Pazz and Jop 1971 – #18 (tied)

Randy Newman – Randy Newman/Live

There are prettier voices and far more virtuosic ivory ticklers, and his style is so consistent as to seem mannered and worthy of parody all these years later. So it is easy to forget what a great songwriter he is. It’s no surprise he ended up writing for the movies, given his pedigree (two of his uncles are legendary Hollywood composers) and penchant for storytelling. A lot of his songs take the perspective of someone other than himself, so you can see how not-very-bright people could get upset with a song like “Yellow Man” if you think too hard on what he’s saying and not the way he’s saying it. It would get him in trouble in 1978 with his one hit, “Short People” (one of three great humourous hits from that weird year, the others being, of course, Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Steve Martin’s “King Tut”).

That reliable style can be a bit much over a full record, so it helps that this checks in at a brisk 32 minutes over 14 tracks. All the fat has been trimmed off this album. “Tickle Me” is a delight, probably my favourite song here, and a sharp comment on a dying relationship (“You won’t have to talk to me and I won’t have to talk to you”), as is “Lonely at the Top”, which would make more sense coming from Frank Sinatra, who rejected it (Frank was not known for having a sense of humour about himself), although it would then seem pompous rather than funny. “I’ll Be Home” is beautiful, revelling in it’s simplicity (and check out Barbra Streisand’s version to get around the baggage of Newman’s voice), there is a powerful pathos to “Cowboy”, and “I Think Its Going to Rain Today” is another favourite. Newman might best be appreciated in small doses, and this is about as small as something can get and still be called an LP with any degree of honesty.

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 25, 2021)

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