Short People Got No Reason to Live

(Randy Newman 'Short People' album cover, fair use)

I was driving through West Virginia last weekend when a song came on the radio that I hadn’t heard since the last time I drove through the Mountain State—Randy Newman’s quirky hit single from 1977, “Short People.” (For some odd reason, a certain FM radio station there seems to play it quite often.)

For those of you not old enough to remember the song, it goes like this:

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
To live
They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin’ great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet
Well, I don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
‘Round here

According to Newman, the song was mocking prejudice by feigning prejudice—much as “All in the Family” was doing that same year. He told Rolling Stone in 2017:

I needed an “up” song for that record, and that just popped out: “Short people got no reason…” I was bouncing off that [hums the piano line]. I was surprised by the reaction. Because it was a hit [peaking at Number Two], 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.

Indeed, the bridge of the song makes the case that “short people” ought to be treated like everyone else:

Short people are just the same
As you and I
(A fool such as I)
All men are brothers
Until the day they die
(It’s a wonderful world)

A decade and a half earlier Newman canceled himself, calling his most successful record a “bad break, adding that it did him “harm.” Newman reportedly received death threats, but even worse, he was “pegged… as a lightweight songwriter,” according to the Free Lance-Star. (That’s worse than death threats to a musician, I guess.)

Related: ‘Sanford and Son’ and the Almost Lost Joy of Brutal, Irreverent Comedy

I just looked through my collection of 45s from the ’70s thinking I had a copy of the song, but it wasn’t in the pile. What I did find was a nifty little collection of offbeat songs from that era:

  • “Disco Duck” (Rick Dees, 1976)
  • “Muskrat Love” (Captain & Tennille, 1976) (Much dirtier than I remember as a 7th-grader)
  • “My Bologna” (“Weird Al” Yankovic, 1979)
  • “Playground in My Mind” (Clint Holmes, 1972)
  • “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot, 1976) (Yes, this belongs on the list. If you tell me otherwise, we duel at sunrise)

Dear readers, I don’t need to tell you that “Short People” couldn’t get made today. While rap music is rife with overt graphic references to rape, drug culture, and crime, songs deemed “insensitive” to one constituency or another are verboten. We’ve lost our ability to poke fun at ourselves. In “All in the Family,” Mike “Meathead” Stivic (Rob Reiner)—a first-generation humorless woke crybaby—was mocked relentlessly by his father-in-law Archie Bunker (the late Carroll O’Connor) and gave it right back to him. America laughed, but also learned about the arguments for and against the hot-button issues of the day. Laughing at Archie Bunker and laughing just hard at Meathead made the show work as a comedy while simultaneously bridging racial and generational divides.

Related: Woke Don’t Work: 6 Examples of Political Correctness Gone Tragically Bad

Today we can’t laugh at anyone’s absurdity and prejudices, we can only lecture, hector, and bully. Rather than creating songs and shows that use humor to poke at bad behavior subtly, Hollywood and the music industry now think it necessary to include tedious secular homilies in what used to be called entertainment. It’s heavy-handed and, worst of all, incredibly boring.

Bonus: As I was looking up the details about “Short People” I stumbled across this parody gem by Chevy Chase on “Midnight Special” in 1980. It’s a scream: Short people “eat less food, and breathe less air. They’re tight with money and only pay half-fare… Well, I just want more short people ’round here.”

Double Bonus: James Coco performed the song on “The Muppet Show” in 1978, closing with “I hope I haven’t offended you. You know, I was short once myself.”

Triple Bonus: Eagles legend Glenn Frey and songwriter J.D. Souther contributed backup vocals to the song’s original version.