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Lyrics and interpretation
"Rednecks" is sung from the perspective of a Southern "redneck". In it he expresses his dismay at the way that the North looks down upon The South. In particular the narrator describes his ire at watching a "smart-ass, New York Jew" mock Lester Maddox on a television program. (This is an allusion to Maddox's 1970 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show whose eponymous host is actually a gentile.) In response to his frustration at the television show, the narrator goes on to list, sarcastically, a litany of negative qualities that Southerners are reputed to have. He focuses especially on institutionalized racism, or, as the narrator puts it: "keeping the niggers down."
As the song ends, the narrator turns the knife on judgmental northerners, calling them out as hypocrites. He achieves this by singing that the "North has set the nigger free" and then sings African-Americans are only "free to be put in a cage," and then lists a number of black ghettos in northern cities (e.g. Roxbury in Boston, East St. Louis and Harlem in New York City) The song's final lyric is: "They [the Northerners] gatherin' 'em up, from miles around/Keeping the niggers down."
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Randy Lewis said Newman had "peeled back the curtain on... bigots and hypocrites" with this song.
A lengthy description of the Cavett broadcast is offered by author Steven Hart in his 2014 essay "He May Be a Fool But He's Our Fool: Lester Maddox, Randy Newman, and the American Culture Wars," which appears in the collection Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements. Hart maintains that Cavett was, if anything, too diffident with Maddox, who played word games about the meaning of racism and segregation before "taking theatrical umbrage" and storming off the set only a few minutes before the end of the show.
Steve Earle recorded a country-grunge cover of "Rednecks" in 2006 for the tribute album Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman.
Newman has called "Rednecks" one of his favorite compositions. He said he wrote the song after watching Maddox's appearance with Cavett and "seeing him be treated rudely... they had just elected him governor, in a state of 6 million or whatever, and if I were a Georgian, I would have been offended, irrespective of the fact that he was a bigot and a fool."
Newman said that having written "Rednecks" he felt he had to explain where he was coming from, which led him to write "Marie" and "Birmingham", two other songs that ended up on his Good Old Boys album.
- "Music Reviews: Randy Newman: Good Old Boys". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- Jordan, Scott (2008). "Backtalk with Randy Newman". offBeat Magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-02.
- There's still no one quite like Randy Newman, Philadelphia City Paper, September 27-October 4, 2001, Michael Pelusi
- He's back in the saddle, Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2008, Randy Lewis