Rolling Into Town

Randy Newman looks back on 40 years with help from the orchestra

The Cleveland Orchestra is getting ready for one of its biggest concerts of the season this week — or at least one that will bring in a very different type of crowd than they usually draw over at regal Severance Hall. Randy Newman comes to town on Saturday for a show that spans his entire career — from '70s cultural satirist to '90s soundtrack composer to whatever esteemed title he holds these days. "I was always fishing around for something people would like a little better," he says. "But the first thing in my obituary will be, 'The composer of "Short People" died of a broken hip.'"

Newman — who once played with the orchestra in a 1998 concert at Blossom Music Center — will perform a two-set show with the orchestra backing him (James Feddeck conducts). He says he usually writes with this in mind. "It's an old cinematic influence I have. I've always cared a great deal about the arrangements of my songs. Traditionally, you arrange something to make it more interesting. People like the unadorned piano versions [of my songs], but I don't. I love working with orchestras. It's a treat for me."

We got a peek at the set list for Saturday's program, and it's a great one, including Newman's only Top 40 single, "Short People," his celebrated score for the 1984 movie The Natural, "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story, and his all-time greatest song, "Sail Away." Plus, of course, there's "Burn On," his 1972 tune about the time the Cuyahoga River caught fire.

"Some people are going to be shocked by my voice or the nature of the program," Newman says of classical fans who might not be familiar with his more caustic songs. "But they're easier to understand when I'm playing them with an orchestra than if you hear them on the radio."

A CLEVELAND CHRISTMAS CAROL: The Modern Electric's new song "Northcoast Christmas" is loaded with seasonal scenes that should look very familiar to Clevelanders: "digging out our cars with the vents all blowing," "quoting all the lines from A Christmas Story," "Daddy's saying prayers, 'Let the Browns do OK.'" The indie pop quartet, whose 2009 self-titled debut is one of the best local records of the past couple years, nail the joys and woes of wintertime around these parts in four glorious sleigh-bell-speckled minutes. We'd so much rather listen to this than to She & Him's joyless new holiday collection. Besides, what Clevelander can resist the chorus' rousing call to "raise your beer, it's a Christmas on the North Coast." You can hear the song at

THEY LIKE TO SHOP: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues its special programming tied to the Women Who Rock exhibit with a Rock and Roll Night School that's all about the clothes that make the rockers.

Mary Davis, chair of Case Western Reserve University's Department of Music, will present a free "Women Rock Fashion" lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 7. We're guessing she'll talk about everything from Madonna's bustier to Lady Gaga's meat dress to the clothes that made Ann Wilson look super-skinny in Heart's mid-'80s videos.