November 14, 2008

Have a Little Talk...about Ray Stevens!

In a previous blog I mentioned the upcoming 40th anniversary of Ray's Gitarzan single and album. Ray issued another album in 1969 which, too, will turn 40 next year. This album was all-serious and it contained his versions of contemporary pop songs and a couple of new songs. The cover songs include his take on "But You Know I Love You", which was a country hit for Bill Anderson as well as Dolly Parton. The pop version was by The First Edition, which included future country music super-star, Kenny Rogers. The writer was a man named Mike Settle, a member of The First Edition. Some daring covers and I say daring depending on whose reading this...some daring covers include his versions of several major Beatles pop hits. There are those who feel The Beatles can not be covered...some are very protective when it comes to songs. It's now time to understand the era in which Ray Stevens emerged from...his era of singers were open to singing anything as long as something new could be added...which may include something major like a tempo change or something subtle like instrumentation. The Beatles songs that Ray covers on this album are "Hey Jude" and "Help". Ray over-dubs his voice many times to create the background vocals and the choir effect on a lot of these songs. "Hey Jude" in particular. Interestingly, while I had written that Ray likes to play around and dabble with songs, he seemed to keep The Beatles songs in tact...down to the rousing close of "Hey Jude" with all the na-na, na-na, na na na na's that close out the song.

One of the newer songs is "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" which was issued as a single in late 1969. Ray was the first artist to record this song, famously recorded by Johnny Cash a year later in 1970. Ray's version stalled on the pop Hot 100 at #81 in 1969 but it made the country Top 100, reaching the Top-60, his first appearance on the country singles chart. Years later Ray said that his public image couldn't sell the song in the way Johnny Cash did. A listener couldn't imagine clean-cut Ray Stevens on a drinking binge but they could imagine Johnny Cash on a binge. Kris Kristofferson wrote the song. It's said that he wrote this and "Help Me Make It Through The Night" on the same day. Another of the newer songs is "The Little Woman" which Ray himself wrote. This song is about a man who meets a social-climbing woman in a bar and from what we hear she comes on to Ray but he tells her no thanks, he's married.

"Hair" comes from the rock musical...Ray performs all parts of the song and it comes close to being a novelty in his delivery. Ray tells us he wants to give a home to the fleas in his well as a hive for the bees...a nest for the birds, etc etc. The song originates from a musical depicting the rebellious notion of men letting their hair grow long, which was a symbol of women for years and years while men had shorter hair...but in the mid to late '60s things changed and men started to let their hair grow. The Cowsills recorded "Hair" and had a huge pop hit with it in 1969. Another song from that musical is "Aquarius". Ray performs this song in step with the Fifth Dimension's version that year. Their take was released as a single and became a multi-week #1 hit.

Along the way we hear Ray take on the "Spinning Wheel", a pop hit for Blood, Sweat, and Tears and he covered Bob Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight". Another song from John Lennon and Paul McCartney is on this album, "The Fool on the Hill". One of the stand-outs in an album of stand-out songs is his take on Joe South's "Games People Play". Our man Ray was seriously taking on some pretty big names in the rock world for this album.

Aside from "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", the other commercial single was the title track, the self-written "Have a Little Talk With Myself". This song is an introspective song about man's selfishness and arrogance in their quest for fame and glory. Ray sings the song personally...coming across as if he's the one who needs to change his ways and attitude. The single charted country, reaching the Top-70.

Songs are not in order as they appear on the 1969 album...

1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
2. But You Know I Love You
3. Aquarius
4. Help
5. Hair
6. Spinning Wheel
7. The Little Woman
8. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
9. The Fool On The Hill
10. Games People Play
11. Hey Jude
12. Have A Little Talk With Myself

This was the picture sleeve of the title track, issued in France as a for a bigger image...


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