Randy Newman:Songwriter For Hire

I first became aware of Randy Newman (that’s the great) in the early months of 1967 when the Alan Price Set had a UK Top 5 hit with the lyrically dexterous “Simon Smith & His Amazing Dancing Bear”. Price’s previous group, his Rhythm & Blues Combo, had become the Animals who’s second single, the momentous British Beat interpretation of a folk standard “The House of the Rising Son” (1964), deservedly became a massive international success. The label of that 45 contained the words “Trad-arr:A Price”, an astute move on his part which triggered “musical differences” & his departure from the group soon after the first royalty cheques arrived.

 

Related imageThe seven-piece Alan Price Set didn’t write their own material, the debut LP, “The Price to Play” (1966), was a mix of the American Blues, R&B & Soul they played on stage. In a shift in style, on 1967’s “A Price on His Head” there were no less than seven Randy Newman songs. Four of these were included on Randy’s own eponymous debut LP released the following year. By 1968 it was becoming a given that if you needed a song which combined individuality, direct emotions & a dry wit then he was your man. The list of artists who selected from his catalogue was long, impressive & growing.

 

 

Randy, who dropped out of his music studies at the University of California, was joining the family business. Three of his uncles were established composers of film & TV scores. The most notable, Alfred Newman, won 9 Oscars for his soundtracks. He went pro when he was 17 & “They Tell Me It’s Summer”, a b-side to a Fleetwoods hit record provided financial encouragement to the aspiring songwriter.  I know now that Randy had written songs before “Simon Smith…”. I was not aware of the quality of the artists who had recorded his music & that he had written familiar songs that had been sizeable hits in the UK.

 

Image result for irma thomas anyone who knows what love isI didn’t know until recently that he has a co-credit for the incredible Irma Thomas song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)”. Imperial Records were based in Los Angeles, Newman’s hometown, & enjoyed much success through a connection with Dave Bartholomew, a major player in the development of New Orleans music. Young Irma already had a fine string of impassioned Soul ballads behind her when “Anyone Who…”, a co-write between Randy, aspiring Country singer Jeannie Seely, then a secretary at Imperial & two others who appear to have written little else, was paired with “Time Is On My Side” for a 1964 single. The latter proved ideal for the Rolling Stones brand of bluesy British Beat. The atmospheric, enchanting “Anyone Who…” has received greater recognition since it’s inclusion in an episode of Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” series. Together they comprise one of the most desirable & satisfying 7″ plastic discs released in the decade. Click on the clip above because Irma Thomas was, & still is, quite something.

 

 

1964 was the year that Randy Newman’s name really started getting around. Established artists such as Bobby Darin, Lou Rawls & Jackie De Shannon picked up his songs. The most substantial, enduring title was “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore” given a dramatic interpretation by the consummate Jerry Butler, enjoying solo success after leaving the Impressions. A double A-side with “I Stand Accused”, there’s another covetable piece of vinyl. Over in the UK three Americans, the Walker Brothers were enjoying great popularity & the song was ideal for the expressive voice of Scott Walker. “I’ve Been Wrong Before” was a Top 20 UK hit for the Beatles mate Cilla Black &, in the  same year, appeared on “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” by Britain’s leading lady vocalist. Newman’s intriguing ballads & Ms Springfield were a great match. Her version of “I Don’t Want to Hear It…” was recorded for the impeccable “Dusty in Memphis” (1969). It makes the cut here because if you ever get the chance to listen to Dusty Springfield sing then take it.

 

 

Image result for gene pitney rolling stones tourGene Pitney had his biggest US successes in 1962. There were not only 2 Top 10 singles but “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee), “He’s A Rebel” (The Crystals) & “Hello Mary Lou” (Ricky Nelson) were his songs that you know by other  people.He lost a little direction though “Gene Pitney Meets the Fair Young Ladies of Folkland” (1964) is worth having for the title & cover. The two 1965 albums of duets with Country legend George Jones have worn very well too. His first UK hit, 1963’s “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa”, Bacharach & David’s capsule soap opera, was an obvious quality item, A visit over here with Phil Spector,  hanging out with the Rolling Stones, recording an early song of theirs, made him kinda cool. His career revived in the US but he always seemed more popular in the UK. Two of his 11 Top 10 singles here were written by Randy Newman. “Nobody Needs Your Love (More Than I Do)” was another pinch of Jerry Butler, a quickened tempo, added orchestration & Gene’s trademark double tracked vocals gave him his usual hit. I probably have a preference for Jerry’s take but then if “The Ice Man” sang the weather forecast I would consider buying it.

 

“Just One Smile”, originally a B-side for the Tokens, a Doo-Wop group from Brooklyn, was Pitneyfied & added to his list of creditable hits. With a growing maturity & confidence Randy Newman began to develop a more individual style. Songs like “Tickle Me”, “So Long Dad”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” & others displayed an original approach to the popular song, an acerbic wit & a slightly skewed view on Life through an assemblage of characters. He could still write those affecting, often slightly forlorn ballads & the queue to get a hold of his new songs got even longer. His own records were great then greater & don’t get me started on “Good Old Boys” (1974) because this is about Randy as a jobbing songwriter so…another time.

 

 

I was going to end this with the Nashville Teens & “The Biggest Night of Her Life”, a 1967 UK 45 which, for a couple of weeks I was convinced was headed for the charts. As I said there are songs that I know but I didn’t know Randy Newman wrote. Here is a version of “Just One Smile” by an absolute master of Chicago Soul & favourite of mine that I wasn’t aware of for years. It was recorded but failed to make the cut for Walter Jackson’s LP “Speak Her Name” (1966). Walter’s husky baritone, powerful & subtle, could make a grown man (that would be me) have a little something in his eye. Magnificent.

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New Music For September 2018

Can it be 30 years ago that I was sat with the woman lucky enough to be my companion in the well-appointed foyer bar of one of the concrete fun palaces on the South Bank of the River Thames eagerly awaiting a concert by the pioneering master trumpet player Don Cherry? I was raised to be respectful & to listen when someone is talking, notably good advice when you are hoping to make a good impression on the someone you have invited to share the evening. I admit that I was a little distracted when a very striking woman, Don’s step-daughter Neneh, stood nearby. I knew about Neneh from her time as singer with Rip Rig + Panic who released 3 LPs of Post Punk, Jazz Funk, did a couple of sessions for DJ John Peel & appeared on “The Young Ones”, the preferred TV comedy of the day for the nation’s youth.

 

Image result for neneh cherry rolling stoneBy the end of the year a lot more people knew who Neneh Cherry was. “Buffalo Stance”, a sparky, sparkling confection of Rap, R&B, Beats & sass, the first single from her solo LP “Raw Like Sushi”, was the brightest of modern Pop & in the UK Top 10. She appeared on Top of the Pops, almost 7 months pregnant, in stretch Lycra & she looked as good as she sounded. The single repeated its success in the US & in 1989 her music, videos & image were everywhere while she was celebrating the birth of her daughter Tyson with her husband-collaborator Cameron McVey.

 

 

 

It was 3 years before Neneh made the follow up record. “Homebrew” was good, not as commercially successful & I guess that she was not too concerned. Neneh was never too bothered about being a Pop star & since then she has worked when, where, with whoever she wanted & the music has always been interesting. The one you know is the trilingual “7 Seconds”, a 1994 hook up with Youssou N’Dour, a big hit all across Europe. The list of her collaborators is long, varied & very impressive.

 

Related image“Kong” is her first release since 2014’s “Blank Project” LP. It’s a serious , empathic commentary on the state of things, on the world in a state, “Goddamn guns and guts and history and bitter love still put a hole in me”. Back in 1988 Massive Attack’s 3D contributed to her song “Manchild”. He returns to co-produce with Four Tet & the talented pair have created an atmospheric Trip-Hop soundscape. “Kong” has more than a little of Massive Attack about it & that’s better than a good thing as there is not enough of that about nowadays. I put a friend on to the accomplished video & she was not just surprised that Neneh was still making music but also commented on how good she looked. Now I’m much too evolved to remark upon a woman’s appearance but I’m with Gigi on this one.

 

 

Extended exposure to “Joy as an Act of Resistance”, the powerful new collection of Punk pique by Idles, has created the need for a little time to chill so that I’m not gobbing on Life like it’s still 1977. The current soundtrack to the restoration of my equilibrium is “Lifted”, the new album, his fifth, by Israel Nash, a musician living in Texas whose work has passed me by for almost a decade. Seems like I’ve been missing out on something good.

 

Image result for israel nash liftedI became aware of Israel Nash Gripka, as he was then, with his debut “New York Town” (2009). The standout track “Pray For Rain”  sounded like the best track that John Fogerty had never recorded, I liked it but y’know, I have Credence records. Israel has got his band together, moved to Dripping Springs, Texas where he makes his records at home. He likes a full, chimeric, light-Psych sound. His mature lyrics are matched to mostly mid-tempo melodies & that’s OK,on “Lifted” perhaps the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Israel still can write a mean Neil Young tribute, the harmonies evoke Crosby, Stills & Nash, even the Beach Boys on “Sweet Springs”. His influences are easily identified & they are all the good ones. The swooning pedal steel brings to mind the first Jerry Garcia LP & there’s not a lot better than that. While you click on the terrific “SpiritFalls” I’m putting the new Calexico on hold for 2015’s “Silver Season” then working my way back through his catalogue. This is the kind of Americana I like.

 

Neneh Cherry may have my vote for the single of the year so far but here at Loosehandlebars Mansions we welcome the opinions of others & a good friend of the blog, Raymond Gorman, formerly of That Petrol Emotion, now a member of The Everlasting Yeah, has been canvassing support for this. I think that Raymond may be one of the dancers in this video…Yeah, he wishes.

 

 

Image result for chaka khan magazine coverOnly good things can be said about Chaka Khan. In her early twenties when the group she fronted, Rufus, broke through you watch her performances on “Soul Train” & she is a hootie tootie disco cutie, magnetic, a talent & a star. Here’s the first hit “Tell Me Something Good”, before the group became “…featuring Chaka”. I recently made a mix of 80’s R&B for a mate, helping to make the day in his cab a little funkier, & her super smash with Prince’s “I Feel For You” was an obvious ingredient. I had to match it with the abiding “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus, a permanent fixture on our house party tapes in that decade.

 

Image result for like sugar chaka khan“Like Sugar” is the Great Khan’s first track for a decade, the lead for a new album. It’s recorded with Switch, formerly off of Major Lazer & producer for many, including M.I.A. The song proves that Old School or New School, what the heck’s the difference as long as it’s got the Funk. There’s a heavy sample of the Fatback Band/Sarah Ruba version of “(Are You Ready) To Do the Bus Stop” & the all-dancing video will make you smile. If you have missed this up to now then get your groove on & remember what a fine Summer we had. There’s a Switch remix that’s worth a listen too. Ms Khan is, of course, a legend, just this week she performed at Aretha’s funeral. It’s great to have her around again.