Randy Newman – “Harps and Angels”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 6:45 AM

I think I want to start a new series of blogs where I talk about songs I like.  I got this idea from a book I bought a while ago and found on my shelf again a few days ago.  I think it’s a fun idea.  I’m not gonna be too pretentious about this, I just wanna throw down some of my basic thoughts.

This first one is called “Harps and Angels” and it’s by Randy Newman.  This is one of his newer songs as far as I know.  I think it came out in 2008.  I first heard it on an NPR stream of one of his shows.  I just think it’s got the coolest flow.  I love that it doesn’t have a specific structure.  It keeps you paying attention because it doesn’t seem to go to a chorus or anything.  It’s just him telling a story.  And he is such a masterful writer.  Every time I listen to Randy Newman I feel like I’m in the hands of a master, and that is a rare feeling.  I went through a few of his songs ‘cuz I thought he’d be a neat person to start with.  He has some songs that are sentimental.  He has some that are darker.  I like those.  He has an interesting perspective.

I think one of my favorite things about Randy Newman is how he’s constantly writing in character.  I can’t tell you what a freeing thing it is to be a songwriter and remember that you’re allowed to write in character.  Because of the nature of singing, people always connect whatever you’re saying to you.  They always think you’re singing about yourself.  And that can be annoying.  Sometimes I want to say, “You all know most of what I’m saying is a lie, right?”  I mean, when you sing a song you wrote and anybody can hear it.. why the heck would you want to be honest all the time?  There’s a bunch of weirdos out there.

I just like this song.  The character’s attitude is so cool and goofy.  But it’s so well written.  I love the part where the guy is in heaven and God gives him this advice: “When they lay you on the table you better keep your business clean.”  I just love that.  It seems like the most wise advice.  And it’s all concise there in the song.  Wow.  It reminds me of the Psalms when David is asking God to search his heart.  I love the image of being strapped down on the operating table and God saying, “Just keep cool.”

When I write about these songs I want to talk a little about what they remind me of.  This song reminds me of when I first heard it.  And I think it came out in 2008 but I didn’t hear it until 2009.  ‘Cuz I was living in Texas again by that time.  I have a thing where I hook up my stereo to my computer and record tapes when NPR streams new albums or concerts that you can’t download as podcasts.  I think what happened is I moved back to Texas in this Uhaul truck and I didn’t know where to put some of my stuff so my dad was going to let me put things in his storage place.  I’m saying all of this because I remember having to ride in the back of his pickup truck with a walkman and I was listening to this song while laying down and looking at streetlights go by.  I think I was laying down because I didn’t know if being in the back of a truck was legal or not so I guess I was hiding from the cops.  I think that’s what happened.

I admire Randy Newman as a songwriter because he seems like he knows what he’s doing and he can pretty much do whatever he wants.  I mean, I’m sure he has some kind of limitations but he seems almost above everything.  He seems like he could decide to write a song about some specific thing and then just write it and it would be exactly what he designed it to be.  It just seems different to how I imagine other people write where they really lean into the emotion and the feeling of the song.  He just makes me think of conceptual songwriting.  I don’t know how else to say that or explain why it’s fascinating to me.  I guess it’s inspiring to think of songwriting as something a person can have complete control over.

I don’t even know what chords he’s playing.  I don’t know if it’s simple or complex.  Don’t ask me.  And I don’t know enough about pianos to figure it out for myself.

This is a song you should listen to all the way through and just let it kind of take you where it’s going.  Yeah.

I’m gonna pick something way different next.

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