Song of the Day #1,418: ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ – Randy Newman

Best Albums of the 70s – #13
12 Songs – Randy Newman (1970)

Randy Newman has released just 10 studio albums over the past 44 years, and half of those were produced in the 70s. In subsequent decades he turned his attention to film scores (with 20 Oscar nominations to show for it) while putting out a brilliant, acerbic record every seven or eight years.

But his most lasting work comes from his most prolific decade as a singer-songwriter. And 12 Songs, his second album, is a resonant, understated glimpse of his genius at work.

12 Songs is an incredibly modest album, right down to its title. Most of the, yes, 12 songs on this record sound like demos, even as they skip around in style from Newman’s favored New Orleans jazz to country, blues and low-key rock-n-roll. Several of these tracks would go on to be recorded with fuller production by other artists, but I love them in this stripped-down state.

Newman is in peak songwriting form on this album, drawing powerful character sketches, putting himself in the shoes of stalkers, racists and the mentally disturbed. I find it hilarious when ignorant fools on the Web dismiss Newman as a Disney showtune hack, obviously unaware of the bone-chilling songs he’s dreamed up.

‘Mama Told Me Not to Come,’ Newman’s tale of a wide-eyed innocent overwhelmed by Los Angeles, became a big hit for Three Dog Night. Their rockier version is excellent but, as usual, it doesn’t get any better than hearing Newman’s work in his own voice.

Will you have whiskey with your water
Or sugar with your tea?
What are these crazy questions
That they’re asking of me?
This is the wildest party that there ever could be
Oh, don’t turn on the light ’cause I don’t want to see

Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come

Mama said, “That ain’t no way to have fun”
Open up the window, let some air into this room
I think I’m almost choking on the smell of stale perfume
And that cigarette you’re smoking ’bout to scare me half to death
Open up the window, let me catch my breath

The radio is blasting, someone’s beating on the door
Our hostess is not lasting – she’s out on the floor
I seen so many things here I ain’t never seen before
I don’t know what it is – but I don’t wanna see no more

Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come
Mama said, “That ain’t no way to have fun”

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,418: ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ – Randy Newman

  1. Dana says:

    A great selection for your 70’s list.

    I knew this song by Three Dog Night before I ever heard it by Newman. When I then heard Newman’s original, I was struck by not only how wonderful it is, but also how amazing it is to hear a song like this interpreted by other artists who then essentially take ownership of the work.

    Another example that comes to mind is Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” which I first heard by Joe Cocker before ever hearing the original by Newman. I have to say that, in most every instance, I prefer the songwriter’s version over the cover, but Joe Cocker’s take on songs tends to be one of the rare exceptions.

  2. pegclifton says:

    Great song! I can imagine doing the two-step in some honky tonk bar to it; if I could do the two-step that is.

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