Saturday, October 19, 2019

Randy Newman: Sail Away (1972)

Release Date: May 1972
Produced by Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman (Reprise)

Side One: Sail Away; Lonely At the Top; He Gives Us All His Love; Last Night I Had A Dream; Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear; Old Man

Side Two: Political Science; Burn On; Memo To My Son; Dayton, Ohio -1903; You Can Leave Your Hat On; God's Song (that's why I love mankind)

Randy Newman's at times comical, at times heartbreaking, 1972 album Sail Away updates the American songbook with a post-1960s sensibility. Majestic and satiric, the record ricochets between romanticism and cynicism.

"Sail Away" encapsulates the promise of America as a bountiful land of promise, only it's from the perspective of a slave trader beckoning Africans to cross the ocean into bondage. The striking arrangement itself is deceptive, wrapped inside inside the melodies are suffering and shame. 

"Political Science" serves a companion song to "Sail Away," a prophetic song imagining MAGA movement. 

"Lonely At the Top" is a Sinatra parody, the narrator has everything an entertainer could ever want and yet feels unhappy. While "Simon Smith" looks at the bottom side of fame in a playful manner. Both songs aspire to a God like perspective, a recurring theme throughout Sail Away

"He Gives All His Love" imagines a compassionate God kindly looking down on everyone from above, an erstwhile hymn on the surface. On the closing track, "God's Song", Newman imagines a sadistic deity amazed at humans still worship him after all the loss and destruction he's wrought.

The melancholy "Old Man" imagines a life lived, "Memo to My Son" a playful song about fatherhood. 

"Last Night I Had A Dream" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" are fanciful love songs that lighten up the mood of the record. 

Two songs are about Ohio. "Burn On" makes light of the Cuyahoga river catching on fire set to a pastoral melody. "Dayton, Ohio 1903" imagines an idyllic America, full of industry, kindness, and confidence in direct contrast to the Rustbelt of the 1970s. 

In 30 minutes of music, Randy Newman takes an ironic and emphatic view of the American experience, each track could be a novel.


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