Tuesday, May 1, 2012

40 Year Itch: The Snark Sails Away

That Randy Newman didn't sell anywhere nearly as many albums as his more famous contemporary singer-songwriters is an indication of only one thing: Americans don't get satire, irony or sarcasm. We prefer to have a point jabbed into our chests. Randy Newman nonchalantly drawling out  strip tease requests in "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (" Baby take off your dress/ Yes, yes, yes") only works for us when Joe Cocker is squeezing the meaning out of every line while Kim Basinger strips for Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 Weeks.

But dig it. Randy Newman invented "Snark". When Newman uses the politician's throwaway applause line "It's great to be an American", it's coming from a slave trader trying to get Africans on a boat setting sail for Charleston in "Sail Away".

  There is something for everybody on this album. Play "Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear" for the kids and "Dayton, Ohio-1903" for the grandparents ( and iced tea fans). C'mon! He calls Cleveland the "city of light, city of magic" in a song about the Cuyahoga River catching fire. Have you been to Cleveland?

Anyway, the version of another classic Sail Away cut, "Political Science", you'll hear is from a 1974 live show in Sausalito,CA . Randy was out pushing the follow up Good Ole Boys at the time. Another magnificent album that would be as misinterpreted and forgotten as Newman's anti-prejudice anthem "Short People" would be in 1977.

Newman still records the occasional pop album but we've mostly lost him to the movie soundtrack business. He's been nominated for twenty Academy Awards, winning twice.

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