Morning Music: Randy Newman’s Yellow Man

12 Songs - Yellow ManIn 1970, Randy Newman released his second album, 12 Songs — so titled because they didn’t yet know that a more fitting title would be “Randy Newman’s Second Album That No One Will Buy.” That’s not to say that critics didn’t like it. Newman was spotted as a great talent from the beginning. That’s an interesting thing. In general, music criticism is so much better than film criticism. But that’s a subject for another day. But it didn’t turn him into star. Today, we listen to “Yellow Man.”

12 Songs is a great album. But then that’s generally true of Newman during this period. I can’t find anything in his first few albums to complain about. And that most definitely includes his next (generally dismissed) album, Randy Newman Live. I’ll feature something from it tomorrow.

Yellow Man

The song itself is something that he does a lot: pretend to be an ignorant bigoted person. In this case, he is surprised that “yellow man” believes in the family “just like you and me”! And then it ends with what sounds like a call for segregation, “Got to have a yellow woman, when you’re a yellow man.” But this is how Newman is normally offensive. I always get the idea that he’s trying to be offensive and just using whatever device he can find to get away with it. He certainly isn’t satirizing the ignorance of this kind of racism.

In this way, Newman is more like a comedian than a musician. At the same time, I find that I rather like the object of the song. And there is comedic brilliance in that the singer clearly thinks that he is being liberal and generous. But it doesn’t reach the heights of “Political Science” — which we will get to later this week.

4 thoughts on “Morning Music: Randy Newman’s Yellow Man

  1. Nah he is playing the part of a moron. He basically says so on his first live album (1970).

    “The point of view of a pinhead”

    I believe he uses this device of first person in many of his songs to feign a kind of sympathy for the character when he is actually appalled by the mentality of that character.

    Although he does I think sincerely pity the limitations of these kinds of people (as in “yellow man” for instance).

      • A vital artist IMHO should not be too concerned with potentially offending the sensibilities of the audience. However – some like Randy Newman delight in it. The man has balls of steel that perhaps many not so successful artists wish they had.

        And maybe I am biased but I love the message in the song. More relevant today even…

        • I love the song too. And Newman. I think you may be taking my analytic nature for criticism. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t know the word “octoroon”!

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