You know, you know how it is with me baby
You know, I just can't stand myself
And it takes a whole lot of medicine
For me to pretend that I'm somebody else
-Randy Newman, Guilty
Randy Newman was born in Los Angeles, California on November 28, 1943. As his father was a captain in the army, he spent a fair amount of his childhood moving around, spending a lot of time living with his mother's family in New Orleans, Louisiana. Coming
from a famously musical family (his uncles Alfred, Lionel and Emil were all Hollywood composers), he began playing the piano at a young age.
By his late teens, he had entered into a publishing contract with Metric Music, and began churning out songs for other artists to record. Between 1962 and 1968, his songs were recorded by artists such as P.J. Proby, Jackie DeShannon, Harpers Bizarre, The Beau
Brummels, Ricky Nelson, Dusty Springfield, Pat Boone, and Ella Fitzgerald. After several of his compositions hit the charts, he was able to secure a recording contract with Reprise Records, and began work on his debut album, Randy Newman Creates Something New
Under the Sun.
Randy's first album was released in 1968 to excellent reviews and lukewarm sales. However, his mix of highly ironic, subversive lyrics and sophisticated compositions and orchestrations (more than 75 session musicians were hired to play on the album) established him immediately as an original songwriting voice. 12 Songs, his sophomore album, came out in 1970 and featured a stripped-down sound and blues/R&B influences. It also introduced Randy's predilection for shuffles; almost every track on the album is in 12/8 time. One track off the album, Mama Told Me Not to Come, became a number one hit when covered by Three Dog Night that same year. Also that year, talented singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson recorded an excellent album entirely made up of Newman covers entitled Nilsson Sings Newman.
After releasing a solo piano live album in 1971, Randy released Sail Away in the summer of 1972, followed by Good Old Boys, a concept album about the American South, in 1974. These two albums, taken along with 12 Songs, form the trilogy that he is most known for. The number of classics on these albums is astounding, and literally almost every track has been covered by at least a few other artists.
Despite critical raves, major commercial success had eluded Randy. This was to change in 1977, when he released Little Criminals. Not only was the sound on this album a departure from his previous albums (it featured a prominent backbeat and instrumental/vocal backing by the Eagles), but it gave Newman his first (and only) major chart hit. Short People, essentially a novelty song, hit number two on the charts in December 1977. Despite the fact that the song's mocking lyrics about short people were clearly tongue-in-cheek, there was still some mild controversy over the song. Though the album as a whole was not received as positively as his previous works, it did contain one of Randy's all-time best song titles, Sigmund Freud's Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America. He followed up Little Criminals with Born Again in 1979.
Throughout the 1980's, Newman began to focus more on his film scores, only recording two albums in the entire decade. He scored Milos Forman's Ragtime, Robert Redford's The Natural, Ron Howard's Parenthood, and Three Amigos!. He also had a minor MTV and radio hit: I Love L.A., off 1983's Trouble in Paradise, which was adopted as a proud anthem by the city of Los Angeles, who failed to notice lyrics like "look at that bum over there, man, he's down on his knees". 1988's Land of Dreams featured another minor hit, It's Money that Matters, featuring Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits on guitar.
The 1990's and 2000's mostly saw Randy continuing his film score work. He composed music for Avalon, Maverick, Awakenings, Pleasantville, Meet the Parents, Seabiscuit, and all of Pixar's films through Monsters Inc. After being nominated by the Academy 15 straight times without receiving an award (setting a record), Newman finally received an Oscar for his song If I Didn't Have You from Monsters Inc. In 1999, he released his 9th studio album, Bad Love, to his usual rave reviews.
Well, I guess I am (cynical), but cynical reminds me of such narrow people. But I gotta admit it: You see what people do to one another and how things don't work out and it's like a failure of evolution. The mind hasn't gotten over things like jealousy and war and wanting other people to hurt like you're hurting, wanting other people to be in the same hole you're in. No, there's nothing to be cynical about. But you know, I've never been a big animal lover, but I am a fan of people. They try so hard, you know. They're so cute.
-Randy Newman, Interview with Playboy Magazine, 1987
1968 - Randy Newman Creates Something New Under the Sun (Reprise)
1970 - 12 Songs (Reprise)
1971 - Randy Newman/Live (Reprise)
1972 - Sail Away (Reprise)
1974 - Good Old Boys (Reprise)
1977 - Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)
1979 - Born Again (Warner Bros.)
1983 - Trouble in Paradise (Warner Bros.)
1988 - Land of Dreams (Reprise)
1995 - Faust (Reprise)
1999 - Bad Love (Dreamworks)
2003 - The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 (Nonesuch)
1970 - Performance
1981 - Ragtime
1984 - The Natural
1987 - Three Amigos!
1989 - Parenthood
1990 - Avalon
1990 - Awakenings
1994 - The Paper
1994 - Maverick
1995 - Toy Story
1996 - James and the Giant Peach
1996 - Michael
1998 - Pleasantville
1998 - A Bug's Life
1999 - Toy Story 2
2000 - Meet the Parents
2001 - Monsters Inc.
2003 - Seabiscuit