Randy Newman

  • Rock/pop singer, songwriter, pianist born in 1943 from Los Angeles California.
  • Newman’s family had a legacy of songwriters – he had 3 uncles that were Hollywood film composers. He began writing professionally at the age of 17, influenced by Ray Charles. His first single was Golden Gridiron Boy, released when he was 18, but it did not sell, and he decided to concentrate on songwriting.
  • By 1964, he was writing songs for other artists that were charting. Early hits were R&B and soul songs, by artists Irma Thomas and Jerry Butler, as well as songs for The Fleetwoods, Pat Boone, Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney, Cilla Black and others. He also was composing scores for television as early as in 1962, contributing to The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Lost In Space, Peyton Place, and others. His first song for a film was in 1964, for Look At Me for the film The Lively Set. 
  • He went to UCLA, intending to major in music, but he dropped out 1 semester shy of attaining his degree when a producer friend landed him a recording contract. In 1968, his self titled debut album was released, but it did not chart. The following year, Newman did the orchestral arrangements for the Peggy Lee song and album Is That All There Is? – the song topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs list, and won Lee a Grammy award. In 1970, Harry Nilsson recorded an entire album of Newman-penned songs. Also that year, Three Dog Night’s version of the Newman song Mama Told Me Not To Come reached #1 on the Hot 100 – it was the very first #1 song ever on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio program.
  • Newman released studio albums as a performer in 1970, 1972 and 1974. The last of these, Good Old Boys, finally had some sales success, reaching #36 on the Billboard 200 album chart, but singles still did not chart. That changed in 1977 with the release of the Little Criminals album and its controversial song Short People. The song is about prejudice, and listeners misinterpreted it as Newman’s personal attack on short people. The song became a novelty, and it spent 3 weeks at the #2 spot on the Hot 100. For more details on the song and the album, see my Vintage Vinyl post from July 19, 2017.
  • Newman would never again see a song performed by him reach the Top 40, and 6 more albums released between 1979 and 2017 stayed low on the album chart. The songs on these albums were never meant to be commercial successes – rather, Newman’s songs are personal satirical commentaries on social and political issues of the days.
  • While his work as a recording artist was not particularly successful commercially, he has been one of the most successful composers of film and television scores and songs. He has been nominated for 20 Academy Awards, winning twice for Best Original Song for If I Didn’t Have You from Monsters Inc., and We Belong Together from Toy Story 3. Additionally, he has won 6 Grammy awards for his work on films, and 1 as a recording artist, for his song Putin from his 2017 studio album Dark Matter. He has won 3 Emmy awards for his work on the television shows Cop Rock and Monk. He has worked on 27 films, 10 of which were for Disney or Disney-Pixar (including all 4 Toy Story soundtracks) – this led to his inclusion by Disney to the Disney Legends Hall of Fame in 2007.
  • Newman was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • I own the Little Criminals album, as well as his next album, Born Again. They both are great examples of his songwriting brilliance, with songs full of cynicism and quirky characters. Being a native Marylander, I particularly like the song Baltimore – a grim song about “hard times in the city, in a hard town by the sea.” Newman admitted that he’d never been to the city before he wrote it. Here is a concert clip of Newman performing the song.

1 thought on “Randy Newman”

  1. 2 notes :

    1- Randy Newman composes some amazing film scores that capture a truly “Americana” sound. See “A Bugs Life,” “Toy Story,” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

    2- He is still making music! Dark Matters was released in 2017, where he has the guts to call out Vladimir Putin! “He and his ex-wife Lyudmila; Are riding along the shore of the beautiful new Russian Black Sea; Let’s listen in, a great man is speaking; We fought a war for this?; I’m almost ashamed; The Mediterranean
    Now there’s a resort worth fighting for; …. Or, wait a minute; Even better; What if the Kurds got in the way?” See video: https://youtu.be/6Ya-FGHdBso

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