You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

November 28: Randy Newman

November 28, 2015

randy-newmanSongwriter and film composer Randy Newman, the recipient of twenty Academy Award nominations (and two Awards) for his music, was born in Los Angeles on this date in 1943. (Three of his uncles, including Alfred Newman, were noted composers.) Several of his songs, including “Short People” and “Rednecks,” have sparked controversy for being blunt and sarcastic on social issues; Newman is certainly one of the more sardonic and honest songwriters of our generation. He began writing songs in his teens and supplied material for Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Jackie DeShannon, Gene Pitney, Jerry Butler, the O’Jays and others. His 1968 album, Randy Newman, provided many other songs for stars to cover (including his classic “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”), and those who did included Bette Midler, Dave Van Ronk, Judy Collins, Cass Elliot, the Everly Brothers, Nina Simone, Wilson Pickett, and Peggy Lee. In 1970, Harry Nilsson recorded an entire album of Newman’s songs, and Three Dog Night made a huge hit of his “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” Newman began working as a film composer for Norman Lear’s 1971 film, Cold Turkey. Better-known films that he has scored include Ragtime, Pleasantville, The Natural, Seabiscuit, Awakenings, Avalon, and seven Disney/Pixar feature films, including Toy Story; A Bug’s Life; Monsters, Inc.; and Cars. He has received three Emmys and six Grammys, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. To see him singing “Short People,” look below.

“Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart-ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool
If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that’s where I made this song.” —Randy Newman