“I have a great interest in animation and found computer graphics fascinating,” Randy Newman said in 1995. “I’ve always admired Carl Stalling and the other composers who specialized in music for cartoons, and I wanted to do one myself.”
That “one,” Toy Story, led to scores and songs for James and the Giant Peach, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Cars, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story 3, and Monsters University.
And, amusingly and surprisingly to many longtime fans, the cutting social critic and brilliant curmudgeon Randy Newman has found himself a beloved Disney entertainer.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that at 17 Randy was already a professional songwriter, knocking out tunes for a Los Angeles publishing house, since he was born on November 28, 1943 into a famously musical family. His uncles Alfred, Lionel, and Emil were all well-respected film composers and conductors. Even Randy’s father Irving Newman, a prominent physician, wrote a song for Bing Crosby.
In 1968, Randy made his debut with the orchestral recording Randy Newman, and before long, his extraordinary and eclectic compositions were being recorded by an unusually wide range of artists, from Pat Boone to Ray Charles, Peggy Lee to Wilson Pickett.
Critics rightly raved about his 1970 sophomore effort 12 Songs, and increasingly the public started to take notice with albums like 1970’s Live, and even more so with the 1972 classic Sail Away and the brilliant and controversial 1974 release, Good Old Boys. With the 1977 release of Top Ten Little Criminals, Randy experienced a huge left-field smash in the unlikely form of “Short People.”
In the 1980s, Randy was dividing his time between film composing and recording his own albums. In 1981, he released his exquisite score for Ragtime, earning him his first two of 20 Oscar® nominations for Best Score and Best Song. 1983 saw the release of “Trouble in Paradise,” while the next year saw the release of his Grammy®-winning, Oscar-nominated and now-iconic score for The Natural.
Following some more film work, Randy finally got around to recording another studio album, 1988’s Land of Dreams, another break-through work marked by some of his most personal and powerful work yet.
As for Toy Story, “I took a look at some of the storyboards and animation tests they had done, and I was just amazed by the way it looked, and I liked the idea of the story,” Randy said of his attraction to the film. “I absolutely loved the people involved with the project.”
Randy managed to play to the adult audience as well with his darkly hilarious take on Faust, the 1995 recording of which included performances by Don Henley, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, and James Taylor.
In 1998, Randy put out an impressive compilation, Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman and a new 1999 album for DreamWorks, Bad Love. In 2002, Randy finally won his first Oscar for “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc.; he would bring home his second in 2011 for “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3.