12 Songs (Randy Newman album)

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12 Songs
Studio album by Randy Newman
Released April 1970 (1970-04)
Recorded mid-1969
Genre Roots[1]
Length 29:51
Label Reprise
Producer Lenny Waronker;
with Jack Nitzsche on "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield"
Randy Newman chronology
Randy Newman
12 Songs
Randy Newman Live

12 Songs is the second studio album by American singer-songwriter Randy Newman, released in April 1970 on Reprise Records.[2] It features a swampy roots music style and introspective, satirical songwriting.[1] "Have You Seen My Baby?" was released as its sole single in May.[2]

As with all of Newman's early albums, several of its songs had been previously recorded by other artists. In this case, "Mama Told Me Not To Come" had originally been recorded in 1967 by Eric Burdon, and that same year The Beau Brummels released their version of "My Old Kentucky Home".[citation needed] Three other songs originally appeared in versions by other artists just a few months prior to the LP release of 12 Songs: "Yellow Man" by Harry Nilsson on his 1970 album Nilsson Sings Newman; "Have You Seen My Baby" by Fats Domino (as a 1969 single); and "Let's Burn Down The Cornfield" by Lou Rawls (the b-side to his 1970 R&B hit "You've Made Me So Very Happy"). Newman himself played piano on the Nilsson and Domino tracks.[citation needed]

After being well received upon its release, 12 Songs garnered retrospective acclaim from music critics such as Robert Christgau and Rolling Stone, both of whom cite it as one of the best albums of all time.[3][4]


Whereas most of his songwriting contemporaries wrote confessional songs, Newman chose a different path, writing first-person character sketches instead. And on this album some of those characters include low-lifes, losers, racists, and drunks. These picaresques were often used by Newman to satirize conventional song lyrics. For instance, on this album he deconstructed the conventions of the love song on tracks like "Have You Seen My Baby?," "Suzanne," and "Lucinda." Some of the targets of Newman's satire on this album (which he would return to on future albums) include racism ("Yellow Man"), L.A.'s rock scene ("Mama Told Me Not to Come"), and the South ("Old Kentucky Home"). The songs on the album cover a wide range of styles, including rock 'n roll, R&B, folk, jazz, blues and country.[citation needed]

Q perceived "an idiosyncratic niche" by Newman "rooted in biting satire and traditional pop structures."[5] AllMusic's Mark Deming commented that "Newman's humor started getting more acidic with 12 Songs, but here even his most mordant character studies boast a recognizable humanity, which often make his subjects both pitiable and all the more loathsome."[6] Robert Christgau wrote that "As a rule, American songwriting is banal, prolix, and virtually solipsistic when it wants to be honest, merely banal when it doesn't", but found Newman's "truisms—always concise, never confessional—" to be "his own."[7] He assessed the album's music in a retrospective review, stating:

Speaking through recognizable American grotesques, he comments here on the generation gap (doomed), incendiary violence (fucked up but sexy), male and female (he identifies with the males, most of whom are losers and weirdos), racism (he's against it, but he knows its seductive power), and alienation (he's for it). Newman's music counterposes his indolent drawl—the voice of a Jewish kid from L.A. who grew up on Fats Domino—against an array of instrumental settings that on this record range from rock to bottleneck to various shades of jazz. And because his lyrics abjure metaphor and his music recalls commonplaces without repeating them, he can get away with the kind of calculated effects that destroy more straightforward meaning-mongers.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[6]
Robert Christgau A+[8]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[9]
NME 6/10[10]
Q 5/5 stars[5]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[11]

12 Songs received positive reviews from contemporary music critics. According to Keith Phillips of The A.V. Club, Newman "began to gather a following beyond critics and fellow songwriters" with the album.[12] Bruce Grimes of Rolling Stone gave it a rave review and called it "the announcement of the full emergence of a leading innovator in rock and roll".[13] Robert Christgau wrote in his initial review of the album, "In every respect—composition, arrangement, production, performance—this is the finest record of the year, much more accessible than the great-but-weird album that preceded it.[8]

Christgau called it "a perfect album" in a retrospective review.[7] AllMusic editor Mark Deming dubbed the album "superb material brilliantly executed" and cited it as Newman's "first great album, and ... still one of his finest moments on record."[6] Yahoo! Music's Dave DiMartino observed some of Newman's "best-known earlier material" on the album, which he felt featured "a stellar trio of guitarists, including Ry Cooder, Clarence White and (Beau Brummels) Ron Elliott."[14] Mojo commended Newman for replacing "the orchestra with an Americana rock rhythm section", and commented that "the more conventional presentation found Newman a college audience attuned to his wry singularity".[15]

In 2003, the album was ranked number 354 on Rolling Stone‍ '​s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[3] Rob Sheffield, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), cited it as "where Newman got loose as a rock & roller, ditching the complex orchestrations for a bluesy, easy-swinging satire of America".[11]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Randy Newman except where noted.

  1. "Have You Seen My Baby?" – 2:32
  2. "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield" – 3:03
  3. "Mama Told Me Not to Come" – 2:12
  4. "Suzanne" – 3:15
  5. "Lover's Prayer" – 1:55
  6. "Lucinda" – 2:40
  7. "Underneath the Harlem Moon" (Mack Gordon, Harry Revel) – 1:52
  8. "Yellow Man" – 2:19
  9. "Old Kentucky Home" – 2:40
  10. "Rosemary" – 2:08
  11. "If You Need Oil" – 3:00
  12. "Uncle Bob's Midnight Blues" – 2:15



  1. ^ a b Perone 2012, p. 57.
  2. ^ a b Strong 2004, pp. 1077–78.
  3. ^ a b "500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Randy Newman, '12 Songs'". Rolling Stone (Jann S. Wenner). November 2003. Archived from the original on 2012-09-03. 
  4. ^ "Grade List: A+". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  5. ^ a b "Review: 12 Songs". Q (London: Bauer Media Group): 125. 2000. 
  6. ^ a b c Deming, Mark. "12 Songs - Randy Newman". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  7. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert. "Album: Randy Newman: 12 Songs". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  8. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (April 23, 1970). "Consumer Guide (9)". The Village Voice (New York: VV Publishing Corporation). Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  9. ^ Larkin 2006, p. 186.
  10. ^ "Review: 12 Songs". NME (London: IPC Media): 42. February 14, 2000. 
  11. ^ a b Sheffield et al. 2004, p. 581.
  12. ^ Phillips, Keith (October 8, 2003). "Randy Newman". The A.V. Club (Chicago). Retrieved February 24, 2013. 
  13. ^ Grimes, Bruce (April 16, 1970). "12 Songs". Rolling Stone (Jann S. Wenner). Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  14. ^ DiMartino, Dave. "Randy Newman Reviews". Yahoo! Music. Yahoo!. Archived from the original on 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  15. ^ "Review: 12 Songs". Mojo (London: Bauer Media Group): 116. March 2000. 


External links[edit]