Randy Newman “Sail Away”

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#657 in the Series) is Randy Newman, Sail Away

Randy Newman may just well be the best American songwriter ever, and if he’s not he’s definitely in the team picture and waiting to be next in line to have his face sculpted on the side of the Mt. Rushmore of scribes alongside Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Townes Van Zandt.

Newman, with his short story idiosyncratic style, creates a sort of Tom Waits via Dr. John and Charles Bukowski parallel universe of misfits, hoolligans, and charlatans with a nod to Mark Twain. Always with tongue firmly planted in cheek, He became best known for his satirical homage to little people with the surprise hit “Short People” in 1978, and his love song to 80’s yuppies and their lifestyle with “I Love L.A.”

While his own albums never really sold all that well, he suffers from the same “Can’t Really” sing syndrome that afflicts Kris Kristofferson, and that only Bob Dylan has been able to overcome successfully, Newman has become a superstar in his own right with his movie scores including The Natural, Ragtime, and Toy Story Three for which he earned an Oscar and Grammy, and has been a huge influence on artists from the worlds of Country, Pop and Rock Music the likes of which include Mark Knopfler and Lyle Lovett.

Sail Away was the third proper album that Randy Newman recorded and was a brilliant follow-up to his debut album Randy Newman, and It’s follow-up 12 songs, and despite charting at only 163 was as close to a hit as he had produced up to this point in his career in 1972. Melodically Sail Away drifted about exactly in the middle of his somewhat sparse debut and the more rock oriented sophomore effort but showed a marked step-up in his songwriting chops taking on slave traders, his father, and a dancing bear with equal aplomb.
The title Track “Sail Away” is a sort of commercial for African slave traders expounding on the virtues of life in America to the unsuspecting populace neglecting to tell them giving up their freedom was part of the deal.

“Lonely at the Top” was originally written for Frank Sinatra and is a cautionary tale of how life can be with a measure of success under your belt set to a sort of ragtime beat, while “He Gives Us All His Love” is a beautiful ,short, poignant love song to “The Man Upstairs”. “He’s smiling down on us from up above, he gives us all his love.”

The two best songs on the album are probably “Last Night I Had a Dream”, and “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, both more up-tempo rock oriented numbers with the former featuring some snazzy Ry Cooder guitar while the latter song was famously covered by Joe Cocker and subsequently deliciously recorded by the great Tom Jones.

“Political Science” could have been written in prior times by Phil Ochs or in current times by Todd Snider, or James McMurty, it’s that kind of dead on-point politically satirical song disguised by clever songwriting.

This album is in a word brilliant. Sure, Randy Newman would become more famous by writing songs for other people and even more famous for writing songs for cartoons like A Bugs Life, James and the Giant Peach, Monsters Inc., and the Toy Story Franchise. But if you want to you to hear the roots of the artist, before he had fame, money in his pocket, and still had a serious message to get out, take this historic 12 song vignette of a trip where life was not as simple or fun as a talking bug or toys that come alive, and discover where it all began.

The themes get a bit more melancholy with “Old Man” where a father is seemingly rejected by his son in his twilight years, and “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)” is a clear nondiscriminatory rejection of organized religion ending the album on somewhat of a somber note.

— Jeremy Wren

Track Listing

All songs written and composed by Randy Newman.

Side one

  1. “Sail Away” 2:56
  2. “Lonely at the Top” 2:32
  3. “He Gives Us All His Love” 1:53
  4. “Last Night I Had a Dream” 3:01
  5. “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” 2:00
  6. “Old Man” 2:42

Side two

  1. “Political Science” 2:00
  2. “Burn On” 2:33
  3. “Memo to My Son” 1:56
  4. “Dayton, Ohio – 1903” 1:47
  5. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” 3:18
  6. “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)” 3:36

Personnel

  • Randy Newman – Piano, Vocals
  • Jimmy Bond – Bass
  • Ry Cooder – Guitar
  • Ron Elliott – Guitar
  • Chris Ethridge – Bass
  • Wilton Felder – Bass
  • Milt Holland – Percussion
  • Jim Keltner – Drums
  • Abe Most – Saxophone
  • Earl Palmer – Drums
  • Gene Parsons – Drums
  • Russ Titelman – Bass, Guitar

Links

Listen to the full album below..

Posted by Larry Carta


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