Singer/songwriter/composer Randy Newman celebrates his seventy-ninth birthday tomorrow. I can only say that he has written some of my favorite songs of love and loss. They have naturally attracted brilliant interpreters. I’ll take the songs of feeling and leave the political satire behind. I want to take the occasion to look back on a small slice of his work this morning.
We first heard “I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” on the Jerry Butler single (1964). Newman would have been 20 or 21 when he wrote this offbeat song of betrayal and loss. Butler conveys the pain.
Well, I want to hear it again. A few years later Dusty Springfield picked up on it for Dusty in Memphis (1969). Shelby Lynne recorded the fantastic Just a Little Lovin‘ (2008) as a tribute to Springfield and covered “I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore.” Let’s give it one more spin.
I first noticed Randy Newman as the songwriter of “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” on Judy Collins’s In My Life (1966). It’s been covered by a lot of artists. If Newman was still coming into his own, this song left me wanting to hear more.
I think “Guilty” is a worthy descendant of Johnny Mercer’s “One For My Baby (and One More For the Road).” Newman is from a distinguished musical family and must be saturated in the great American songbook. Bonnie Raitt brings out the feeling in a song of loss and desolation. She recorded “Guilty” for her album Takin’ My Time (1973). This is a beautiful song beautifully interpreted. It is the reason I wanted to take note of Newman today.
With “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield” Newman either found the intersection of arson and desire or a powerful metaphor. If the lyrics are underwritten, Etta James supplies whatever is missing in her memorable take with Lowell George backing her on guitar. This is from James’s album Come a Little Closer (1974).
“You Can Leave Your Hat On” is a witty song of desire. Joe Cocker retrieved it from Newman’s Sail Away (1972).
Harry Nilsson loved Newman’s work. He recorded an album’s worth of Newman songs on Nilsson Sings Newman (1970) with Newman backing him on piano. “I’ll Be Home” is from that set. It’s an unironic love song.
Newman recorded “Louisiana 1927” on Good Old Boys (1974). It’s an inspired song and Marcia Ball performed an inspired version of it on Let Me Play With Your Poodle (1997).
“Baltimore” seems to me a dark and compelling song. The Norwegian group El Cuero performs it live with Norwegian singer/songwriter Elvira Nikolaisen in the video below. The song first appeared on Newman’s Little Criminals (1977).
Newman recorded “Mama Told Me Not To Come” for 12 Songs (1970) with all-star instrumental backing. The premise of the song is wide-eyed shock. Nothing is shocking anymore, but it’s still a good song.
After Three Dog Night, what forgiveness? It might not be possible to hear the song with fresh ears. The Tom Jones and Stereophonics version below follows Three Dog Night. The video provides comic relief.
Newman included “Losing You” on Harps and Angels (2008). He talked about the source of the song before performing it in this video. English singer/songwriter Jamie Cullum interprets the song below. Mama didn’t tell us not to come for this. This is why we came.