Rednecks

Album: Good Old Boys (1974)
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Songfacts®:

  • Born and settled in Los Angeles, Newman is about as culturally distant as you can get from the guy he sings about here: a redneck from the Deep South. Newman typically sings in the first person, as he does here, assuming the character of his subject.

    This guy is a redneck and proud of it. He's also fully aware of the disdain coastal elites feel toward people like him. It gets rather meta, as this guy in the song writes a song about how Southerners are seen as ignorant racists, before pointing out how blacks are "put in a cage" in the North, naming places like Roxbury in Boston and Harlem in New York City.
  • The song opens:

    Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
    With some smart-ass New York Jew


    The "smart ass New York Jew" is Dick Cavett, who had Lester Maddox on his show in 1970. Maddox was governor of Georgia, elected in 1966 without ever having held elected office. A staunch segregationist, he came to prominence by refusing to serve black patrons at the restaurant he owned, thumbing his nose at the Civil Rights Act. When Maddox appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, he was seated next to another guest, the football star Jim Brown, a champion of African American rights. Newman was watching.

    Cavett asked Maddox if he "had any trouble with your white admirers because of all the things you did for blacks." Maddox, sensing that he and his supporters were being attacked as bigots, demanded an apology and walked off the show.

    "The audience hooted at him, and he didn't say a word," Newman told Performing Songwriter. "Maddox didn't get a chance to be bad on that show. And I thought, 'Now, I hate everything that he stands for, but they didn't give him a chance to be an idiot.' And here he is, governor of a state - these people elected him in Georgia, however many million people voted for him - and I thought that if I were a Georgian, I would be angry. I would be angry anyway, even if I were a nice, liberal, editor of the journal in Atlanta. And so I wrote that. And there are some mistakes in it, like, that guy wouldn't know the names of all those ghettos, but, so what."
  • The dreaded N-word shows up eight times in this song, making for some uncomfortable listening in mixed company. "It always bothered me when that word went by," Newman told Uncut in 2003. "But I needed the word in that song. There was no other way to do it. And I do the song everywhere, and people get it. It's kind of complicated, in that when you've got a big word like that, you gotta be careful it doesn't blast out the next minute and a half. And what that song is talking about is the Southerner complaining that the North pretends to moral superiority in their racial behavior. And 30 years later the North is still segregated. LA is segregated. I don't see black people in LA."
  • The first track on Good Old Boys, this song sets the concept of the album and introduces the character that shows up on tracks like "Birmingham" and "Louisiana 1927." After writing "Rednecks," Newman wrote the other songs to fill in this guy's backstory, which helps explain why he's like this.
  • This song goes over very well in the South when Newman performs it. Most members of his audience know not to take it literally, and often know at least one person like the guy Newman is singing about.

    Newman doesn't worry very much about the actual rednecks that misinterpret this song, but he was concerned when an African American kid from Lafayette, Louisiana sent him a letter after seeing Newman perform the song and watching the white audience get so excited. Newman took some time to explain to him what he was after in the song.

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