CARS – Randy Newman

Original Review by Alan Rogers

There’s always fervent discussions every now and again on film music messageboards on what makes up a particular composer’s trademark “sound”. But a trademark sound for a composer/film company partnership? Randy Newman’s scores for Pixar movies (for example, the Toy Story series) is a fine example of a specific sound being produced for a specific studio. (Whether this is because the movies are of a specific type – in this case light-hearted animated features – rather than the composer/studio relationship could get bogged down in minutely-detailed discussions on the aforementioned messageboards, but it is clear that there is a definite influence between Newman and Pixar).

Randy Newman’s score for the animated movie Cars is a good example of how a specific sound can be generated for a specific studio and it doesn’t take long for these trademark sounds to show through. In the first score cue (“Opening Race”, track 9 on the CD) we hear a familiar brass fanfare that’s reminiscent of a similar device from the Toy Story movies, but this quickly moves on to something less familiar; a rock-influenced guitar riff with some drum kit embellishments that gives an energetic rock’n’roll slant to the action scoring. Unfortunately, this flavour doesn’t get repeated into any of the subsequent cues (cues such as “McQueen’s Lost” and “The Piston Cup”). These later action cues suggest a western feel borrowing Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful brass fanfares (“McQueen’s Lost”) as well as a more generic country’n’western feel with slide guitars and banjo (“Bessie” and “New Road”). Although the majority of the score could be branded as light-hearted (Pixar-styled) action scoring, cues such as “Bessie” and “Goodbye” add a level of variety. “Bessie” is a very sleazy, lazy cue that’s very bluesy in nature relying on slide guitar and muted brass that must certainly establish the on-screen character of Bessie. “Goodbye”, on the other hand, features a sad piano theme, echoed later in the cue by woodwinds and could be considered the emotional highpoint of the score. Other highlights include “New Road” and “McQueen and Sally” that feature a bright, “on the open road” feel. There’s also a curiosity that appears in “Pre-Race Pageantry”. There’s a definite nod to John Williams’ Imperial March theme from the Star Wars series that somehow suggests the flag parade scene from The Phantom Menace.

This release from Disney features only 20 minutes of Randy Newman’s underscore but somehow it seems enough. At times exciting and at others sad and emotional the score for Cars is typical of the composer. There’s also 30 minutes of songs included on the CD (including four new compositions) do appear to sit nicely with Newman’s score. There are classic songs to give a nostalgic feel to the movie (including Chuck Berry singing “Route 66”), some country and western tunes (e.g., “Behind The Clouds”, “Find Yourself” and “My Heart Would Know”). Curiously, Sheryl Crow’s “Real Gone” and “Route 66” (tracks 1 & 2, respectively) are of such a quality that it is easy to imagine these as underscore for humorous on-screen montages.

When listening to this CD I usually skip past the songs and in terms of Randy Newman’s underscore, there is not much that is particularly new-sounding. This may put people off making a purchase but I’d suggest that there’s enough good points to warrant a purchase, particularly if you’re a fan of the movie or Randy Newman’s Pixar scoring technique.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  1. Real Gone (Performed by Sheryl Crow) (3:21)
  2. Route 66 (Performed by Chuck Berry) (2:51)
  3. Life Is A Highway (Performed by Rascal Flatts) (4:36)
  4. Behind The Clouds (Performed by Brad Paisley) (4:09)
  5. Our Town (Performed by James Taylor) (4:07)
  6. Sh-Boom (Performed by The Chords) (2:25)
  7. Route 66 (Performed by John Mayer) (3:24)
  8. Find Yourself (Performed by Brad Paisley) (4:11)
  9. Opening Race (2:04)
  10. McQueen’s Lost (2:28)
  11. My Heart Would Know (Performed by Hank Williams) (2:26)
  12. Bessie (0:58)
  13. Dirt Is Different (1:27)
  14. New Road (1:17)
  15. Tractor Tipping (1:21)
  16. McQueen and Sally (2:00)
  17. Goodbye (2:42)
  18. Pre-Race Pageantry (1:30)
  19. The Piston Cup (1:52)
  20. The Big Race (3:07)

Running Time: 52:16

Walt Disney Records (2006)


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