Saturday, July 17, 2010

393. Good Old Boys. Jaunty satire that wouldn't get past today's internet filters.

Album: Good Old Boys.
Artist: Randy Newman.
Genre: Country
Year: 1974

  1. Rednecks
  2. Birmingham
  3. Marie
  4. Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)
  5. Guilty
  6. Louisiana 1927
  7. Every Man a King
  8. Kingfish
  9. Naked Man
  10. Wedding in Cherokee County
  11. Back on My Feet Again
  12. Rollin'

When most people hear this album they have two immediate responses- the first is: "I recognize that guy from somewhere". The second and more immediate response is "He can't say that!"

The first of these two responses is a reaction to Randy Newman's voice which is immediately familiar mainly because of his latter day career writing songs for Pixar films. If you've seen any of the Toy Story Movies, Monsters Inc, Cars or A Bugs Life you would have heard Randy's voice and tunes at key moments in the movie. Even if the songs weren't song by Randy himself you'd still recognize the style. The tunes that Newman has recorded on this album, and his subsequent movie work, are either jaunty and upbeat with quirky but not bizarre orchestration or melancholy and wistful with quirky but not bizarre orchestration. He's hit on a definite and distinctive style and you can see why film-makers have turned to him over the years to put down the soundtrack to the emotional moments in their movies. The songs on Good Old Boys sound exactly like the ones he produces for Toy Story, with one noticeable difference...

The second thing you might notice about Randy Newman's music involves the lyrical content of this album's opening track. The opening lines reference a "Smart ass New York Jew" which you might find slightly confronting until it's effortlessly trumped by the line "We're keeping the niggers down." If you think your ears are playing tricks on you Newman is happy to repeat the phrase numerous times throughout the song which moves the listener from "Did he just say that?" to "He did just say that" and then all the way through to "He keeps saying that!" As far as I'm aware Newman hasn't returned to the N-word as a regular theme in his later output. I haven't actually seen Cars or but I'm sure I'd have heard about it if the soundtrack used racial epithets. And if Newman had a tendency to inject casual racism into his cinematic work it's a fair bet that a cuddly production company like Pixar would dispense with his services quicker than you can say the phrase "It's political correctness gone mad!"

Rednecks, the song in question, isn't actually racist it's satire and it makes a valid point. Newman sings as a character who is annoyed at the way the Northern states put down those from the South and treats them as racist idiots. He finishes with an accusation that the North is hypocritical, citing the conditions of the African American population living in ghettos in Northern cities. As satire it works incredibly well. It plays directly into your prejudices (those damn, ignorant racist rednecks) and then turns the table on the listener by making an excellent point and making it well. It would be hard to argue if Newman really was a redneck from the Southern States, the fact that he's a Californian with a keen ear for satire gives it a lot more impact.

Musically I think Randy's later career has troubled his earlier output and taken some of the gloss off. There's no doubt Newman writes a very good soundtrack song. His music gives an animated movie an emotional edge and makes the reader become passionately involved with the lives of creatures who are just a collection of binary code produced by talented whizz kids with expensive computers. The problem is it makes his earlier work sound like movie songs without a movie to accompany them. Listening to Good Old Boys feels a bit empty because he's using a sound that we're conditioned to expect a narrative behind. It's an odd experience and one that leaves you a bit detached and emotionally confused.

If you're a big fan of your Pixar soundtracks then you might want to check out Good Old Boys but it might feel like an empty experience. You're better off waiting for the next animated masterpiece to come along. It's a fair bet it will include a brand new Randy Newman song or two and they'll sound a lot like these tracks do.

Influenced by: Country.
Influenced: Pixar

Highlight: Rednecks.
Lowlight: Kingfish.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Good Old Boys" is also a great record to drink to. Just as my friend Myles. He is a killer diller from the dirty dirty. Myles is hard into "Cougars" (women over the age of 40), huffing gasoline, books on tape, big jungle cats, paintings of race cars, and hanging out without his shirt on. He is a no-nonsense kind of dude. I am pretty sure you can find Myles hanging out in his San Francisco apartment shirtless right now with a mean scotch buzz, the body of a decomposing bobcat or lynx in his basement fridge, a 46 year old woman chained to his staircase, and Randy Newman's "Good Old Boys" blasting at an uncomfortable volume from his alarm clock/CD player.

-that's a fantastic description.

So is Newman a good old boy or a bad old man? Let me know below.

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