A literate, compressed song poem, “Cowboy” dramatizes the fading grandeur of the great American west. Assuming the voice of a cowboy, Newman sings of “cold gray buildings / where a hill should be” – the city rising on the lands where the cowboy once roamed free. Newman covers similar ground as Joni Mitchell’s ”Big Yellow Taxi” (“they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”), but where Mitchell takes the sentiment in a wry and frothy pop direction, Newman guns for sweeping, theatrical effects. The verses are rendered in a minimalist chord structure strummed on a cowpoke guitar. The chorus adds significant harmonic complexity and orchestration that recalls the grand tradition of Western film soundtracks and Aaron Copeland’s folk inspired classical music. The singing on the chorus works as a commentary on the first person perspective delivered in the verses: “cowboy / can’t run, can’t hide / it’s too late to fight now / too tired to try.” Newman’s gift for pastiche is often used for satiric effect – here it is gorgeously rendered in service of a touching tribute to the demise of an American icon – the free spirit, lone ranging cowboy. Also impressive is how Newman’s songwriting was in a fully mature state, even on his debut album. Harry Nilsson covered “Cowboy” on his acclaimed Nilsson Sings Newman accompanied by Newman on piano, with a new coda affixed that quotes directly from the “Midnight Cowboy” soundtrack theme.