Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
It seems a shame that people today know Randy Newman better known for Toy Story than for the rest of his career, but I guess that is a legacy few would mind having. Anyway, I doubt his accountant is complaining. Of course, Newman has a wealth of uberfans, who will crawl out of the woodwork at any such treason, proclaiming as to the width and wonder of his canon and his voice (both his writing voice and his distinctive drawl of a croak, each a different kind of acquired taste).
“Baltimore” is a perfect example of a Newman song that comes at a topic in an unconventional way. It’s not a love song to the city; indeed, Newman appreciated from the start that it might court some controversy. I have never been, but, between him and Bobby Bare, the picture painted of the Maryland city does not attract. From his 1977 album Little Criminals, backed by members of the Eagles, he near-decimates the postindustrial wreck of a city, counterbalancing the barbs with an actually quite delightful, if simple, melody. And his own vocal delivery isn’t half as bad as my memory suggested. Quite good, actually. Very good, even.
Good enough, certainly, to attract the ears of many of his contemporaries; according to the bible of cover versions, www.secondhandsongs.com, there have been upward of 20 versions since, and counting. Let’s find the five best.