December 1, 2008

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.

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