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In some ways, “Rednecks” is the most Randy Newman of all Randy Newman songs. It takes the classic Newman trope of the unlikeable narrator to its logical extreme: a proud racist boasting his ignorance and dropping the N-bomb right and left. It’s a scathing indictment of Southern bigotry…except it isn’t. What looks like a smarmy Californian taking pot shots at the South turns on its axis in the final verse about just how “free” the black man really is up North.
Yes he’s free to be put in a cage in Harlem, in New York City
And he’s free to be put in a cage on the South Side of Chicago and the West Side
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They’re gatherin’ ’em up from miles around
Keepin’ the n*****s down
Never one to shy away from sensitive issues, Steve Earle covers “Rednecks” with a giant pair of country-rock cajones. His Texan drawl adds an authenticity to the tune that the frog-voiced Newman could never pull off.