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Monday, January 6, 2014

Song Of The Week: Randy Newman Covers Peter Gabriel

Randy Newman wins the Novello Award for 'PRS for Music Special International Award' presented by Peter Gabriel at the Grosvenor House in London on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Mark Allan/Invision via AP)

Randy Newman, left, has covered the song “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel, right. The two are pictured together at the Novello Awards in London on May 16, 2013. (Mark Allan/Invision via AP)

As he does every week, NPR music writer and editor Stephen Thompson joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with a new song. This week’s song comes from a new album of Peter Gabriel covers called “And I’ll Scratch Yours.”

Four years ago, Peter Gabriel made a record called “Scratch My Back” — it’s him covering songs by his favorite musicians, with the idea that each one would return the favor and cover a Peter Gabriel song.

It took four years to gather all the recordings, and a few of the artists dropped out along the way, but the album of covers is finally out.

One of its most inspired pairings is the song “Big Time” performed by Randy Newman.

“To me, it’s a totally natural pairing of sensibilities,” Thompson says. “If you think of the original ‘Big Time,’ it’s a satirical song from 1986 — it was making fun of Wall Street excesses in the 1980s. But some people also at the time interpreted it as glorifying that lifestyle, which fits right in with a lot of the way Randy Newman does his own satirical material, where he takes on the persona of an antihero in ways that can be misinterpreted.”

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Well, it's the new year. Let's start it off with some new music. NPR music writer and editor Stephen Thompson is here. Stephen, what have you got for us?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I've got a song from a new album of Peter Gabriel covers. It's called "And I'll Scratch Yours."

YOUNG: This is getting a lot of buzz.

THOMPSON: Yeah. Four years ago, Peter Gabriel made a record called "Scratch My Back." It's him covering songs by some of his favorite musicians, with the idea being that each one would ultimately return the favor and cover a Peter Gabriel song. So it took four years to gather all of those recordings together, and a few of the artists dropped out along the way and that was this whole thing. But the album of covers is finally out. And one of its most, I think, inspired pairings is this song - the song "Big Time" as performed by Randy Newman.

YOUNG: Let's hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG TIME")

RANDY NEWMAN: (Singing) Big time. I'm on my way. I'm making it big time, oh, yeah. Big time, I've got to make it show, yeah, big time, big time.

YOUNG: Boy, now hearing this, it feels like it could have been a Randy Newman song.

THOMPSON: Yeah. To me, it is a totally natural pairing of sensibilities. If you think of the original "Big Time," it's a satirical song from 1986. It was a big hit that was making fun of Wall Street excesses of the time, in the 1980s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG TIME")

PETER GABRIEL: I'll be a big noise with all the big boys, so much stuff I will own. And I will pray to a big god as I kneel in my big church. Big time.

THOMPSON: But some people also at the time interpreted the song as glorifying that lifestyle, which fits right in with a lot of the way Randy Newman does his own satirical material, where he takes on the persona of an antihero in ways that can be misinterpreted. If you remember short people got no reason to live, he doesn't actually think that short people got no reason to live. Now, in part for that reason, this particular version of "Big Time" comes out sounding to me just like a Randy Newman song instead of just having someone remake a Peter Gabriel song with a different voice.

YOUNG: Well, it just reminds us that we want to hear this whole album from Peter Gabriel with all the different takes on his music. But here's more of "Big Time" from Randy Newman. That new album of covers of Peter Gabriel called "And I'll Scratch Yours" from NPR music writer and editor Stephen Thompson. Stephen, thanks as always.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Robin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG TIME")

NEWMAN: (Singing) They're always amazed. My heaven will be a big heaven.

YOUNG: Actually, it's making me think I want to hear the Peter Gabriel song. So, we'll have that as well...

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: ...hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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