Pages

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Randy Newman - Little Criminals (1977)


The song that Newman hates

David Bowie once said about his well-known "Space Oddity" song that "I've written over two hundred songs, and that's the only one they remember." Randy Newman has probably found himself in a similar situation with "Short People". The song ubiquitously filled the airwaves in 1977 and 1978. It was truly everywhere. Variety shows featured it (a Goldie Hawn special around that time had Hawn singing "Tall people" in response to the the Harlem Globetrotter's "Short People"; Goldie of course ended up in the basketball hoop at the end), people sang it on the streets, sportscasters talked about, talk shows made jokes about it, and radio stations played it ad nauseum. SCTV dressed up Dave Thomas as Newman and blew him up ("he blowed up reel gud") while singing "Short People". Is that another way of being burned in effigy? Sadly, the satirical nature of the song fell into the abyss behind the novelty acts and what then passed as hip satire. The song's ridiculously catchy melody didn't help. It sticks like a radio jingle, banging around in one's head eternally. Surprisingly the song didn't reach #1. It stalled at #2. By that time the public had probably had enough. But don't blame the song. The mainstream simply absorbed the addictive and catchy song and packaged it in its own image (i.e., one that didn't provoke thought or controversy; it became "fun" and innocuous). Thus was one of the greatest mainstream pop satires lost on the population. Newman has recently said that he now hates the song. He doesn't want to be remembered for it. He's sick of it and wishes that it would go away. That probably won't happen. Generations from now a potential pop song compilation will be released. Its cover reads, in the fashion of the time to be, "Hits from the 1970s!" Somewhere in the song list will be "Short People by Randy Newman". "Louisiana 1927" won't be there. Neither will "Rednecks" or "Sail Away". That is, unless our global culture takes a sane turn for the better. Where there is life, there is hope.
The most optimistic way to think of "Short People" (it's actually a great song for what it is) is that it has the power to introduce listeners to Randy Newman. More than one Newman fan likely got their start by hearing it on the radio. Perhaps they then went and picked up "Little Criminals" and heard gems like "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America", "In Germany Before the War", or "Texas Girl At the Funeral of Her Father"? Their curiosity peaked, they went and bought "Good Old Boys" or "Sail Away". Who wouldn't be hooked then? And all that thanks to what is commonly subsumed as a "novelty hit".
That said, "Little Criminals" in no way showcases Newman at his utmost best. Considering its predecessor, "Good Old Boys", it's slightly, very slightly, disappointing. Of course it contains absolutely amazing songs such as those listed above along with "Baltimore" (another song Newman supposedly hates), "Kathleen" and "Old Man on the Farm". Alongside these are some good but not great efforts such as "You Can't Fool the Fat Man", "Little Criminals", and "Rider in the Rain". These songs don't contain Newman's usual umph! and conviction. They're still great, but they're not absolutely top-notch Newman. One song was exhumed from the vaults. "I'll Be Home" actually debuted on "Randy Newman Live" six years earlier. Here it receives a full arrangement in contrast to the solo piano voice treatment. A first on this album is pronounced distorted electric guitar, which fit the times. Though generally well produced, it's still a product of its generation. More evidence of this are the pieces of the Eagles strewn throughout the album. Don Henley, Glen Frey, and Joe Walsh all contributed parts. Other stars at the time wanted Newman to succeed. He certainly did on this album, at least commercially.
Whether Newman likes it or not, "Little Criminals" probably stands as the most common introduction to Newman's music for the average listener. And that's not a bad thing. By ewomack

  • 1. Short People - Glenn Frey
  • 2. You Can't Fool The Fat Man
  • 3. Little Criminals - Glenn Frey
  • 4. Texas Girl At The Funeral Of Her Father
  • 5. Jolly Coppers On Parade
  • 6. In Germany Before The War
  • 7. Sigmund Freud's Impersonation Of Albert Einstein In America
  • 8. Baltimore - Glenn Frey
  • 9. I'll Be Home
  • 10. Rider In The Rain - Don Henley
  • 11. Kathleen (Catholicism Made Easier) - Joe Walsh
  • 12. Old Man On The Farm

Listen

No comments:

Post a Comment

Disclaimer

dimhirwen.blogspot.com disclaims any and all responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, completeness, legality and reliability of the information and links displayed on this website. You (the visitor) understand and agree that dimhirwen.blogspot.com can not be held responsible for any damages or other problems that may result from use of this website.