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Randy Newman's portrait of the Southern United States represents a peak in his career and a culmination of four albums. Begged and beaten into the music industry by friends and colleagues (one of them supposedly John Lennon, who called Newman to say that all of the Beatles had heard his demos), Newman's fourth album of original material provides evidence that those friends and colleagues provided us a great service. "Good Old Boys" stands as one of Newman's greatest acheivements, and arguably one of the greatest albums of the 1970s. Rolling Stone even proclaimed it the 393rd best album of all time in 2003 (though it probably deserves to be put much higher).

A furtive glance at the album's title, and an accompanying peek at the song titles ("Rednecks", "Birmingham", Naked Man", "Guilty") would suggest a slam dunk satirical no holds barred slash at the south. Not so. Newman approaches the subject with dignity and a balance not often bequeathed to the United States' southern states. Not to say that "Good Old Boys" eulogizes the South (this is no "Gone With The Wind"). The bad and ugly also creep in: racism, prejudice, drunkedness, poverty, populism, obscenity. Newman, himself a Southerner by birth, has forayed into this territory before. 1970's "12 Songs" included "Old Kentucky Home" and "Yellow Man", though the former contained more nudge nudge satire than "Good Old Boys". This album expands on the themes explored in those songs and expands it into the length of an entire album. The results come out more in context than they do on a song-by-song basis. For example, "Birmingham" and "Marie", both amazing songs, take on a different tone when following "Rednecks". "Rollin'" represents the sigh of denial after a long arduous inhale. The song feels different in isolation than it does at the end of the song cycle of "Good Old Boys". This entails a tightly composed and well thought out collection of amazing songs. They all stand on their own but nonetheless take on a different life in the context of the album.

"Rednecks" has to be Newman's most shocking song for more reasons than its abrasive lyrics. Somehow it manages sympathetic, vindictive, satirical, racist, and anti-racist sentiments all at once. It puts the 'redneck' stereotype under the microscope and proclaims that the issues are more complex than they seem. It revels in Southern stereotypes while pointing the finger northward in the justifiably famous lines about the the northern 'cages' where blacks are kept in the "free" states. Indirectly it says "at least we're honest about it down here". It does all of this without promoting stereotypes or racism. This incomprehensible dichotomy pervades the entire album. Especially in Newman's portrait of Huey Long in "Every Man a King" which leads into "Kingfish".

Newman takes the orchestral lessons and arrangements learned from his previous albums and puts them to incredible work here. Strings, horns, steel guitar, and Newman's distinctive piano all fall together here in perfect balance. Completely gone are the instrumental excesses and self-conscious arrangements of his first two albums (i.e., he overused the orchestra on his first album and abandoned it on his second). "Louisiana 1927" contains one of the most beautifully orchestrated choruses in all of pop music, and stands as one of Newman's best. The amazing strings on "Kingfish" and "Rollin'" also deserve mention, though all songs are notable.

The 2CD set includes the demo for "Good Old Boys" called "Johnny Cutler's Birthday". This reveals the album's origins in a concept album revolving around one person. This focus proved too narrow for the subject matter, and at least six of the songs on the demo did not make the final album. One of them revolves around extreme profanity. Others fill in the story line (narrated by Newman in between his solo piano and voice takes). All are top notch Newman and will leave listeners wondering what else lurks in Newman's vault.

"Good Old Boys" stands as one one Newman's most impressive achievements. Every Randy Newman fan needs this CD set. Both the original album and the demo remain on firm solid concrete hard ground some thirty years later.
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on September 29, 1999
It's sometimes hard for newcomers to Newman's brand of satirical social comment to understand what he's saying. Many people take the lyrics too literally or don't get the drift at all. ("Rednecks" is a prime example on this recording. "Short People" and "Sail Away" are other examples.) I bought this recording as a vinyl LP in the mid-70's and nearly wore it through. When my turntable went on the blink - then out to the garage sale, it was many years between listenings; but the tunes & lyrics were recurringly echoing in my head. A few years ago I got the CD and I'm hooked again. I love these songs! This is probably my most favorite record to crank up in the car and wail along with. Randy Newman is a very strange individual and I love him for it. If you want to know what Randy Newman is about, you need to have this CD. However, you might want to skip the lead track if you play it in front of your kids or your social activist friends. They just won't get the satire until after several listenings or a pointed explanation.
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2006
I've always loved this recording-- I had it on vinyl and then recorded it to cassette tape and listened to it in my car for years until cars went to CD players, then I bought the CD. But that's just the first half of my back story.

In October, Randy came to my hometown to play two concerts. My wife and I had tickets to the second show. We arrived early and ate dinner at a restaurant adjacent to the theatre. Soon after we arrived, a whitish-haired gentleman in jeans and a young woman sat down at the next table. "Psst!" I whispered to my wife, "That's Randy Newman!" I held off accosting him until he finished his dinner, but to get ready, I wrote a request on a napkin (this is standard Louisiana practice at piano bars). I introduced myself and made my request. I also reminisced about a show he did at the New Orleans Jazz Festival about 10 years ago. He remembered singing "Louisiana 1927" and "Rider in the Rain" in the rain that day. He gave me an autograph and said he'd try to play my request.

The show lasted about two hours and near the end, Randy introduced a request "from my friend, Dave Zimmerman". Wow! He proceeded to mention jokingly how the song would "break up the flow of the concert", but that he'd play it anyway. He then explained how the song was written about Albania, but that he had to change the setting to an southern US county for the American market. The song is "Wedding in Cherokee County" and it's on "Good Old Boys", Randy Newman's best album in an illustrious career as singer and composer.

The title comes from a line in the CD's opening and most controversial song "Rednecks", which features repeated use of the N word as he decries both Southern and Northern racism. "Louisiana 1927", the story of the Great Flood of that year, has become the unofficial second anthem of my state (after "You Are My Sunshine", which was written by a former governor) after the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Newman includes Huey Long's campaign song, "Every Man a King", and his own version of Long's life in "Kingfish". "Birmingham" is a gritty tribute to that Alabama industrial town. "Marie" and "Guilty" are just too beautiful to convey in words. "Naked Man" and "Back on My Feet Again" are observant and funny. Every song is a gem. I highly recommend this album to everyone. Randy's movie music for Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters Inc, etc.) is great and has gained him Oscar nominations, but his best work is still the wry "Good Old Boys" of 1974.
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on January 17, 2005
I have been listening to this album for almost 30 years and it is as fresh and satisfying today as it was in the '70's. As expected the songwriting and instrumentation are beautiful. This is Randy's best album. Give it a good listen. It is simply a work of high art.

Steve C.
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on April 25, 2001
Randy Newman's first four albums are all five-star classics, but if I was forced to choose my favorite it would have to be this one. There's an odd love/hate, happy/sad vibe going through this sneaky little concept album that leaves me highly impressed, but also a little uneasy, every time I play it. But usually, rather than get bogged down in the politics, I just enjoy the masterful beauty of the songs: "Guilty", "Louisiana 1927", and "Birmingham" (which has a middle-eight so beautiful that there's no way it could've been written by a mere mortal) are all examples of a songwriter at the top of his game. Newman would have a hit or two after these sessions, but his work would never again match the standard set by this gem of an album.
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on September 10, 2005
I have not heard all of Randy Newman's albums, but of his early works, "12 Songs," "Sail Away," and "Good Old Boys," I like "Good Old Boys" the most. All the songs on it are good, and the redneck concept works well. From a musical standpoint, I also found it more satisfying than "12 Songs" or "Sail Away." While those albums are stripped down musically, "Good Old Boys" uses guitar and synthesizers to greater effect. Although recorded in the mid-70s, "Good Old Boys" doesn't sound dated. With the recent catastrophe in New Orleans, Newman's song "Louisiana 1927," about the terrible flood of that year, is haunting and prophetic. At around 30 minutes or so, "Good Old Boys" doesn't overstay its welcome. In those 30 minutes, it says more than most bands do their whole career. It contains acidic social commentary ("Rednecks," which attacks Southern and Northern racism), colorful character sketches ("A Wedding in Cherokee County" and "Naked Man"), and bittersweet love songs ("Guilty" and "Marie"). Some of the subject matter might be foreign to people who don't know Louisiana history ("Kingfish" and "Every Man a King"), but the songwriting throughout is top-notch. "Good Old Boys" is a real treat, though Louisiana State University alumni might not like the lines: "College men from LSU/Went in dumb, come out dumb too/Hustling 'round Atlanta in their alligator shoes/Get drunk every weekend at a barbecue." Geaux Randy!
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on June 5, 1999
This is one of the most enjoyable albums I've ever owned. Newman's lush orchestal arrangements and wonderful character studies conjures up pictures of the south like a good Faulkner novel. Bits of rednecks, Huey Long, drunks, working men along with a poingnant and humorous view of the south. Southerners have always had a good sense of humor and an understanding of history. Newman, originally from New Orleans captures this spirit in aces. A romantic, cynical character study of the south. Yet beautiful in scope! This is one no collection should be without. A must for any music lover!
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on January 12, 2000
When I was a little kid (I'm 15 now), my parents, both hippie musicians, would turn this album on in the car every time we were on a road trip. Yeah, I, a 3- or 4-year-old kid, learned ALL the words to "Rednecks!" A couple years ago, I rediscovered this album while I was digging through my dad's voluminous LP collection. I haven't put it back on the shelf since! I enjoyed this album as a tiny kid, I love it now, and I'll probably still turn to it when I'm 50 as one of the BEST albums to listen to, in the car or otherwise! (And I'll probably corrupt MY 4-year-old kid with it, too!)
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on September 5, 2005
This has always been one of my two favorite Randy Newman albums. Great to see it's been remastered and the great extra disc has been added. Makes it worth every penny and worth the wait to get it! The song 'Louisiana - 1927' came immediately back into my mind after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the levees failed and all those people died, still are dying, will die. It is a poignant song that fits like a glove. 1927 or 2005. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Many hearts were broken then, many hearts are broken now.
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on October 7, 2007
This is indeed my desert island CD. The only single album I could listen to for the rest of my life. How it has been as overlooked as it has amazes me. I've bought copies and sent them to people I thought would share my opinion, only to be greeted with deafening silence in return. I begin to think there must be something wrong with me. It's brilliant, poetically and musically and culturally. And you know what, I take back what I said. It isn't me. There's something terribly wrong with anyone who doesn't love this album.
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