Randy Newman sails away


For his 1972 album Sail away Randy Newman took practically all pre-rock American vernacular music styles and reworked the genres with ironic, sarcastic, and sometimes caustic lyrics that might have shocked Tin Pan Alley-era audiences.

Because of the elaborate settings of many of the songs—including Newman’s piano, traditional rock instruments, and symphony orchestra—the pieces take on a parallel life as a kind of song cycle that explores the ironies of life throughout much of recorded history. The universality of the subject matter and the deliberately retro style of the song forms, rhythmic styles, and harmonic and melodic vocabulary all combine to make Sail away an album that continues to ring true.

This according to “Randy Newman: Sail away (1972)” by James E. Perone, an essay included in The album: A guide to pop music’s most provocative, influential, and important creations. II: The golden age of the singer-songwriter, 1970-1973 (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012).

Today is Randy Newman’s 70th birthday! Above, the original album cover; below, Newman performs the title song.

1 Comment

Filed under Humor, Popular music

One Response to Randy Newman sails away

  1. andrewhomzy

    I have a lot of respect for Randy Newman. I admire his accomplishments and cheer his success in overcoming adversity. But is he a composer? No. Is he a poet? Yes.

    As a composer, Newman’s work is repetitive and simplistic. Compared to whom? Mozart. Ravel. Gershwin. Mancini.

    The test. Eliminate the words. What is left? If a melody can not engage a listener without lyrics, it is really not much of a composition. Tchaikovsky’s greatest works include his symphonies and ballets. Incredible melodies. Within them is the standard we can apply to Cole Porter, Bob Dylan, John Williams, Brittany Spears, Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman. Who wins and who loses?

    At best, Randy Newman is a song writer. And to that point, he has to measure-up to Schubert and Burt Bacharach – the evaluating criteria based on examining melody, harmony, rhythm and form.

    Words are for poets and novelists. Long live Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.