Korean Parents For Sale, as Well as an Entire Country

Even for someone as perceptive as I am, I've occasionally had difficulty in distinguishing when Randy Newman is being sarcastic or when he's being serious, when he's being genuinely bold or when he's simply baiting controversy, and when he's honestly sharing his personal views or when he's playing characters whose "character" is frequently in question. When I first started listening to Newman in college, I didn't know much about him except for his songs, so I couldn't really figure out if he was liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, tireless provocateur or cranky old man. (No wonder when he asserted that "short people got no reason to live" in 1977 that radio stations wouldn't play him and some people today still hate him for it.) As the years progressed, it's become clearer to me, of course, what side of the fence Newman primarily stands on—but he can still bait naysayers with the best of 'em.

On his addictive and tight new album, Harps and Angels, "Korean Parents" amusingly takes the "Short People" controversy crown. In response to education in the era of No Child Left Behind, Newman offers:

Korean parents for sale
You say you're not all that you want to be

You say you got a bad environment

Your work at school's not going well

Korean parents for sale

You say you need a little discipline

Someone to whip you into shape

They'll be strict but they'll be fair

The album's towering masterpiece, however, is "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country," which was first published as a (censored) op-ed piece in The New York Times and released as a single in 2007 (which Rolling Stone dubbed the #2 song of the year). The new, unabridged, full-band version starts out as a happy ditty about national pride, but soon turns into an elegy for a dying country—on the optimistic side, a cautionary tale. Listen to it by going to this page and hitting the play button. The complete lyrics are here in full:

A Few Words in Defense of Our Country
by Randy Newman

I'd like to say a few words
In defense of our country
Whose people aren't bad nor are they mean
Now the leaders we have
While they're the worst that we've had
Are hardly the worst this poor world has seen

Let's turn history's pages, shall we?

Take the Caesars for example
Why within the first few of them
They were sleeping with their sister
Stashing little boys in swimming pools
And burning down the City
And one of 'em, one of 'em
Appointed his own horse to be Consul of the Empire
That’s like vice president or something

Now wait a minute, that's not a very good example

Here's one, the Spanish Inquisition
Put people in a terrible position
I don't even like to think about it

Well, sometimes I like to think about it

Just a few words in defense of our country
Whose time at the top
Could be coming to an end
We don't want your love
Respect at this point is pretty much out of the question
Times like these
We sure could use a friend

Hitler, Stalin
Men who need no introduction

King Leopold of Belgium, that's right
Everyone thinks he's so great
Well, he owned The Congo
He tore it up too
Took the diamond, took the silver
Took the gold
Know what he left 'em with?


A President once said
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"
Now we're supposed to be afraid
It's patriotic in fact and color-coded
And what are we supposed to be afraid of?
Why, of being afraid
That's what terror means, doesn't it?
That's what it used to mean

You know it pisses me off a little
That this Supreme Court is gonna outlive me
A couple of young Italian fellas and a brother on the Court now too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world
To find me two Italians as tightass as the two Italians we got

And as for the brother
Well, Pluto's not a planet anymore either

The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We're adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free

Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.


  1. I love Randy Newman and started listening to him in high school. My favorite unironic song of his is "Real Emotional Girl" which I swear could be about me. A few years ago when Bravo was running their brilliant, but cancelled showcases I fell into watching Cop Rock because I found out Randy Newman had written songs for the show even. I even like songs he's written for kids' movies, like "When She Loved Me" from Toy Story 2.

  2. Wow, I didn't know he wrote for Cop Rock!

    ...My favorite Randy Newman album is "Lands of Dream." It's perfection.

  3. I just forced myself to listen to this song and was blown away. Who knew the piano could rock so much. Rock on, Mr. Newman, rock on!

  4. Mike, I'm sure you especially appreciated the stuff about Italians. :)