This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #230: Sail Away by Randy Newman.
Satire is the ability to lampoon someone in such a way that they actually believe that your words/actions are supportive of them and their position all the while they are being held up to ridicule. There are numerous examples of this from recent times.
Example #1 comes from a comedy group called “Axis of Awesome” who created a bit called, “The 4 Chord Song”. In this song, the guys play a medley of #1 hit songs that all have the exact same four-chord musical structure. The satire here is that when they play their medley, various audience members react with delight when their favourite song(s) begin to appear, all the while completely unaware that the comedians are not performing these songs for the musical pleasure of the audience but, instead, they are mocking the audience for being fans of such formula-laden drivel. The fun is that the audience never suspects it is being set up. But, it surely is.
Example #2 comes from a song that we profiled in the early days of this countdown, “In Bloom” by Nirvana. The premise of this song is singer Kurt Cobain tiring of his audience members showing up to concerts, completely unaware of the meaning of the songs and mindlessly bopping along. In the post about this song, I wrote, “Cobain and the other members of Nirvana grew tired of no longer seeing themselves reflected in the faces and actions of their audience.” So, he wrote this chorus:
“He’s the one
Who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his guns
But, he knows not what it means
He knows not what it means
And I say, yeah.”
Needless to say, whenever Nirvana played this song live, there were countless members of the crowd mindlessly bopping along and thinking the song was about anybody but themselves.
Example #3 brings us to today’s song, “Sail Away” by Randy Newman. Randy Newman is one of America’s most prolific songwriters. He has achieved most of his fame and success by writing movie scores and for Broadway plays. Between the Grammy Awards and the Academy Awards, Randy Newman has been nominated almost 40 times! He has actually won two Academy Awards; most recently, for his work on “Toy Story #3” (Which, although it is an animated movie meant for children…is such an excellent movie and such a satisfying ending to the original Toy Story trilogy. But, I digress.) As a solo artist, Newman has had a couple of minor hits with songs such as “Short People” and “I Love L.A.” but, the song of his that has earned him the most respect is a song that satirizes those who feel that, perhaps, slavery wasn’t so bad and was, perhaps, actually something that was justified because it may have been beneficial to the economy.
The song, “Sail Away” is pure satire, sung with a straight face. The premise of the song is how slavery could have been viewed as providing African slaves the opportunity to pursue The American Dream and that their time aboard ship was simply sailing away to the Promised Land. As Randy Newman sings, it is so easy to imagine proponents of slavery nodding along and thinking to themselves, “Damn straight!”, all the while, Newman is skewering them with each word of each line that he wrote. To have authored one of the most devastating anti-slavery songs ever written while, at the same time, making it seem like being on a slave ship was like being on a pleasure cruise, is one deft bit of writing.
Randy Newman is a skilled songwriter, as you shall all soon see, when you listen to his masterpiece, “Sail Away”. Enjoy watching a master craftsman at work.
The link to the video for the song, “Sail Away” by Randy Newman, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Randy Newman, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “The Four-Chord Song” by Axis of Awesome, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Axis of Awesome, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “In Bloom” by Nirvana, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Nirvana, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.