Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Music & Theatre
21 December 2017updated 05 Aug 2021 7:23am

David Hepworth on Sail Away by Randy Newman: “You wouldn’t be allowed to make it today”

From the Long Players series: writers on their most cherished albums.

By David Hepworth

I bought Sail Away on 1 July 1972 at a shop in Palmers Green, north London, called Opus Records. My girlfriend and I had been out seeing the J Geils Band play a midnight show at the Lyceum off the Strand. Afterwards we dined on Wimpy and chips and then trudged to King’s Cross to await the opening of the suburban line to take us to her home. I bought the record the following morning. We sat in bed listening to it and looking through the French windows into the garden.

Men, particularly young men, have to decide to like the musician before they allow themselves to like the music. I’d already decided I approved of Randy Newman. His songs had been hits for Alan Price and Dusty Springfield. However I wasn’t entirely prepared for how dry he was when performing them himself as he did on Sail Away.

I watched Newman on The Old Grey Whistle Test when he visited. My enjoyment of “Burn On” was increased by his saying it was written about “the only river to be so polluted it was declared a fire risk”. He also played “Political Science”. At the time this seemed like a wildly exaggerated lampoon of American isolationism. “They don’t respect us – so let’s surprise them/We’ll drop the big one and pulverise them” – forty-five years later that could be a 140-character memo from the White House.

Over the years I’ve come to suspect it’s the record’s dryness that makes it endure. That and its ruthless lack of sentiment. You simply wouldn’t be allowed to make it today. Randy Newman’s the master of the unguarded thought. He’d always given his best songs to his most reprehensible characters: the slaver in “Sail Away”, the Harvey Weinstein figure in “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, even the condescending deity in “God’s Song” who decides “That’s why I love mankind/You really need me.” The interesting thing about unworthy thoughts is everybody has them.

The girlfriend and I are grandparents now. We push the babies in the park, secretly singing “Memo to My Son” to ourselves, saving particular relish for the line that goes “Wait’ll you learn how to talk, baby/ I’ll show you how smart I am.”

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Read the rest of the series here

Content from our partners
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”
City of London Corporation brings stakeholders together to drive climate action

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special