MUSIC REVIEW | Randy Newman – Sail Away (1972)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Darkly funny, while never becoming a joke, I feel like it would be pretty easy to get lost in Newman’s words.”

I first became aware of Randy Newman when he was the mush mouthed, piano bar style singer behind that song from Toy Story that I think won an Oscar.  His voice is so unique and non traditional, it was kind of hard to believe years later when I began to realise that he had a legit career as a charting musician before he became the go to guy for cramming 100 minutes of Pixar sentimentality into three or four minutes of heart string yanking musical gold.  But he was a charting musician with actual hits, who recorded records like Sail Away.

Even with my almost non existent knowledge of Newman’s music, even I know that he’s notorious for his dry and sarcastic sense of humour.  And he delivers it in spades on the opening, titular track.  The music might be piano fuelled nostalgia, but the lyrics are darkly snarky and biting.  His viewpoint is immediately established with the album’s very first lines declaring, “In America you’ll get food to eat, won’t have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet.  You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day, it’s great to be an American”.

The sarcasm continues on Lonely at the Top.  The mournful, tuba lead sea shanty makes ‘the top’ the worst place in the world, where loneliness is just the beginning of your troubles.  Threatening and swampy with a delta blues darkness, Last Night I Had a Dream couldn’t be any further from the dancing, ragtime piano of Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear.

The crashing of lyrical and musical tones reaches critically opposing levels on Political Science.  A slow jazz march lays under Newman’s husky mumble, delivering lines like, “No one likes us, I don’t know why.  We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try.  But all around, even our old friends put us down.  Let’s drop the big one, and see what happens”.  But its juxtaposition is given a run for its money by Burn On, singing about Cleveland over traditional Baltic accordion, before sounding like the end credits to every slightly depressing sitcom made in the 70s.

Joe Cocker’s version of You Can Leave Your Hat On became a bit of a bone down classic thanks to the movie 9½ Weeks.  It got an ironic twist with Tom Jones’ version being a stand out soundtrack hit from The Full Monty.   Now I know it was written by a dude with possibly the least suitable voice in music for boning down, Randy Newman.
I’ll say this for Newman and Sail Away, for an album that is basically a bloke on his piano, it’s pretty varied and never predictable.  His movie score work meant I knew he was an accomplished musician, but I didn’t know what a great lyricist he is on top of that.  Darkly funny, while never becoming a joke, I feel like it would be pretty easy to get lost in Newman’s words, even he didn’t back them up with such immediately catchy melodies.

Randy Newman

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about Sail Away?
Rolling Stone
Sputnik Music
1001 Albums You Must Hear (and Blog About) Before You Die

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