You could make a fair case for the same dude (or his cousin brother) turning up on Lucinda. Summer evening on the beach and here’s a girl lyin' on the beach / In her graduation gown ... wrapped up in a blanket and the narrator, being a man of the world, could tell, she knew her way around. So what does he do? Lies down beside her, of course, and we’re probably best leaving what happens next to the imagination. 

And with the approach of the big white truck and the beach cleaning man he clears off, leaving Lucinda ... buried / 'Neath the California sand. He mightn’t be the same dude, of course, but there’s a certain consistency and the three songs are delivered deadpan with maybe a hint of raised eyebrow.

So, a run of songs that could well be cut from the same piece of cloth, and guess what? He follows that with a one-two combo.

Underneath the Harlem Moon, the only non-Newman composition on the album dates back to the twenties and delivers a string of racial stereotyping that sets the stage for later efforts like Sail Away and Rednecks, but here acts as a lead in to the similarly cliche-rich Yellow Man, later described as a pinhead’s view of China (they say they were there / before we were here. Really? Who’d have thunk?). 

When it comes to cliche-based satire, Newman’s not being selective in his ethnic targets. Old Kentucky Home merrily skewers the redneck narrator with a cheerful singalong chorus and a couple of lines I’ve been known to purloin for my own purposes (she didn’t grow up, she grew out, for example). I first encountered this one on Ry Cooder, but Newman’s take on it has a bit more of the old raised eyebrow to it.

The last three tracks wind things up in a low key manner. Newman drawls his way through 

Rosemary, which comes across as a gentleman caller offering an evening out without a great deal of hope that his desires will be fulfilled, and he may still be around offering his services If You Need Oil while Uncle Bob's Midnight Blues wraps things up without doing anything remarkable. Maybe he needed something like I Think It’s Going To Rain Today to fill that spot, but he’d already used that last time around, hadn’t he?

Coming back to this one after a lengthy interval it’s easy to overlook 12 Songs’ considerable charms. Randy Newman had the orchestrations, the quirky vocals and a handful of genuinely great songs, while the next studio album, Sail Away, had strong material, brought back the strings and had Newman in top form vocally.

In comparison, 12 Songs, on first impressions, may come across as more subdued, but give it a bit of time to sink in and you may well end up rating it as some of his best work. The players deliver just the right amount of light and shade, nothing is wasted, the songs are focussed and Newman goes very close to nailing the vocals. Not, perhaps, as striking as its predecessor or the albums that followed, but definitely a harbinger of quality to come.

But then, after Simon SmithSo Long DadDavy the Fat Boy and I Think It’s Going to Rain Today some of us already knew he was a class act, didn’t we?

© Ian Hughes 2012