It was one of those weird moments of digital synchronicity: After an early-Friday-morning news scroll that included the New York Times’ comprehensive interviews with some of the Venezuelan asylum seekers lured into being flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, iTunes’ song-shuffle function offered up Randy Newman’s “Sail Away” as I brushed my teeth.
If you’re not familiar with this 1972 track, it’s not for lack of cover versions. “Sail Away” has been recorded by everyone from Ray Charles and Linda Ronstadt to the Daves Von Ronk and Matthews. Newman’s version might be the most brutal — and the most black-heartedly funny. With orchestration bearing the cinematic sweep that would go on to make Newman famous in his soundtrack work, its lyrics are a pitch delivered to a young African child about the glories of America, where freedom, security and prosperity are guaranteed: “Sail away, sail away/We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay.” Newman’s pitchman is, of course, a trader of enslaved people trapping an unwitting victim into a life of servitude.