November 13, 2008

Ray Stevens....all that Jungle talk....

We're coming up on the 40th anniversary of Gitarzan and i'd like to spotlight the single and the album that carried that title in 1969. We have two very distinct and very different picture sleeve's that appeared on the single. The single with the yellow/gold lettering is the international release...the single sent to Canada, the UK, Germany, and other places. The picture sleeve showing Ray holding the guitar is the picture sleeve that accompanied the single here in America. "Gitarzan" is a musical spoof of Tarzan. It features Gitarzan, Jane, and their pet as members of a rock band. Ray put the song together using a title given to him by Bill Justis whose credited on the single as Bill Everette. The lyrics deliberately are put together with internal rhymes. The concept of the song is Tarzan being a guitar player. The song comes complete with Ray's Tarzan yell and monkey chants plus his falsetto role as Jane. Jane is a bit of a prima donna we find out as she wants to take up all the spotlight, demanding her lover shut up because she's trying to sing. The single became a gold record and a pop Top-10 hit in 1969, at the time it was his first Top-10 single since 1962's million seller "Ahab the Arab". The b-side of the single was the funny "Bagpipes, That's My Bag" which told the story of Patrick Alfred Muldoon who was obsessed with the bagpipes. The phrase "that's my bag" was a slang phrase in the 1960's as another way of saying "that's my hobby" or "that's my talent". So, Muldoon's 'bag' was playing the bagpipes. I particularly love the part of how Muldoon keeps his lungs in shape.

The Gitarzan album featured a lot of comedy recordings, most of them were his versions of Coasters songs and other artist's novelty songs. "Yakety Yak" opens up the album. Ray also did a wonderful job on the stripper song "Little Egypt". I'm partial to Ray Stevens and prefer his versions of "Little Egypt" and "Alley Oop". Ray is very energetic on these recordings...throwing in various James Brown-like hollers, particularly on "Yakety Yak". "Alley Oop" is the tale of a caveman...the toughest man there is alive...wearin' clothes from a wild-cat's hide. "Sir Thanks a Lot" is a nice little comedy song that doesn't get as much attention from the various independent record labels that have spotlighted the material from this album down through the years. "Sir Thanks a Lot" is a narrative, making one think of Andy Griffith, which tells the story of the Knights of the Round Table and a knight not many recall, Thanks a Lot.

Ray updates "Harry the Hairy Ape" for this album. He originally recorded the song in 1963 and had a Top-20 pop and R&B hit with it. This 1969 version remains lyrically pretty much the same except for subtle the 1963 original, the dance called Mashed Potato is mentioned while in this version a dance called Boog-a-loo Shing-a-ling is mentioned. Also in the 1969 version the DJ remarks that Harry is "too cool, too cool, too cool", a passage missing in the original from 1963. The song is about an ape who escapes from a city zoo and ends up being a rock star because of a near-sighted DJ thinking the ape is just another long-haired rocker. Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer" is tackled on this album, too.

In addition to "Gitarzan", the second single from the album was "Along Came Jones", originally recorded ten years earlier, in 1959, by The Coasters. For those who don't know, The Coasters were a big influence on Ray. Ray's version of "Along Came Jones" hit the pop Top-30 in 1969. The album was re-issued in 1996 on CD and featured bonus tracks not featured on the original version of the album: "The Streak", "Moonlight Special", and "Bridget The Midget".

The album closes with a re-recording of "Ahab the Arab". This recording is the one often heard on those various compilation albums that have been issued on Ray through the years.

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