The only thing that could explain why Randy Newman isn’t a massive star, or at least held in the same high regard as, say, someone like Joni Mitchell, is that the majority of the listening public are fucking idiots.
That said, one of the things I love about him is that loving him makes you a true connoisseur.
Of course, he’s fairly well known for the music and songs he provides for film soundtracks. And a lot of that work is very fine indeed (especially Ragtime and Toy Story). But it’s with his lesser known ‘real’ music that the true heart of Newman lies.
It’s difficult to choose a favourite Randy Newman song because there are so many great ones. I’ve plumped for A Wedding in Cherokee County because it seems to me to contain, in a single song, all of the elements that make Newman so compelling: the biting wit, the withering sarcasm, the cruelty, the humour, the tenderness and the sure touch with a melody.
The song is taken from Newman’s 1973 concept album Good Old Boys. At the time of its release it was dismissed in some quarters as merely the work of a middle-class hipster. But as Newman’s career progressed it became more apparent that it was, in fact, a genuine love letter to the South.
A Wedding in Cherokee County documents the marriage of a couple of redneck/cracker/shit kicker/freaks. It’s possible that in someone else’s hands, the song might have just come across as sneering. But Newman, taking on the role of the groom, imbues the tale with love, sadness and, ultimately, humour. Which, of course, is the way that people like that often get through life.
As with many of his songs it features a very pretty melody that, while at odds temperamentally with the words, is the perfect carrier for the tale.
Spotify link: A Wedding in Cherokee County.