When I first went to college, I discovered the album, Randy Newman Live. I loved it and most especially the song “Lonely at the Top.” There was something particularly wonderful and casual about it — just a man and his piano. It effected me in the same way that a lot of old blues does. I like the lack of production. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I really don’t like music production. It is just a kind of craftsmanship that is designed to hide the fact that the core art is soulless.
The album was recorded at The Bitter End. I remember in 1995, my girlfriend (eventually wife) took me to New York. She introduced me to all of these places that were mythical to me because of the music I had listened to — places like CBGB and The Bottom Line. (The Mudd Club had closed years earlier.) But what I most remember is walking into The Bitter End. That was it?! This tiny hole in the wall?! No wonder Randy Newman Live sounded so intimate; there probably weren’t more than 30 people in the audience. According to Wikipedia, it has a 230 person capacity. I find that hard to believe. Maybe you could get that many people in if you took out all the tables and people stood.
Frank Sinatra and “Lonely at the Top”
Anyway, Newman apparently wrote “Lonely at the Top” about and for Frank Sinatra. Not surprisingly, Sinatra refused to do the song — just as he refused to do any of Elvis Costello’s songs. I think it would be different today. In 1971, Sinatra certainly would have thought that he was making a fool of himself. Today, he would understand that it made him look cool and showed that he was in on the joke.
Of course, Elvis Costello really did admire Frank Sinatra. With “Lonely at the Top,” Randy Newman is firing straight at Sinatra, and I don’t really think he means it in a nice way. But it’s a damned funny song.