140: Randy Newman, ‘Sail Away’

Posted by on Jul 13, 2012 in Rock, Song Of the week |

Randy Newman, ‘Sail Away’

All right, sports fans and music lovers! Here’s the SoTW you’ve all been waiting for! I know tensions have been running high (my inbox has been completely clogged with queries for weeks now), waiting to see the results of our First Annual Strangest Setting in a Song from Randy Newman’s First Three Albums (FASSSRNFTA, or SSSRN for short). So without further adieu, Ladies and Gentleman, the–

Just before we start, why Randy’s first three albums? Primarily, because I make the SSSRN rules, and I see the first three studio albums as the core of his career, the songs that you have to look at twice before you get them. Or more.

  1. “More Than a New Discovery” – one of the unappreciated gems of the rock idiom. Brilliant, hilarious, utterly serious satire, stunning songs, composition, orchestral arrangements. He actually has a lot to say about life (Utah politicians, retirement in Florida and Deus Absconditis). A modern masterpiece.
  2. “12 Songs” – kick-ass band, sterling production, dealing more directly in the marginal (a guy who gets off doing it to the fires he sets, a gent calling a girl whose number he found on the wall of a telephone booth, the universality of humankind, even including chinks).
  3. “Sail Away” – a mixed bag of great individual songs, with topics ranging from A Boy and His Bear to the Wright Brothers to Eminent Domain.

The fourth album “Good Old Boys” revolves around Redneck-bashing, which may be fun, but it’s not exactly revelatory material. The fifth album, “Little Criminals” has some gems (‘Sigmund Freud’s Impersonation of Albert Einstein in American’) but is already dumbing down the acerbicity (‘Short People’) because Rand was apparently feeling lonely at the top.

The 2012 Strangest Setting in a Song from Randy Newman awards:

This photo was an insert in “12 Songs”. I’ve loved it dearly all these many years; it was quite innovative for the day. I’m assuming it’s Randy and his family. Unfortunately I had to crop it a little. The grain is in the original. Click to see it full-size.

3rd Place – ‘Lucinda’ (“12 Songs”). I don’t have words for it. Randy has the words for it:

We met one summer evening

As the sun was going down.

She was lying on the beach

In her graduation gown.

She was wrapped up in a blanket

(I could tell she knew her way around),

And as I lay down beside her

You know she never made a sound.

On down the beach came the beach-cleaning man,

Scoopin’ up the papers and flattening down the sand.

“Lucinda, Lucinda, Lucinda – we’ve got to run away

That big white truck is closin’ in, and we’ll get wounded if we stay”

 2nd Place – ‘Davy the Fat Boy’, in which our narrator inherits freakishly fat Davy from his trusting parents, and promptly turns him into a carnival freak-show exhibit (“What do he weigh, folks? Win a teddy bear for the girlfriend!”)

1st Place – Oh, the tension. The envelope, please. And the winner is: ‘Sail Away’, title tune of the third. In which the head honcho on a slave ship gives his wards a motivational chat about the New World awaiting them:

In America you’ll get food to eat.
You won’t have to run through the jungle scuffing up your feet.
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day –
It’s great to be an American. 

Admittedly, you don’t find a plethora of pop songs on this theme. It sure ain’t ‘I saw you kissing Judy in the back seat of your Chevy’ grist.

Ain’t no lions or tigers, ain’t no mamba snake,
Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake
Ev’rybody is as happy as a man can be–
Climb aboard, little wog, sail away with me. 

Ah, those mamba snakes. No wonder they’re happy to be setting out on this all-expenses-paid vacation.

Sail away, sail away
We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay 

And indeed, Randy proved quite the prophet, foreseeing by centuries the domestic tranquility engendered by this humanitarian exodus:

In America every man is free to take care of his home and his family.
You’ll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree–
You’re all gonna be an American. 

So congrats, Randy, on winning the prize. Of course, you win the prize every year, because it’s the SSSRN competition. But still. You’re our man.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

085: Randy Newman: ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ (First Album)
053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’
044: Paul Robeson, ‘Go Down, Moses’

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2 Comments

ze'ev
Jul 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm

I still don’t get it, sorry.


 
Bill
Aug 2, 2012 at 7:07 am

I am thrilled to have stumbled across google to this page. Really good work, and you go into my google reader feed from now on.

Now, my point. I thoroughly disagree with you that Good Old Boys is redneck bashing. Quite the contrary, it seems to me. The narrators in the tunes may not be entirely sympathetic, but that’s par for Newman’s course. I’m a 43 year old man and I cry every time I hear “Marie,” for example. Partially, it’s because my ex-wife’s middle name is Marie and I behaved in our marriage precisely the way the narrator did in the song, but partially it’s a result of the respect Newman has for the most ostensibly low of his narrators, every single time.

Great work, though. I certainly don’t feel I need to agree in every detail with people from whom I learn.


 

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