Sail Away – Randy Newman (1972)
Randy Newman is the first repeat artist on my 70s list (though he won’t be the last). As I said in my write-up of his 12 Songs album, this decade featured him at his finest.
And for my money, 1972’s Sail Away — Newman’s fourth album — remains his finest moment on record. Alternately biting, sweet and sad, this collection lifted the idea of popular songwriting to a whole new level. These songs feel more like literature.
Most of the tracks are deeply satirical, sometimes so deeply that they’re mistaken as sincere. Take ‘He Gives Us All His Love,’ a delicate piano ballad that praises a god who “knows how hard we’re trying,” “hears the babies crying” and “sees the old folks dying” but responds only by “smiling down on us from up above.” Is it a knock on a passive god, or a celebration of his love? The fact that a couple of born-again Christians have covered it suggests the answer isn’t immediately obvious.
But the presence of the bookend track ‘God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)’ provides a hint. In that chilling track, a bemused God smirks at humanity, stating “I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we… you all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind, you really need me.”
On Sail Away‘s title track, Newman sings in the voice of a slave trader selling the greatness of America to the “little wogs” he’s tricking onto his ship.
And he still finds room for the sexy come-on ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ and ‘Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear,’ a song later covered by the Muppets.
‘Political Science’ is a jingoistic satire that took on a whole new meaning in the wake of the September 11 attacks. According to one YouTube commenter, “Last time I saw Randy live he intro’d this by saying he’d written it as satire only to see it become prophecy and then reportage.”
A satirist, a prophet and a reporter… Newman is all of those things, and a hell of an entertainer as well.
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let’s drop the big one and see what happens
We give them money-but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us-so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them
Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada’s too cold
And South America stole our name
Let’s drop the big one
There’ll be no one left to blame us
We’ll save Australia
Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin’, too
Boom goes London and boom Paris
More room for you and more room for me
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town
Oh, how peaceful it will be
We’ll set everybody free
You’ll wear a Japanese kimono babe
And there’ll be Italian shoes for me
They all hate us anyhow
So let’s drop the big one now
Let’s drop the big one now