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Randy Newman: You've Got to Let This Fat Boy In Your Life

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The mouth on Randy Newman's face is one of the coolest and cleverest in the business. When he's singing and his formerly pudgy but now OK body slumps and sways spinelessly over the piano under the weight of all those blues, his mouth pouts slightly, like Lennon's, surly and soulful and so tight-lipped the words barely get out. But when he's not singing, the mouth straightens a bit to something an owl might regard as a smile; the lips loosen up just enough to let understated, double-edged one-liners slip out sheepishly in the manner of Dan Hicks or Country Joe MacDonald.

It's the non-singing mouth that seems to have caused Randy the most difficulty. He claims people keep misunderstanding him, somehow reading bad things into perfectly innocent remarks. Once he went to see Liza Minelli rehearse a TV dance number, and after it was over she asked him how he liked it.

"You were a real Mitzi Gaynor out there," he replied, an assessment that apparently did not impress Liza. "But I always liked Mitzi Gaynor," Randy explained later with a shrug.

Another time Randy was approached by a Hollywood promoter who wanted to introduce a client named Neil Diamond. Neil was certainly selling more records than Randy at the time, and the promoter may have thought Randy could benefit from the relationship.

"Randy," solicited the promoter, "I think you and Neil here have something in common."

"Yeah, we're both Jewish," said Randy, more or less ending the discussion. (Actually, Randy says he's not really that Jewish. "I played at some bar mitzvah once. Wait a minute, no I didn't – just a regular wedding. Normal people.")

During his last visit to London, where his songs had garnered a sizable following, Randy was asked to go on television for an interview. It looked like a good opportunity to start a promotional ground swell; ex-Animal Alan Price was one of the first to record many of Randy's songs and had had a pretty strong hit in England with "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear."

But on the visit Randy became miffed at what he considered all the mindless, exaggerated criticism of American violence. And when he was asked in the interview how he was enjoying England, he replied pleasantly, "I think you have a cute little country."

No ground swell has been reported.

"It is a cute little country," Randy said later, shrugging again.

Randy Newman's songs, with their programmatic scores and sensitive characterizations and plot lines, are really little musical comedies, perhaps the only truly legitimate forms of rock musical comedy. Some people feel his career must naturally progress to the Broadway stage or film scoring. He has, in fact, already scored one film, Cold Turkey, and conducted the music to another, Performance.

But a few years ago he blew his first chance at a soundtrack when the film's producer, who had heard about this amazing Newman kid, called and asked Randy to play something. Randy had just finished writing "Davy the Fat Boy" and decided to try it out on him, forgetting for the moment that the producer himself weighed more than 300 pounds.

"About halfway through," recalled Randy, "the absurdity of my singing this song about a fat kid for this overweight producer suddenly hit me. When I finished, he said, 'That's wonderful; do you have any songs about blind people or bald men?'"

It's hard to imagine such faux pas, however embarrassing, stifling Randy's career, but then it's hard to imagine anything stifling it, particularly after the release of his second album. Of the four records, 12 Songs includes the greatest number of hard rockers and the greatest number of hard-core love songs. Actually it may have been the love songs, hard-core in the most pornographic sense, which created the problems. The very fact that their protagonists spring from the horny forgotten masses makes the songs simultaneously highly erotic and apparently uncommercial.

In "If You Need Oil," probably the first love song written about a gas station attendant, Randy's words sizzle with dirty double entendre:

Baby, please come to the station
And I'll wipe your windshield clean
If you need oil, I'll give you oil
And I'll fill your tank with gasoline
Baby, please come to the station
You know I get so lonely there
Bring some wine for inspiration
And wear a ribbon in your hair

But it's in "Suzanne," Randy's smutty answer to Leonard Cohen's spiritual love ballad by the same name, that his zeal for the perverse really shines. When Randy performs the song in public, he often introduces it by saying, "Nothin' religious about this one"; and it's true, Randy's weird lover hardly wants his perfect body to be touched by anything as abstract as some chick's mind:

I saw your name, baby
In a telephone booth
And it told all about you, mama
Boy I hope it was the truth
I took down your number
Looked up your address, Sue
And I was hopin' that maybe
You could love me, too

I'm gonna wait in the shadows
For you to come by
I'm gonna wait in the shadows, baby
For you to come by
And then I'll jump from the shadows
And try and catch your eye
Gonna run my fingers through your hair
And love you everywhere

Now I don't want to get too romantic
That's just not my way
But when I get my arms around you
I'm gonna rock you all the night
Gonna rock you all the day

Suzanne, you won't know it, but I'll be behind you
Don't try and run away from me, little girl
Wherever you go I'll find you
And when you go to the pictures
And I know you do
Don't take no one with you
'Cause I'll be there, too
Suzanne

"Suzanne," of course, is not really a love song as much as a kind of impersonal spoof; but Randy can employ kinkiness equally well in more serious personal overtures and make it sound almost beautiful. Here's "You Can Leave Your Hat On," which is included on his last album, Sail Away:

Baby take off your coat . . . (real slow)
Baby take off your shoes . . . (here I'll take your shoes)
Baby take off your dress
Yes. Yes. Yes.
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on
You can leave your hat on

Go on over there and turn on the light . . . no, all the lights
Now come back here stand on this chair . . . that's right
Raise your arms up into the air shake 'em
You give me reason to live
You give me reason to live
You give me reason to live

Suspicious minds are talking
Trying to tear us apart
They say that my love is wrong
They don't know what love is
They don't know what love is
They don't know what love is
They don't know what love is
I know what love is

When he was recently in Sweden, Randy was asked during a press conference what "You Can Leave Your Hat On" was all about. "Fucking," he explained. See, he does know what love is. "A lot of tunes in the guise of romanticism," he said later, "have mainly fucking behind them."

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Song Stories

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