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culture

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Little Criminal Mind of Randy Newman

The acerbic singer/songwriter played Massey Hall on the eve of the release of his most popular album.

Source: Rolling Stone, November 3, 1977. (Album art was used to promoted the tour.)

As he stood on a Los Angeles freeway overpass having his picture taken for the cover of Little Criminals, did Randy Newman suspect that he would unleash what proved to be his most popular album with the public? Or does his look suggest he wanted the photo session to wrap up?

Shortly before the album was released in October 1977, Newman performed at Massey Hall. He told the Star that he hadn’t done much in the three-year interval since his last album, Good Old Boys, other than play with his kids at home in L.A. He claimed he was lazy, declaring he had rejected numerous offers to write Broadway musicals because he lacked the discipline to do so. Ironically, in light of his later career, he also turned down work on film soundtracks—“Movie music isn’t up to much lately; it doesn’t do anything for film.” Perhaps jaded Academy Award voters remembered that quote when they denied Newman an Oscar 15 times in a row.

The Globe and Mail’s Paul McGrath thought Newman looked “vibrant and healthy” when he took the stage on October 9, 1977. McGrath enjoyed the intelligence of Newman’s lyrics, but thought his vocals suited personal songs better than political ones, as the singer/songwriter penned “heartbreakingly beautiful love songs” that “can deal honestly with deep human emotion without the slightest bit of trivializing.” The Star’s Alan Guettel felt that Newman presented the same style of concert he had offered up the previous half-decade: “he sits at the piano, throws out a few asides about how sick he must be, and runs through about 30 songs. Thank you and good night.” Guettel also noted that “his repertoire of simple put-down ditties, the songs his cult fans instantly recognized…that evoke a genius who artfully portrays slices of North American life that we all sense are too irrational to take on standing up.”

Based on the success soon after of “Short People,” more than Newman’s devoted fans appreciated that genius.

Additional material from the October 10, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the October 8, 1977 and October 10, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star.

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