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Music / Randy Newman

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The son of the only Newman brother not to be a composer (his father was an internist), Randall Stuart "Randy" Newman (born November 28, 1943) is arguably the most famous member of the Newman musical family headed by his uncle Alfred, but one who's noted more for his songwriting skills than for his film music. Born in Los Angeles but raised in New Orleans, Randy was a talented pianist from an early age, and always seemed destined for a career in music, but during his formative years purposefully stayed away from Hollywood and concentrated on being a recording artist in his own right.

With his regular collaborator Lenny Waronker, Newman recorded and released many popular hit records, including "I Love L.A.", "Short People", "Political Science", "Marie", "I Think It's Going To Rain Today", "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (for which he is the Trope Namer), and the controversial "Rednecks". His solo albums (Randy Newman, 12 Songs, Sail Away, Good Old Boys, Little Criminals, Born Again, Trouble in Paradise, Land of Dreams, Faust, Bad Love, Harps and Angels, and Dark Matter), have all received critical acclaim for the way in which his sardonic, witty lyrics and totally unique vocal delivery allowed his songs to be entertaining, musically excellent, but yet remain politically and socially aware.


Newman is generally considered to be among the greatest living American songwriters, with a legion of dedicated followers. After contributing music to the 1971 movie Cold Turkey, Newman formally entered the film music fray in 1981 with the score for Miloš Forman's Ragtime, for which he received the first of his 20 Oscar nominations. Since then, Newman's film music output has been small but of consistently high quality, and has included works such as:

Most of these scores in the list were Oscar nominated for either the score or one of his brilliant songs. He finally won his first Oscar, in 2001, for the song "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc. He won his second Oscar in 2011, for the song, "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3.

In 2003, he wrote and sung the Emmy Award-winning theme song for Monk, used from its second season onwards, titled "It's a Jungle Out There". In 2009, he returned to write and sing the closing song to the entire series, "When I'm Gone", and won an Emmy for that too.

Ever the innovator, Newman's was involved with the South Coast Repertory Theater's production of "The Education of Randy Newman", a musical stage play based on Newman's life set to his songs. The play, which stars Scott Waara as Newman and is directed by Myron Johnson, premiered in Costa Mesa, Los Angeles on 2 June 2000. The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. I (2003), his first effort for Nonesuch, introduces powerful new solo versions of early classics and recent gems alike. The eighteen songs are an intimate and powerful reminder of the enduring work that Newman has established. In 2008, he released Harps and Angels for Nonesuch Records. His first collection of new songs since 2009's Bad Love.

He has earned two more Academy Award nominations (19 total) in the Best Original Song category for "Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans". On June 2, 2010 Newman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His career as a film composer is so varied that he has several pages dedicated to his work: His scores for John Lasseter and Pixar films, his amazing music in The Princess and the Frog, and his own works in other films.


  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Comes up in his lyrics occasionally, such as these from "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America":
    Americans dream of gypsies, I have found
    Gypsy knives and gypsy thighs
    That pound and pound and pound and pound
    And African appendages that almost reach the ground
    And little boys playing baseball in the rain
  • Cleveland: "Burn On", about the Cuyahoga River's unfortunate tendency to catch on fire.
    "Cleveland, city of light! City of magic!"
  • Dying Town: Another favorite theme, ranging from the sarcastic (the aforementioned "Burn On") to the tragic ("Baltimore").
  • Early Installment Weirdness: His first minor hit as a songwriter was the fairly straightforward love song "Just One Smile" (recorded by Gene Pitney), followed by the whimsical "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear" (The Alan Price Set), which at least foreshadowed his later animated film work (and which Newman considers his Growing the Beard moment as a songwriter).
  • Epic Rocking: "The Great Debate" clocks in at just over eight minutes, making it his longest song on any of his studio albums by some distance.
  • God Is Evil: "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" by Randy Newman has several verses being sung from God's perspective which show him to be quite cruel toward humans. As is typical with Newman songs though, it's not entirely clear how serious he's being (since Newman is a "devout atheist" it's possibly serious). God in the song seemingly just despises humanity ("I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee/From the squalor and the filth and the misery"), and likes that living in these conditions makes people turn to him.
    I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
    I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
    You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
    That's why I love mankind
    You really need me
    That's why I love mankind
  • Gospel Revival Number: The opening number of "Faust", "Glory Train". Subverted in that the Devil breaks in occasionally with remarks like:
    "Never in my life have I heard so much bullshit/even from you/the master of bullshit!"
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Subverted; at least a couple of songs are about an innocent redheaded girl being taken advantage of by the narrator.
  • Incest Is Relative: Implied in the lyrics of "Naked Man":
    He said, "They found out about my sister/Kicked me out of the Navy/They would have strung me up if they could/I tried to explain that we were both of us lazy/And were doing the best we could."
  • Isn't It Ironic?: See below.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: One of his favorite types of Unreliable Narrator. A good example is "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band", written in the character of someone who claims to be a big fan of Electric Light Orchestra but doesn't even know the names of the band members or what a cello is.
  • Long Runner: Four decades of music, and still going.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: One of Newman's favorite tactics. "Sail Away" is a quiet, gentle song...until you realize it's written from the perspective of a slave ship owner pitching the natives on what a great life they're going to have. "Little Criminals" seems to be a case of Badass Boast...until you realize just how much the narrator and his crew live up to the song's title.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: "Political Science" pokes fun at the U.S.A., who are so angry that everyone seems to hate them that they decide to "drop the big one now". They will bomb the entire world, except for Australia, and "turn the entire world into one Americatown".
  • Naked People Are Funny: "Naked Man", written about an infamous purse-snatching streaker in the 1970s.
  • Nuke 'em: "Political Science", sometimes incorrectly known by its refrain of "Let's drop the big one now."
  • One-Woman Song: "Kathleen", "Marie", "Suzanne", "Lucinda"...notable in that almost all of them are subversions of the typical love song.
  • Poe's Law: A general rule of thumb with Newman's more socio-political songs is not to take anything he's saying at face value. At all.
    • He wrote "Short People" to mock the absurdity of appearance-based discrimination, thinking that nobody in their right mind would be bigoted towards someone just for being short. He was promptly accused of being bigoted against short people.
    • He tends to run into this problem with "Rednecks" from listeners who don't realize the bigoted lyrics are supposed to show how stupid and racist rednecks are (you'd think the line "We don't know our ass from a hole in the ground" would be a dead giveaway).
  • Sympathy for the Devil
    • "Rednecks" actually was intended to display a back-handed sort of sympathy for southern racists, specifically speaking out against northern liberals' tendency to mock them dismissively rather than argue with them on the merits (an argument Newman obviously believed the northerners would win handily).
    • "In Germany Before the War" is a more subtle case: it's written from the perspective of Peter Kurten, aka "The Vampire of Dusseldorf".
    • In the recording of "Faust" released on CD, Newman voices the Devil, who tends to be the voice of reason during the production.
  • Take That!: "Mr. President, Have Pity On The Working Man", probably his bitterest song. Arguably the entire score of "Faust", as well, at least to fundamentalists.
    • His 1979 album Born Again has two examples aimed at other musicians. On the cover, he's wearing Kiss-like makeup, and the song "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band" is a parody of Electric Light Orchestra.
  • Unplugged Version: The Randy Newman Songbook trilogy, three albums where Newman, alone at the piano, plays some of his most beloved songs.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Another of his favorite lyrical devices; as a general rule, whoever the song is from the perspective of is not somebody you should trust. About anything.
  • Villain Song: "Friends on the Other Side" from The Princess and the Frog. Also a common trope in his non-movie work: "Kathleen" is from the perspective of a man tricking a woman into thinking they're married to get in her pants; the subtitle (Catholicism Made Easier) got Newman into a LOT of trouble.
    • He defended "Short People" as this, though ironically, it's the narrator who's the villain (the song was meant to show how absurd prejudice is).
    • Don't forget Big and Loud! Especially the second part of the song.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Wrote and recorded the Trope Namer, although it was later Covered Up by Joe Cocker.


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