Newman is also noted as a lyricist of considerable sophistication.
Newman had become a professional songwriter by the time he was seventeen, and landed a contract as a singer with Reprise Records. His debut album, Randy Newman, was unsuccessful for its 1968 release (see 1968 in music). However, artists including Dusty Springfield and Peggy Lee covered his songs. In 1970, Harry Nilsson recorded an album of Newman compositions called Nilsson Sings Newman. That album was a success, and it paved the way for Newman's 1970 release, 12 Songs. 12 Songs was critically acclaimed, but sales were slow. 1972's Sail Away became a moderate hit, as was Good Old Boys (1974), a concept album that became a well known due to a controversy about the song "Rednecks", which many felt mocked the cultural heritage of the US South. Similarly, 1977's "Short People" earned Newman the enmity of several little person activist groups, even though it is in fact a satire on racism.
Newman's work as a film composer began in 1981, with Ragtime. For this, he was nominated for two Academy Awards. His 1983 album Trouble in Paradise received greater critical acclaim than most of his recent work, and included the hit single "I Love L.A.". Though the song was meant to mock yuppie culture, the irony was lost on many of Newman's listeners.
In the 1990s, Newman adapted Dr. Faust into a concept album and musical. He was again nominated for an Academy Award for his work on "You've Got a Friend" for Toy Story. His latest album is Bad Love in 1999.
Newman has the dubious distinction of receiving the most Oscar nominations without a single win (15). His streak was broken when he received the Best Song Oscar for the Monsters Inc song "If I Didn't Have You".