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In the Spotlight: Randy Newman


In the Spotlight: Randy Newman

Randy Newman in the mid-'70s



Randall Stuart Newman, November 28, 1943 in Los Angeles, CA


Singer-songwriter, Great American Songbook, Soft Rock, Pop


Vocals, piano

Claims to fame:

  • The most iconoclastic singer-songwriter of the 1970s
  • Married 19th-century classicist American pop songwriting with West Coast "soft rock"
  • Crafted a series of dark-comic, twisted character studies and social satires that changed pop music forever
  • Enraged several million listeners accidentally with his 1978 hit "Short People"
  • Eventually became the main soundtrack artist for Disney and Pixar studios, winning several Grammys in the process
  • His song "Louisiana 1927," written about the flood of that year, became a New Orleans standard after Hurricane Katrina
  • A serious Hollywood composer in his own right

Early years:

Being directly related to not one but three famed Hollywood composers as a child, Randy Newman was perhaps destined to his profession, and while he grew up in Los Angeles, his family maintained a second home in new Orleans till he was 11, giving him a musical background that was equally cinematic and Southern Gothic. Along with his love for Fifties R&B, specifically Ray Charles, it helped develop his unique songwriting stance. Randy began writing songs in his teens, and by 18 had already landed one of his compositions on a modestly successful b-side by the Fleetwoods of "Come Softly to Me" fame. He continued as a songwriter and by the mid='60s had several UK hits to his name thanks to Gene Pitney, Alan Price, and Cilla Black. Yet he remained largely unknown in his native land.


His debut album as a performer, titled simply Randy Newman, didn't help the situation, but in 1968 fellow songwriter and Newman admirer Harry Nilsson, fresh off his recent performing success with "Everybody's Talkin'," the theme song from the film Midnight Cowboy recorded an entire album of Randy's tunes. Entitled Nilsson Sings Newman, it helped put the spotlight on Newman, and his next album 12 Songs, was both a critical and commercial success. Randy became more and more popular during the '70s, thanks in part to his admirers in the West Coast soft-rock scene; plugging into it (and helped along by childhood friend Lenny Waronker, who became a big man at Reprise Records), he finally had a Top Ten hit of his own with the 1978 classic "Short People."

Later years:

Audiences, however, didn't always get the irony in his deconstruction of prejudice,and he remained largely an acquired taste. As the 80s began, Randy turned more and more to the family business, finally being taken seriously as a "real" Hollywood composer, scoring for movies like Ragtime, The Natural, Parenthood, and Awakenings, and by the mid-'90s computer animation upstart Pixar hired him to score and write theme songs for many of their films. The new family-friendly, Grammy-winning Newman has retroactively validated himself as an American institution, though he continues to release albums in his original sardonic, satirical vein.

Randy Newman awards and honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2013)
  • GRAMMY Awards (1984, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2010)
  • Oscar Awards (2002, 2011)
  • Emmy Awards (1991, 2004, 2010)
  • Songwriters Hall of Fame (2002)
  • ASCAP Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement (1996)
  • Billboard Magazine Century Award (2000)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame (6667 Hollywood Blvd.)

Randy Newman facts and trivia:

  • Is the nephew of famous composers Alfred Newman, Emil Newman and Lionel Newman and the cousin of professional composers Thomas Newman, Joey Newman, Maria Newman and David Newman
  • Dodger Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, plays "I Love L.A." after every win
  • Got his start in films scoring the 1971 Norman Lear anti-smoking comedy film Cold Turkey
  • His song "Mama Told Me Not to Come" was a big hit for Three Dog Night
  • Wrote and conducted the arrangement for Peggy Lee's 1969 standard "Is That All There Is?"
  • Was briefly a member of Harper's Bizarre in the mid-60s before they scored their one big hit

Randy Newman hit songs and albums:

Top 10 hits
  • "Short People" (1978)
Top 10 albums
  • Little Criminals (1978)

Notable recordings by Randy Newman:

"You've Got a Friend in Me," "I Love L.A.," "Political Science," "Louisiana 1927," "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)," "You Can Leave Your Hat On," "Sail Away," "Lonely at the Top," "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear," "It's Money That I Love," "Have You Seen My Baby?" "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield," "Mama Told Me Not to Come," "Rednecks," "He Gives Us All His Love," "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," "Davy the Fat Boy," "Marie," "Guilty," "Kingfish," "Little Criminals," "Baltimore," "I'll Be Home," "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band," "Half a Man," "Christmas in Capetown," "My Life Is Good," "Real Emotional Girl," "I'm Different," "Dixie Flyer," "New Orleans Wins The War," "I Want You To Hurt Like I Do," "Feels Like Home," "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)," "The World Isn't Fair," "I Want Everyone to Like Me," "Harps and Angels," "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country," "Potholes," "Feels Like Home"

Movie and TV appearances (movies in italics): "Austin City Limits" (2011), "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (2011), "Tavis Smiley" (2011), The Princess and the Frog (2009), Leatherheads (2008), "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" (2008), "The Colbert Report" (2006), "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (2003), "Ally McBeal" (2000), "Late Show with David Letterman" (1997, 2008), "60 Minutes" (1997), "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1997), "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (1995, 1996, 1999), "Later with Jools Holland" (1995, 2001), "Late Night with David Letterman" (1989), Three Amigos! (1986), "Saturday Night Live" (1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1986, 1988), "Soundstage" (1974, 2003), "Don Kirschner's Rock Concert" (1974), "The David Frost Show" (1970), "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (1970), "Liza" (1970)

Covered by: Three Dog Night, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Elton John, Don Henley, Irma Thomas, Jerry Butler, Cilla Black, Gene Pitney, Alan Price, Dusty Springfield, Peggy Lee, Wilson Pickett, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, UB40, Nina Simone, Nils Lofgren, Mates of State, Harry Nilsson, The Doobie Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton/Linda Ronstadt/Emmylou Harris, Holly Cole, Nazareth, Izzy Stradlin, The Blues Brothers, The Flamin' Groovies, Ringo Starr, The Rumour, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Roy Ayers, OMC, Judy Collins, Neil Diamond, Melanie, Barbra Streisand, Anne Murray, Fanny, Long John Baldry, Etta James, Lee Hazlewood, Aaron Neville, Marcia Ball, Liza Minnelli, The Animals, Glen Campbell, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Art Garfunkel, Elvis Costello, Patti Austin, Kirsty MacColl, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Harpers Bizarre, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Dianne Reeves, Joan Baez, Nancy Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Lyle Lovett, George Jones, Gipsy Kings, Kenny Rankin, Julliet, Curtis Stigers, My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Mathilde Santing, Frankie Miller, Chris Botti, Emma Pask, The Wannadies, Saint Zero, Chantal Kreviazuk, The Walkabouts, Raul Malo, Pedro the Lion, The Whitlams, Peter Mulvey, Kelly Hogan, Hem, The Bobs, Shady Mix, Karen Akers, Mae Robertson, Edwina Hayes, Karrin Allyson, Chris Smither, Larry Norman, Carmel, The Wolfgang Press, Glen Phillips, Lea DeLaria, Megan Mullally

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