Kevin Winter, Getty Images T.I. and Lil Wayne are teaming up once again, only this…
- Posted on Sep 12th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
For a guy who's only clambered into the pop Top 40 once in his long career, Newman's successes are many. 'Louisiana 1927,' which he recorded in 1974, was revived as a communal ode in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His saucy song 'You Can Leave Your Hat On,' covered by Joe Cocker, provided the most memorable scene in the softcore hit '9 1/2 Weeks.' Newman's 'Mama Told Me (Not to Come)' was the first of three No. 1s for the huge early-'70s rock act Three Dog Night. And as a film composer he has defined a certain brand of unabashed Americana, from the theme to 'The Natural' to signature Pixar songs such as 'You've Got a Friend in Me' (from 'Toy Story') and 'If I Didn't Have You' ('Monsters, Inc.').
But despite his genuinely heartfelt film music, Newman is a satirist to the core. And as Jonathan Swift and Stephen Colbert would tell you, satire is a tough business. The satirist is bound to offend someone, somewhere. Invariably, it's someone who's missed the point completely. Newman's one true hit record marked him for life.
Having already condemned slavery ('Sail Away'), war-mongering ('Political Science') and blind religious faith ('God's Song') -- in each case writing from the point of view of the guilty party -- for his 1977 album 'Little Criminals,' Newman recorded the most absurd example of stereotyping he could dream up. 'Short People,' backed in the studio by members of the Eagles, comically exposed the stupidity of hating someone for their genetics: "They got little baby legs, they stand so low/You got to pick 'em up just to say hello."
The insidiously catchy song became a surprise smash for the cult-favorite singer, blocked from the No. 1 spot only by Debby Boone's 'You Light Up My Life.' At the height of the song's popularity, it was expelled from oversensitive radio playlists, and Newman received threats about it. The legislature in the state of Maryland considered a bill that would have banned all airplay for the song. (It didn't pass.)
Twenty-five years later, when Newman re-recorded his greatest hits for 'The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol.1,' his biggest commercial payoff by far was nowhere to be found. It had been reduced, he lamented in one interview, to nothing more than "a novelty record, like the Chipmunks."
He'll be hearing from the Chipmunks' lawyers shortly.