November 3, 2008

Ray Stevens: motorcycles, hotels, shriners...

Shriner's Convention is a 1980 single from Ray Stevens that told the story of a couple of shriner's who were staying at a hotel. The recording is a one-sided phone conversation between straight-laced shriner, Bubba, and the happy-go-lucky shriner, Coy. The inspiration for the song according to Ray came about when he spent a sleepless night at a hotel and the shriner's happened to be there partying into the night. This was the debut single and album for Ray on RCA Records. This was also Ray's first full-blown comedy album in six years, his last being Boogity-Boogity in 1974.

The album consisted of nine comedy songs...why nine? I suppose it's because two of the songs on the album are over 5 minutes in length and as a result took up too much space on the vinyl album. "Shriner's Convention" hit the country Top-10 as did the album. The back of the album had a collection of comic strip panels depicting the song's antics. A cartoon drawing of Ray appeared on the back talking to Bubba. The woman on the motorcycle doesn't have a name. In the song, Coy is discovered to have been at the hotel's swimming pool in nothing but his underwear with a bunch of waitresses from the lounge. As an added note, Coy has a tendency to rev up his motorcycle engine during his phone calls with Bubba. Ray had a motorcycle put together to resemble the one that appears on this album cover. There are many instances where he'd ride the motorcycle onto the stage at the start of this song. Although it happened years after the single's release, Ray did a music video of this song in 1995.

The rest of the album is your typical comedy from Ray Stevens. The other song of long duration in addition to the title track is "The Dooright Family". This particular recording is a hilarious story about a traveling gospel family. There's Daddy Dooright, Mama Dooright, Brother Therman, Sister Doris and Dewdrop, and Brother Virgil. The song is a satire of Sunday morning gospel radio shows but I don't believe any religious radio show was ever quite like this. Brother Therman's a fire and brimstone Orel Roberts-type shouting and carrying on about the sins and evils of disco's. Brother Virgil's the bass singer in the family group. Mama is the piano player. The sister's are the harmony singers. Daddy Dooright tries to keep everything together, running smoothly. He is the one who has to keep track of Mama, who can become rather giddy...prone to having fits of laughter...the solution to stop the laughing is for Daddy to simply command Brother Virgil to punch her. Upon Daddy's command, we hear a piano firing squad, making it sound like Virgil's knocked Mama face forward into the piano. This was re-created in the 1995 music video as well...with the camera panning into the shocked audience.

"The Last Laugh" is a song about a man who insists on getting the better of a relationship and tells the woman that no matter what, he'll have the last laugh on her for the way she's treated him. The humor comes from the bizarre ways he'll have the last laugh. For example, one of his idea's is to go to the Hollywood sign and jump off of it...proclaiming that he'll have the last laugh, never realizing the his own death will result in all of his idea's at getting even. A hook of the song is Ray's "ha ha ha HA" laugh.

There is a rather bizarre comedy song on this album. "Put It In Your Ear" is performed as a soft love ballad at first...but then it blends into a funny recitation from Ray in his exaggerated German accent. Another song that could fit into the bizarre category is "Hey There"...but this one is utterly bizarre...when you have bizarre and utterly bizarre on the same comedy album then it becomes a bona-fide novelty music lover's delight. "Hey There" is a spoof of a love ballad from the 1950's if i'm not mistaken. Ray's version features the sounds of Lips Liblonski crooning the romantic lyrics. To give the song an added touch, Ray starts the song out talking in a soft voice mimicking any number of DJ's heard on easy-listening radio.

"The Watch Song" and "Coin Machine" probably are for certain listeners who will understand the humor. On "The Watch Song" we hear the story of a man who loves his watch and couldn't stand to part with it...but conflict ensues and a fight breaks out and the man's watch is destroyed by a drunk cowboy. This causes the man to go berzerk and he ends up killing the cowboy. There's some jokes about Timex watches in here and of course Timex's spokesman, John Cameron Swayze, features in the song prominently as he is the man who has the ear of the watch lover who's on death row. "Coin Machine" carries an up-tempo delivery and it tells the story of a man who's at his wit's end with vending machines and proceeds to tell about his misadventures with them.

Florida figures a great deal in "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me", a love song/comedy song that finds Ray trying to hook up with women during spring break. The concept of the song has to do with the southern accent on the women he encounters and how they tell him that "you're never going to tamper with me", but in a southern accent it comes out as "you're never goin' to tampa with me". I think it's a clever song, using cities of Florida within the lyrics. One of the more subdued recordings on the album is "Rita's Letter" which tells the story of a woman who gets a letter from a former boyfriend who's ran off and apparently joined up with a commune of sorts...changing his name to Nirvana from Beauregard.

1. Shriner's Convention
2. The Last Laugh
3. Rita's Letter
4. The Watch Song
5. The Dooright Family
6. Hey There
7. Put It In Your Ear
8. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me
9. Coin Machine

In the cassette version of the album, track #2 and track #9 were switched and "The Last Laugh" closed out the cassette version.

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