An incredibly moving and emotional scene from the Pixar animated film “Toy Story 2,” featuring one of Randy Newman’s best songs, sung by Sarah McLachlan. Yes, the characters are toys. Yes, I realize it’s some dire triumph of the Capitalist system to ascribe human feelings to otherwise inanimate objects. But I dare anyone not to watch this scene and not be moved. As I’ve said before, between 1995 and 2010 (15 years if you do the math), there has been no other creative entity that sustained a consistently high quality of films than Pixar did. Yes, they really showed their a– with “Cars 2.” But … here’s hoping they bounce back and start scoring classics again.
“The Mercy Seat” is the song that gets all the attention from Cave’s classic 1988 album “Tender Prey.” While “Seat” is a stunner, “Watching Alice” should be equally acclaimed. It’s quiet and melancholy in comparison to the intense “The Mercy Seat,” but no less disturbing. The lyrics relate to a man watching a female get dressed year after year “in her palace” where he believes she is held captive. It’s clear she has no idea he’s watching her and he keeps saying “It’s so depressing, it’s cruel.” Cave really inhabits this sad, pathetic creature quite well. The song shares DNA with Van Morrison’s “Cyrpus Avenue” and Randy Newman’s “Suzanne,” two other classic stalker ballads.
One of Newman’s best … from 1977’s “Little Criminals.” A beautiful, but despairing look at a city in crisis, very similar in tone to Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Also highly recommended (thought I can’t find it on YouTube) is Mink Stole’s recent cover from her album “Do Re Mink”.
Easily one of the most despairing and devastating songs ever written, “Sail Away” is a song written from the perspective of a slave trader extolling the virtues of America to a group of Africans back in the 1800s to lure them aboard ships. As much as the lyrics present America as a land of endless fun and opportunity, the sad, plaintive piano arrangement speaks otherwise. One of Randy Newman’s best songs, “Sail Away” proves that satire doesn’t always have to be “funny” to be effective. It can sometimes make you shiver with fear and sadness.
Another gem from Randy Newman’s 1970 “12 Songs” album, this is Newman’s take on Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” Newman’s version is not what you would call a friendly vision of the American South, but it’s done with a light enough touch so as to be more sardonic than mean.
Warren Zevon attempted something similar with 1982’s “Play it All Night Long,” but because it was much more explicit, it just came off as smug and patronizing and says more about Zevon than the people he was trying to attack.
Forget the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” As creepy as that song is, Randy Newman’s “Suzanne” is even more disturbing. If Sting sounded coldly calculating in his stalker anthem, Newman adds a quiet confidence that is terrifying. The song is arranged like a nightmare: lazy piano rhythms lull you into a sense of relaxation while an organ nervously tries to tell you something’s wrong. Except the organ isn’t quite loud or powerful enough to warn you in time.
Though, leave it to Newman to have the last laconic, dry-as the-Sahara observation about his protagonist: “This guy is not really much of a threat.”
I truly believe Randy Newman is one of the greatest American composers / songwriters. However, it doesn’t mean the man isn’t above parody. This is Will Sasso’s beyond f–king brilliant parody of Newman from MAD TV, composing Newman-like songs for a new “Star Wars” film.
Another gem from Randy Newman’s 1974 album “Good Old Boys.” This song is sung from the perspective of a loser who is about to marry someone that no one in his town thinks much of. However, despite this, he’s also terrified of his wedding night. Either because he’s impotent or because his equipment is deformed (I’ve never been able to figure out which). He starts wailing about his new bride laughing at his “mighty sword.” Given Newman’s normal sardonic nature, it seems like he’s laughing at his subject, but he’s not. The gorgeous arrangement and singing provide a dignity to a man who doesn’t have any. And you genuinely feel the man’s pain and terror.
From Newman’s classic 1974 album “Good Old Boys,” is a brilliant, non-sardonic song sung from the perspective of a helpless addict. Yes, “Guilty” sounds self-pitying to the nth degree, but so are a lot of addicts. Newman brilliantly conveys the desperation of someone who knows they have a problem, but can’t (and won’t) dig themself out. This was one of John Belushi’s favorite songs and he used to sing this quite often during his Blues Brothers era.
Forget the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Randy Newman is the equal of any of the greatest American songwriters in our over 200 year history. “Louisiana 1927” is a beautiful and terribly sad song about the flood of 1927, which has taken on even more resonance, post-Katrina.