December 27, 2008

Ray in the new year


Well, with the Christmas season officially over and 2008 coming to a close, this will more than likely be my final blog of 2008. As of now, Ray has several concert dates scheduled for 2009. One of the dates, in Indiana, I plan on attending. He is appearing in Ohio, too, but that concert wasn't announced until weeks after the Indiana show...I don't see myself attending two Ray concerts...plus, the Ohio concert is up in the northern part of the state...it's a big state to begin with...too much travel.

2009 will mark a series of anniversaries for his songs, too. First of all, it will mark the 40th anniversary of a couple of his novelty hit songs: "Gitarzan" and "Along Came Jones"...both being hits in 1969. At the same time, in 2009, his biggest hit single "The Streak", will turn 35...thirty-five years ago in 1974 emerged the single that most associate with Ray. In a previous blog I touched upon another single that turns 35 in 2009, "The Moonlight Special". Ray's 1979 hit "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" reaches 30 next year and then going further along both "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and "It's Me Again, Margaret" hit 25 in 2009. It will be 20 years since Ray debuted "I Saw Elvis In a UFO", a novelty song from 1989 that became a fan-favorite in concert and it will be 10 years since Ray was diagnosed with and over-come Prostate cancer, which was caught early, in 1999. The biggest "anniversary" you could say in 2009 will arrive at the end of January...when Ray celebrates a birthday...the big 7-0...yes, Ray will reach 70 on January 24th.

On to the New Year...

December 18, 2008

Trumpet...Trombone...Julius...Cecil...



I was never in any kind of band class at all. One of my sister's were but I never was. This song from Ray Stevens is called "Julius Played The Trumpet" and it's about a trumpet player whose at the mercy of an over-bearing high school band conductor. Listening to the chorus of the song I take it that the song takes place in Snellville, Georgia as us Ray fans know that he was born and raised in Georgia. The actual name of the band: The Snellville Municipal Consolidated Junior High School Band under the direction of Shottlegrubenheimen, a sort of strange twist on Lawrence Welk but based in a high school.

The members of the band are many but only three are name-dropped and those include Julius, Cecil, and Melvin. Cecil plays the cymbals while Melvin plays the trombone and Julius plays the trumpet. Apparently, Julius hasn't mastered the art of trumpet playing yet and it shows. The twist of the song comes when Julius and company decide to play the song terribly on purpose on the day of a big sporting event at the school...and without fail, the band conductor interrupts things during the middle of the half-time show and demands the band play the song correctly and then he launches into a brief Lawrence Welk "uh one and uh two...one, two, three, four..." prior to the song fading out proclaiming "ahh, that's good, STUDENTS...that's good...".

The "students" phrase in my opinion is linked to Kay Kyser's radio program where he played the "professor of music" and he would conduct a game show where players tried to guess the name of songs. His program was called "Kollege of Musical Knowledge" and he was known as the professor and he wore a graduation outfit. The show emphasized comedy a lot as you can tell from the spelling of college in it's title.

He was a legitimate big-band leader during his time period but his success on radio with his show having a heavy dose of comedy, which I suppose was a no-no for a "serious" big-band leader, plus the fact he himself retired from the spotlight on his own long before his death helped cause his name to fade into obscurity.

December 13, 2008

Anniversary Under the Moonlight...


2009 marks the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary of a particular Ray Stevens recording that often goes over-looked. "The Moonlight Special" is a parody of a late-night TV show called The Midnight Special. In this particular recording, we hear an impressive set of impressions starting off with a stunning Wolfman Jack take off. The Wolfman for those who do not know was the show's announcer and "face" of the show during it's lengthy run. Although Wolfman was the announcer and not the "host", it's Wolfman Jack's personality and distinctive voice and fan-base from his radio listenership that made him arguably the star of that program. The song that parodies the show features Ray's vocal impressions of Wolfman Jack...howling and screaming and carrying on about the show and bringing on the acts one by one. The acts are all spoofs of pop and rock singers who made frequent appearances on The Midnight Special during the 1970's. The ironic part of this whole parody is that Ray wrote and recorded it while the show was in it's infancy...well before it developed into the show it became...for the show itself was in production for 8 and a half years, 1973-1981, and Ray's parody was released as a single in 1974, almost 35 years ago...the show was a cult hit at first but soon it became a huge hit because of it's unique air-time, late at night...90 minutes of pop and rock music performed in a studio with a different host each week and the presence of DJ Wolfman Jack as it's announcer. It aired after The Tonight Show on Friday nights...and so when Johnny Carson would say goodnight, what many viewers saw afterward was The Midnight Special.

Ray opens up the song in his own singing voice...singing the chorus of the song. He then brings on The Sheepdog...his version of Wolfman Jack. Amidst thunderous applause, Sheepdog crams a series of slang expressions together "crazy, too cool, outta sight, right on, and far out!" and welcomes everyone to the show and brings out the night's first guest. Satirizing the sound of Gladys Knight and the Pips, we're treated to Mildred Queen and the Dips. The group sings a nonsense song...Mildred leading the vocals with the Dips repeating everything she says word for word. After becoming frustrated by the repeaters, she screams...only to have the Dips scream in harmony. Sheepdog comes in asking for applause "how 'bout that all you dudes and chickies out there...yeah!!!". After Sheepdog informs everyone what they're experiencing, The Moonlight Special, we hear a more rushed Ray Stevens singing the chorus again in his natural voice as Sheepdog talks over the chorus...concluding with a series of howls.

Sheepdog then brings out the bizarre/alternative rock act...Agnes Stupor and his Chicken. This is a parody of Alice Cooper, who was known for having snakes in his performances. Agnes, however, regals the audience with a bizarre tale that allows listeners to wonder if he's in his right mind...implying about the streaking/flashing craze that was going on "yeah, flash an old lady now!" and then telling us about painting the living room carpet. A completely nutty act that's for sure. Sheepdog returns asking for applause...then we hear Ray singing the chorus once again as Sheepdog informs everyone that they're listening and watching The Moonlight Special.

The closing act, usually reserved for a legend or a classic, features the piano rocking appearance of a Jerry Lee Lewis spoof. Ray incorporates several Jerry Lee-type vocals during the piano rocking...which include a passage where Jerry plays with his feet...hollering and screaming all the while as Sheepdog marvels at the display...

The song comes to a close with Sheepdog thanking everyone for coming to the show and thanks everyone for listening and watching and reminds everyone to tune in next time for The Moonlight Special and he ends by making a series of howls. As this is going on, in the background we hear cheers and claps and Ray's natural voice singing the chorus once again.

The song is a wonderfully produced record...in pop music circles it may even be considered a "gimmick record". Critics and radio people alike often frown on novelty records and records with a gimmick...but thankfully i'm not a professional critic nor am I a radio insider. All kidding aside, though, it's a well-crafted song putting to good use the over-dubbing process. I am not sure but I think Ray is one of the first acts in Top-40 music who used over-dubbing way back before it became so common today in all forms of entertainment...if he wasn't the first he certainly has my vote as the artist who used over-dubbing to it's maximum effect. It is highly unlikely that Ray ever performed this song in concert...the multi-tracking and over-dubbing is not easily duplicated in concert or even on a TV show. The single hit the Hot 100, peaking in the Top-80. It would be perhaps impossible for any of his singles to over-shadow "The Streak"...a monster #1 pop hit for Ray earlier in 1974 that was still selling and getting feedback throughout the rest of the year...so I don't even think Barnaby Records or Ray himself was seriously looking to top "The Streak" but "The Moonlight Special" is a funny recording all the same and it showcases Ray's various talents with his broad vocal impressions.

Home For the Holidays

video

This here is my video montage of Home For the Holidays by Ray Stevens. The song comes from his holiday release, "Christmas Through a Different Window". I wrote a long review of that particular album a few blog's ago. The video montage I put together last week. I did this and Guilt For Christmas but I didn't highlight anymore songs. The holiday CD is still available on-line for purchase...so, if you like what you hear...

I tend to post in Christmas colors out of habit whenever the subject at hand involves the holiday. Also, I like to post in different colors instead of the dull type that is used if one doesn't choose to post with color. I've had plenty of blog's posted without colors and they're all good...but color seems to color the posts. I'm rambling, of course...i'm waiting on the video montage to get through uploading so I can post the blog. I'll be doing a blog later on about a particular Ray Stevens song not associated with the holiday...the video just uploaded...end of discussion.

Ray Stevens 1970 TV Guide

I recently stumbled upon a TV Guide in my closet from 1970. I do have several vintage TV Guides from the 1970's and 1980's...almost every issue from 1992 onward to 1999...but this particular 1970 TV Guide I bought on eBay. It is because there is an article about Ray Stevens in it. The article's title may sound a bit harsh: "This stand-in doesn't stand-out" but the bulk of the article is simply about how low-key Ray's career has usually always been...where there are periods in his career when it seems like he's everywhere, he's everywhere and then there are times when it seems like he's in hiding. The article is actually positive and Ray gives his thoughts of the war and some other things. The article's writer brings up the question of why a low-key act like Ray Stevens was offered the shot of hosting the coast-to-coast summer show for Andy Williams. The show's producers/staff offer their opinion on Ray...all of them coming to basically the same conclusion that Ray is a "nice guy and that's a rarity in this business" and other heaps of praise.

There are two videos that I put together...one of them is just a show off...and the second video is my trying to point where Ray's TV show was listed in the TV Guide. 7:30pm Saturday night. And so, without further delay...here is one of the videos...

video

It's a rather long clip...a lot of "dead air" as I flip through the pages. I am not a web-camera junkie and so i'm always forgetting to move in the opposite direction in order for the image to be captured moving in the right direction. In the video below, which is way shorter...i'm pointing to the TV listings...7:30pm...the Ray Stevens Show...

video

And there you have it...two amateur home made videos. The Ray Stevens goodies...high in polyunsaturated goodness.

December 7, 2008

Pearl Harbor...12-7-41

On this particular album from Ray Stevens, released in 1991 a few months prior to the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we hear a few songs at the end of the album tied to Japanese culture with a few mentions of December 7, 1941. The album's cover may carry a subliminal message as well. Although titled #1 With a Bullet the huge bullet also carries thoughts of a big missile. The comedy album features ten songs...the final two songs, "A Little Blue Haired Lady" and the obvious "Workin' For the Japanese" feature passages that spotlight December 7, 1941. In "A Little Blue Haired Lady" the song starts out as a novelty song about older women who drive too slow and how it caused one motorist to start shooting people at random. However, the final verse of the song changes the direction of the song and it goes from everyday headaches on the roadways to blaming slow drivers as the reason why the Japanese never sent Roosevelt warning of an attack on 12-7-41. Ray sports a Japanese-American dialect as he plays the Japanese Ambassador informing Roosevelt that they tried to get a message delivered but their driver was stuck in traffic all morning behind you guessed it...A Little Blue Haired Lady. Naturally, the absurdity of the situation makes it all the more funnier. The album's closer, "Workin' For The Japanese", is a social commentary song about how Japanese culture was taking over America and how our money was going overseas because American's weren't buying American-made products. Surprisingly, given how sensitive the public at large had become because of the growing epidemic of political correctness, the song became a minor hit and made an appearance on the country charts in late 1991, peaking in the Top-60 after a 10 week chart appearance. The song was written by a man named Ron DeLacy.


In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to spotlight World War Two and Pearl Harbor-related imagery from Ray Stevens since this is the 67th anniversary of December 7, 1941. The Pearl Harbor attack for those who do not know led the country into World War Two. The ironic thing, looking back, is World War One does have it's place in history of course but yet it's World War Two that seems to have the most notoriety and one can only speculate that a lot of this has to do with Hollywood through the years glamorizing(?) the war years, 1939-1945, specifically the early to mid 1940's during America's involvement. Ray is posing as General MacArthur on the cover of I Have Returned which is named after one of MacArthur's historical quotes. Aside from the album's mock-up of MacArthur, the songs contained on the comedy album are not war-related but I felt since the pose is a recreation from the WWII years that it would fit perfectly in this blog.


Of course, this image of Ray is a close-up during the photo sessions for his 1985 album I Have Returned. I have featured these pictures a lot in my You Tube video montages. Unfortunately I do not have a You Tube video montage of "Workin' For The Japanese" or "A Little Blue Haired Lady" from his 1991 album. I may do one later today, specifically because of this being December 7th.

December 6, 2008

Ray...30 years ago


Thirty years ago...1978...Ray Stevens releases the albums Be Your Own Best Friend and There Is Something On Your Mind. The album on top...the white album, you could say, is a very good album that simply got lost. The music is in step with the light pop sounds of the time period. There is no song on here that really screams out COUNTRY but yet the title track, "Be Your Own Best Friend", did hit the country charts. The song lyrics of all the songs are posted on the back of the album for fans to sing-a-long with. The album as I mentioned, is soft-rock/light pop...mellow. I'll go out on a limb and say that the only song on this collection that reaches a fever pitch...one that has a bit of a rocking sound...is "Comeback". The album kicks off with a very nice sing-a-long, "L'amour", which carries an international feel in it's musical delivery. Ray co-wrote this song with a man named Gilbert Becaud. This may be the song Ray once referred to when he spoke about an instrumental he heard while in England and he wanted to write words to it...the music certainly has a British over-tone, to my ears at least. When you hear it you may understand what I'm trying to say.

"Comeback" carries a rush of urgency...pretty much the only up-tempo/rocker driven song on the album. Ray tells us about how a relationship has ended and fills us in about how much she meant to him in spite of her leaving him...and all she has to do is comeback...come, come, come, comeback. "Daydream Romance" is an ultra-mellow love song...it tells the story of a musician on the road and thinking of the woman he's left at home. "With a Smile" carries a similar positive message that "Be Your Own Best Friend" carries...in "With a Smile" we hear Ray telling us how important it is to smile, no matter what you're saying, try a smile and when life makes you frown, "just take that frown, and turn it around". "Be Your Own Best Friend", meanwhile, tackles a similar message but in this song Ray tells us that it's okay to be your own judge and be your own person no matter what others may have to say and that only you are able to look after yourself because nobody else is going to. "You're Magic" is one of my favorites from the album. I love the arrangement, the melody, the lyrics...I wish it were released as a single or would have become something more well-known. "Two Wrong's Don't Make a Right" borrows the phrase passed down through the ages and transplants it into a love song setting about two people and how the woman likes to cheat but the man can't bring himself to go through with cheating on her...but as Ray says, "nothing's gained by revenge and spite", bringing us to the song's title.

"Hidin' Place" is a bluesy number to my ears. It's simply a song about getting away from it all with your lover/spouse and how just being together provides seclusion from the world. "You've Got the Music Inside" is a re-recording of a song he originally recorded in 1973 for his Nashville album. The 1973 version was performed slower and had a touch of drama whereas the 1978 re-recording is also recorded as a ballad but this time with a more smoother vocalization when compared to 1973. His voice had matured even more. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" is an unusual love song in that it tells about a couple who can't find the answers to whatever it is they are searching for...even though they seem to fit together, almost. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" is also unusal in that it became the name of his 1979 album...because it had a similar sounding title to a Barry Manilow song/album called "Trying To Get The Feeling"...so much so that Warner Brothers, the label Ray recorded for, parodied the Barry Manilow album in 1979. See my three Ray Stevens blog entries about the Barry Manilow parodies for more information.

The Be Your Own Best Friend album featured nine songs. It was very ballad heavy.

1. L'amour
2. Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right
3. You've Got the Music Inside
4. Hidin' Place
5. Be Your Own Best Friend
6. The Feeling's Not Right Again
7. Comeback
8. You're Magic
9. With a Smile




This album, There Is Something On Your Mind, was recorded in 1978 and it was Ray's labor of love...an album spotlighting the beloved R&B music he grew up listening to. The album is one of those under the radar releases that when you blink, you'll miss it. The material is all top-notch and covers plenty of R&B...material known today as classic R&B. One of the things you'll notice is Ray's expertise in R&B...his liner notes appear at the top of the album above the picture. On the back of the album he gives his thoughts on each and every performance. There are only eight selections on this album but the selections are rather lengthy, and that will perhaps make it feel like a typical 10-11 song album by the time you're through listening to it. First off, Ray's sandwiches nine R&B songs into three separate medleys.

"Dance Trilogy" features abbreviated performances of "Do You Wanna Dance?", "When You Dance", and "Save The Last Dance For Me". "Old Faithful Trilogy" features portions of "Shake a Hand", "Since I Met You Baby", and "Always". Then there is the adventurous "Banned In Boston Trilogy" which spotlights three abbreviated R&B songs that were banned on Boston radio stations: "Sixty Minute Man", "Work With Me Annie", and "Annie Had a Baby". Ray tells us on the back of the album that these songs were banned because the subject matter was considered too racy.

Aside from the three medleys/trilogies, we hear full performances of five R&B classics: "Money Honey", "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash", "Talk to Me", "One Mint Julep", and the title track, "There Is Something On Your Mind", which includes an audience background. Several of these recordings resurfaced in 1995 when Warner Brothers issued three compilation CD's on Ray: Cornball, The Serious Side of Ray Stevens, and Do You Wanna Dance? The recordings from this 1978 album that have yet to make their way onto CD are the title track and the medley of songs that were Banned in Boston.

There's just so much Ray Stevens music the public at large just isn't aware of!!

The liner notes that appear above the picture go as follows:

"I'm not a nostalgia nut I guess, along with everyone else, I'm a little tired of hearing, with rare exception, nothing but parodies of the '50s music. True, a few of the hits deserve nothing but a tongue-in-cheek treatment, but then maybe every era is vulnerable to ridicule from somebody's point of view.

Be that as it may...I have had the desire to record some of the old '50s songs for sometime now minus the "grease" and "doo-wop"! A lot of the lyrics are still relevant and the idea's expressed poignant and communicative to any generation. I have tried to present this collection of "oldies" with as much sincere appreciation for merit as reality will allow.

I grew up with these songs and they played in the background of my formative years as a singer and musician. I like these songs. Some of the lyrics are not what you could call heavy but they translate into a feeling that reads between the lines...to me, anyway.

I recorded this album in my little studio in Nashville on 24 tracks using a few musicians that I have known and worked with for years."

========================================

The band accompaniment was sparse...no more than 7 separate musicians played on this album. The musicians for the most part played on all the songs with a few exceptions. Here is the musician list for this album...

Ray Stevens {keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, background harmony}
Jerry Carrigan {drums}
Jerry Kroon {drums on "Money Honey" and "Old Faithful Trilogy"}
Jack Williams {bass}
Reggie Young {electric guitar}
Johnny Christopher {acoustic guitar}
Mark Casstevens {guitar on "Money Honey" and "Old Faithful Trilogy"}

Quite a few of those musicians would continue to appear on Ray's albums over the next 10-15 years.

December 3, 2008

Take a Look inside the Book


Don't laugh at my attempts at showing the contents of the 1977 souvenir book released on Ray Stevens. I rarely use my web-camera except to take pictures on the spur of the moment when I don't feel like dragging out the digital camera or to make very short facial expression video clips to insert in some of the You Tube video montages I put together. Anyway, on the video clip, I show-off the book i've been writing about. I've had this for about a year but forgot I had it because I put it away after examining it thoroughly way back when I bought it...then when I went to clear out some things from my closet I was surprised to see that 1977 souvenir book sitting up in my closet. I'm glad I didn't re-purchase it as it's come up for sale on eBay a lot of times. Maybe in the back of my mind I knew I had that book so I never bothered purchasing it each time I seen it come up for sale?

I also took a picture of one of the Ray pictures...including a brief shot of myself right next to it...as you can see off to the left side of the screen. The video below is my page by page showing of the book's contents, including a lot of mistakes by me...holding the book too close or too far back...common problems when it comes to first timers. Also, it was difficult trying to turn the pages and try and keep the book in the camera's shot at the same time.

video

I'm still keeping the green and red Christmas colors in a majority of my posts...some posts won't have colors, though. The video is a little over a minute long...I didn't think it would be THAT long because it didn't seem like it took over a minute to show off the booklet but turning the pages added to it. It only has a handful of pages. One of the faces you'll see is Del Shannon...the two were in concert in England back in 1977. I ended the video imitating a routine I saw on SCTV from John Candy years ago...one of his characters named Dr Tongue appeared in mock 3-D horror films and usually two or three times during the sketches, he would be holding whatever it might be, and pull it back and forward at the camera in an effort to make it look "3-D".

December 2, 2008

Ray Stevens souvenir book



This is the 1977 souvenir book that was issued on Ray while he was on tour in England. The book offers a lot of pictures and some editorial commentary from the authors of the book. The book also contains some information that even long time fans, myself included, weren't aware of. In a previous blog entry I made reference to Ray's 1968 pop hit "Mr. Businessman" being banned by several radio stations because of the potential message it may send to the audience Top-40 radio targeted. I also didn't know that Ray was involved in writing a play, Johnny Appleseed. I do not know if it is an error, though. Tour books often print things without double checking a lot of time. I know Roger Miller was involved with Big River...in 1985...but this book is from 1977...the passage that refers to the play is as follows:

"Ray Stevens, the easy-going soft-spoken gentleman from Nashville is a singer, composer, comedian, impressionist, and Lord knows what else but like anyone who started out in music, melody is his bag." Ray says "If anybody ever remembers me in the long run, I'd like them to remember me for some music i've written.". It's possible, maybe even probable. Already Stevens has had several major hits, including his 'Everything is Beautiful', which just may end up as a standard. He's written more than 600 published songs, the book and score for a musical play Johnny Appleseed, and his records are selling hugely".

I'll do some searching around and see what this book is making a reference to...even I was unaware of a Johnny Appleseed connection.

December 1, 2008

the songbook...






In 1970, a songbook was issued promoting Ray...tying it in with his TV show, from the summer of 1970. I wrote about his TV show last month and these are pictures from the songbook that I have. It's a rare item and the pictures show how much fun Ray was having on the TV show.

In addition to the summer TV show of 1970, Ray was a recurring cast-member of Andy Williams late '60s TV series. Andy's brother, Don, became Ray's manager. This Don Williams is not the singer known as The Gentle Giant. That guy is another Don Williams. The songbook featured lyrics to several of Ray's songs, including "Unwind", a Top-60 pop hit from 1968. Also included were the pictures you see here. There were others as well but I can only add 5 images at a time from my computer. I came across my copy of the book on eBay and I am sure it will pop up from time to time for sale on there.

I have another souvenir tour book that was issued on Ray...this one is from 1977 and it re-caps Ray's career including information post-1970 that isn't included in the book I started writing about. In the 1977 book it talks about Ray's Top-30 pop hit "Mr Businessman" being banned on several radio stations because of it's message and how playing the song "could have a demoralizing effect on the youth of America". The 1977 tour book that I have was issued internationally. The actual name of the promo book is: "Ray Stevens Souvenir Programme October 1977".

Note the spelling of the word "program". I'll talk more about the 1977 promo book in a future installment.

Through a Different Window


Merry Christmas and a happy December...in the long and eventful career of Ray Stevens it may be surprising to learn that he had never issued a full-length holiday album. This changed in 1997 when he released Christmas Through a Different Window a holiday album jam packed with Christmas comedy songs, several taking on the political correctness hang-up that has ruined every facet of entertainment...well, here's a CD that will please many who feel that political correctness is more of a nuisance than anything else. This album/CD was originally released by MCA in 1997 and it quickly went out of print. In Christmas times past, 1997 and 1998, this particular album was available in most retail stores but it became quite scarce since that time. As a way of promoting this album, Ray became a scheduled performer at the Acuff Theater at Opryland in both 1998 and 1999. As a twentysomething at the time, and a listener of the Opry on the radio, I would have a touch of excitement when the commercials for Ray's concerts would be promoted during Opry broadcasts.

Recently, Ray has re-released this on his own label, marking the first time in over 10 years that the material is available commercially again.

The concept of the album is a reference to traditional Christmas settings. In the case of most people, families set up their Christmas tree either in front of a living room window or in the corner of their living room. As people drive by the houses there's a chance a driver can look out their car windows and see a Christmas tree on display in the windows of houses one by one. This creates a mood of family and joy and promotes the Christmas spirit through their window. Ray, however, went in the other direction and because his songs were comedic he titled his album Christmas Through a Different Window because these are the kinds of songs you'd hear being listened to in a dysfunctional family perhaps? Ray takes a look at the holidays through a different window. Now you know why the album was titled as such.

The songs on this album as I hinted at earlier are mostly tied into political correctness in some way. I should say, political incorrectness. I am sure if a music listener would give this album a listen, especially a listener not really used to outrageous and often times blunt humor, I am sure the listener would have a fit and go "Good lord! What in the world??".

There are 11 songs on this holiday CD. The mood of the CD is set right away with the opening number, "Guilt For Christmas". This song is about a man who is fed up with the holidays and he tells us why, with a few shots thrown in at political correctness about how it's supposedly a no-no to give a girl a doll for Christmas because a doll symbolizes traditionalism and may make her a house-wife and not a working woman...giving a boy an army boy for Christmas the "experts" say the guns might make the boy mean and vicious as he gets older. So, Ray has a perfect solution...he'll be giving people guilt. The mood is picked up on the next offering...the lovely "I Won't Be Home For Christmas", which tells us about Ray's dysfunctional family and the headache they bring and so he's going into hiding this Christmas.

The third song, "Greatest Little Christmas Ever Wuz", is easily by far one of my favorites of the whole album. In this song, Ray tells us about his break-up with a woman and how he plans to get back together with her and he tells her how much fun they could have by combining all of the holiday's together. Ray had previously recorded this song on a 1985 compilation called Tennessee Christmas and up until this 1997 album came along, that 1985 various artists album was the only place to find the song. This version is a re-recording of the 1985 song, which Ray wrote himself. The fourth song, "Home For The Holidays", borrows the title of the Christmas standard but this version is a totally different song. In it, Ray tells us how he's gotten a call from his mother and so he and his family are heading home for the holidays. As he tells us this, he warns his wife to pack lots of medication, perhaps booze? It's a very funny recording, as are all of the songs on here.

The fifth song, "Redneck Christmas", can be offensive if listened to by the wrong person. I didn't find anything offensive about it but I am sure some would take objection to the outrageous stereotypical southern depictions Ray sings about, specifically the line about cousins and wives. I saw him perform this song on The Nashville Network back in 1998 and I may have taped it. I have tons of video tapes stored away and a lot of them have so many things on them that it was impossible to write and keep track of every little thing I may have taped. I do know that Ray was having fun when he was singing the song...the lyrics being so deliberately stereotypical it was probably difficult for him to keep a straight face when singing it. Moving on...the sixth song on the album, "Xerox Xmas Letter", I will admit to not knowing what in the world this was when I listened to the song originally. Ray explained what it was during one of his TV appearances but I couldn't comprehend it. Anyway, according to Ray, families like to send letters in the mail bragging and playing up all they have achieved during the calendar year. The term xerox letter I know are letters written and copied off in mass quantities and sent out to whoever it may concern...in other words, a "Xerox Xmas Letter" is Christmas junk mail. Before anyone may raise a fuss, Christmas is written Xmas because it flows with the word Xerox, there is no anti-religious meaning.

Turning the cassette tape over to side two, or just letting the CD play, we have song seven. "Nightmare Before Christmas" is another shot at political correctness. I vote this song as the quintessential jab of the season when it comes to political correctness. In the song, which starts out with an ode to the poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, Ray tells us about having a nightmare that Santa gets arrested and he's charged with all sorts of crimes that have broken the political correct code of conduct. The prosecution insists that Santa is a bad influence because he smokes a pipe and is over-weight. They also charge that he's cruel to reindeer and has a poor work ethic.

The work place gets spoofed on "Annual Office Christmas Party". This song may not resonate with those who haven't gone to a company party before. I had only went to two or three...the ones I went to weren't in a conference room, though, but the few I went to those were very, very tame compared to what you'll hear in this song. On the other hand, if you just want to laugh without having to feel as if you can relate to the subject, then the song will do the job. The ninth song on the album, "The Little Drummer Boy - Next Door", is a song that depicts the aggravation of a man who lives next door to a kid who got a drum set for Christmas and keeps 'playing' it at all hours. Ray co-wrote this song with frequent songwriter partner Buddy Kalb and another writer named Paul Alter.

The tenth song, "Bad Little Boy", owes a lot to Spike Jones and Red Skelton. Ray delivers the entire song in the voice of a boy. It's not really a song...it's more like a narration. The boy tells us about all of the things he's did that's causing him to not get anything for Christmas. The overall plot of the story follows the Spike Jones classic "Nuttin' For Christmas" in it's concept and the enunciation of the boy carries shades of Junior, the mean little kid character that Red Skelton was famous for. Ray performed this song on TV once, The Statler Brothers Show, and to make himself appear as a little kid he sat on top of a giant rocking chair.

The 11th and final song of the album is his updated version of "Santa Claus Is Watching You". Ray had originally wrote and recorded this song in the early 1960's as a typical Christmas song aimed at kids. In 1985 he re-wrote the song and made it into a more adult performance...making it become a song about a man who's upset over his wife's behavior and attitudes and he warns her to be good because Santa's watching. This is the version that's become the most familiar...Ray even made a music video of the song sometime in the late '80s when video's were becoming a promotional tool for albums. I wish I knew the year of production for that music video...i'll say it was made in 1989 or 1990...but it could easily have been made in 1985 or 1986 before music video's were all over the country music scene. The music video of the 1985 recording is featured on Comedy Video Classics. This 1997 updated version keeps the 1985 lyrics intact and the only differences are the saxophone honks and the vocal delivery. The 1985 version heard Ray singing the song in a sort of lonesome voice...but the 1997 take features Ray delivering the song with enthusiastic energy. Also, in the 1997 version, there isn't a solo passage from the high-pitched Elf near the song's end like there is in the 1985 recording. Ray delivers the Elf passage himself this time around, the passage, for those who don't know, refers to us being told about Santa having his binoculars out, keeping his eyes all over the woman.

So, have a Ray Stevens Christmas this year...having fun looking at it through a different window. You'll be glad you did.