Short people – Randy Newman – 1977

Short People cover“Short people are just the same as you and I…” a song misunderstood!

I’m in my first year at university.  I’m a part of all manner of ecology and environmental action groups.  I’m marching against the visit of nuclear ships and sitting in the middle of Queen St to protest Merv Wellington’s cuts to the education budget.  But it never occurrs to me that the jazzy little song hovering near the top of the record charts could warrant a public outcry and be deemed, by some, to be offensive.

randy newman – typecast!

Think Randy Newman and most people think Short People.  It’s the hit song he’s primarily remembered for, but he’s a lot, lot more.  He’s multi-talented and has received multiple awards for his musical accomplishments.

Randy’s been awarded two Academy Awards (nominated 20 times) , three Emmys, and five Grammy’s.  In 2002 he was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

Amazingly he has been a professional songwriter since he was 17 years old.  He has written soundtracks for over two dozen movies including; ¡Three Amigos! (1986) – which he also co-wrote the screenplay, Parenthood (1989), Toy Story (1995), James and the Giant Peach (1996), A Bug’s Life (1998), Babe: Pig in the City (1998) (song: “That’ll Do” by Peter Gabriel), Pleasantville (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Meet the Parents (2000), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Seabiscuit (2003), Meet the Fockers (2004), Cars (2006), Toy Story 3 (2010).

short people – controversy

Short people T-ShirtSo, here I am listening to this jazzy little song.  It’s so obviously satirical.  It never occurs to me that anyone would not understand the message behind it or be foolish enough to take it seriously.  It seems, however, that there are people who don’t quite grasp the subtlety of satire – people who’s tongues have never been in their cheeks!

The song begins to get the airplay it deserves but, in the US, there’s quite a backlash.  Some states, e.g. Maryland, even try to get it banned because of its prejudicial lyric.

As a further protest a band named Short People produces a song named “Tall People.”  It’s not widely released (if at all) and is far from successful.

And, Randy actually gets threats to his continued wellbeing – I have this image in my mind of Randy being attacked in a dark alley by a hoard of midgets!

what randy thought of it all

It’s a controversy Randy has never, to this day, lived down.  He continues to get interrogated about the song to the point where he has concluded he dislikes both the song and the success it brought him.  Randy refers to the success of Short People as, “a bad break.”  Saying, “It’s a novelty record like The Chipmunks.”

short people fax

  • There is some conjecture as to what the song is about.  It’s generally accepted to be satire.  Written from the perspective of a “lunatic” (Randy’s word) who’s prejudiced against short people.  It’s about the foolishness and short-sightedness of people who are prejudiced in any way.  There is, however, another school of thought that believes the song is a novelty song that simply mocks short people.  Randy’s answer to questions about the song are often ambiguous so maybe the truth will never really be known.  The answer is probably in the refrain which points to the song being an anti-predujice satire.
  • The refrain, “Short people are just the same as you and I,” is sung by Glenn Frey, of The Eagles.
  • Short People reached as high as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It was robbed of the #1 slot by The Bee Gees‘, “Stayin’ Alive”.
  • In an episode of the US version of The Office, Michael Scott says, “Short People would have to be my favourite Bruce Springsteen song.”
  • Short People has appeared in a number of movies and television shows including, Ally McBeal.
  • Short People lyrics.
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One Response to Short people – Randy Newman – 1977

  1. barbara j duncan says:

    When i listened to Midget’s Lament by Dory Previn (sung in 1973, Carnegie Hall) a few minutes ago, it reminded me so much of Short People, released in 1977. Wonder if anyone else ever thought Randy Newman owed a debt to Dory?

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