Good Old Boys by Randy Newman

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Good Old Boys by Randy Newman
Good Old Boys by Randy Newman

Album Released: 1974

Good Old Boys ::: Artwork

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4.Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)2:45
6.Louisiana 19272:54
7.Every Man A King1:02
9.Naked Man3:06
10.A Wedding In Cherokee County3:07
11.Back On My Feet Again3:30


Many of Newman's musical creations are more critical satire than the nasty sarcasm that some of his more 'kneejerk' listeners presume to hear, a consequence of their either ignoring - or being unacquainted with - the context in which Newman expresses his artistic vision.

For just as his hit single "Short People" was seen by some as a vicious diatribe against the more *ahem* 'vertically challenged' amongst us (a song denounced only by those who entirely missed the point that Newman himself is rather short), then his portrayal of white working folk from America's southern states on this album could similarly be misconstrued as representing his personal opinions, whilst overlooking the fact that the album's narrative arc is very plainly set in the context of the Deep South in the 1920's.

For in terms of its subject matter, this was a controversial album from Newman, portraying as it does the ingrained bigotry of 'crackers' from America's Deep South, 'crackers' being a regional (and typically derogatory) term equivalent to say, 'white trash', or 'country hicks'.

But as always with Newman's work, the subject matter is only controversial to those unfamiliar with his modus operandi, whereby he immerses himself in the role of a character and then projects that character through his songs - an admittedly unusual method of songwriting, but one that he probably derived from his family's very extensive involvement in scoring Hollywood movies.

In purely musical terms, this is a fine song cycle, and one of Newman's most consistent albums in terms of quality of composition. The orchestration is notable too, the string arrangements especially deliver a light carefree swing that I've found to be unique to Newman's work, yet somehow conjure up a real sense of 'setting' - of America's Deep South - and it's a sound that Newman would fully realise several years later, in his excellent (though largely overlooked) score for the movie Ragtime.

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by Reviewer: bluemoon

Critics are torn between whether this album or Sail Away represents the pinnacle of Randy Newman's career. I can't really make up my mind. On the one hand, the lyrics of Sail Away are a little more personal and moving, while the lyrics of Good Old Boys concentrates more on places and politics. On the other hand, I'd say the melodies on Good Old Boys are catchier for the most part and the instrumentation is bolder. So I suppose it depends on what you like. And anyway, this is pretty much a moot argument since the most logical solution is to just get both albums.

Newman opens the album with one of his most most famous tunes, “Rednecks”, one of his irony-filled songs that a lot of people don't get. If you don't read too carefully into the lyrics, you'd think it was a scathing attack on Southerners (as I did in my original review). But really, it's an attack on Northerners who look down on their Confederate brethren. It's a very piano-centric song as you'd expect, but there's a thumpin' bass guitar, jazzy woodwinds, and a little bit of a Country & Western flavor for good measure. Indeed, this is just an allround good song.

The next track is “Birmingham”, and he's not talking about England - the Southern themes are strewn throughout this record! It's a pleasant song that looks at life there through rose-tinted glasses, even recalling the hardships fondly. The Americana instrumentation makes it even more endearing to my mind. “Marie” is a romantic song with beautiful string arrangements and remarkably solid hooks. People who know Newman's discography well probably think I'm making quizzical picks, but right now this is my favorite song on Good Old Boys. It's slow-paced, but this one gives me a lump in my throat.

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by Reviewer: Don Ignacio (blogging at Don Ignacio's Album Reviews)

The first of Newman's albums to contain all-new songs, Good Old Boys is also widely known as his 'concept album about the South', with almost all the songs containing references to the South or are ‘told’ by Southerners. It may also be one of Newman's most cohesive albums, because the album really does sound like one long 33-minute musical to me.

From the ode to Birmingham, and the cabaret-like “Every Man a King”, to the bouncy “Back on My Feet Again” (that sees a few members of The Eagles on backing vocals), Good Old Boys is a fascinating trip through Southern life, one that allows the listener to visualize his own story.

The story kicks off with the great trio of “Rednecks”, “Birmingham”, and “Marie” - it's the kind of quality start to an album every artist should aspire to. “Rednecks” is told from the perspective of a Southern racist, but somehow there’s something weird about it, as if he’s a puppet reading his lines: we talk real funny down here, we drink too much and we laugh too loud, the two most offensive lines being we’re keeping the n*ggers down and we’re rednecks, we don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground. The use of pedal steel guitar adds an extra country twist to the song, and its further use in the chorus adds to the mocking tone of the song.

“Birmingham” on the other hand focuses on the 'healthy' incarnation of pride, as the song is a hymn to the town. “Marie” is a beautiful ballad, with lushly-arranged string parts, though one should keep in mind it’s a declaration of love by a man who’s drunk and who’s treated his Marie bad in the past. In spite of all that it’s one of Newman’s most endearing love songs.

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by Reviewer: Guy Peters (blogging at Guy's Music Review Site)