Randy Newman: from curly-haired hipster to Hollywood’s top scorer
Randy Newman puts his Disney songs early in his set for his (very) young fans – and older fans have a new suite of songs to look forward to
Randy Newman and I have something in common - we share the same birthday - November 28th. “Really?” he says. “That’s amazing. I’ll be thinking about you on my birthday!”
It’s hard to know if Newman is taking the mickey – after all, he is still one of America’s pre-eminent song satirists, a writer who can keep his tongue in cheek while still packing a lyrical bite. When he released his hit single Short People in 1977, many thought he was having a pop against the vertically challenged. But though his lyrics are clever, dextrous, often deceptive little things, on the phone from LA he comes across as a straight-talking, nice guy – there’s no sense that he’s barely hiding his disdain or suffering fools glumly.
The singer/songwriter and composer of film soundtracks is turning 70 next November, so when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last April, it wasn’t a minute too soon. “I thought maybe I’d have to die first,” he told Rolling Stone magazine after his induction.
Newman, raised in New Orleans and LA, has been performing professionally since he was 16 – now, at 69, he’s finally being officially recognised as a great American treasure. Of course, we knew that already. We’ve been singing along with Randy Newman songs for the past five decades – some we didn’t even realise he had written: You Can Keep Your Hat On, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear, I Think It’s Gonna Rain. He’s written some timeless pop classics in his time, and in recent years, he has added classic children’s tunes to his repertoire, writing for such Pixar and Disney films as Toy Story, Cars and Monsters Inc. Your kids probably know more Randy Newman songs than you do.
On Monday, Newman is in Dublin to perform a date at Vicar Street – apparently, he’s repaying a debt he owes to his Irish fans.
“I’m coming back sooner than usual, cos I didn’t have any voice the last time, and I was gonna be in Europe to play Antwerp, so I asked if I could come and play Dublin again. I’ll do something special, maybe buy free drinks for everybody.”
Fans of the old Randy Newman, the curly-haired hipster whose music strutted between blues, rock, jazz, Dixieland and the Brill Building, will be happy to hear that he’s working on a suite of new songs, none of which has been commissioned by a movie studio. His busy soundtrack schedule meant that his personal songwriting has been sidelined in recent years – his last collection, Harps and Angels, was out five years ago, but now he’s ready to put together a new set of songs.