(Just before we get started properly, I?ve just noticed when I press ?publish? on this article, it will be my 300th story on Medium. That feels like a bit of a milestone. My thanks to the lovely people who are kind enough to read what I write around here.)
Randy Newman has been writing songs since the early 1960s, but probably none of them as famous as ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me?, the theme tune for the ?Toy Story? movie franchise.
More than a theme, ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? infuses the ?Toy Story? movies as it?s used in different versions and as background music at various other points too. You don?t just hear it over the titles.
It?s a musical theme we return to over and over again, in a range of different treatments and from a range of different directions, in the same way as the animated characters return to their own timeless themes of love, friendship and heartbreak over the course of the movies.
?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? might be Randy Newman?s most famous song, but he?s no slouch in the songwriting department.
He?s had 20 Oscar nominations and won two Oscars for his work in films like ?Monsters, Inc? and ?A Bug?s Life??although, ironically, neither of his Oscar wins was for ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me?. On top of that, Randy Newman has picked up three Emmys and seven Grammys over the years.
Excellent though his other songs are, I don?t think Randy Newman has written a better song than ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me?. In fact I don?t think many songwriters, alive or dead, have written a better song.
It?s a song about a very special sort of friendship. The sort of friendship where you know another human being will be there for you no matter what, and they?ll ask no questions and make no judgements.
I once heard the late motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, talk about the sort of friend you could call up in the middle of the night from the cell of a foreign jail where you?d been unjustly accused of a crime you hadn?t committed, and that friend would immediately jump on a plane, no questions asked, and not rest till they had you acquitted of all charges and brought you home safe again to your family.
That?s the sort of friendship Randy Newman writes about?
You?ve got a friend in meYou?ve got a friend in meWhen the road looks rough aheadAnd you?re miles and milesFrom your nice warm bedYou just remember what your old pal saidBoy, you?ve got a friend in meYeah, you?ve got a friend in me
It?s not just the lyrics that make ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? such a special song. It?s a delightfully whimsical, idiosyncratic composition as well. Certainly not the sort of tune you?d have got from one of those six-person songwriter-for-hire set-ups that appear so frequently at the top of the charts these days.
More than just about any other popular song, ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? could only have been written, as a labour of love, by a single individual.
If you watch Randy Newman sing it live on the video below, accompanying himself on the piano without any other singers or musicians, you get an even better sense of just how delightfully whimsical a song this is.
Of course, the movie version rounds it out and brings in other instruments to add tone and colour. And the movie version is great too. But there?s almost too much going on, which prevents you appreciating the delightful jazz-infused whimsy at the heart of this very special song.
Randy Newman on his own, playing his own accompaniment on the piano is, for my money, by far the best way to appreciate just how great a song ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? really is.
There are more technically-impressive songs, more dramatic songs, more sing-along songs?even within Randy Newman?s own body of work, never mind anybody else?s?but that?s what makes ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? such a special song.
Most other songs try too hard. This goes in exactly the opposite direction. And whilst all those other songs are trying, perhaps a little too hard, to forge some deep connection with your psyche, Randy Newman manages to slip in a much deeper connection whilst hardly seeming to try at all.
That?s the gift of a very special sort of artist.
I?ve seen grown men and cynical teenagers wipe away tears while listening to ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me?. It brings a message that goes far beyond the lives of the animated characters the song initially introduced to us.
Sometimes the tears are a reminder of the special people in our lives and what they mean to us.
Sometimes the tears are for the friendships we wished we had, but never did.
Sometimes the tears are for great friends in times gone by who, for whatever reason, are no longer a part of our lives.
?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? means something to everyone, and affects us all deeply.
When someone can write a song the whole world can buy into?even if that?s for a range of entirely different reasons?you know you?ve witnessed a ?once in a generation? level of mastery.
In fact, it?s even more impressive when you write a song the whole world can buy into, even though everyone looks at your core message about the importance of friendship through such a wide range of different lenses?
Some other folks might beA little bit smarter than I amBigger and stronger tooMaybeBut none of them will ever love youThe way I do, it?s me and youBoy, and as the years go byOur friendship will never dieYou?re gonna see, it?s our destinyYou?ve got a friend in me
The vulnerability in the ?other folks might be smarter? line is a particularly brilliant and insightful piece of writing.
Sometimes we don?t think we?re big enough or strong enough, rich enough or smart enough, attractive enough or compassionate enough to be worthy of someone else?s friendship.
Truth is, people want to be your friend because of who you are, not who you aren?t?with all your vulnerabilities, sensitivities, character flaws and misjudgements in tow. They?re what make us who we are.
As the old saying goes ? the definition of a good friend is someone who knows all about you and still likes you anyway.
?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? is a wonderful song that works on so many different levels.
The superficial message is fine, but there?s deeper meaning in the song too if you go looking for it.
And the music sounds really simple?which at one level it is?but it?s actually an intricate piece of composition which follows none of the ?paint by numbers? rules of writing a song the whole world knows.
Yet in the almost 25 years since ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? first came to the public?s attention with the release of the original ?Toy Story?, there haven?t been many other songs which touch the heartstrings of so many people around the world to the same extent as ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me?.
And even fewer which can reduce the most hard-bitten and cynical among us to tears with its message.
That takes a level of songwriting skill which puts its writer up there with the all-time greats.
Randy Newman wrote a delightful, whimsical and unexpectedly emotional song which is almost as important a part of the long-running ?Toy Story? franchise as its much-loved characters.
And there?s no better way to appreciate the brilliance of Randy Newman?s ?You?ve Got A Friend In Me? than to watch its composer perform the song live. Here he is?
If you?ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today?s track here? https://open.spotify.com/track/6lXQWATvzJE5nnuztROJIi