Randy Newman

Randy Newman's pop/R&B songs are critically acclaimed for their finely drawn characters and cutting humor. His wicked sarcasm has influenced the works of such artists as Mark Knopfler and Lyle Lovett.

Newman was born 54 years ago today in New Orleans. His family was filled with musical talent -- Newman's uncles Lionel and Alfred provided the scores for many Hollywood movies.

At 17, Newman was working as a staff writer for a California publishing company; he dropped out of UCLA before graduating. He became close friends with Lenny Waronker, whose father was the president of Liberty Records. When the younger Waronker became a producer for Warner Bros. Records, he helped get Newman signed to the label.

In 1968, Newman released his self-titled debut album, which went relatively unnoticed. But soon stars such as Judy Collins ("I Think It's Going to Rain Today"), Peggy Lee ("Love Story") and Three Dog Night (the #1 "Mama Told Me [Not to Come]") recorded popular versions of his songs.

In 1970, Newman's friend Harry Nilsson released an entire LP of his compositions, Nilsson Sings Newman. Newman then attracted a cult following by touring with Nilsson.

Newman's first hit was the 1971 Live LP. He had another commercial success with the following year's Sail Away. However, Newman angered some people when he sang songs from the point of view of bigoted characters. Ironically, he enjoyed his biggest hit with one such tune, 1977's "Short People," which in fact parodied bigotry.

In 1981, Newman was nominated for two Oscars for his soundtrack to the film "Ragtime." Trouble In Paradise (1983) was notable for appearances by Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt and Fleetwood Mac, and for the yuppie parody "I Love L.A." "It's Money That Matters," a rewrite of "I Love L.A.," was a minor hit for Newman off 1988's Land of Dreams.

Newman's 1995 concept album, Faust, received mixed reviews but spawned a stage musical. It included tracks such as "Bless The Children Of The World" (RealAudio excerpt). The following year, Newman received another Academy Award nomination for "You've Got a Friend" from the computer-animated film "Toy Story."

This month, Newman issued the four-CD box set, Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman, including hits, rarities, live cuts, and soundtrack songs from films such as "Awakenings" and "The Natural."

Other birthdays: Gary Troxel (Fleetwoods), 59; Clem Curtis (Foundations), 58; Beeb Birtles (Little River Band), 50; Matt Cameron (ex-Soundgarden), 36; and Dawn Robinson (En Vogue), 30.