Randy Newman

Randy Newman

Though it was almost totally obscured by the great psychedelic rock explosion of 1968, Randy Newman’s eponymous debut now seems more audacious and visionary than any of that year’s nameless neon spectacles. For all its merits, it’s not hard to see why the album failed — even today, there is not a niche for this music in the pop world. Newman sews together pieces of folk rock and Tin Pan Alley, but his overarching passion is for the orchestra. Arranged by his fellow Los Angeles eccentric Van Dyke Parks, the orchestral backing here gives the impression of a youthful cynic who harbors golden dreams. Newman’s famous acid wit is on view in “Davy the Fat Boy,” but on the whole the album is very earnest. Taken together, the songs provide a portrait of a brokenhearted young man, attempting to preserve his empathy in an uncaring world. Almost every song offers a distinct image of desolation, from the “cold gray buildings where a hill should be” (“Cowboy”) to “Linda,” which begins with “seven ships without a sail, seven cats without a tail.” Throughout Newman plays the sweet and doubtful hero.

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