“Short People” by Randy Newman

This song has received some pretty ugly accusations from people who don’t understand irony, or worse, simply can’t comprehend the idea that a singer might be singing in the first person from a perspective other than their own. But here in the realm of the literate, it’s pretty obvious that it’s intended as a satire of bigotry and prejudice, and unlike, say, David Allan Coe’s “N****r Fucker”, it’s one that actually works. (It’s also quite tame by the standards of Newman’s early career…the people who claim to be shocked and offended by this song have clearly never heard “Rednecks”). As Newman put it in interviews, this song is sung from the perspective of ‘a lunatic’, and it highlights the essential insanity and paranoia inherent in the very idea of bigotry, which I’d say is a pretty smart and insightful point. Also, note that he does not say ‘midgets’ or any other term for the actual minority group that people were offended on behalf of…he says ‘short people’, as in people of below average height, and the point is that, while that sounds like an absurd target for bigotry, it’s actually no more absurd than all forms of bigotry are by their very nature. And Newman telegraphs his sarcasm pretty effectively with the increasingly ridiculous word choices in the lyrics, so I can’t imagine how any intelligent person could be offended by this. The tune certainly doesn’t cause any rational cause for complaint…it’s one of the catchiest Newman ever wrote, which is probably why it was his only actual chart hit as a singer (though he would have several more as a songwriter). It does feature Newman’s distinctive vocals, which are admittedly an acquired taste, but if you dismiss this song on those grounds, you also have to dismiss all of Newman’s body of work as a singer, and that means missing out on some of the greatest songs in the Soft Rock genre. Newman himself tended to dismiss this track as a ‘novelty song’, but if it is one, it’s one of the smartest and funniest novelty songs ever to hit the charts, and one of the few with a deeper meaning to convey underneath its surface novelty.

Verdict: Good.

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