While Randy Newman would gain belated fame and fortune in the '90s when his career as a film composer took off (particularly after he wrote the music for Toy Story in 1995), he began to cultivate a cult following and earn critical acclaim in the late '60s as a singer/songwriter whose easygoing melodies and New Orleans-influenced piano were matched with lyrics full of sardonic wit and a curious compassion for his misfit, sometimes reprehensible characters. The People Dressed Like Monkeys offers a look at Randy Newman the cult hero in the '70s; the majority of the disc is devoted to a 1971 live performance broadcast on New York City's WPLJ-FM, with Newman playing 22 songs, including early versions of numbers that would later appear on the albums Sail Away and Good Old Boys, and the little-heard "Rosemary." The quality of the source material is flawed, but the performance is engaging and Newman delivers some cutting wit in his between-song banter. The album also includes six songs from a 1972 performance at the San Francisco club the Boarding House, which was aired by KSAN-FM. The San Francisco selections find Newman playing for an enthusiastic audience, and the fidelity is noticeably better than the New York recordings. Finally, the set closes out with Newman playing a solo version of "I Love L.A." on The Tonight Show in 1984. While the variety of different sources make this seem like something of a mixed bag, The People Dressed Like Monkeys preserves some worthwhile archival recordings from Newman's early years as a performer, and serious fans will appreciate both the performances and the presence of rarely heard songs.
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