Behind the Song: “Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father” by Randy Newman

Linda Ronstadt, who has recorded and performed many songs by her friend Randy Newman once joked that in his songs he gives all the best melodies to the strings.

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Randy said he found that funny, though it’s not entirely true. But over the years Randy has seemed to find few things funnier than jokes about him. And usually, he was the guy making them.

Examples of this abound: In the midst of a live performance of his song “Rider in the Rain” with Linda, he said, “It’s like Joan Sutherland with Kermit the Frog!”

Randy Newman in Amsterdam, 1978

Or when discussing his many Oscar nominations for Best Song, and performances on the show. “I just love the idea,” he said, “of a billion Chinese people watching this, and asking, ‘What is this?'”

Or about his father’s pride at attending Randy’s sold-out show at the Universal Amphitheater, which ended with a standing ovation.

“So I come off stage,” Randy said. “People were still cheering. And my dad is standing there. The first thing he said was, ‘So — did you have a cold tonight?'”

Despite the jokes, the truth remains that he is one of the great melodists of our time. He has the unlikely distinction of being one of our most sardonically funny lyricists and also an astounding melodist with a genius for writing heartrendingly poignant melodies.

This song, “Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father” is proof of his melodic greatness. His own singing voice is not a conventional pop voice in any way, though I personally prefer his renditions of his own songs better than others. But his singing style might hinder some people’s awareness of the timeless beauty of his tunes.

So as to counter that tendency, we bring you several versions of this song, by Randy as well as Linda Ronstadt, and also one of the great champions of Randy’s legacy, Art Garfunkel.

“Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father” is from Randy’s album Little Criminals, released on Ray Charles’ 47th birthday, September 23, 1977. Produced by Randy’s best friend and champion, Lenny Waronker with Russ Titelman, it was Lenny ‘s favorite of Randy’s albums.

The song was was one of many on the album, along with “Sigmund Freud’s Impersonation of Albert Einstein in America,” “In Germany Before the War” and “Kathleen (Catholicism Made Easier),” which had long titles more like the names of paintings than songs.

Asked about this, he said “I think that came from a style of writing where I didn’t hit an obvious title.”

And about his tendency to match often dark, sorrowful lyrics with beautiful melodies, he said, “I think they fit together. I wouldn’t know any other way of doing it.”

“Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father”
By Randy Newman

Here I am lost in the wind
‘Round in circles sailing
Like a ship that never comes in
Standing by myself

Sing a sad song for a good man
Sing a sad song for me
Sing a sad song for the sailor
A thousand miles from the sea

Here I am alone on the plain
Sun’s going down
It’s starting to rain
Papa we’ll go sailing

© Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

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