Monday, August 20, 2007

Randy Newman

Randy Newman has had quite a varied and successful career as a singer-songwriter and film composer. He has won virtually every major award there is in the entertainment industry, including Oscars, Grammys and Emmys. In recent years, Randy has become even more well known for his songs in popular children's movies.

I use the term "children's movies" with some hesitation, because while Pixar's films are particularly geared toward children, I consider them among the finest movies of any type, and I'm 38. I can sit and watch any of the Pixar movies on my own, repeatedly, and thoroughly enjoy them.
When I was traveling on my own for about a week recently, and had a few hours free, I felt no hesitation whatsoever to go and see Ratatouille all by myself. My favorites, in particular, are Monsters Inc., Toy Story 1 & 2 and Finding Nemo, but I think they are all terrifically entertaining.

Toy Story started the ball rolling for Pixar's tremendous run of success, and Randy's songs and scoring are a big part of what helps to drive the story. Randy's songs are unassuming in their approach, usually with a basic pop arrangement and his uniquely twangy voice that can only be self-referenced. Randy Newman's voice sounds like... well, like Randy Newman. They are simply great songs, with a catchiness that belies their sophistication and melodies that are sublime and inspired. "You've Got a Friend in Me" is the signature song for the Toy Story films, and it welcomes you right into the world of Woody and Andy. It's a perfect hummable theme song with a heart, as Randy eloquently sings, "Some other folks might be a little bit smarter than I am, bigger and stronger, too. But none of them will ever love you the way I do. It's me and you, boy."

The next song in the film is the funky rock song, "Strange Things", where Woody is realizing how Buzz is taking some of Andy's attention away from Woody. I love that the film's producers chose Randy to create new songs specifically for the movie instead of just filling in a bunch of soundtrack songs and calling that a "score". Sometimes that kind of pop soundtrack can be just right for a movie, and certainly there are several songs that might have fit okay to underscore the general feeling there. But it's especially perfect to have Randy's specific lyrical descriptions like, "I was on top of the world, it was right in my pocket. I was livin' the life, things were just the way they should be. When from out of the sky like a bomb comes some little punk in a rocket. Now all of a sudden some strange things are happenin' to me."

The other song in Toy Story, "I Will Go Sailing No More", is later in the film when Buzz is realizing that he is indeed a toy, and it is a beautifully dramatic and dynamic piece tha
t reminds me of some of the achingly powerful Roger Waters tracks on The Wall. Each of the three songs on Toy Story couldn't be more different from each other, and yet each is brilliant and perfect for what it is and for what it is supposed to be achieving in the film.

There is only one new Randy Newman song in Toy Story 2 ("You've Got a Friend in Me" is reprised a couple of times), but boy, is it a doozy. "When She Loved Me", sung wonderfully by Sarah McLachlan, is so touchingly sad it makes you want to weep for the plight of forgotten toys everywhere. McLachlan, known for her breathy pseudo-yodeling vocals, was a perfect choice to give voice to the memory of Jessie, the Yodeling Cowgirl, and Newman's melody and arrangement in this song is truly stirring. Newman actually won his Oscar (after 13 nominations) for the fun jazzy pop tune "I Wouldn't Have Nothing if I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc., but my feeling is that he deserved it more for "When She Loved Me".

Other songs Randy composed for children's movies include the songs for the great version of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, "That'll Do" from Babe: Pig in the City, and "Our Town", which James Taylor plaintively sang (as he does so well) in Cars. Pixar is scheduled to release Toy Story 3 in 2010, presumably with Randy Newman doing the music again, though his involvement hasn't been confirmed for that yet. He is definitely doing songs and music for Disney's much-touted return to traditional 2D animation with "The Frog Princess" in 2009.

Randy Newman website

2 comments:

Phil said...

It is a stunning collection of film songs... Even though I have all those tracks, I never thought much about it before because they're scattered all over the place in my iTunes. I do believe I need to gather them into one mix and enjoy the genius of Randy Newman.

Kids Music said...

Your blog is like an encyclopedia for those who want to know more about this. Thanks for the interesting information.