Randy Newman has made a career out of melodic skepticism and deadpan rhythm, but he sounded genuinely stunned the other day when he was told that this year is the 25th anniversary of "I Love L.A." "What is that? I don't believe it. I can't believe it. Can it really be a quarter of a century?"
There are few songs that echo in L.A. quite like Newman's winking civic anthem, which manages to be both sunny and subversive at the same time with its "big nasty redhead" cruising the boulevard. "Hey," Newman protested, "I meant 'nasty' in the very best sense of the word."
The song's small moments are sardonic, but the big ones are pure fun: It towers with 1980s ballpark synthesizers and then thumps its chest with a shout-along in the chorus: "I love L.A.! WE LOVE IT!" Like Newman's earlier hit "Short People," it remains a career- defining anthem no matter how big or deep his sophisticated songbook gets.
"I've tried at times to get rid of it, but I always take it back," the 64-year-old composer said. "There are other songs I have done that I think are more meaningful to me, but, hey, I'll take it. And I think people do get the irony of the song. Maybe not when they're driving 70 miles an hour down the freeway in a convertible or singing it at a playoff game. But they get the tone. People are smiling when they sing it, and I think they're smiling for the right reasons."
Look at that mountain
Look at those trees
Look at that bum over there, man
He's down on his knees
The L.A. native wrote it as an answer to historical smugness toward the West Coast. "There was this whole New York glamour thing -- you know, leaning against a lamppost singing 'This Town.' I kind of hate that stuff." So in the early 1980s, when pal Don Henley suggested he write an L.A. song, Newman decided to turn the tables.
"It started forming in my head, really, as an answer to 'The Lady Is a Tramp' " -- at that point, Newman, who was sitting at his piano, played a few notes from the Rodgers and Hart standard -- "There's the line, 'She hates California, it's cold and it's damp,' and I just flipped it around for the opening lines."
Hate New York City
It's cold and it's damp
And all the people dressed like monkeys
Let's leave Chicago to the Eskimos
"The song is basically saying that this not a bad place to live. If I wrote it now, I think it would pretty much be the same. I might add some lines about the traffic. It's so much worse now. I'd still be in the convertible, but I wouldn't moving as fast."