Before Randy Newman scored his most recent Oscar nods (for Toy Story 4 and Marriage Story), he won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music and Lyrics for the theme song to the short-lived Nineties series Cop Rock. The title? “Under the Gun,” of course.
The song features some truly Eighties-era production, as Newman, perched behind his keyboard, sings, “Days of sunshine, tears of rain/Precious memories of days gone by/Eyes of darkness, feel the pain/…Did what had to be done/living under the gun.”
Cop Rock was a 1990 TV show on ABC that merged a gritty crime drama with a musical — yup, citizens and law enforcement burst into song, seemingly for no reason. Unsurprisingly, it was canceled after 11 episodes. “When I was making Hill Street Blues, a Broadway producer talked to me about the possibility of doing Hill Street as a Broadway musical,” producer Steven Bochco told the New York Times. “For all sorts of practical reasons, that wasn’t possible, but the idea of a musical cop show stuck with me.”
Bochco tracked Newman down via his agent, he recalls to the AV Club. “I told him my concept, and he said, ‘You’re crazy. It’ll never work.’ I talked him into it anyway. It was amazing working with him, though, and we’ve been friends ever since. You know, Randy’s a genius. … He got the only positive recognition that anybody got for that show!”
Newman wrote five songs for the pilot: “He’s Guilty,” “We’ve Got the Power,” “You’re the One for Me,” “Since She Chose Me” and “Sandman.” Oddly enough, “She Chose Me,” a stunner of a romantic track, appears on his 2017 standout album Dark Matter. “[In the show this] supposedly ugly guy [has] an absolutely beautiful wife, and he was wondering how he could be so blessed to have this wonderful person loving him. And that’s not a bad idea. It’s kind of a big idea. It’s certainly worth a song or two,” he told Pitchfork. “Sandman’s Coming” appears on 1995 musical Randy Newman’s Faust with a brushed-up title.
This is far from the first time a song Newman wrote for TV ended up on an album. “It’s a Jungle Out There” served as the theme song for early 2000s show Monk and won an Emmy in 2004. That song also appears on Dark Matter. Despite being used to denote the fears of the titular reclusive cop for the show, the new version of “It’s a Jungle Out There” treads more into the realm of police brutality than comedy: “It’s a jungle out there/Even the cops are scared today/So if you see a uniform/Do exactly what they say/Or make a run for it/I’m only kidding with ya.”
The double duty this song serves pretty much encapsulates Newman as a songwriter. The same man who wrote the tender “Don’t Throw Yourself Away” for Toy Story 4 (nominated for Best Original Song this year), can also pen a scorching condemnation of racism like 1974’s “Rednecks,” in which he embodies the titular character to an uncomfortable degree.
Newman faces off against his cousin, Thomas Newman, in the Best Original Score category at this year’s Academy Awards: Randy for Marriage Story, Thomas for 1917. Randy will also perform his Toy Story song at the ceremony Sunday. The pair come from a long line of Hollywood songwriters and composer, starting with Thomas’ father Arthur Newman, who scored the likes of All About Eve and Wuthering Heights through the 1930s, 1940s, and beyond.