10 albums that shaped my musical tastes and styles
The first Randy Newman song I ever heard was “Louisiana 1927,” the last song on Good Old Boys. He had me with the four-bar orchestral intro.
Newman has put out many first-rate albums and movie scores, but Good Old Boys and “Louisiana 1927” are still my favorites. More than any of his other albums, I believe, Good Old Boys springs from his formative years in New Orleans and reveals his seriously mixed feelings about the American South.
Many of his songs are acerbic and reflect a cynical view of humanity, and nobody I know of (with the possible exception of Warren Zevon) employs the unreliable narrator so effectively. Among the best examples are “Political Science” from Sail Away, and “My Life is Good” from Trouble in Paradise.
Some of his songs are incredibly dark, notably “In Germany Before the War” from Little Criminals. Yet he is also capable of creating songs as vulnerable, tender and life-affirming as “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and — one of my favorite love songs — “Feels Like Home.”
I find inspiration from his use of the piano to accompany his singing, his bluesy chords, and the lush orchestrations of his albums and movie scores. Lyrics aside, his music sounds as big as America.
Sometimes, when I sit at the piano, grasping for inspiration, I tell myself, “Think Stephen Foster. Think Randy Newman.”
Favorite tracks: Louisiana 1927, Guilty, Rollin’, Birmingham, Marie, Wedding in Cherokee County