Randy Newman - vocals, piano
Recorded on the tour launched to promote his 1972 masterpiece, Sail Away, this performance by Randy Newman is a wonderful trip back in time to the dawn of his career as a performer. Like his contemporary, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman had built a reputation as a prolific and insightful songwriter, albeit one who many in the industry felt really shouldn't have become a singer. His deadpan delivery and limited vocal range were anything but what had been portrayed by the music industry as necessary for stardom in the world of rock 'n' roll.
Still, Newman (the musical reincarnation of Mark Twain), was determined to present his songs in his own voice. The fact that he was able to prove, early on, that he could write a great pop song certainly helped. He did just that for a number of established acts, including Three Dog Night, Harry Nillson, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, and others. The critical success of Sail Away suddenly made Newman more marketable as a live performer, and so he took to the road in earnest in 1972 with this tour.
Featuring the most popular songs from his first two Warner Brothers albums, as well as a handful of hits he had written for others, this performance clearly demonstrates just what an important singer/songwriter Randy Newman had become in 1972. Though later on he would best be known for his populist works (among them, the novelty hit "Short People," and the music he wrote and recorded for the Toy Story animated films), by this point, Newman had written some of the most interesting and honest character-driven songs about life in America ever recorded.
On "Political Science," which appears near the end of the show, he sings about the lament of America after decades of an Imperialistic foreign policy: "They all hate us anyhow," he sings in a completely non-emotional way, "so, let's drop the big one now…" Earlier in the show, he performs "My Old Kentucky Home," a funny account of typical life in the American Midwest. It shines with lines like: "My little sister is short and stout, she didn't grow up…she grew out."
Several of these songs were covered by the aforementioned artists, and it is interesting to hear the original, piano-only versions of "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (immortalized in the film 9 1/2 Weeks by Joe Cocker); "Last Night I Had A Dream," (covered in 1974 by the all-girl band Fanny); and "Living Without You," (recorded the previous year by Manfred Mann's Earth Band). There are darker songs in his repertoire too. "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today," is a classic that still hold up today with its haunting pessimism, and "Yellow Man," which on the surface appears to be a very politically incorrect song, but is actually a sly statement on bigotry.
Although the 1974 Record Plant show (also available at Wolfgang's Vault) is a better introduction to his overall artistry, this performance is a great way to discover the music and lyrical wit of Randy Newman.