Newman had been a professional songwriter since he was seventeen. During the 60s he wrote for the likes of Gene Pitney and The Alan Price Set, and was a member of Harper’s Bizarre for a time. He continued to write for other artists in the 70s and 80s (Nilsson) but soon began recording his own albums, the most well received of which ‘Little Criminals’, produced the 1977/78 hit single ‘Short People’ (US#2/OZ#12). He branched out into composing songs for films, among them ‘Ragtime’ (1981) and ‘The Natural’ (1984).
Knopfler of course had been a founding member and front man with British band Dire Straits, who by the mid to late 80s had become one of the biggest acts on the face of the planet. In 1988 Randy Newman released his first solo album since 1983’s ‘Trouble In Paradise’. ‘Land Of Dreams’ featured a bunch of songs that saw the singer/songwriter recounting childhood experiences from his formative years in New Orleans (well at least for the first few tracks), which was unusual because Newman wasn’t noted for openly writing about his own experiences. Newman assembled a who’s who of the music business in terms of a production/performance roster. Production duties were shared between Hollywood film score impresario James Newton Howard, Electric Light Orchestra guru Jeff Lynne, and a ‘brother in arms’ taking a break from the battlefield, Mark Knopfler. Among the playing roster were several members of Toto, bassist journeyman Leland Sklar, Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell (along with Tom Petty), and Mark Knopfler himself.
I recall seeing the music video for the song ‘It’s Money That Matters’, and aside from recognising Newman’s unique vocals, was immediately struck by the opening guitar riff. “That’s trademark Knopfler” was my first thought - and sure enough Mark Knopfler did contribute guitar to (and produce) the song. ‘It’s Money That Matters’ flirted with the Australian top 100 (#96) in January 1989, having already been a #1 Album Rock Hit (#60 Hot 100) in the U.S. during 1988, whilst ‘Land Of Dreams’ reached a creditable #80 in the U.S. Lyrically ‘It’s Money That Matters’ is a clever and acerbically comic take on life in dollar driven modern day America.
‘It’s Money That Matters’ represents but one small piece in the ever evolving careers of Randy Newman and Mark Knopfler, but it was a rare union of two music icons, and one that actually worked. Even if you’re not a big Randy Newman devotee, but you have a liking for Knopfler’s guitar work, I would highly recommend you track down a copy of ‘Land Of Dreams’ just to score a copy of this great collaborative effort.