The great singer-songwriter Randy Newman is 71 today. He’s also an acceptable film composer. But let’s say no more about that. And to be honest, I’m not terribly fond of his more recent songwriting. He’s become something of a hack — a really successful and wealthy hack — but a hack nonetheless.
So instead of talking about his work, I’m just going to present some of my favorite of his songs. Let’s start with one of his trademark offensive songs, “Yellow Man.” Yes, it is about what you think it is about:
Next up is probably my favorite of his songs, “Political Science.” It is such a perfect rendering of a very common conservative outlook when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Now it is a bit out of date because people don’t talk so much about the bomb. Although you still hear the same reasoning, “The only reason we lost the Vietnam War was that we didn’t use nukes!” But more than that, there is the naive idea that our foreign policy is just about helping everyone. The first lyrics are perfect, “No one likes us; I don’t know why.” American conservatives still don’t know why. It reminds me of those great bumper stickers, “Be nice to America, or we’ll bring democracy to your country.”
Actually, there are a lot of songs during this period that I really like. He supposedly wrote this song for Frank Sinatra, “Lonely at the Top.” It is sad that Sinatra did not have enough of a sense of humor to do it. It would have been fantastic:
Wow, I’ve only made it to 1972, and I’ve passed by a whole bunch of songs that I love. So let’s finish up with a later song (1983!), “My Life Is Good.” When I saw Newman live around that time, he introduced it by noting, “I’m sorry to say that this song is autobiographical.” I believe him. He does not seem like a very nice guy.
Happy birthday Randy Newman!