RANDY NEWMAN was born on November 28, 1943 into a famously musical family – his uncles Alfred, Lionel, and Emil were all well-respected film composers and conductors. Even Randy’s father Irving Newman – a prominent physician – wrote a song for Bing Crosby. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that at 17 Randy Newman was already a professional songwriter in his own right, knocking out tunes for a Los Angeles publishing house. In 1968 he made his debut with the orchestral Randy Newman, and before long Newman’s extraordinary and eclectic compositions were being recorded by an unusually wide range of artists, from Pat Boone to Ray Charles, Peggy Lee to Wilson Pickett.
Critics rightly raved about Newman’s 1970 sophomore effort 12 Songs, and increasingly the public started to take notice with albums like 1970’s Live, and even more so with 1972’s classic Sail Away and 1974’s brilliant and controversial Good Old Boys. With the 1977 Top Ten Little Criminals, Newman experienced a huge left-field smash with “Short People.” 1979’s Born Again was a decidedly barbed piece of work, which pictured Newman on the cover in Kiss-styled make-up with a dollar sign on his face. How fitting for a dark piece of work that features “It’s Money That I Love,” a memorable comment on runaway capitalism that was reprised on The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. I (2003).
In the Eighties, Newman was dividing his time between film composing and recording his own albums. In 1981, Newman released his exquisite score for Milos Forman’s adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime – earning him his first two of 16 Oscar nominations for Best Score and Best Song. 1983 saw the release of Trouble In Paradise, while the next year saw the release of Newman’s Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated score for The Natural. 1988’s studio album Land of Dreams was another breakthrough work marked by some of Newman’s most personal and powerful work yet.
In the ’90s, Newman enjoyed massive success with his film work, as well as winning a 1990 Emmy for his music in the pilot of Cop Rock. Amusingly and surprisingly to many longtime fans, the cutting social critic found himself becoming a beloved children’s entertainer thanks to his outstanding music for films like 1995’s Toy Story, 1996’s James and the Giant Peach, 1997’s Cats Don’t Dance, 1998’s Bug’s Life, and 1999’s Toy Story 2. Newman won three more Grammys for his work on A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters, Inc. Still, he also managed to play to the adult audience with his darkly hilarious take on Faust – the 1995 recording of which included performances by Don Henley, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, and James Taylor. Towards the end of the decade, Newman put out an impressive four-CD compilation, 1998’s Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman and a strong new album for DreamWorks, 1999’s Bad Love, Newman’s first collaboration with Mitchell Froom. In 2002, Newman finally won his first Oscar for “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc.
The eighteen-song set on The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. I (2003), his illuminating first effort for the Nonesuch label, found Newman singing and playing piano on powerful new solo versions of his early classics and his more recent gems, as well as a few examples of the Oscar-winning composer’s film music. The album is an intimate and powerful reminder of the enduring work that has established Newman as a songwriter’s songwriter – one of the most musically and lyrically ambitious singer-songwriters ever to be at play in the fields of popular music.
Never content to rest on his laurels, Newman has recorded his first album of new songs in nine years, to be released August 5 on Nonesuch. Entitled Harps and Angels, the latest entrant into Newman’s discography includes the track “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” released exclusively via iTunes in 2007 and named by Rolling Stone as the No. 2 song of the year.