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Randy Newman

Randy Newman at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2008
Background information
Birth name Randall Stuart Newman
Born November 28, 1943 (1943-11-28) (age 66)
Origin Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Rock, pop, film scores
Occupations Singer-songwriter, arranger, musician
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1961 – present
Labels Warner Bros. Records
Walt Disney Records (Disney-Pixar films)
Website RandyNewman.com

Randall Stuart “Randy” Newman (born November 28, 1943) is an American singer/songwriter,[1] arranger, composer, and pianist who is notable for his mordant (and often satirical) pop songs and for his many film scores.

Newman is noted for his practice of writing lyrics from the perspective of a character far removed from Newman's own biography. For example, the 1972 song "Sail Away" is written as a slave trader's sales pitch to attract slaves, while the narrator of "Political Science" is a U.S. nationalist who complains of worldwide ingratitude toward America and proposes a brutally ironic final solution. One of his biggest hits, "Short People" was written from the perspective of "a lunatic"[2] who hates short people. Since the 1980s, Newman has worked mostly as a film composer. His film scores include Ragtime, Awakenings, The Natural, Leatherheads, James and the Giant Peach, Meet the Parents and Seabiscuit. He has scored five Disney-Pixar films: Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Cars. Most recently he scored Princess and the Frog and is set to return for Toy Story 3 and Cars 2.

He has been singled out for a number of awards by his colleagues, including an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, four Grammy Awards, and the Governor's Award from the Recording Academy.[3] Randy Newman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2007, Newman was inducted as a Disney Legend.

Contents

Early life

Newman was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Adele (née Fox), a secretary, and Irving George Newman, an internist.[4] As an infant, Newman moved with his Jewish family to New Orleans, Louisiana, where his mother's family lived. He lived in New Orleans as a small child and spent summers there until he was 11 years old, his family having by then returned to Los Angeles. The paternal side of his family includes three uncles who were noted Hollywood film-score composers: Alfred Newman, Lionel Newman and Emil Newman. Newman's cousins Thomas and David, and nephew Joey are also composers for motion pictures. He graduated from University High, Los Angeles. Newman attended the University of California, Los Angeles.

Songwriter

Newman has been a professional songwriter since he was seventeen. His first single as a performer was 1961's "Golden Gridiron Boy", released when he was eighteen. However, the single flopped and Newman chose to concentrate on songwriting and arranging for the next several years. His early songs were recorded by Gene Pitney, Jerry Butler, The O'Jays and Irma Thomas, among others. His work as a songwriter met with particular success in the UK: top 40 UK hits written by Newman included Cilla Black's "I've Been Wrong Before" (#17, 1965), Gene Pitney's "Nobody Needs Your Love" (#2, 1966) and "Just One Smile" (#8, 1966); and The Alan Price Set's "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear" (#4, 1967). Besides "Simon Smith", Price featured seven Randy Newman songs on his 1967 A Price On His Head album.

In the mid-1960s, Newman was briefly a member of the band The Tikis, who later became Harpers Bizarre, best known for their 1967 hit version of the Paul Simon composition "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." Newman kept a close musical relationship with Harpers Bizarre, offering them some of his own compositions, including "Simon Smith" and "Happyland". The band recorded six Newman compositions during their short initial career (1967-1969).

It was in this period that Newman began a long professional association with childhood friend Lenny Waronker. Waronker had been hired to produce The Tikis, the Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men, who were all contracted to the Los Angeles independent label Autumn Records and he in turn brought in Newman, Leon Russell and another friend, pianist/arranger Van Dyke Parks, to play on recording sessions. Later in 1966 Waronker was hired as an A&R manager by Warner Bros. Records and his friendship with Newman, Russell and Parks was the beginning of a creative circle that grew up around Waronker at Warner Bros and which was one of the keys to Warner Bros' subsequent success as a rock music label.[5]

Recording artist

His 1968 debut album, Randy Newman, was a critical success but never dented the Billboard Top 200. Many artists, including Alan Price, Dave Van Ronk, Judy Collins, the Everly Brothers, Claudine Longet, Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone, Pat Boone and Peggy Lee, covered his songs and "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" became an early standard.

In 1970, Harry Nilsson recorded an entire album of Newman compositions called Nilsson Sings Newman. That album was a success, and it paved the way for Newman's 1970 release, 12 Songs, which abandoned the elaborate arrangements of his first album for a more stripped-down sound that showcased Newman's piano. Ry Cooder's slide guitar and contributions from Byrds members Gene Parsons and Clarence White helped to give the album a much rootsier feel. 12 Songs was also critically acclaimed (6th best album of the seventies according to Rolling Stone critic Robert Christgau), but again found little commercial success, though Three Dog Night made a huge hit of his "Mama Told Me Not to Come". The following year, Randy Newman Live cemented his cult following and became his first LP to appear in the Billboard charts, at #191.

1972's Sail Away reached #163 on Billboard, with the title track making its way into the repertoire of Ray Charles and Linda Ronstadt. "You Can Leave Your Hat On" enigmatically touches on what it is men find important in relationships, and was covered by Three Dog Night, then Joe Cocker, and later by Keb Mo, Etta James, Tom Jones (whose version was later used for the final striptease to the 1997 film The Full Monty), and the Québécois singer Garou. The album also featured "Burn On", an ode to the infamous incident in which the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River literally caught fire. In 1989, "Burn On" was used as the opening theme to the film Major League, whose focus was the hapless Cleveland Indians.

His 1974 release Good Old Boys was a set of songs about the American South. "Rednecks" began with a description of segregationist Lester Maddox pitted against a "smart-ass New York Jew" on a TV show, in a song that seems to criticize both southern racism and the complacent bigotry of American north-easterners who stereotype all southerners as racist yet ignore racism in northern states. This ambiguity was also apparent on "Kingfish" and "Every Man a King", the former a paean to Huey Long (the assassinated former Governor and United States Senator from Louisiana), the other a campaign song written by Long himself. An album that received lavish critical praise, Good Old Boys also became a commercial breakthrough for Newman, peaking at #36 on Billboard and spending 21 weeks in the Top 200.

Little Criminals (1977) contained the surprise hit "Short People", which also became a subject of controversy, as Newman's ironic depiction of bigotry aimed at the short was taken literally by some listeners. Both the album and the single stand as the best-selling of his career. In 1978, legislation was introduced to make playing the song on the radio illegal in Maryland, though the bill failed to pass. Newman often pokes fun at the misinterpretation of his song during concerts, sarcastically announcing, "I hate short people, it's true. The reason I don't say anything is because the record label's afraid I'll tell people what I really think."

1979's Born Again was a commentary on money-worship, which also featured a song satirically mythologizing the Electric Light Orchestra (and their arranging style) entitled "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band". The album failed to capitalize on the commercial success of "Short People" but did include other noteworthy material, such as "Ghosts", a sorrowful "apology" from a lonely old man, and "Girls In My Life Part One", a dubious catalog of amorous boasts from a naive young man.

His 1983 album Trouble in Paradise included the hit single "I Love L.A.", a song that has been interpreted as both praising and criticizing the city of Los Angeles. This ambivalence is borne out by Newman's own comments on the song. As he explained in a 2001 interview, "There's some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I'm proud of. The open car and the redhead, the Beach Boys...that sounds 'really' good to me." The ABC network and Frank Gari Productions transformed "I Love L.A." into a popular 1980s TV promotional campaign, retooling the lyrics and title to "You'll Love It! (on ABC)". This song became very popular at games won by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The album also featured "Real Emotional Girl", a disturbingly frank portrait of a relationship, sung from the male point of view, while "Same Girl" told of the love affair between two junkies, and its inevitable and desperate final days.

In the years following Trouble in Paradise, Newman focused more on film work, but his personal life entered a difficult period. He separated from his wife of nearly 20 years, Roswitha, and was diagnosed with the physically debilitating Epstein-Barr virus. He has released three albums of new material as a singer-songwriter since that time: Land of Dreams (1988), Bad Love (1999), and Harps and Angels, which was released on August 5, 2008. Land of Dreams included one of his most well-known songs, "It's Money That Matters", and featured Newman's first stab at autobiography with "Dixie Flyer" and "Four Eyes", while Bad Love included "I Miss You", a moving tribute to his ex-wife. He has also re-recorded a number of his earlier songs, accompanying himself on piano, as The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003), and continues to perform his songs before live audiences as a touring concert artist.

In the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe of 2005, Newman's "Louisiana 1927" became an anthem and was played heavily on a wide range of American radio and television stations, in both Newman's 1974 original and Aaron Neville's cover version of the song. The song addresses the deceitful manner in which New Orleans's municipal government managed a flood in 1927, during which, as Newman asserts, "The guys who ran the Mardi Gras, the bosses in New Orleans decided the course of that flood. You know, they cut a hole in the levee and it flooded the cotton fields."[6]

During a European tour in the summer of 2006, Newman premiered three new songs: "Potholes in Memory Lane", "Losing You", and the politically controversial "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" (all three songs were later recorded for his 2008 album, Harps and Angels). The latter was released as an MP3 single in February 2007. It compares the United States to previous empires, criticizes the War on Terror and the Supreme Court, and posits that "this empire is ending like all the rest." The song is available through his website.[7]

Film composer

Newman's work as a film composer began in 1971, with his work on the Norman Lear satire Cold Turkey. He returned to film work with 1981's Ragtime, for which he was nominated for two Academy Awards. Newman co-wrote the 1986 film ¡Three Amigos! with Steve Martin and Lorne Michaels, wrote three songs for the film, and provided the voice for the singing bush. His orchestral film scores resembles the work of Elmer Bernstein (with whom he had worked on ¡Three Amigos!).

Newman scored the first four Disney/Pixar feature films; Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc. He also scored the 1996 film James and the Giant Peach and the 2006 Disney/Pixar film Cars. Additional scores by Newman include Avalon, Parenthood, Seabiscuit, Awakenings, The Paper, Overboard, Meet the Parents, and its sequel, Meet the Fockers. His score for Pleasantville was an Academy Award nominee. He also wrote the songs for Turner's Cats Don't Dance.

One of Newman's most iconic and recognizable works is the central theme to The Natural, a dramatic and Oscar-nominated score, which was described by at least one complimentary critic as "Coplandesque".

Newman had the dubious distinction of receiving the most Oscar nominations (fifteen) without a single win. His losing streak was broken when he received the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2001, for the Monsters, Inc. song "If I Didn't Have You", beating Sting, Enya and Paul McCartney. After receiving an enthusiastic standing ovation, a bemused but emotional Newman began his acceptance speech with "I don't want your pity!"

Besides writing songs for films, he also writes songs for television series such as the Emmy-Award winning current theme song of Monk, "It's a Jungle out There". Newman also composed the song "When I'm Gone" for the final episode.

In October 2006, it was revealed that Newman would be writing the music for the Walt Disney movie The Princess and the Frog, which was released in December 2009. During the Walt Disney Company's annual shareholder meeting in March 2007, Newman performed a new song written for the movie. He was accompanied by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The New Orleans setting of the film played to Newman's musical strengths, and his songs contained elements of Cajun music, zydeco, blues and Dixieland jazz.[8] Two of the songs, "Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans," were nominated for Oscars.[9]

Musical theater

A revue of Newman's songs, titled Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong, was performed at the Astor Place Theater in New York City in 1982, and later at other theaters around the country. The New York cast featured Mark Linn-Baker and Deborah Rush,[10] and at one point included Treat Williams.[11]

In the 1990s, Newman adapted Goethe's Faust into a concept album and musical, Randy Newman's Faust. After a 1995 staging at the La Jolla Playhouse, he retained David Mamet to help rework the book before its relaunch on the Chicago Goodman Theatre mainstage in 1996. Newman's Faust project had been many years in the making, and it suffered for it; a central joke was Newman's depiction of Faust as a shallow heavy metal music fan in thrall to Satan, and this had to be modified to accommodate the less-than-devil obsessed age of grunge rock that was in fashion by 1995.

In 2000, South Coast Repertory (SCR) produced The Education of Randy Newman, a musical theater piece which recreates the life of a songwriter who bears some resemblance to the actual Newman. Set in New Orleans and Los Angeles, it was modeled on the celebrated American autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Newman, together with Jerry Patch and Michael Roth, surveyed Newman's songs to find those which, taken together, depict the life of an American artist in the last half of the 20th century. After its premiere at SCR, it was reworked with additional songs written specifically for the show by Newman and presented in Seattle by ACT.

Notable performances and appearances

  • In 2000, Randy Newman hosted a PBS special on Sunset Blvd, in his native Los Angeles. Driving a convertible, he followed the road from the Amtrak train station downtown, through Silver Lake, on past his alma mater UCLA, and finished in Santa Monica.
  • Randy Newman appeared on The Colbert Report on October 9, 2006, performing "Political Science" after his interview. At the end of the performance Stephen Colbert said "I hope they're listening in D.C." This appearance came days after North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon.
  • Randy Newman appeared on the season two finale of the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, accompanying the character Harry Solomon's performance of "Life Has Been Good To Me" on piano in a dream sequence.
  • Randy Newman appeared as a musical guest at the end of the Keynote Address at Macworld's 2008 San Francisco Macworld Expo, performing the songs "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" and "You've Got a Friend In Me".
  • Randy Newman appeared as a musical guest on the second episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1975.
  • Had the lyrics to his song "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" published in an op-ed piece in the NY Times on 1/24/2007.

Pop culture references

  • Randy Newman was parodied on the sketch comedy show MADtv, where he was impersonated by MADtv cast member Will Sasso. The sketch implied that Newman's music and lyrics were simplistic, childish, and created with little or no effort. Newman was depicted as an excessive chain-smoker. The sketch hypothesized what the score of the then-upcoming Star Wars movies might be like if Newman created the score instead of John Williams.[12]
  • Randy Newman was also parodied on the television cartoon series Family Guy in the episode Da Boom, written by Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan. The Randy Newman character exaggerates the real Newman's style of observational singing and piano playing.[13]
  • Paul and Storm wrote 25 songs in the style of Randy Newman for their 25 Days of Newman season.[14]

Discography

Albums

Compilations

  • Lonely at the Top: The Best of Randy Newman (1987)
  • Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman (1998) (Box set)
  • The Best of Randy Newman (2001)
  • The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003) (New recordings of previously released songs)

Film scores

Awards and honors

  • Golden Globe
    • 2000: Nominee - Original Song - "When She Loved Me" - Toy Story 2
    • 1999: Nominee - Original Score - A Bug's Life
    • 1996: Nominee - Original Song - "You've Got a Friend in Me" - Toy Story
    • 1991: Nominee - Original Score - Avalon
    • 1990: Nominee - Original Song - "I Love to See You Smile" - Parenthood
    • 1982: Nominee - Original Song - "One More Hour" - Ragtime
  • Grammy
    • 2007: Winner - Song Written for Motion Picture or Television - "Our Town" - Cars
    • 2004: Nominee - Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture or Television - Seabiscuit
    • 2003: Winner - Song Written for Motion Picture or Television - "If I Didn't Have You" - Monsters, Inc.
    • 2003: Nominee - Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture or Television - Monsters, Inc.
    • 2001: Winner - Song Written for Motion Picture or Television - "When She Loved Me" - Toy Story 2
    • 2001: Nominee - Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture or Television - Toy Story 2
    • 2000: Winner - Instrumental Composition Written for Motion Picture or Television - A Bug's Life
    • 2000: Nominee - Song Written for Motion Picture or Television - "The Time Of Your Life" - A Bug's Life
    • 1992: Nominee - Instrumental Composition Written for Motion Picture or Television - Avalon
    • 1992: Nominee - Instrumental Composition Written for Motion Picture or Television - Awakenings
    • 1990: Nominee - Song Written for Motion Picture or Television - Parenthood
    • 1983: Nominee - Score Album for Motion Picture or Television - Ragtime
  • Annie Award
    • 2007: Winner - Music in an Animated Feature Production - Cars
    • 2003: Nominee - Music in an Animated Feature Production - Monsters, Inc.
    • 2000: Winner - Music in an Animated Feature Production - Toy Story 2
    • 1997: Winner - Music in an Animated Feature Production - Cats Don't Dance
    • 1996: Winner - Music in an Animated Feature Production - Toy Story

References

External links








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