Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Sail Away" by Randy Newman (May, 1972)

Brad's Take:

My dad and I are going to have very different views of this, I think.

Having been a little kid in the 90s really makes this album hard to approach fairly. I can't help but imagine each song as a movie scene featuring Woody and Buzz Lightyear because (as I assume everyone is aware of) Randy Newman did a few timeless classics on the Toy Story soundtrack. That movie and the songs from it have been in my life since it came out 20 years ago, when I was just 8 years old! So as you can imagine, it's really hard to hear Randy Newman's voice and separate it from those movies.

Just because I can't help myself: "Sail Away" is a prequel to "I Will Go Sailing No More" (from Toy Story) about Andy taking his toys sailing with him out on the lake. "He Gives Us All His Love" is about Andy from the perspective of his toys, obviously. "Old Man" must be a rejected song about Andy's dad, which would make sense as to why Andy's dad was absent from all of the movies. (But seriously, just for a second, "Old Man" is a really fantastic song, albeit super sad.)

I'll try to stop messing around now...

I think picturing this as an alternate Toy Story soundtrack made it a lot more enjoyable for me. Randy Newman's songwriting style and voice are very corny, chipper, cute, and other good C-words, like "cucumber"... Anyway, imagining the songs as rejected Toy Story songs helped me get through it with a child-like smile. I really liked this album, in that regard. I think if I had gone into this with no knowledge of his timeless classics (such as "You've Got a Friend in Me") I don't know if I would have liked this as much. It was a fun little album, but just a tad too jolly for my typical liking.

One thing's for sure though. There is nobody else that sounds like Randy Newman. His signature voice and songwriting style mixed with his family-friendly accessibility are the reasons he is on this list and why he's adored by so many.

Dad's Take:

Brad called this one. Different views, indeed.

Before Toy Story, Randy Newman was known as one of the world's most acerbic singer-songwriters, putting out deceptively fun songs full of bitter wit. Sail Away is the classic example. 

There's so much dark humor in Newman's songs, sometimes so subtle that people miss it. Listen to this album once, then listen to it again with the lyrics in front of you, and you'll be surprised at how much you missed when you thought you were just listening to catchy, old-fashioned songs.

No one likes us--I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try 
But all around even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens 

Few songwriters have had so much to say, and have said it so well. Whether poking fun at the government or making it sound like thermonuclear war is the best party in town, or even poking fun of a religion based on love, but that allows incredibly suffering, Newman points his finger at everybody, then raises the next finger high to the sky.

I burn down your cities--how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind

 Kick me again, Mr. Newman. I enjoy it.

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor, and the filth, and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind 

And he kicks us, every one of us, in a way that's just so much fun. There's even a song I first heard on The Muppet Show.

Who needs money when you're funny

So put on this record and listen to some of the most brilliant songs to come out of the singer/songwriter period of the early seventies, by a guy who might best be described as the anti-singer/songwriter. You can leave your hat on while you listen, but just don't blink or you'll miss, well, everything, and you won't even notice that Newman stripped you down and left you naked in the cold. Sail Away might sound like happy Gershwin-inspired Tin Pan Alley fun, but if you pay attention, you'll notice he's singing about the bums sleeping behind the dumpsters in the alley, and he's making fun of them, only he's really making fun of you. It's one of the darkest albums I know, and I love it.

Listen all you fools out there
Go on and love me--I don't care
Oh, it's lonely at the top.  

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