“Short People“ is a song by Randy Newman from his 1977 album, Little Criminals….as the verses and chorus are lyrically constructed as a prejudiced attack on short people…..all the while in contrast….the bridge states that “short people are just the same as you and I”….but Newman interprets the song to be about prejudice, as was widely thought, but added, “The guy in that song is crazy. He was not to be believed.” As with many of his songs such as “Rednecks”….Newman wrote the song from the point of view of a biased narrator….as the song was misunderstood by many listeners….who wrongly assumed that it reflected Newman’s personal viewpoint.
The song follows a basic musical formula with bass and drums centering on Newman’s catchy pop piano line in the key of A major…..as a small brass section and an electric guitar occasionally rise into the mix….and conga drums also feature prominently in the song.
Although Newman had never charted a single before….and his previous album, Good Old Boys, had been his third to reach the Billboard 200….”Short People” soon gained attention as a novelty song. The song consequently became a major hit on radio….while peaking at # 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks….while being kept from reaching # 1 by Player’s “Baby Come Back” and the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”…..as It still became a gold record.
Newman would later grow to dislike the song and its success….eventually calling it a “bad break”, a “novelty record like The Chipmunks”….and said it caused him to receive several threats regarding its misinterpreted message. He said, “I had no idea that there was any sensitivity, I mean, that anyone could believe that anyone was as crazy as that character. To have that kind of animus against short people, and then to sing it and put it all in song and have a philosophy on it.”….however, it ended up being included on almost every one of his greatest hits albums.
In 1978, the State of Maryland delegate Isaiah Dixon attempted to introduce legislation making it illegal to play “Short People” on the radio….and was advised by Assistant Attorney General Francis B. Burch that such a law would be a violation of the First Amendment.