Live at the Boarding House: The San Francisco Broadcast, 1972
Great American Broadcasting Company
In 1972 Randy Newman had released a couple of studio albums that had fallen on deaf ears, pretty much. He was known as a songwriter – and that was his success, covers of his work by jazz and pop artists. The live album he recorded tanked – but this radio broadcast of a live show from 1972 was the live album he should have released then and there. It’s from only a few months later but with the Sail Away album in the can and that mischievous wit now more pronounced in both the songs and the banter – and in particularly in his way with a song live – Newman delivered a set that still stands as very nearly career-best. Obviously there were plenty of other great songs to follow and more sophisticated arrangements but there’s always been something about hearing Newman banging out his best at the piano – just those words and his drawl and some killer asides (“This is from an old Cream record”) in and around some fantastic playing. Here he mocks his own piano playing – laughing at what he is sure will be the world’s worst solo, his commentary on it longer than the duration of the musical motif – and chuckles that the people listening on the radio are more important than the audience in front of him. He also introduces You Can Leave Your Hat On as being an attempt to set a world record in setting the bar as low as possible.
There’s a genuinely charming version of Dayton, Ohio – 1903 and same goes for Suzanne. He has bold fun with Yellow Man (“a song about China – an in-depth look at it”) and on Memo To My Son he prefaces the performance with, “This is a song I wrote for my little boy…I wrote it for a publisher we don’t need any of that sentimental clap” before playing a wonderful rendition. The versions of Political Science and God’s Song, Last Night I Had A Dream and Sail Away’s title track join Dayton and Memo To My Son as seeming – instantly – like definitive versions; obviously when the key to their success is largely in the lyrics it isn’t such a surprise. But really this is where the penny drops – not so much for Newman but for his audience.
This recording has been available for years – so it’s nice to have it in a slightly more official/ish packaging – and it’s worth your time whether you’re a Randy Newman neophyte or completist. This plays through better than any single disc Greatest Hits (I think the banter really is the key to understanding Newman if you’re new to his work, or at least to his pre-Soundtrack work) and it feels like his very best live recording. A reminder of the brilliance of his early (first) career in music.