Music (General)

50 Randy Newman Songs You Need To Hear (2 of 2)


50 Randy Newman Songs You Need To Hear (2 of 2)
Part 2: The Playlist

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2023-06-06
Last week we wrote what we wanted you to know about our favorite, Randy Newman. And we teased you with our Best 5 songs short list.

With no further ado, here comes our Spotify list of Best 50 Randy Newman songs.


Click here to see/listen in Spotify.

Our Thoughts On Each Of The 50

1 - The World Isn't Fair
Everything you want from a Randy Newman song. Fast pace, funny on politics and West Side liberals, great orchestration, cynicism all while still a feel-good song. One of my favorite songs to play; I get to show off remembering a complex song with about 20 chords and a blitzkrieg of trenchant observations. Late period Randy might not have equaled the consistent heights of the early 1970s, but not only has he not written many songs this good - I don't think more than 5 or 6 people have written a song this good.

2 - Rednecks
Ballsy as fuck, and not just because the narrator throws the N-word around really loosely. Most singer-songwriters just sing about their experiences and make themselves the narrator. Randy was writing short stories and not afraid to sing a song in first-person perspective from some awful characters. But the Redneck in this song gets some very legitimate jabs in about the hypocrisy of the North. And classic bouncy, Louisiana piano stuff which is his stock in trade.

3 - Sail Away
More ballsiness, sung from the perspective of a slave trader trying to lure Africans away onto his ship with the fake promise of what America will be like for them. Absolutely Hall-of-Fame, Mt. Rushmore song from Randy Newman.

4 - My Life Is Good
Just like "The World Isn't Fair", this one goes through several movements - and some rare real rock from Randy. Here he's laying out how good his rockstar celebrity life is to his kid's "old bat" of a teacher: Springsteen, cocaine, and swinging references all make this a masterpiece.

5 - It's Money That Matters
This along with "The World Isn't Fair" and "It's Money That I Love" make a case that it's great to be rich with only a dash of irony. The most musically rich and diverse (and rock) of his albums (Land Of Dreams), another personal favorite. Here's a line - "All of these people are much brighter than I; in any fair system they would flourish and thrive but they eke out a living, they barely survive." That's capitalism sometimes, folks.

6 - Lonely At The Top
Yeah it's tongue in cheek about being the big man on the stage. But I will say this: I love playing this during solo sets and fuck yeah, I do feel superior when I'm playing and singing this. Almost the definition of a toe-tapper.

7 - Marie
On the slower side, a beautiful orchestra arrangement hinting at what Randy would later do on film soundtracks. A drunken confession from a guy who knows his lady could have done better. "I'm drunk right now baby, but I've got to be. Or I never could tell you what you mean to me. Sometimes I'm crazy but I guess you know. I'm weak and I'm lazy and I've hurt you so. But I loved you the first time I saw you and I always will love you Marie." It's getting a little dusty in here just typing this.

8 - Shame
The weak-willed narrator of "Marie" is self aware. So is the Viagra-popping asshole narrator of "Shame". Musically, this one is more inviting and fun than some of his 70s orchestral ones. Completely appealing to young kids or old people, provided they both have a sense of humor. The only song I know where the singer on mic tells the Greek chorus background singers to "Shut up!"

9 - Short People
I may have disparaged this song in my intro. It's a great god-damn song; it's only how dummies in 1979 misinterpreted it that's bad. A catchy song obviously making fun of prejudice by singling out short people - then short people at the time got upset, or at least stupid short people. This might be the best song that The Eagles were involved with.

10 - Dixie Flyer
This song tells an American migration story as well as Woody Guthrie or Walt Whitman. It's kind of about young Randy and his Jewish family moving to New Orleans post World War II. But it's pepped up, another toe tapper and kinda makes fun of everybody involved.

11 - Political Science
This is what it would sound like if Tom Lehrer or Mark Russell wrote songs that people actually wanted to listen to. (Ask your grandparents.) A bouncy singalong about how myopic and ethnocentric Americans were in 1972 and it's only gotten more accurate over the years. Like so many great Randy Newman songs we know the narrator's attitude is stupid and wrong, but when you sing along, you're seduced by it so you're now having fun yourself while you're also stupid and wrong.

12 - It's Money That I Love
As mentioned above, a great troika of "money buys anything" with "The World Isn't Fair" and "It's Money That Matters." Or to quote it more accurately, "They say that money won't buy love in this world - but it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine and a 16-year-old girl." OK, maybe that line hasn't aged well but he's not serious. The best song from maybe his weakest album and it's still got a lot of great stuff.

13 - Lover's Prayer
Another perfect bluesy shuffle. This almost sounds like it could be the old narrator from "Shame" but this is Randy in 1974. The older I get the more this song makes sense to me. "Entertaining a girl in my room Lord, with California wine and French perfume. She started talking to be bout the war, Lord. I don't wanna talk about the war."

14 - Guilty
Bonnie Raitt also did a great job with this. It's on the same side of Good Old Boys as "Marie" and the flawed self-aware guy from "Marie" is now just an unadulterated drunk fuck-up. Amazing how there's a drum beat in a song this slow. This song sounds drunk.

15 - I Love L.A.
You may remember this one from Los Angeles Lakers games or The Naked Gun. Another one that seems silly if you vacuum all of the irony out of it at a Laker game. Almost a parody of a feel good Southern California song but hard to remember that because it does feel like a feel good Southern California song. The ironic clues are right there in the song. Celebrating Victory Blvd.?!?!

16 - God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)
Sung from a very credible perspective of an asshole God who delights at what suckers we all are to worship Him. Dark, funny and classical. Etta James did a very cool, big-sounding cover of this - but stick with the original at first.

17 - It's A Jungle Out There
Perhaps you might know it as the theme from Monk. Bouncy as fuck and succeeds on all levels. Lots of big Randy orchestrations are on the slow, reflective songs but this is kick-ass orchestra on a fast one. It works totally on its own - yet also works perfectly as a theme song for an underrated TV show.

18 - A Wedding In Cherokee County
Randy often said this was originally part of a song cycle about a dumb Polish villager but changed it for his southern themed album to be more of a Ronnie Dobbs (David Cross) or Honker (Bill Murray) type weirdo bubba. A fun and stately piano song from the perspective of a major league weirdo.

19 - A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country
Like a lot of my favorite later Randy, this has lots of different movements so you can't call it just a 3 or 4 minute pop song. Think of this as mixing Sousa with an op-ed from a grumpy old man.

20 - Mama Told Me Not To Come
The souped up rock version gave Three Dog Night a huge, huge hit. This Randy version might even be more fun than theirs, cool slide guitar from Ry Cooder and drummer Jim Keltner doing his Jim Keltner thing.

21 - The Girls In My Life (Part 1)
I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for any piano shuffle song. Then if you mix in a lyric like this: "Met a girl at a bakery, she wanted to borrow my car from me - I said, 'take it baby'. Took it down to Mexico, ran over a man named Juan."

22 - Baltimore
This song predated The Wire by 20-25 years. It paints a word picture; you can see the seagulls on the bay in your mind. But it's also a downbeat rocker with a really cool guitar breakdown at the end.

23 - Uncle Bob's Midnight Blues
Early Randy, piano shuffling its ass off. This is small town southern blues recorded in a way that makes you think it was about 3am when they cut this track. The vocal yelling knocks me out; I swear he's absolutely in character here. I thank Randy could have been a great actor if he wanted to.

24 - The Great Nations Of Europe
I said above that Randy Newman changed everything about pop music for me because, along with Steely Dan, they showed me that songs don't have to be just boy-loves-girl. Show me somebody besides maybe Warren Zevon who could have written this vibrantly about century-old geopolitics.

25 - Christmas In Cape Town
If you want a look at a MAGA prototype, try the protagonist of this early 80s song about an aggrieved white South African. What gives songs like this an extra level of contradiction is that just like in "Rednecks" the music is catchy and seducing you into a bigot's headspace.

26 - Louisiana 1927
This song had a big renaissance after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is a touchstone city for Randy Newman personally and musically. The city is below sea level and will flood till the end of time and Louisianans will always be on the short side of the stick, politically.

27 - I Think It's Going To Rain Today
A great song with edge when Randy sings it super low with his hang-dog voice. Personally, when somebody like Judy Collins sings it pretty, it collapses for me. Apropos of little, I once saw a Miss America Pageant contestant sing this at the piano for her talent competition. Weird.

28 - I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)
He played this at his Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction and it was perfect. Sung from the perspective of an almost-Randy character, the fictionalized singing version of himself has this great impatient anger; and this music, more than any of his, perfectly match the energy.

29 - Korean Parents
A stylized Asian melody (or even a parody of an Asian melody) with really tremendous orchestration, like when the mezzo soprano voice is in there. And a fantastic lyrical knock at why America is destined to fall behind hungrier countries.

30 - Simon Smith & The Amazing Dancing Bear
This could be the definition of a "ditty". Randy almost always has some edge or irony to these bouncy songs but I can't find it in here. Just a great silly, fun song.

31 - New Orleans Wins The War
The next track after "Dixie Flyer" and a continuation of the young Randy character as a fish out of water being raised around crazy postwar New Orleans. Lots of movements, lots of horns. Press Play.

32 - Texas Girl At The Funeral Of Her Father
You could also file "Real Emotional Girl" under this one. If I was a pretentious rock critic, I would describe this as "plaintive". Of the two, I prefer this one. I'm a cynical asshole but you can feel the loss at the end of this one; beautiful.

33 - You've Got A Friend In Me
I disrespected this song in my introduction to the list above. It's as bouncy as anything else. But honestly if I could just keep this or "Simon Smith & The Amazing Dancing Bear" I'd choose the latter. In this one's defense though, Gipsy Kings have a killer Spanish language version.

34 - Song For The Dead
Another fascinating dichotomy. It's a military sounding lament from U.S. soldier in Vietnam whom you feel for until he drops the word "gooks" then it gets really complicated. Does that mean you don't sympathize with the guy anymore? An amazing turn in this song.

35 - Naked Man
This might be a close cousin (or same guy) from "A Wedding In Cherokee County." Take all of the weirdest characters from a Flannery O'Connor novel, make them a little weirder and have them sing with a Cole Porter sensibility then you're close to this song.

36 - The One You Love
Another first-rate toe tapper from late era Randy old letch characters.

37 - You Can Leave Your Hat On
Both Joe Cocker and Tom Jones have covered this one with great success. When those guys sing these lyrics with swagger it comes off as confident and alluring. Randy's original version sounds downright creepy, in a good way.

38 - The Great Debate
A crazy 8-minute chaotic smorgasbord pitting science vs. faith. In the end in this song, faith wins because they have better music than atheists. As always, what the character sings in the song isn't necessarily Randy's personal view.

39 - Dayton, Ohio 1903
There are frequently levels of irony in Randy's music; case in point: "Short People" being a satire of bigotry that was seen by some as biased. This song from Sail Away seems to be pointing out the naivete and oversimplification for the good old days, yet the music reflects it so spot-on that it actually DOES make one long for the good old days.

40 - I Want You To Hurt Like I Do
Singer songwriters who people think are singing from their own perspective never get to be as honest as Randy Newman. This narrator is the insecure asshole we all wish we weren't. Great arrangement.

41 - Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)
The entire Good Old Boys album has fun with Huey Long era Louisiana. This one makes the simple populist argument about government being out of touch - but actually for once, there doesn't even seem to be much irony in this one.

42 - Can't Keep A Good Man Down
From Newman's musical of Faust. This one is sung by Satan where he's making a case for his comeback. Nice companion piece to "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)".

43 - Harps And Angels
Another toe-tapper. This time about a narrator who dies and goes to heaven as part of a clerical error (a la the movie Heaven Can Wait) and gets sent back with a little advice and morality tale but mainly is pleased that there is an afterlife even if Heaven really isn't guaranteed. Or who the hell knows - Randy's songs are always open to interpretation.

44 - Burn On
Apparently not every songwriter sees the toxic Cuyahoga River catch fire and gets inspired to write a song about it. But that makes total sense to me. The irony meter is on 10 for the beautifully orchestrated music in the "Cleveland, city of light, city of magic" bridge.

45 - They Just Got Married
If you're like me and love the bouncy stuff, then rescue this from a forgotten album. But I'll warn you, there's an unnecessarily perverse ending.

46 - Putin
This one naturally is mostly about the subject matter. However, it might be the best marriage of his New Oreleans shuffle sound and lavish arrangements. As for the Vladimir Putin inspiration, Randy Newman has said, "I think it was just personal vanity of some kind, like he wanted to be Tom Cruise. It wasn't enough to be the richest and most powerful. He wanted to be the most handsome and a superhero, throwing young people around and wrestling."

47 - Sigmund Freud's Impersonation Of Albert Einstein In America
He's always referenced as the most literary songwriters (in the 80s and 90s parroting rock critics couldn't stop referencing Raymond Carver as an author comp). This one is directly from E.L. Doctrow's Ragtime (a book and movie I loved) and Newman was doing the score for it. Do yourself a favor and watch that movie, read the book and take a look at the lyrics to this.

48 - Miami
You will not find this song in many Randy Newman best of lists. There is something hooky about this weird music to me; I've never been able to shake this one musically. Lyrically the verses are little vignettes about fictional Miami characters. On the same record as "I Love L.A.", "Miami" is the opposite coast antipode to it, with an overly rosy depiction, "Miami - blue day. Best dope in the world, and it's free."

49 - The Beehive State
I really wish this first record of Randy's was better recorded. If it was, several of these songs would have more of a half-life. That said, this is a weird musical curio with lyrics sung from the floor of the U.S. Senate with senators advocating for their states. Kind of a song that could belong on Good Old Boys if better recorded.

50 - Back On My Feet Again
Speaking of Good Old Boys, this is a great one to close a list like this. It still has that populist spirit of that great Southern opus, plus silly funny stories, sung from non-Randy characters' perspectives and lively music. Everything you could want from a Randy Newman song.

Dive In

I could have made this list with 60 or even 75 songs, yet we gotta draw the line somewhere. If this introductory list doesn't show you the way in to Randy, then what's the point. That said, if anybody is liking this playlist and wants the next few songs on

I will say that if you want to take deeper dives, feel free to listen to any full album of his from any era. I would say Born Again might be the weakest record; and where even the great Land Of Dreams album has a big-swing misfire like "Masterman and Baby J" - if you like these 50 songs, then he's got another 50 that you'll want to try on for size as well.

Happy listening.