Short People

Album: Little Criminals (1977)
Charted: 2


  • This song is widely misinterpreted, which generated a great deal of exposure for the song and controversy for Newman. On the surface, the song is making fun of little people, but "short" is meant in a figurative sense, intending to poke fun at people who are short-tempered and small-minded, which is quite the opposite of the literal meaning. A lot of people didn't get the joke and thought of Newman as a bigot. Many radio stations refused to play it.

    At first, Newman sings about Short People as having "nasty little feet," "stubby little fingers" and "dirty little minds," but he makes his statement clear near the end of the song when he sings, "Short People are just the same as you and I. All men are brothers until the day they die." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Eric - Sandusky, OH
  • The Guardian newspaper July 28, 2008 asked Newman if realized from the start that this song's irony would be a tough sell. He replied: "I didn't. I thought, all you gotta do is listen. It's not like it's James Joyce. [Then] I realized the medium wasn't great for that. People don't listen to music like that, where they're actually listening. They're doing all kinds of things. It's just an irritation."

    He put it this way when he spoke with Rolling Stone in 2017: "Because it was a hit, the song reached people who aren't looking for irony. For them, the words mean exactly what they say. I can imagine being a short kid in junior high school. I thought about it before I let the record get out. But I thought, 'What the hell?' I know what I meant – the guy in that song is crazy. He was not to be believed."
  • Newman has recorded other songs that examine and mock bigotry, notably "Rednecks" and "Half A Man." In 2003, when The Sunday Times asked about people missing the point of his songs, Newman replied: "To write indirect songs with characters that aren't yourself as the narrator is not the best way to achieve commercial success. I mean, irony, who's got the time? But it's what I do, and it's what I can't help but do. I couldn't write like Elton John if I tried."
  • Newman explained to the Chicago Tribune that he was adopting the role of "a nut that no one would take seriously." He added: "I would never write a song to make fun of someone or something. What I'm making fun of his people's callousness and insensitivity."
  • The Eagles' Glenn Frey and Timothy Schmit sing backup on this track. Frey and Don Henley can also be heard singing background vocals on Randy Newman's 1974 album Good Old Boys. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Newman is not a short person - he's about six feet tall.
  • Newman released a video for this song where he is seen performing it in a recording studio. In the candid clip, he looks at the camera and says, jokingly, "My motivation is to change the course of Western music," before giving the finger.

Comments: 39

  • Micah Shane from Lakeland, Fl.I KNEW that was at least a few of The Eagles on the background vox!
    I knew this song when I was young, & just heard it on Sirius Radio last night, & for the first time said to myself: "those backing harmonies sound just like my favorite band."
    Newman is a great writer, & really fortunate to get any of The Eagles to sing in the foreground. Nice!
  • Songexpert from New YorkThe song is about bigotry and racism. He's trying to show how silly it is to hate someone for a biological/anatomical difference (e.g., skin color, gender, etc). It's meant to be humorous, but also tongue in cheek at people who don't understand it's actually about them.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaLet's hear it for the Short People, as I am only 5'2"
  • Lyndel from MissouriIntention and narration or not, first amendment or not, can you imagine if the lyrics were change to something else describing a person that they could not control that was pre-determined by genetics for example "Black People"? The public outrage alone would have ended this song. It's not cool to rip on people in song form, no matter your justification. I don't see why he gets a pass on this one. Interpretation aside, it's just plain hate speech.
  • Tim from ColoradoI love this song, such a catchy tune. I am short under 5' 5'' as a man this makes me really short. I've been teased when this song has been played, but I don't really care. Mean people will be mean, but I don't let them get to me. I wish Randy appreciated this song more, great piece of work, very talented writer, I love his creativity. I know he never intended any prejudice against short people, I get his method, and I appreciate it.
  • Matt from Glendale AzI was in high school when this song came out, and even then not only did I recognize its satire, but I also heard the melancholy in the chord progressions and arrangement. If I didn't know the words, I would find this recording catchy but somehow sad. And that is exactly what the song is. It is the lines that tell us that short people are like everyone else and that we are all "brothers until the day we die" that are at the heart of the song. The verses are intended to turn the spotlight on someone who is prejudiced and make their prejudice look foolish. I used this song teaching an 11th grade English class this afternoon in 2016, and my students got it. My only hint was in the question, "How does this song fit in with our unit on African American history?"
  • Bill from Mentor On The Lake, OhFor those who think this song is about children, the line 'They got little cars that go beep beep beep' ruins that scenario.
  • Elizabeth from PaI am under 5 feet tall and was 12 when this song was released. This song was used to bully and harass me. Words can have consequences that might be in stark contrast to the speaker's intentions, yet they are HIS words. Satire is often misconstrued and is a form of insult. No explanation or apology can ever make up for it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 22nd 1978, "Short People" by Randy Newman peaked at #2 (for 3 weeks) and spent 20 weeks on the Top 100 (for 5 of those 20 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
    Glenn Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, and J.D. Souther provided backing vocals on the record...
    He was nominated for fifteen Academy Awards before finally winning on his sixteenth try ("If I Didn't Have You" from 'Monsters, Inc.')...
    The first week it was at #2, the #1 record was "Baby Come Back" by Player and for its 2nd & 3rd week, "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees was in the top spot...
    Mr. Newman celebrated his 70th birthday two months ago on November 28th (2013).
  • Tanya from La Verne, CaAll people have to do is listen to the words. Life would be easier if people just listen to the words.
  • Abcd from Red D. Ick, AlWhen I first heard this song I was slightly outraged. lol. But I realized there was no way that a song telling short people that they have no reason to live would be available on Spotify or popular at all. So I decided to look it up and came across this. Just shows you how misinterpreted something like that can be and shows that people will always resort to the literal meaning of things without even giving a nanosecond of thought to the metaphorical explanation.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxWhen this came out, there was a Ziggy comic where the height-impaired fellow says, 'If I ever meet the guy who wrote that, I'll punch him right in the knee.'
  • Charlie from East Bum, WyIt's obviously a metaphore for discrimination in General. But the "no kids can live here" angle, I never thought of. Very insightful and plausable.
  • The Tibetan Hat from London, United KingdomYes, the idea that it's about 'short-tempered' people is a misdirected take on the song, looking for the not-so-hidden meaning where it doesn't belong. Randy is having a pop at prejudice. Quite obviously it's stupid to hold such awful opinions of people based upon height, and the song implicitly asks whether it's any less stupid to base them ethnicity, gender, age, etc.
    The theme can be seen other Newman songs such as Rednecks and Yellow Man, which are somewhat more powerful in their anti-prejudice message but sadly less radio-friendly.
  • Gary from Columbus, OhI think the guy who said that the song was about a crazy person who hated short people nailed it - but who really knows? The part in the middle (..."all men are brothers") to me is poking fun at the cliche and the equally non-thinking behind that sentiment.
  • Bob from Austin, TxTodd in Newburg NY has it right. Think about the runny noses. Draw a venn diagram and the only group that meets all the conditions is toddlers. I will add that around about that time some landlords in California were refusing to rent to families with children. It is absolutely consistent with Randy Newman's previous approach to themes of inequality and injustice that he would take on the persona of such a person and parody all the supposed reasons that children were unacceptable as tenants.
  • Andrew from Melbourne, AustraliaSurely the song is about how we feel about OTHER people's kids!
    (Signed one disgruntled grade school teacher)
  • Dougee from San Bernardino, CaThis song came out when I was 10, and even then I realized immediately that it was satire. He was just making a point about the idiocy of prejudices and stereotypes.

    I'm not sure about him being a One Hit Wonder - his 1983 song "I Love L.A." was very popular, especially (go figure) in the L.A. area, where it is still played after Dodgers home wins.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyRandy is a member of the 'One Hit Wonder' club;
    the song peaked at No. 2 and stayed there for three weeks and stayed in the Top 100 for 20 weeks. He also finally won an Oscar after being nominated 16 times..
  • Melissa from Fountain Valley, Caok... so I was bullied throughout elementary, jr. high, and high school for being short... I hated being short... but now... several years later... I am proud of my height.... or lack therof... This song was posted on my fb by a friend who is fairly tall... and he said it made him think of me. I watched it and laughed my booty off!!! I thought it was cleverly done... People need to realize that being prejudiced is ridiculous and getting offended is just as ridiculous. If someone comes up to me and makes a short joke to out me... I don't cry about it!!! I laugh and tell them a better one. People need to stop worrying about their height... seriously... it's not a big deal... it's a clever song and should not be banned because it might offend insecure nincompoops. I think it's a lot less offensive than Eminem, or Chuck Berry... just a though... shooting your mama and slapping your girl are more offensive than being short... so get off your high horse and roll with the punches.

  • Eric from Camas, WaIt's obviously about physically short people if you listen carefully to the lyrics. Not short-tempered, small-minded, etc.... but small sized! And so what. Newman takes shots at all kinds of different types of people, even God Himself. As for the reactionaries, some people live their lives just waiting to take offense at something. Toughen up. Quit whining.
  • David from Antioch, IlRandy newman once said that this song was actually written about his agent (who was short) and had cheated him out of money. The Eagles, (who sing back-up in the song) had the same agent and did not want to offend him. So that's why they sing "short people are just the same as you and I" and "all men are brothers until the day they die"
  • Mackenzie from Vacaville, CaI LOVE this song! It's obviously not about the actual hatred of little people. Or hatred of people who are short-tempered. It's about how ridiculous prejudice is and how it doesn't make sense. Newman says short people, not little people. He is referring to people simply of short stature, not specfically of people who have some sort of condition causing dwarfism or the like.
    For those who say that saying "short people have no reason to live" was strictly offensive should know that Newman was not referring to a genocide of little people; he isn't describing actuality! Short/little people don't drive little cars, they don't have specifically small teeth, and they DON'T wear platform shoes!
  • David from Baltimore, MdFor all of you people who are offended by this song: (a) you are idiots; and (b) you have no sense of humor. No person of intelligence or sanity would listen to this song and think, "You're right, Mr. Randy Newman, I hate short people too." Give em a break. I've heard interviews with him and no, he does not hate short people (obviously) and no it's not a song about prejudice. It's a funny song about a crazy person who hates short people. Sort of like when he says let's drop the bomb on South America because they stole our name, or "we're keeping the ni--ers down", or "I want you to hurt like I do." Most of his songs are not autobiographical and should not be taken literally. Get some intelligence, people. No one hates short people.
  • Robert from Denver, CoRenee said

    "I guess some people just didn't get the point of the joke, which is, as someone else already pointed out, that it was supposed to sound ridiculous and hopefully make people understand the ridiculousness of prejudice in general. And I'm not just saying that because I'm of average height."

    This is EXACTLY right, as proven by the line "All men are brothers until the day they die. Incredile how people can miss the meaning of a song.
  • Sean from Ventura, CaThe song makes us look at the comments made of other people weather it be of race or religion sexual orientation, etc... Words are use to dehumanize people. Nasty feet and dirty minds obviously aren't typical of short people. Hate for short people is like hate for Canadians, Eskimos or toast. There's nothing to hate.
  • Todd from Newburgh, NyI've read all of the comments posted about this song and I'm sorry to say you ALL have it absolutely wrong. Short people are CHILDREN, you guys! Read the words and picture a 2 year old- Has he a reason to live? Think about it. .

    They got little baby legs that stand so low
    You got to pick 'em up just to say hello-

    You catchin' on? It has nothing to do with prejudice, 'little people' or Nixon fer Chrissakes. Randy Newman is a genius and I think the fact that this song is so misunderstood is a testament to HOW MUCH a genius he is.
  • Kevin from Syracuse, UtPeople who think "Short People" proves Randy Newman is prejudiced against people like Paul Williams probably think "Let's Drop the Big One" proves he wants to annihilate the world with nuclear weapons. They're missing the whole point, and badly. Obviously, Newman is too smart and clever for his literal-minded and humorless critics.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnEven though Randy Newman was trying to be humorous, he did spark controversy with the lyrics, including the line "Short people got no reason to live." I don't blame radio stations for banning the song since they thought it was offensive. As a broadcasting student in the early 80s in Austin, MN, I wound not play the song since I didn't want to offend a woman in my class who was undersized. I should also point out that Chevy Chase recorded a cover version.
  • Renee from Bloomington, MnI guess some people just didn't get the point of the joke, which is, as someone else already pointed out, that it was supposed to sound ridiculous and hopefully make people understand the ridiculousness of prejudice in general. And I'm not just saying that because I'm of average height.
  • Mark from Byrdstown, TnNo this song wasnt about short minded people,it was about little people.I mean Newman sings about their little feet and stuff like that.It basically said what alot of us thought about little people back then but just wouldnt say it.

    Now whether or not he was being sarcastic or really meant it who but Newman knows?
  • Joe from DublinLen, you say John sounds like he has thin skin... in fairness, if u were short and that song directed at you in public, while u might be able to laugh at it, it would still make u uncomfortable and u'd be just dyin' for it to end. it's a 'nasty little song' for short people to hear. there's no denyin' that. different people react differently to criticism based on how they grew up. Personally, if it were me, (being all of 4.5ft tall), i like to think i'd've asked yer one playin' the piano if i could play one tune after that... then i'd've let rip with 'tiny dancer' and undoubtedly regained my strut soon thereafter. hahaha
  • Colin from Old York, EnglandNot sure if it's a fact but all of the above is rubbish...
    It's supposedly about president Nixon. Maybe he thought if theres one person I really want to piss off it's him.
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiI also think it's a sarcastic song about prejudice, but he was clearly looking for strong reactions with this song (and he certainly got them!)
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumI can't imagine this song is really about people who aren't tall. Is it possible you don't like somebody because he is short. It sounds crazy; small - tall, man - woman, old - young, black - white, Catholic - Jew - atheist, American - European, hetero - homo, why not try to accept people like they are and to respect them.
  • Liquid Len from Ottawa, CanadaThe song is just a silly sarcastic song about prejudice. He makes it a song about being prejudiced against 'short people', of all things. It is exactly BECAUSE the idea is so very silly, hating someone because of their height, that he used it. He figured, no one will take this at face value, and will see the ridiculousness of being prejudiced against people for other reasons. John, you sound like someone with thin skin - I'm not just saying this because I don't like short people (just joking he he). Having a sense of humor about yourself doesn't mean you're weak - it means you're strong.
  • John from Ny, NyRegardless of what RN meant to say with this song it doesn't work(he should pull it). I was thoroughly embarrassed for my friend and felt attacked when I entered a resort bar and 1 song later the piano player asked for request. "Short People" was next and to hear the lyrics "DON'T WANT NO SHORT PEOPLE ROUND HEAR.." and that I "HAVE NO REASON TO LIVE" repeated and repeated with eyes looking at me and laughter I felt rage that is rare but what struck me the most was the heartlessness of all those there because it was everyone of about 40 people. The piano player looked proud of her repetitions and looked right at me. I'm a 5'3" male and know many have a lot worse to deal with than me but this experience changed me as it would a black man being called a Ni--er. This was an older crowd of well to do 30+ that needed a slap. What I've come to see is that people really are mean and if that's what I'm up against I'll give it back.
  • A from Fdsafds, AustraliaThis song was not about short-tempered people at all (where did you get that from?). And while saying it was about "small-minded" people comes closer, it still doesn't help much. The song is a sarcastic stab at all manner of prejudice in general.
  • Margaret from Buellton, CaThere was a response to this song written by Ten Second Braeden called "Tall People." It got a lot of air play, though possibly because people thought it was a rebuttal, not a parody.
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