Drawing His Own ‘Lines in Sand’ : Randy Newman Records a Pointed Commentary on the Gulf War


Randy Newman, a Grammy-winning film composer and author of such pop hits as “I Love L.A.” and “Short People,” has written and recorded what is believed to be the first protest song about the Persian Gulf War by a major artist.

A spokesman for Warner Bros. Records said Newman entered a Los Angeles recording studio on Jan. 15, the night before the bombing began, and recorded “Lines in the Sand.”

On casual listening, the hymnlike ballad could be mistaken as a hawkish anthem. But Newman’s songs, from “Sail Away” to “Christmas in Capetown,” are often laced with caustic satire and “Lines in the Sand”--a commentary on aging leaders shipping young soldiers off to battle--follows suit.


Sample lyrics:

We old men will guide you

Though we won’t

Be there beside you

We wish you well

We wish you well

Newman declined to be interviewed, suggesting through a Warner Bros. Records executive that the song speaks for itself.

However, Bob Merlis, Warners’ vice president of public relations, said the song was written, recorded and released to radio in three days for the sole purpose of expressing the composer’s opposition to the war.

In an unusual move, Newman requested that the song--which will not be marketed as a single--be distributed for radio airplay only. According to Warners, no Southland radio airplay statistics are available yet, but Los Angeles’ KLOS-FM and Dallas’ KTXQ-FM have aired the song a number of times.

While “Lines in the Sand” may be the first new song growing out of the gulf crisis, radio station programmers around the country have adopted older songs that they believe address the nation’s mood. They range from a “Desert Shield Remix” of the 1990 Styx song, “Show Me the Way,” to Bette Midler’s heroic “From a Distance,” also from 1990.

In addition, a remake of John Lennon’s 1969 pacifist chant “Give Peace a Chance” recorded by 37 artists--including Newman, and Lennon’s teen-age son, Sean--is getting substantial rotation on rock stations around the world.

Unlike radio stations in Britain, where disc jockeys have been urged to refrain from playing anything that could be misconstrued as a military or pacifist statement, American radio outlets seem to be beefing up their playlists with pro- and anti-war themed-songs.

Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (1971) has gained significant airplay on a number of urban stations and “Mother’s Pride”--the flip side of pop star George Michael’s new single “Waiting for the Day”--is also reportedly picking up steam with its imagery of soldiers “waving at the shore.”

KPWR-FM in Los Angeles is regularly splicing listener comments and news bites into MC Hammer’s “Pray,” station program director Al Tavera said Wednesday.

Los Angeles oldies station KODJ-FM is playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy” more often than usual, according to Tonya Campos, KODJ assistant program director.

WSM, a country station in Nashville, also reports “astounding response” to a revised version of Johnny Cash’s recording of “Goin’ by the Book.” Cash recorded the Chester Lester composition in 1987, but it wasn’t released until last fall by PolyGram Records. The new version intersperses excerpts of speeches by President Bush with Lester’s ominous Armageddon-ish lyrics.

Cash, who will be appearing Saturday night at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, said that while he supports the allied invasion of the gulf, he fears a “blood bath” may be on the way.

“The song is to just make people aware that this thing has been prophesied for more than 2,000 years,” Cash said Wednesday. “It’s not a pro-war or anti-war statement. It’s just an assessment of events as I see them unfolding. The message is that the big one is definitely on its way.”

So far, the sentiments of mainstream country artists seem to most closely reflect national public opinion polls, which support the President’s actions in the Middle East.

Hank Williams Jr.’s “Don’t Give Me a Reason,” which was recorded last summer in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, is receiving widespread airplay. Waylon Jennings’ 1984 “America” and his recent “The Eagle” plus Lee Greenwood’s 1984 “God Bless the U.S.A.” have all been heavily requested, according to Lisa Puzo, music director at KZLA-FM and KLAC-AM in Los Angeles.

Greenwood said he was glad his flag-waving hit means so much to those who support the Administration’s position.

“At my concerts I get a great feeling of unity,” Greenwood said in a recent telephone interview from Huntsville, Ala. “I wrote ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ to get the country to think as one.”

Support for Operation Desert Storm is also reflected in increased rotation of other records--all released prior to the military action. They include Tanya Tucker’s “Soldier’s Last Letter” and Eddie Rabbitt’s “American Boy,” as well as Charlie Daniels’ 10-year-old hit “In America.” Also, the inspirational “Love Can Build a Bridge” and “This Country’s Rockin’ ” by the Judds have recently been added to the two Los Angeles stations’ lists.

“Our listeners are extremely responsive to these songs,” KZLA’s Puzo said Wednesday. “They are very appreciative that our stations are taking a pro-American response in support of the troops.”

The lyrics of Randy Newman’s “Lines in the Sand” Oh sons and daughters, Sail ‘cross the sea Fight now for justice And liberty Fly ‘cross the ocean A friend needs a hand You must try to defend The lines in the sand. Deep in the desert Evening draws nigh Brave sons and daughters Look to the sky Blood on these children A stain on the land If they die to defend Some lines in the sand. We old men will guide you Though we won’t Be there beside you We wish you well We wish you well Oh sons and daughters, Listen to me March on to glory And victory The whole world will watch As you make your brave stand As you try to defend The lines in the sand.

Steve Hochman and Claudia Puig contributed to this article.

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