Posts Tagged ‘Randy Newman

26
Feb
19

Randy Newman “Sail Away”

I first heard Randy Newman’s song “Sail Away” on a Warner Special Products box set LP called Superstars of the 70’s that came out in 1973 and was sold on TV. I heard a lot of music for the first time via that thing, but they placed “Sail Away” directly after Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze” and The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” so I kind of dismissed it as “Yacht Rock” (which wasn’t invented, or at least named, yet) and didn’t bother to listen closely enough to the lyrics to realize it wasn’t about… “sailing.” I’m sure I understood irony at the time, but at 12 and 13 I was (like a lot of kids) kind of a raging maniac, and it wasn’t until my first year in high school—when my English teacher Mr. Kimble used a lot of popular songs in his class—that I started to listen to song lyrics a little differently. It’s interesting how kids kind of mature at different rates—I mean it’s both different for each individual and each person has different parts of them maturing—so it’s all out of whack. I think this is fascinating, and can also be scary. Pretty much everyone is born into the pain of a raging narcissist, and you can even keep that childhood part of you vital—I think it’s really built into what’s necessary for “success”—and it’s possible to find a mate who supports it. It might even really not be a problem until you become a parent, or a boss, or the President. Other people keep other child parts vital, which can both make you happy, and suffer (often both simultaneously). I pretty much go by feelings more than intellect, to a fault, and my music listening often reflects that. Like, on that Warner collection, “Tumbling Dice” was my favorite song, and still holds me under its spell, and I still have no idea what Mick Jagger or the backup singers are singing. What’s it about? Tumbling dice, I guess, but also an unspeakable desire.

Anyway, this record is great, I love it from beginning to end. I feel like these songs will work on your computer, or MP3 player, at home, or while walking, but it’s nice the album has the lyrics inside—I think it’s one where you can eventually get more out of reading along at some point. I don’t know about you, but I never like to read lyrics when I first hear a song—I’d rather really get to know a song before I ever go to the lyrics. But it does have some value, I think, reading lyrics, to appreciate songs on different levels. You can find this one in a thrift store, too, but you might overlook it because it has one of the murkiest album covers you’ll ever see, of Randy Newman looking a lot like Ian Hunter—and it’s one of those that annoyingly folds out sideways—so no one ever knows how to put it on a shelf or in a bin. Opened up, it’s like a super closeup photo of him sitting at a piano wearing sunglasses and corduroy jacket in extremely low light, as if the photo was taken surreptitiously with a telephoto lens through door opened only a few inches without his knowledge. In the act, no doubt, of writing a song. Or maybe thinking about writing a song, which, I guess, is the same thing.

This is a record I’m still only scratching the surface of, and it could easily accompany me to my grave (I mean in a good way). A few years back I discovered the Randy Newman song “Wedding in Cherokee County” (from a different LP) and it became my favorite song for about a year, and an example of what songwriting can, could, should (and maybe never, for me, would) be. The twelve songs on this album are sitting there like the complete works of some (pick your favorite) writer, heavy on the shelf, but nothing but wallpaper until you tackle them with all the parts of you working as best as you can aspire to (at this point). What’s kind of amazing is 1972 is getting near half a century ago, and this music feels contemporary (at least to me). Also, several of these songs are under two minutes long and only one is barely over three and a half. The richness can’t be taken in all at once—I mean it can, it’s enjoyable—but to really get at it. I’ve got to go in for just a little bit, and then come back for more later. The title song is a complete experience, it’s just so beautiful on the surface and so angry and caustic just underneath. Randy Newman is an LA guy, but spent a lot of time in the South, has a kind of accent, writes a lot about the South, but it’s interesting there are a couple of songs on this record referencing Ohio. For one thing, he probably understands that southern Ohio is the South, and maybe he even knows, like I do, that so is all of Ohio. His song “Burn On” sounds like it’s in the tradition of southern river songs, but it’s about the Cuyahoga River which famously caught on fire in Cleveland (even much younger people might know about that). It kind of caught people’s attention about pollution, at the time, and provided fuel for those annoying environmentalists. Of course, now we’ve got a genius in the White House, who, if the river was to catch on fire again, would tweet that the river didn’t catch on fire, it was FAKE NEWS, and his supporters would believe him—shit, dude’s got it figured out.

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17
Jan
18

Three Dog Night “Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits”

I don’t usually care for greatest hits records (Chicago IX is a big exception) but I picked up a clean copy of this one for a couple of dollars for listening because I love some of their songs. I had a copy of the Harmony LP when I was little and I pretty much wore it out. It’s funny, this unadorned (no pics!) 14 song record strikes me as totally contemporary, in a physical object sense, but it’s 44 years old! The songs on here are from the years which I think of as the pinnacle of Western pop culture, and a few of these songs, to me, are as good as Top 40 radio has ever been. They were a huge band, but I don’t ever remember seeing them on any of those late night music shows, and I would not have recognized any of the guys. From the few pictures I’d seen, I thought it was a perfect band name because they all looked a bit lycanthropic and sleepless. I always assumed that the expression “three dog night” had something to do with heavy partying, but Internet tells me it means a night that’s so cold you have to take three dogs to bed with you for warmth! Thanks Internet.

This was a band with three lead singers with distinctive styles, but I never knew their names or who was singing what, and I still don’t, really. It’s a tight band, and I like the sound. What is most remarkable and interesting is the vast array of songwriters they did songs by. You can spend a rainy afternoon looking over their discography songwriting credits. My favorites here, first are the songs from Harmony, “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” written by Paul Williams, and “Never Been to Spain,” which is written by Hoyt Axton, as well as “Joy to the World,” another of my favorites. Probably my favorite song on the album is Allen Toussaint’s “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”—which is one of those songs that’s a bit corny in your memory, but loud, through good speakers, is like a new song. The sad thing is, my favorite TDN song, Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” is not on this record. It was, however, on their first greatest hits album. If you think about it—for a band whose first album came out in 1968—that this was their second greatest hits album—that’s just totally nuts.

One other odd thing I’m reminded of is there are a couple odd things that always kind of drove me crazy, as much as I love these songs. One is in Harry Nilsson’s song “One,” the lyric, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” I guess that’s more on Nilsson than TDN, and I’m sure people think that’s great, but it makes me think of someone out at restaurant, saying, “I’ll do the wings with the Sriracha aioli dipping sauce”—for some reason that’s always bugged me. And on “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” on the wind-down toward the end, where they’re singing, “Just an… ol/love song, just an… ol/love song”—kind of mixing the word old and love… if you listen to it again you’ll hear what I’m trying to describe. For some reason that just always bugged the shit out of me. I mean it still does—it bugs the living shit out of me. And I love that song.




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