November 8, 2008

Ray...20 years ago

20 years ago in 1988, Ray Stevens was telling us that he never made a record he didn't like. The album's title is loosely based upon a Will Rogers phrase "I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like". This is why Ray appears as Will Rogers on the album cover...performing a rope trick. This album also marked a was the first and only time that Ray covered Michael Jackson. Ray delights us with his take on "Bad", a mega pop hit for Jackson. Ironically, another comedian, Weird Al Yankovik, parodied Michael's song and labeled his version, "Fat", which ironically is the name of a comedy song Ray recorded in 1986.

"Bad" was never promoted and only those who have the album know Ray recorded it. Ray injects down-home, southern values into his recording...slipping in Michael Jackson enunciation every so often. Halloween, ghosts, goblins and all-things horror show up on "The Booger Man", a song about a mysterious figure of the night who's lurking in the shadows ready to pounce. In spite of the title, it has nothing to do with noses or mucus. The album kicks off with the Beach Boys sing-a-long spoof, "Surfin' USSR". Satellite TV takes center stage on "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex"...if only they knew then what they know now...20 years later and satellite TV is still carrying almost anything imaginable. "Ethelene The Truckstop Queen" is a rare song from Ray, depicting the up-bringing and life of a woman raised in a truck-stop. "Blood and Suede" carries a touch of mystery...with Ray performing the song like a folk-rock ballad, almost in a hushed voice like he's conversing with a small group of listeners. Surefire silliness is almost always found on Ray's albums...track #6 fills the bill...

"The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive", track #6, tells the outrageous story of Ray trying to teach a deaf woman how to drive. The couple make their way all over the place in the '57 Chevy, destroying everything in their path as Ray patiently tries to inform Charlene what to do, but the problem being she can't hear that well and ends up creating a mess. "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", which I touched upon in a previous post, is a tale of a woman who dies by falling off of a balcony while clutching to her Elvis doll. "I Don't Need None of That" isn't a comedy song by typical standards but the premise is whimsical...simply telling us how he doesn't need any of life's interruptions and surprises. The album's closer is like the icing on the cake. "Old Hippie Class Reunion" travels back to 1963...Ray delivers a Bob Dylan vocal in addition to playing a second character. The two hippies talk back and fourth throughout the recording with a heavy emphasis on drug usage.

The real Will Rogers lived decades upon decades ago. His life span was 1875-1935...dying at the age of 55 in an airplane crash...he was born on November 4, 1875 meaning that 1975 marked the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 40th anniversary of his death. He was a comedian, philosopher, political figure to some extent with his humor, in addition to his movie and radio career.

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