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 Milo 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:
- Performance (1970) (Jack Nitzsche did the music, but Newman did the arrangements and did vocals on "Gone Dead Train", written by Nitzsche and Russ Titelman)
- Cold Turkey (1971)
- The Natural (1984)
- ¡Three Amigos! (1986) (songs: "The Ballad of the Three Amigos," "My Little Buttercup," and "Blue Shadows." Was also the co-writer and had a cameo as the voice of the singing bush)
- Parenthood (1989)
- Awakenings (1990)
- Avalon (1990)
- Cop Rock (1990) (short-lived television series, and also appeared singing and playing the theme song in the opening credits)
- The Paper (1994)
- Maverick (1994)
- Toy Story (1995)
- James and the Giant Peach (1996)
- Michael (1996)
- Cats Don't Dance (1997)
- A Bug's Life (1998)
- Babe: Pig in the City (1998) (song: "That'll Do" by Peter Gabriel)
- Pleasantville (1998)
- Toy Story 2 (1999)
- Meet the Parents (2000)
- Monsters, Inc. (2001)
- Monk (20022009; episodes 1 and 2 of season 1 plus seasons 29) (song: "It's a Jungle out There")
- Seabiscuit (2003)
- Meet the Fockers (2004)
- Cars (2006)
- Leatherheads (2008)
- The Princess and the Frog (2009)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Monsters University (2013)
- Cars 3 (2017)
- The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)
- Toy Story 4 (2019)
- Marriage Story (2019)
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.
- Randy Newman (1968)
- 12 Songs (1970)
- Sail Away (1972)
- Good Old Boys (1974)
- Little Criminals (1977)
- Born Again (1979)
- Trouble in Paradise (1983)
- Land of Dreams (1988)
- Randy Newman's Faust (1995)
- Bad Love (1999)
- Harps and Angels (2008)
- Dark Matter (2017)
- 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 foundGypsy knives and gypsy thighsThat pound and pound and pound and poundAnd African appendages that almost reach the groundAnd little boys playing baseball in the rain
- Artistic License History:
- "In Germany Before the War" is about serial killer Peter Kurten. However, it says he killed in 1934. By then however Kurten was dead, executed for murder. He actually committed most of the murders in 1929. His execution took place in 1931. This was probably done because it rhymed with the previous verse.
- Possibly intentional given its satirical nature, but "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" makes a few incorrect claims about Leopold II and the atrocities in the Congo. The song asserts Leopold "took the diamonds...silver...gold" when in reality they were initially interested in ivory and later heavily invested in rubber. He also claims that they "left" the Congo with malaria, but malaria is widespread in Africa, having originated there. In fact, malaria had long been a deterrent to European presence in the Congo before the age of Leopold II.
- Black Comedy: A specialty of his. Many of his songs are from the points of view of an Unreliable Narrator or Villain Protagonist, often with a heaping helping of Lyrical Dissonance. See "Political Science," a jolly ditty about nuclear annihilation, and "Sail Away," seemingly an optimistic song but actually implied to be sung from the point of view of a slaver. Another example is "Burn On", supposedly an ode to Cleveland that's actually about the Cuyahoga river catching fire from pollution. If you pay attention to his lyrics you'll find Black Comedy aplenty.
- BrotherSister Incest: 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."
- 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.
- First World Problems: The Central Theme of Trouble In Paradise is a variation on this. Rather than be about privileged people making mountains out of molehills, many of the songs are about privileged people selfishly acting as though any problem which doesn't effect them personally might as well be non-existent (something Newman admitted that he was partially guilty of himself). "My Life Is Good," for example, describes a man with what can only be a perfect upper-middle-class life where every convenience is provided for him, to the point that he can't even comprehend that he could even have the problems that others are informing him of, because why should he? His life is good! "I Love L.A." is from the perspective of someone who loves Los Angeles so much that he brushes off a homeless man begging for change as just one of the city's many beloved quirks.
- God Is Evil:
I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
- "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)" 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 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
- "How Great Our Lord" from Faust is a straight-up Villain Song for God, in which he gloats about sending Buddhists to Hell and lying to his angels.
- 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.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Several of his narrators make decent arguments despite being terrible themselves. Consider God in "That's Why I Love Mankind" pointing out how self-destructive and foolish humanity is, or the singer of "Rednecks", who comes off as racist and ignorant but points out that the North has also put Black Americans "in a cage" in its own way.
- 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.
- Lyrical Dissonance: One of Newman's biggest hallmarks:
- "Sail Away." Music - A quiet, gentle ballad, almost like a lullaby. Lyrics - A slave ship owner pitching the natives on what a great life they're going to have.
- "Little Criminals." Music - Badass piano rock. Lyrics - Actual criminals boasting about their crimes.
- "I Love L.A." Music - Fun, rock n' roll party music. Lyrics - Rich, privileged Los Angelans being so in love with their city that they accept homelessness as just one of it's many charming quirks. Not surprisingly, this is one of his only songs to get a music video... which depicts him happily cruising around L.A. in a Cadillac. He later performed the song with Maroon 5 when they played L.A., complete with the Laker Girls dancing with them. Perhaps he was just amused by how much everyone was missing the point?
- 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.
- Nice Hat: Implied in "You Can Leave Your Hat On", as the singer wants the subject to take all their clothes off except their hat.
- 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).
- Also, as mentioned above, "I Love L.A" is not actually a celebration of Los Angeles.
- Spiritual Successor: Motion picture scoring-wise, he's basically the modern day Elmer Bernstein, whom Randy had worked with on ¡Three Amigos! with Elmer writing the score and Randy writing the songs.
- 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 most bitter song.
- The entire score of "Faust" is a close second, as it viciously criticizes 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.
- "How Great Our Lord" from Randy Newman's Faust is one for God, voiced by James Taylor, no less.
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: He wrote and recorded the Trope Namer, although it was later Covered Up by Joe Cocker.