Randy Newman – Good Old Boys (1974)

AllMusic Review: Randy Newman’s songwriting often walks a narrow line between intelligent satire and willful cruelty, and that line was never finer than on the album Good Old Boys. Newman had long displayed a fascination with the American South, and Good Old Boys was a song cycle where he gave free reign to his most imaginative (and venomous) thoughts on the subject. The album’s scabrous opening cut, “Rednecks,” is guaranteed to offend practically anyone with its tale of a slow-witted, willfully (and proudly) ignorant Southerner obsessed with “keeping the n—–s down.” “A Wedding in Cherokee County” is more polite but hardly less mean-spirited, in which an impotent hick marries a circus freak; if the song’s melody and arrangement weren’t so skillful, it would be hard to imagine anyone bothering with this musical geek show. But elsewhere, Good Old Boys displays a very real compassion for the blighted history of the South, leavened with a knowing wit. “Birmingham” is a funny but humane tale of working-class Alabamians, “Louisiana 1927” and “Kingfish” are intelligent and powerfully evocative tales of the deep South in the depths of the Great Depression, and “Rollin'” is cheerful on the surface and troubling to anyone willing to look beneath it. Musically, Newman dives deep into his influences in Southern soul and also adds potent country accents (with the help of Al Perkins pedal-steel guitar) while dressing up his songs in typically expert string and horn arrangements. And Newman assumes each character, either brave or foolish, with the skill of a gifted actor, giving even his most loathsome characters enough depth that they’re human beings, despite their flaws. Good Old Boys is one of Newman’s finest albums; it’s also one of his most provocative and infuriating, and that’s probably just the way he wanted it. — Mark Deming

Track Listing

All tracks are written by Randy Newman except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Rednecks” 3:07
2. “Birmingham” 2:45
3. “Marie” 3:07
4. “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” 2:45
5. “Guilty” 2:30
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. “Louisiana 1927” 2:54
7. “Every Man a King” Huey Long, Castro Carazo 1:02
8. “Kingfish” 2:42
9. “Naked Man” 3:06
10. “A Wedding in Cherokee County” 3:07
11. “Back on My Feet Again” 3:30
12. “Rollin'” 2:53

 

 

Schill Score: 9/10

 

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Randy Newman – Sail Away (1972)

AllMusic Review: On his third studio album, Randy Newman found a middle ground between the heavily orchestrated pop of his debut and the more stripped-down, rock-oriented approach of 12 Songs, and managed to bring new strength to both sides of his musical personality in the process. The title track, which Newman has described as a sort of commercial jingle written for slave traders looking to recruit naïve Africans, and “Old Man,” in which an elderly man is rejected with feigned compassion by his son, were set to Newman’s most evocative arrangements to date and rank with the most intelligent and effective use of a large ensemble by anyone in pop music. On the other end of the scale, “Last Night I Had a Dream” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” are lean, potent mid-tempo rock tunes, the former featuring some slashing and ominous slide guitar from Ry Cooder, and the latter a witty and willfully perverse bit of erotic absurdity that later became a hit for Joe Cocker (who sounded as if he took the joke at face value). Elsewhere, Newman cynically ponders the perils of a stardom he would never achieve (“Lonely at the Top,” originally written for Frank Sinatra), offers a broad and amusing bit of political satire (“Political Science”), and concludes with one of the most bitter rants against religion that anyone committed to vinyl prior to the punk era (“God’s Song [That’s Why I Love Mankind]”). Whether he’s writing for three pieces or 30, Newman makes superb use of the sounds available to him, and his vocals are the model of making the most of a limited instrument. Overall, Sail Away is one of Newman’s finest works, musically adventurous and displaying a lyrical subtlety that would begin to fade in his subsequent works. — Mark Deming

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sail Away” 2:56
2. “Lonely at the Top” 2:32
3. “He Gives Us All His Love” 1:53
4. “Last Night I Had a Dream” 3:01
5. “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” 2:00
6. “Old Man” 2:42
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Political Science” 2:00
8. “Burn On” 2:33
9. “Memo to My Son” 1:56
10. “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” 1:47
11. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” 3:18
12. “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)” 3:36

 

Schill Score: 8.5/10

 

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