, lighthearted jazzy song at the beginning, and that's great of course! After that, it turns into a more traditionally Broadway section that's not too interesting melodically, but it was meant to advance the plot. It has a few nice melodic passages. Particularly at the end when James Taylor starts singing “My ways are mysterious” has some pretty cool vocal harmonies.
Life Has Been Good To Me A
Here's more proof that Randy Newman was great at writing Randy Newman songs! Bonnie Raitt takes over the lead vocals for this one, playing the bad girl. (And if she's playing a bad girl song, then you know it's got to be jazzy.) Those vocal hooks are devastating, and somehow parts of the melody seem pretty weird to me. Like they're somehow disconnected. Raitt gives a pretty good performance, but it's not as engaging as Newman's or as oddly compelling as Henley's.
Little Island C+
Elton John!!! Have I told you that I liked Elton John before? And his powerful singing voice gets the thumbs up from me, naturally! ... So, no complaints about the singing... What I'm complaining about is the song is boring. Again, it sounds like a stuffy old British song. It's very grand sounding, but it never catches fire. And it should have caught fire, because that's Elton John singing it after all.
The Man A-
Don Henley! Again! Who knew that guy would be such an effective Broadway singer? Again, he manages to sound very raspy and dramatic. He's having fun reaping the benefits of his deal with the devil... and having the time of his life, apparently. The song has some pretty good hooks in it, too. And, listen, there are some nice electric guitars in here!
My Hero B+
Well, this is very nice! Linda Ronstadt is given a good Broadway-type aria to sing. Again, her voice is the prettiest, darndest thing I ever did hear. The string-dominated orchestration is sweeping at just the right moments. It's probably a little slower than I would have liked, but still it's very nice!
I Gotta Be Your Man C+
Not too great this time. The last song was too slow-paced if anything, but the tempo of this song is so freaking fast paced that I can barely hold onto it! The hooks are a bit flat, too. Hm.
Feels Like Home B+
Randy Newman feels more at home with this low-key piano ballad. He's written more captivating ballads in the past, of course, but this one's quite good anyway. The hooks aren't exceedingly memorable, but the charm dribbling off every note of this song is undeniable! ...Just like you'd expect it to be!
Bleeding All Over the Place B-
This slow piano song is pretty good, too, but the hooks aren't quite there. Basically, I'll forget about this song tomorrow... and that's not the sort of impression I like to get from songs. It's charming enough to hear it as it's playing, but that's about it... I'm sorry...
Sandman's Coming B
I don't know... I find it a little disconcerting that Linda Ronstadt just comes out of nowhere just to sing these slow, 'moving,' Broadway arias. It's not a terrible song, of course, and she continues to have a pretty voice. The hooks are OK, but not as captivating as such a song requires.
Happy Ending A-
He at least knows that he should end the Broadway musical with an upbeat song that'll have his audience dancing in the aisles! He also made the good decision to give himself the lead vocals, as he was the most spirited vocal performer of everyone else here. It's a nice way to end the so-so musical!
Bad Love (1999)
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My Country A
Lovely! Randy Newman took a long time to finally release new original material, but just listening to this opening song, the wait was worth it. The melody is wonderful—it's catchy and beautiful and something that I find myself humming under my breath long after I finished hearing this album. The cinematic string orchestration recalls Good Old Boys, except with the more evenhanded viewpoint of someone who had spent the last two decades composing a plethora of movie soundtracks. It's nearly six minutes and gets very bombastic at the end, and its effect couldn't have been better.
This is a great jazzy song. Newman has done plenty of these sorts of songs in the past, and his ability continues to grow strong. His orchestrations are excellent! Maybe it's too super-polished for some listeners, but I like them. Besides they provide a very good contrast to Newman's world-torn vocals. He sounds like he's losing his mind through this. At the end of this, he tells the back-up singers to shut up a couple of times! (Of course, now he sounds like an old man on purpose.)
I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It) A
Wow! He still has this creative edge after all these years and is willing to even try out some of the updated sounds of popular music. It starts out with a fuzzy guitar riff with just a hint of grunge to it. After that point, it undergoes a series of dramatic twists and turns including a part with a catchy, poppier piano riff. Oh, and I forgot to mention that every theme and sub theme of this song is catchy. Yeesh!!!
Every Time it Rains A+
I will always love the unbridled creativity of “I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It),” but the sentimental piano ballads like “Every Time it Rains” is the type of Randy Newman song that he's most famous for. And that's for good reason too, since he's so freaking unstoppable at these. The melody ranks among the best melodies he's ever written, his vocal performance expresses the emotional anguish presented in the lyrics perfectly, and the string orchestration is beautiful. A perfect ballad!
The Great Nations of Europe B+
He brings us another one of his crazier ideas, I guess, because he didn't want us to get too much bombarded with too much seriousness! This is done in the style of a European patriotic song. The lyrics skewer Europe's old mentality of conquering the world and other people. It's quite fun to listen to because of the lyrics, and the melody is pretty catchy too.
The One You Love A-
A light, shuffly jazzy song. It's not as catchy or as inventive as “Shame,” but hearing Randy Newman sing his signature type of song another time is always worth the experience. That's one thing about him that can't be overlooked. Hearing that raspy voice of his to a jazzy piano song are some of the finest things on earth! The orchestration continues to sound polished, and he continues to use his small army of crispy female back-up singers.
The World Isn't Fair B+
The melody is more rambly than I would have liked, but this song is more centered on its lyrics than the melody. I suppose some listeners still love him to sing this sort of song! The instrumentals glitter up the composition nicely, giving a nice new texture at every turn.
Big Hat No Cattle B+
It's country-western this time, and it's very good! I still have that inherent bias against the genre, but I still love hearing Randy Newman whenever he decides to tinker in the genre. The melody isn't very interesting, but that's mostly because country-western melodies, by definition, usually sound alike. The instrumentation consists of a full string arrangement and a so-so slide guitar. It gets louder and more bombastic by the end, so it never grows tiring. The lyrics are charming, of course, and Newman's vocals keep my attention as usual.
Better Off Dead A
Newman revives another old musical style here, bringing us a laid-back bit of lounge '30s nightclub music with a slight tropicana vibe to it. The orchestrations are gorgeous with its full orchestra and shuffley rhythms. The melody is very nice too, of course. Aren't these songs just the bee's knees?
I Miss You A
This is another one of his grandiose, sweeping ballads that he's always so great at, and this is definitely one of his good ones. From the first moment you hear this old guy start to sing, he has my attention completely, and he proceeds to give us one of the most utterly beautiful melodies that could ever exist! The beautiful string orchestration and pleasant piano is just an added bonus. The only reason this isn't quite getting that coveted A+ is the melody isn't as instantly memorable as “Every Time it Rains.”
Going Home B
This is a very low-key ballad that moves about pretty sluggishly, and it doesn't really leave much of an impression. The melody is fine, but not great. His vocals sound weirdly muffled, and the string orchestrations are dark and depressing. It's only two minutes long, so it's not exactly a major track on here!
I Want Everyone to Like Me A
And he closes the album with an upbeat jazzy song with humorous, tongue-in-cheek lyrics! His vocal performance borders on play acting. He's not quite as vocally sprightly as he used to be, but he's always had a knack for making these charming! It's a nice, upbeat closer.
Songbook Vol. 1 (2003)
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It's Lonely At the Top A
Ah, this redone version of that jazzy tune from Sail Away immediately reminds me of Randy Newman's live album, in which he also performed this song with just a piano. Naturally, he had time to polish this out, and he didn't have to compete with a nasty crowd of people! It's also evident that Newman's voice is a little older and has gotten husky with age. As I mentioned in my Bad Love review, that's almost a good thing.
God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind) B+
This was also from Sail Away. Although that version was probably more stripped-down than this since he's being a little more fancy with his piano. I also thought that his original vocal performance sounded a little more tortured and convincing. That was a great quality for it especially since it's such a slowly paced song!
Louisiana 1927 A
This was taken from Good Old Boys, which I believe is loaded with the greatest melodies of all of Randy Newman's albums! You can tell that immediately when you hear this deliciously hooky thing. The original version had a really touching string section, which I sort of miss, but I mustn't forget about the whole point of this songbook! We're hearing Randy Newman sing it with the piano sans all the orchestration! ... Well, OK then!
Let Me Go A-
Here's a new one! ... Or, rather, an extremely old one that never appeared on one of his albums. From what I understand it dates back to his days as a corporate songwriter. I'm not sure who originally sang this, but I know The Box Tops covered it. Not that that's such a huge honor, but the box tops couldn't have covered everything. This could be a special treat for his fans, since it's done in his typical style. It's a mid-tempo jazz-influenced piano pop song with a playful melody. My one complaint is that he almost seems to be grumbling the lyrics and not so much singing them. I guess that could be a good contrast to the lyrics, since he ain't a spring chicken anymore!
He doesn't perform “Short People” on this album, probably because he's still sick that everyone misinterpreted it. But he puts this other song on here that people misinterpret... except it's not nearly as famous. I'm going to have to claim, once again, that I prefer the original strongly to this, because it had such fun country-western instrumentation! I'm also not sure Newman's ultra-husky voice really suits this, compared to that sprightly young guy we originally heard. Ah well. It still easily earns that A for the insanely infectious melody.
Avalon (piano solo) B+
I saw that movie! ... So, this must have been playing sometime during that movie! Um, it's a very good piano theme for a movie. Nice theme, cool minor-chord progressions. It's only a minute long. Yup.
Living Without You B
This was taken from his debut album (and also performed on Live). It's a beautiful song, but no matter how many times I hear it I'm always going to have the same reservation: It's kinda boring. Without the full orchestra, we do get to hear Newman sing it to us more intimately, but I think the orchestra helped it sound “juicier,” you know?
I Think It's Going to Rain Today B-
Geez, here is the second song in a row that came from his debut album that he ALSO performed on Live. This is a good song with nice, touching lyrics and a good melody. Newman delivers a nice, genuine performance from his weather-worn vocals. But again, I've got to claim that this is just too slooooow for me...
You Can Leave Your Hat On A
Now here's a song that's interesting to hear with his older sounding vocals. It's his famous striptease song, and he manages to sound much seedier than he originally did! The way he's pounding that piano sounds quite anticipatory, appropriate for such subject matter. If there was a stripclub with just a piano player as the music, this is the perfect soundtrack!
It's Money That I Love A-
Yay! Finally something from my favorite overlooked Randy Newman album! He's also singing in his higher-pitched voice here, which goes to prove that he could still sing like he used to... I guess he was just enjoying his newly found huskiness. Again, I prefer the original version, and I honestly don't know why anyone would prefer this version... I must value instrumentation more than some people...
This might not be one of Newman's most well-known songs, but I swear it's one of the best things he'd ever written. Just like a number of these other ballads, it's very slow-paced. But the melody is absolutely tops, and it's made even better with Newman's utterly heartfelt vocal performance. I could probably listen to this forever in a never-ending loop.
When She Loved Me A
This is a one-minute instrumental of the song Sarah McLachlan sang in Toy Story 2. That was a lovely song, wasn't it?
Sail Away A
Once again, he proves why I think Sail Away is the Randy Newman album with all the best melodies on it! I liked the original version's lusher string section, but this stripped version has its own charm about it. The piano sounds all sweet and sentimental, with Newman's gritty vocals giving those sarcastic lyrics a neat edge about them. Cool.
The World Isn't Fair B
And now he jumps to 1999 with a song from Bad Love! That album was also loaded with excellent melodies, but I wonder what made him go with this one... It's not one of my favorites from that album! Newman should have read my web site and learned what I wanted to hear on this! Never mind that it didn't exist yet! ...Well, this is a perfectly fine song, but I find it to be a little too slow-moving, and it's not hooky enough. As I mentioned in my track review of the original song, it sounds pretty rambly, too.
Political Science A
Yay! Another song from Sail Away, and it's probably the funniest song he ever wrote. You remember... it's that one song about a politician wanting to bomb everybody and turn the world into America. Good idea, right? More importantly, it has a catchy and bouncy melody. Sure, Newman's voice is a little slower than he sang it previously, but still. What more could you want?
Great Nations of Europe A-
This is another song from Bad Love that I didn't care so much for. But I think the barer production here suited the material a little better than that more militaristic original. The lyrics are also pretty funny, which I don't think I noticed as starkly as I do in this version!
In Germany Before the War A-
Now, would you like to eat first, or would you like a drink before the war? ... sorry. Well, it took him until the penultimate track to bring us something that appeared on Little Criminals and it's not “Short People.” I guess he was favoring his slow ballads instead of his upbeat hits, which is fine. This song has a terribly beautiful melody, anyway, even though its pacing might seem a little bit boring.
And here's another brief excerpt from one of his movie soundtracks. I don't believe I've ever seen “Ragtime,” but this piece is lovely! I believe this was Newman's first big movie project. It was an appropriate one, of course, just based on the title!
Harps and Angels (2008)
Read the full review:
Harps and Angels A
This album had gotten a reputation for being very serious and political, but this opening song is about as silly and cute as it gets. That is, for a song about death. As always, Newman's lyrics are terrifically entertaining, and it's really no wonder that I tend to hang onto every word that Newman utters out of his mouth! (Hah, this is basically the same plot as Here Comes Mr. Jordan.) Musically, this song isn't anything we haven't heard from Newman before. It's a lighthearted and whimsical jazz-pop song. Of course, I'm never going to get sick of hearing Newman sing this sort of song, and I don't think anyone else in the world with a heart will either!
Losing You A-
I know what you're thinking. Why is this man continuing to write these piano ballads that sound exactly like the piano ballads did on his '70s albums? I mean, I would have assumed that this came from the '70s if I didn't know better. The pianos, the lush string section, the extremely familiar vocal melody, the touching lyrics... But I do like it when Newman sticks to his own formula, because he hadn't lost an ounce of his “edge” throughout the years. He can compose ballads just as well as he'd always been able to. This is beautiful!
Laugh and Be Happy A-
At first glance, this song sounds like it's going to be a variation of “Put on a Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie, but it has a darker dimension to it. It's a very cynical song about immigrants who move to America who think they're going to be happy for the rest of their lives... but they find out that Americans don't really want them there. That's familiar territory for Newman, but that certainly has political relevance to this day! ...Just like with all of Newman's political songs, they stand very well based on its music alone, so you can probably ignore the lyrics if you want to. It's a very upbeat New Orleans style jazz song with a fun beat and extremely catchy melody. The instrumentation is brilliantly done—I particularly like that clarinet tooting around.
A Few Words in Defense of Our Country A+
I've got to think this is by far the most overtly political song that Newman ever wrote. Just get a load of some of its lyrics (A President once said / "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" / Now it seems like we're supposed to be afraid / It's patriotic in fact and color coded / And what are we supposed to be afraid of? / Why, of being afraid / That's what terror means, doesn't it? / That's what it used to mean). Just like the previous song, the song manages to stand perfectly well on its own if you just want to concentrate on the melody. It's catchy as hell! The breezy country-western instrumentation is as pleasant to bask in as a spring afternoon. Ah. I can't wait until spring. We have a new president, too. I'm sure Newman is excited about that.
A Piece of the Pie A
Wow! Randy Newman makes fun of Jackson Browne and John Cougar Mellencamp in this song. And I thought I was the only person who does that... This is also an extremely political song that questions what's thought-of as patriotism in the USA. Musically, it's one of Newman's oddball concoctions. It has a very disjointed, quirky groove, and he injects it with some extremely hilarious play acting. What a cool song!
Easy Street A-
Oh, the cynicism eats me like battery acid! I've said this many times, but that only goes to show how true it is: I'll never ever get tired of Newman's jazz-pop melodies. This sounds as fresh and tasty as always, and his breezy vocal delivery is incredibly appropriate. Such a pleasant song. Sit back and soak it up.
Korean Parents A+
Man, Randy Newman was still able to write songs like “Short People” that could potentially piss a lot of people off who don't read the lyrics carefully enough. It presents the idea that all kids in American should be raised by Koreans so that they'll work harder in school! ...Hey, that might not be a bad idea!! ...Anyway, musically this is another terrifically enjoyable song. It starts out like a piano ballad, but it turns into Oriental-tinged lounge-jazz. It's very whimsical and so catchy that I can hardly believe it. ...Is that a theremin I hear? Freaking sweet!
Only a Girl A
...Have you noticed that every single one of these songs in this album has been great? Randy Newman albums are usually very consistent, but there's usually at least one B+ by now. This is another extremely fresh-sounding, upbeat jazz song—the sort of thing that Newman does best of course. The rhythm section is upbeat and foot-tappin' and Newman's vocal performance is playful. The lyrics? God, those are great, too.
If you got more jazz-pop, then bring 'em on. I'll take all that you can dish out and MORE! It's not as lighthearted and whimsical than the previous song, but it's still very much fun. If you've been tapping your foot most agreeably to this album, then there's no reason to stop doing that here. The lyrics are very funny and sweet here. (“I love women / Have all my life / I love my dear mother / And I love my wife - God bless her / I even love my teenage daughter / There's no accounting for it / Apparently I don't care how I'm treated / My love is unconditional or something).” Doncha just love this?
Feels Like Home A
Bravo! This is a great piano ballad, and a perfect way to end the album. No political themes here; this is more of a conventional love song, and it's as utterly heartwarming as these things ever get. This is really brilliantly done. The melody is catchy, and the string section is used perfectly to enhance these warm feelings. Unless you're allergic to piano ballads or something irrational as that, I have an inkling you're going to love this.
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