Nonesuch (originally Reprise), 1968 (reissued 2017)
On the heels of a Final Jeopardy(!) featuring Randy Newman and his family, I am listening to his first album, the self-titled Randy Newman. Just happened to draw this album first, it’s like Discogs knows what I’m doing. This album is hella short, damn, although all of the original five Randy Newman albums are (this’s the shortest by only one minute). Anyway, let’s dive in.
Adding the first track to my future wedding playlist I’ll likely never have a chance to use. And then the second track makes me feel more comfortable, because, see, Randy bets no one ever hurt this bad but I have, man, I really have. Randy Newman makes me feel better, actually.
The third song is also presumably about a partner, but then we move on. Newman draws his subjects from diverse places: family, politics, love, religion, interpersonal relations, etc.
Of course the piano is great but there’s a ton of enjoyable instrumentation on this album, especially strings.
These songs feel longer than they are for some reason. I think some of it has to do that most aren’t in a traditional verse/chorus structure, but wait, wouldn’t that make it feel shorter? Or not? I don’t know. What I do know is that these songs would be hard to memorize, probably because of the lack of said structure. This is interesting because above all Randy is America’s greatest songwriter—should have received Dylan’s Nobel—and these are great songs, but they aren’t what songs usually sound like, you know? They aren’t even AABB or ABAB or whatever entirely (but cf. “The Beehive State”). Check this out:
Home again and the streets are not much cleaner and the quaint old south side scenery is quaint no more Just older than before Go up the stairs and down the hallway to my daddy’s door
There’s some rhyming, but it’s not obvious how you’d even sing that, and I think that’s great.
The other thing is, I think I understand why someone wouldn’t like this. It’s a little meandering and, for pop/rock, isn’t immediately graspable, qualities which I’m sure a Newman hater would phrase in less gracious terms. There’s a little nonsensicalness here and there that you have to appreciate. Or you could just be an awful person with no sense of what constitutes good songwriting.
There’s an interesting discussion on how these songs constitute an album as a whole, given that the song is the primary unit of art here, but I’ll save that for another time.
Looking forward to the next time a Newman album pops up on the randomizer (will probably end up going through these chronologically though).