Randy Newman didn’t think he’d live to see the day when he would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and yet here he is. “I really thought maybe I’d have to die first,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I didn’t think it would happen if it didn’t happen, you know, a little earlier. But this is great. I’m really glad it happened when I was still around to see it.”
How did you hear the big news?
My manager, Cathy Kerr, called me up. My reaction was, “Gee, that’s great.” I’m surprised and very happy.
I just didn’t think I’d get in. I saw the other people that were in. I thought maybe N.W.A. would get it.
They didn’t get it, but Public Enemy did.
Well, that’s good. They’re always a little doctrinaire about what’s rock & roll and what isn’t rock & roll. It’s nice they opened up a little to let me in.
Do you consider yourself a rock star?
Not a rock star. I mean, I always thought of that as what I was doing. I always thought I was writing like that, but I didn’t know how to classify my songs. Some of them don’t have a beat, but some Beatles songs don’t have one, either.
The term “rock & roll” is fairly elastic.
It should be. To restrict it isn’t right. It’s funny; people get so doctrinaire about music. It should be the last thing you don’t have an open mind about.
This is sort of like the Oscars. They took their sweet time giving you one of those things, too.
Yeah, finally. God knows it wasn’t for my best work, but there it was.
Now you have two Oscars, a star on the Walk of Fame . . .
Now the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now I can move to Hawaii and take up oil painting!
Do you feel like you’re finally getting the respect you always deserved?
I’ve always had a lot of respect from the people I respected. I’m always surprised when I go to England and they think so highly of me in terms as a writer. But I’m gratified to have songs that have lasted this long. It’s really a surprise. It must be a surprise to anyone who was around in the Seventies and Sixties.
I guess back then, songs didn’t stick around all that long. They certainly weren’t listening to music that came out 30 or 40 years earlier.
They sort of did in the early 1950s, and they all just went out the window in 1954.
It’s a pretty cool Hall of Fame class this year with you, Rush, Public Enemy, Heart.
I like Public Enemy a great deal. Same with Heart, Rush . . . all of them. I sure wouldn’t want to follow any of them. Imagine after they play, “And here he is, the Dean of Satire!” Then I do an acoustic rendition of . . . whatever. My God.
It would be hard to go on after “Tom Sawyer,” “Fight the Power” and “Barracuda.”
Yeah, good luck.
It’s in Los Angeles, so you gotta do “I Love L.A.” Maybe as the opener?
Maybe I’ll do that. Well, they might wanna close with that.
They usually do a big jam at the end, but I can’t picture a jam with you, Rush, Public Enemy and Heart.
I think we can do it.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I’m doing a movie for Pixar, Monsters University. I’d like to make another album. I’d like to do it right now, but I’ll do it later.
You’ve been so busy with the movies that your solo career has really taken a backseat, I imagine.
I had time to do albums, too. I just always . . . My work habits have been dreadful. I didn’t have to work. I wish I had done more, but that’s another story.
I was looking at your recent setlists. You do a ton of songs from Sail Away. Do you see that album as a high-water mark in your career?
In terms of songs, I’d say Sail Away and Bad Love. I always thought my best album was Trouble in Paradise. I was the happiest with that one. I do a lot of songs from Sail Away because there’s an audience for them. They know them and like them. Harps and Angels is pretty good, song for song. There’s one or two weak ones, but not bad.
Do you think Pixar is going to make Toy Story 4?
I don’t know. There’s that little girl they got there, so they are set up to do that. I just don’t know.
I thought part three was the best one in the series.
For whatever reason, I preferred one and two. But they’re hard for me to judge. They’ve made a lot of good pictures. They’re the best studio that’s ever been, in terms of quality.