Song of the Day #12: ‘God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)’ – Randy Newman

Randy Newman’s latest release, Harps & Angels, hits shelves today… his first proper album since 1999’s Bad Love. He’s done a lot of soundtrack work in the meantime, of course, including some wonderful stuff for Pixar.

It’s funny, I’ve seen a lot of negative reaction to Randy Newman on internet message boards by people who think of him as some hack who churns out Disney tunes for easy cash. Clearly these people have no idea what they’re talking about.

For one thing, his soundtrack work is generally superb. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more emotional moment in film than the ‘When She Loved Me’ montage in Toy Story 2. And his ‘Our Town’ in Cars, performed by James Taylor, is a tender, bittersweet tribute to forgotten times.

But setting aside the quality of his “sell-out” material, these detractors have no clue what a biting satirist Newman is on his own CDs. Maybe they’ve heard ‘Short People’ once or twice, but have they ever heard the bitter slavery anthem ‘Sail Away?’ Or ‘Suzanne,’ a chilling song from the point of view of a stalker/would-be rapist?

One of my absolute favorites is ‘God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind),’ a scathing indictment of religion that very few artists would have the balls to write, let alone release. Over an ominous dirge-like piano accompaniment, Newman speaks in the voice of a deity repulsed by humanity:

Man means nothing, he means less to me
than the lowliest cactus flower or the humblest yucca tree
He chases round this desert cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be
That’s why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
from the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why I love mankind

I burn down your cities–how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You must all be crazy to put your faith in me
That’s why I love mankind
You really need me
That’s why I love mankind

Bravo, Randy. I can’t wait to pick up your new one.

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #12: ‘God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)’ – Randy Newman

  1. Dana says:

    Obviously, I coudn’t agree more with your opinions on Newman. For years in the 70’s and 80’s, he was considered the “songwriter’s songwriter,” receiving praise from more popular commercial artists like Paul Simon, Judy Collins, etc. I know Clay still finds great new artists by finding out who his faves like Costello, Rufus, etc., listen to, and I remember being intrigued to learn more about Newman when I too was in that discovery phase (now I just let Clay do the heavy lifting:)) I remember loving Short People when it was a hit, and it was perhaps the first time I was directly exposed to satire. I remember thinking, at 10 years old, could he really be singing such a mean spirited song? How could they allow this on the radio? How is this not controversial? Of course, it was only controversial to those who didn’t get it, so I kept listening until my young mind also “got it,” My next memory of Newman came with his other hit I Love LA. At that point, being the sophisticated 16 year old that I was:), I got the satire right away and just loved the song and later the whole album (Trouble in Paradise). I remember first hearing the song in the backseat of my cousin Michael’s car (perhaps the only time I ever recall spending social time with him). He really wanted me to hear this song, and so he blasted the cassette with his then state of the art hi-fi car stereo. I was hooked. I bought the album, and have never looked back. Like only a rare few of the greatest songwriters, Newman’s songs continue to maintain great quality. I can’t wait for the new album. Thanks Clay for reminding me to go to Itunes later today to get it.

  2. Amy says:

    Funny Dana mentions getting the newest Newman through iTunes, since he is one artist I would prefer to buy on cd, for he always includes the lyrics. I love Randy Newman’s voice, his sense of humor, his courage, his tenderness. I agree with Clay that the “sell out” songs are far from inferior. In fact, Randy and Lyle Lovett singing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” provided the perfect signal that Pixar’s films would be a cut above the rest. My favorite of his satire songs is “Political Science,” which I play for my students every year when I introduce satire. They “get it” and love it (“We’ll save Australia/ Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo/ We’ll build an All Amrican amusement park there/ They got surfin too”). Another personal favorite it “My Life is Good” because it makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it. Dana and I saw him in concert a year to two ago, and he was simply wonderful. He humorously explained why he sings “I’m Dead (but I don’t know it)” to an audience who clearly thinks he’s far from “dead.” Makes me wonder what I’m doing sitting here writing this; I have a cd to go buy!

  3. Amy says:

    Okay, I just got back from Best Buy, where I could not buy the new Randy Newman album because they are not stocking it. This was the insulting exchange:
    Me: “I’m looking for the new Randy Newman album.”
    Idiot Best Buy employee: perplexed stare – “I’m not familiar with him.”
    ” “: after checking the computer – “We’re not carrying it. I can get it for you online.”
    Me: thought bubble over my head “Obviously you can get it for me online. I CAN GET it for me online. People over 15 do buy records you know?!” Real words out of my mouth – “thank you.”

    So, I’ll be heading over to iTunes now to buy the new Randy Newman album. Oh, and Best Buy SUCKS (though I did buy Friday Night Lights [the PETER BERG film] for $3.99, while I was there. I never pretended my principles were that strong).

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