Thursday, September 11, 2014

40 Year Itch : We Talk Real Funny Down Here

I met Randy Newman on a press tour for the Disney film, The Princess and The Frog,  and told him my old college radio station , WTUL-FM ( Tulane University, New Orleans) , probably still plays at least one cut off of Good Old Boys every 24 hours. Newman said that's a good thing, especially if it helps get his son admitted into the school.

   Newman spent some of his childhood in New Orleans and sings with a little bit of a languid Southern drawl. For his follow-up to the critically praised Sail Away, Newman was interested in recording a concept album , or at least a song cycle, to be called Johnny Cutler's Birthday

Cutler is the character who sings one of Newman's most outrageous songs, "Rednecks",  after seeing Georgia's segregationist governor Lester Maddox ridiculed by "a smart-ass New York Jew". (It was actually the very WASP-y Dick Cavett who Newman saw make fun of Maddox on his show in 1972.)
Cutler sits down with a piece of paper and tries to explain his kind:

We talk real funny down here 
We drink too much and we laugh too loud 
We're too dumb to make it in no Northern town 
And we're keepin' the ni**ers down
 We got no-necked oilmen from Texas 
And good ol' boys from Tennessee
 And college men from LSU 
Went in dumb - come out dumb too

(Our favorite line at Tulane, by the way) Then the chorus:

We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
 And we're keeping the ni**ers down

The 1973 demos for Johnny Cutler's Birthday came out in 2002 as bonus tracks to Good Old Boys. You can hear Newman discussing the  story line and offering sound effects suggestions.

At WTUL, of course,we never played "Rednecks". I'm sure you've figured out why. But the album also has so many beautiful tunes that it's an album a lot of DJs plucked from the shelves.  "Louisiana 1927" was the one we probably played the most, with its chorus "Louisiana, Louisiana, they're trying to wash us away", especially bound  to be play on rainy days. "Marie" is a love song that still bring me to tears and even Randy Newman has trouble explaining "Back On My Feet Again". Is it really about a rich white man trying to pass as a black man to test his girl's fidelity?

Newman tired of the Johnny Cutler song cycle before it was time to go back into the studio. It would have been even more shocking than Good Old Boys, with the inclusion of "Good Morning", in which Cutler's wife literally tells him to "fuck off" repeatedly. Good Old Boys kept 5 or 6 of the Cutler tunes and managed to maintain its Southern theme, in part ,  by performing the Huey Long anthem "Every Man a King" and following it up with "Kingfish", a comical tune about Long. "Mr President (Have Pity on the Working Man)" is yet another commentary on the Nixon White House.

Maybe you're cheatin' Maybe you're lyin'
Maybe you have lost your mind 
Maybe you're only thinking 'bout yourself 
 Too late to run. Too late to cry now 
The time has come for us to say good-bye now 
Mr. President have pity on the working man

    In the Village Voice critics poll of the best albums of 1974, Good Old Boys finished #3 behind Pretzel Logic and Court and Spark.Those of us who lived in the South, or are from Southern families, love the South despite all its faults. Randy Newman does too, I think. So I've always embraced Good Old Boys . I think y'all should too.

1 comment:

  1. A fantastic album. "Rednecks" is both a stunning indictment of racial segregation and the hypocrisy of "liberals".

    "Marie" is one of the finest love songs ever written - it still has the power to break my heart when I hear it.

    Ps - the same goes for "Texas Girl At the Funeral of Her Father". Mr Newman sure knows how to tug at the heartstrings.