The One After the Big One: Randy Newman, LAND OF DREAMS

Thursday, June 13, 2019
Randy Newman LAND OF DREAMS Album Cover

“I Love L.A.” was typical Randy Newman – a song so expertly played it became an earworm (if you heard it, it stayed with you the rest of the day), with lyrics so expertly written, one wasn’t sure if Newman was extolling the virtues of Los Angeles, or making fun of it. The latter didn’t matter – Angelinos accepted it as their anthem, and Newman’s video (with its convertible and buxom women and Toto playing on the roof of some hotel) made it a hit. Critics dug it, too – Rolling Stone called TROUBLE IN PARADISE (the 1983 album from which “L.A.” hailed) a “cynical tour de force” and named it one of the best albums of the ‘80s.

Five years later, Newman followed it up with LAND OF DREAMS, an album that had its share of like-minded hits and almost hits. “It’s Money that Matters” (featuring Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler on a very “Money for Nothing”-like guitar riff) caught listeners’ attention even as it upped the cynicism quotient, giving Newman a Mainstream Rock chart-topper (the only Number One record of his career, on any chart). The ballad “Something Special” was movie soundtrack fodder of a very high order (the movie in question was the Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell vehicle Overboard); and the jaunty “Falling in Love” should have been a radio hit, so light and sweet are its melody, lyrics and even Newman’s voice.

The centerpieces of LAND OF DREAMS, however, are thematically heavier fare. The album kicks off with “Dixie Flyer” and “New Orleans Wins the War,” two semi-autobiographical songs about Newman’s childhood that are among his most moving. “Dixie Flyer” is buoyed by a lovely melody as it tells the story of his and his mother’s visits to New Orleans when he was a boy, making their “getaway” from southern California while his father was away, “fighting the Germans in Sicily” during World War II. “New Orleans Wins the War” tells of when his father brought them back, and how their return, marked “the end of my baby days.”

LAND OF DREAMS closes on a dour note, with “I Want You to Hurt like I Do,” a father’s sad farewell to his child, on the night he leaves his family for no good reason. Newman’s protagonist cannot quite seem to earn the listener’s sympathy with lines like “And I put my arm, put my arm around his little shoulder / And this is what I said: / ‘Sonny I just want you to hurt like I do …’”

Cruel closing notwithstanding, LAND OF DREAMS is a wonderful record by one of our finest songwriters, and well worth another spin.


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