November 29th, 2019
Randy Newman - Good Old Boys (1974)
When I was a student I was living in a students' residence. I remember we once organized a table tennis tournament in the basement between old rugged sofas and stuffy curtains. I ended up in third place, and won a 20 DM (yes it's that long ago) gift certificate for the local music shop in Bonn (City Music). In the end I bought Randy Newman's Good Old Boys, and I don't even remember why. I had heard of Randy Newman before, but had never heard any of his music - this was before there was music streaming on the internet, even before Napster. I was listening to 70s music at that time and my musical taste was still evolving, and buying an album was sometimes the only way to discover new artists - a "hit or miss" thing.
But I fell in love with this album almost immediately. The lush orchestration, the syncopated, swinging New Orleans feel and not at least the uncompromising, deadpan lyrics drew me in. Now, after having listened to every Newman album there is, I can see clearer why this album stands out - it really feels like an album. The songs are mostly set in the South ("Louisiana 1927", "Birmingham", "Kingfish") or are from the perspective of Southerners ("Rednecks", "Mr President"), or at least have a relaxed Southern vibe ("Rollin'"). This setting is a pedestal, it gives cohesiveness and the album doesn't feel like a collection of random ideas.
When listening to "Rednecks" in particular, Randy Newman has lost nothing of his biting edge in the last 45 years. The song is written from the perspective of a Southerner who follows a liberal TV show where a conservative, southern senator is being ridiculed (based on a true story). It vividly describes the hybris of Liberals and their contempt for the conservative, rural folks. In times when someone like Trump can get elected into office just on the base that his voters are angry at the ruling class, it shows that the songs of Randy Newman are still relevant and utterly needed today.