July 24, 2009

Ray Stevens: Country Weekly: 8-3-09

The August 3rd issue of Country Weekly features an article about Ray Stevens. The author of the write-up is Kip Kirby. For those who read my Animation blog you'll also know that I'm a moderate fan of George Strait as well. I'm not a hardcore, die-hard fan as I happen to be with Ray Stevens but Strait is among my favorites. So, it's a bonus having George Strait on the cover as well as the article about Ray Stevens. This blog entry is about the Ray Stevens article, though...

The name of the article is "Everything's Still Beautiful" and it sums up some of Ray's latest happenings for the public-at-large who don't follow Ray's career as closely as a lot of us do. There's a nice picture on page 33 and 34...he's in his famed red suit with the back shirt underneath. This is the "look" he typically wears in concert...a lot of the concert pictures from last year and this year feature Red Suit Ray. The article highlights the trucker CD that I've written about a few times, One for the Road. It spotlights a few of the song's from the CD. According to the article, you'll find out which song is one of his favorites from the CD. It's one of my favorites as well.

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The TV program that Ray's been working on behind the scenes and hoping to find an outlet for, We Ain't Dead Yet, is mentioned in the article and Ray's recent political appearance on Fox News Channel is highlighted, the appearance he made on Hannity. Elsewhere, the article mentions a future appearance on Huckabee is in the works. The appearance will be August 1st on Fox News Channel...and you can also catch it August 2. The show airs at 8pm eastern time both days. This appearance is a make-up date...he had earlier been scheduled to appear on Huckabee's program around the time of the Hannity appearance but it was postponed.

On page 34 there's a picture of Ray in concert up at the top of the page from 2009 and below there's a smaller picture of Ray and George Lindsey from 1998. Ray gives his thoughts about comedy songs verses love ballads and points out how he's been able to maintain a career for over 50 years, mostly with comedy songs, when all the "experts" advised him novelty songs would end his career. This viewpoint is the essence of Ray Stevens, actually. His career often stands against the conventional logic and the traditional methods of the run-of-the-mill act. Once someone says Ray can't do this or can't do that chances are Ray has done it more times than anyone can count.

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When record labels heard his idea of direct-marketing home videos they didn't enthusiastically embrace the idea. Once Ray sold several hundred thousand copies of a certain home video in 1992, Comedy Video Classics, suddenly record labels came out in support of the idea and soon home video sales were a big business for a period of time in the early to mid '90s. So, in a lot of ways, if you've read much of my other blog entries, it's almost unfair to compare Ray to other singers because he's had to prove critics and skeptics wrong countless times with the idea's and material he released.

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I'm sure in 1970, when "America, Communicate With Me" was a single, there were critics and people at the record label wondering about this song. True, it said a lot of things that perhaps the mainstream didn't want to hear...but you can't argue with it's impact among the adults in 1970. A radio format catering to those over 40, Easy-Listening, wasn't nearly as widespread then as the format is now under the varying titles of Adult-Contemporary and Adult Top-40. Ray had a Top-15 hit with the single on adult music radio...in the mainstream pop audience it peaked just below the Top-40. Again, it was a song that I have a feeling people advised him not to release...but he did so anyway. He wrote it, too. You can find the song on several CD's at various on-line music stores. Depending on which on-line store you visit you may even be able to purchase an MP3 of the song for 99 cents. It's a topical song...so if you're into history or are simply curious about 1970 pop-culture or you happen to be a long-time Ray fan who just doesn't have that particular song in your collection anywhere, go see for yourself how good the song is.

"Misty" is another example of a song that defied logic...long remembered as a slow love ballad from Johnny Mathis, Ray turned up the tempo and used a banjo, fiddle, and a steel guitar as the main instruments. The results won him a Grammy in early 1976 for Best Arrangement. He kept this same up-tempo arrangement idea for his debut single for Warner Brothers, "You Are So Beautiful", and had a Top-20 country hit with it in 1976...but "Misty" went into the Top-5 on the country charts and Top-20 pop in 1975.

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52 years into a recording career...having successes with love ballads-both pop and country, plus many off-the-wall comedy songs which is what he'll be remembered for...and still actively recording and touring...says quite a lot. You can see why everything's still beautiful for Ray Stevens.

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July 16, 2009

Ray Stevens: Clean-cut, clean-shaven, clean comedy...

This vinyl album of Ray Stevens came across my eyes...I'm typically on the look for vintage albums and pictures of Ray and when I come across any, I save them. I came across this one earlier today and immediately felt like writing a blog entry about it. I don't even own this album but judging by the song titles listed on the front it must be a release from 1975 or 1976 at the latest...interestingly, three of the songs that are spotlighted on the front of the album are usually not the songs the public at large thinks of. "Indian Love Call" was a hit for Ray in 1975 while "Bridget the Midget" was a hit in early 1971, largely popular in the United Kingdom. The fact that the 1971 song is listed first on the album cover makes me assume the album originates over-seas. The way the songs, based on the information on the front of the album, the way they seem to cut-off at 1975 make me think this album was issued in 1975 or 1976. I'm curious how "many more" songs are on the album, though. It lists five songs and has "and many more" afterward. If I had seen this image a few days ago I would have made commentary about it in my "Compilation upon Compilation" blog entry because this is another example of how Ray's deep catalog of songs was constantly being re-issued over and over by a lot of record labels, mostly foreign and independents.

Photobucket In some circles "clean-cut" can be seen as a blessing as well as a curse. It depends. In pop music, being clean-cut usually doesn't win you praise or acclaim from the rock crowd. The rock crowd tends to pride itself on rowdy behavior...edgy personalities...anti-commercialism...and the list could go on. Being clean-cut in the mainstream could be considered career suicide because of how the public at large, well, the record buying public that record companies pay attention to, views clean-cut images. It's been said that Ray's clean-cut image was the reason why he didn't have a bigger hit with "Sunday Morning Coming Down" in 1969 but Johnny Cash hit #1 with it in 1970. This is also, it's been said, why Ray rarely sings what one would call a "typical country song" because he doesn't necessarily have the reputation or image of being a hell-raiser or an alcoholic.

However, being clean-cut can also be a blessing. It enables a singer or a group to be non-threatening and therefore have wide appeal or mass appeal as family friendly. This sort of acceptance usually, but not always, but usually allows the act to become profitable. The word "profitable" is like a disease in the world of rock music. Commercialism is frowned on...rock singers and rock musicians seem to have this "inspirational" bent. They feel that a song has to be lifted from real life...being inspired from something real and factual. The very idea of a songwriter "making up a story" appalls most rockers, I think.

Photobucket Not quite clean-shaven here but this particular 1987 album is Platinum. Of course, the album picture is a mock-up of Bonnie and Clyde. Note the bullet holes decorating the album, the cassette version that I have lacks this touch. I assume everyone knows this, but a "hit" in mobster/gangster talk means to order someone's death. So, Ray and the female portray Bonnie and Clyde...a great tie-in with a Greatest Hits album. The album featured liner notes from Ronnie Pugh of the Country Music Foundation. The version of "Ahab the Arab" is from 1969. Depending on the label you'll either get the 1962 original recording on Mercury Records or you'll get the up-dated 1969 version on Monument Records with the audience in the background from the Gitarzan album.

The liner notes for the 1987 hits album doesn't make note of "Ahab the Arab" being a re-recording. The author writes as if the original recording is on the hits album because he mentions 1962 as the year it was a hit. The reason I bring that up is because in the early '90s I discovered the actual 1962 recording of the song...it sounded nothing like the 1969 version I grew up listening to. Oh, the lyrics were the same, but Ray's voice was different. It wasn't what I was used to hearing. What this means is I spent several years assuming the recording on Greatest Hits was from 1962 because the liner notes weren't detailed enough.

So, as I've said many times, I went backward in my Ray Stevens fandom. I became a fan in the mid '80s after hearing "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" for the first time and as I got older I started finding and buying older songs Ray recorded, at the same time buying whatever contemporary albums he recorded to where I have a nice collection of items.

Photobucket Now, Young Love is a song that was a big hit for Sonny James in the late '50s. It was a hit around the time Ray was just starting his recording career. Those familiar with the song will no doubt recall how bouncy and swaying it was...that is, the Sonny James version. The Ray Stevens version was the complete opposite. In Ray's hands, the song was changed from a bouncy sing-a-long to a direct love ballad complete with bluesy musical accompaniment. Ray's version charted country in the early part of 1976, the last single Barnaby Records issued on Ray prior to his moving to Warner Brothers.

Photobucket Even though this was a Top-20 country hit for Ray in 1971, a lot of people today wouldn't recognize Ray's vocals because of how hushed and pleasant the recording sounds. This isn't to say that Ray's songs aren't pleasant...it's just that there's a sound most people come to expect and this arrangement throws people off. It starts off slowly...then during the chorus the music and singing all swell up to create the church choir effect...then after another verse and a repeat of the chorus the song ends, softly. Turn Your Radio On became the name of his gospel album as well. From that album came a pair of Top-10 Easy-Listening hits, "A Mama and a Papa" and "All My Trials".

I feel most of Ray's comedy songs are clean...well, all of them are. There's some that are intentionally low-brow and some that are quite sophisticated. The funny thing is, the low-brow comedy tends to be the most popular...it's like the sophisticated comedy, the satire, goes over a lot of people's heads. Along with this kind of division amongst comedy styles you have fans/listeners who kind of give a thumbs up or thumbs down rating depending on the style of humor on a Ray Stevens recording. Those who lean toward low-brow humor...the yuk-yuk, southern comedy...they tend to not favor the comedy of songs like "Bionie and the Robotics", "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", "Gourmet Restaurant", or "Workin' For the Japanese" just to name a few. On the other hand, those who lean toward the songs I just listed seem to look down on the low-brow humor of "It's Me Again, Margaret", "The Streak", "Hey Bubba, Watch This", "Used Cars", or "The Booger Man". He's recorded a lot more low-brow comedy than high-brow so there's more to list in the low-brow category.

Depending on who you ask, Ray is hilarious or offensive. I'm not making it up...hard to believe, isn't it??

It really comes down to an individual's taste in humor, which kind of hand-cuff's comedy. Some people, with no sense of humor or a peculiar one at the very least, could sit poker faced during a Ray Stevens album and go "what's so funny?" or "oh, is that suppose to be funny?". A lot of this reaction stems from political correctness, though. A lot of Ray's comical songs from the past and even some from today feature ethnic or stereotypical characterizations...and those who feel those kinds of characterizations are harmful, mean-spirited, etc etc are the ones who find Ray offensive...but that's just an interpretation. I have never believed for a minute that Ray intentionally and purposely attacks minorities or any social group. I feel that it doesn't matter...whether Ray is spoofing a German, a Russian, the Japanese, the Arabs, or southern people commonly referred to as rednecks, no matter what the ethnic, geographical, or social group is, the driving force is the comedy and the music.

Those who find this area of humor offensive, so be it...but the thing I've always felt was wrong is those who do not like this style of comedy, the humor they label "offensive" and "politically incorrect", those who are offended want to tell others what's funny and what isn't...and again, that brings us back to how comedy and humor is an individual thing. What's funny to one person isn't funny to the next...social groups shouldn't be dictating how humor is presented, viewed, or written because the result becomes a violation of free speech and freedom of expression. If one feels pressure to alter the way they write and think simply to please some social group, then that's all wrong.

July 8, 2009

Ray Stevens: Favorite Album Covers

Photobucket Ray's debut album for MCA in 1984, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens, is one of my favorites...he's dressed as Napoleon, of course. There is a song on the album that deals with a viking, "Erik the Awful", and it tells the convoluted story of a band of vikings who pillage and plunder everything in their path...going all over the world...even making a stop in Hahira, Georgia along the way. This is the album that contains both "It's Me Again, Margaret" and the "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" for the very first time...two songs that have become standards in Ray's concerts.

Photobucket Issued in 1980, when I first saw this album's cover I immediately liked it. The front cover here shows Ray in character on a Harley Davidson, the preferred choice of a Shriner being depicted in the title track. Shriner's Convention became a Top-10 country hit both on the singles and albums chart and was his debut for RCA Records. During Ray's concerts, particularly at his Branson, Missouri theater in the early 1990's, he'd drive out on stage on a white Harley with the name 'Coy' written in blue letters across the side. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt...wearing a Fez...it was like the image on his album cover came to life. The only thing missing was the un-named woman that Coy's having an affair with...in the song her and Coy were caught in the hotel's swimming pool at 3am. Actually, it was Coy and a bunch of cocktail waitresses...but one of them became his lover and they both ended up leaving the convention...Coy ends his association with the Shrine, thinking over the idea of joining the Hell's Angels instead.

Photobucket What's not to like about this album cover?? Beside Myself from 1989 shows us the serious and comical side of Ray Stevens both in song and on the album cover. This album is highly under-rated, though. Among Ray fans it's notable for the songs "Your Bozo's Back Again", "There's a Star Spangled Banner", "I Saw Elvis in a UFO", "The Woogie Boogie", and "I Used To Be Crazy".

Photobucket Years ago when I was 10 or 11 I remember seeing the cassette tape of this album in a local grocery store and wanting it so much because I was in my early stages of being a Ray Stevens fan/nut-case. A few of the song titles on the album were familiar but a majority of them were not. This is the album where I first heard "Mr Businessman", "In the Mood", "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", "Freddie Feelgood", "The Haircut Song", "The Blue Cyclone", and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The baseball theme is a nice touch as well...considering I like watching Major League baseball. This was released in 1987, Greatest Hits, Volume Two. My grandfather, who introduced me to the songs of Ray Stevens, already had the 1987 Greatest Hits release...but he never bought Volume Two and so my parent's bought it for me out of the blue for Christmas. Several years later I came across Ray's 1985 album, I Have Returned, and learned "The Blue Cyclone" was originally broken into two parts. The version on this 1987 hits album is the radio edit.

Photobucket This 1997 holiday album is filled to the brim with demented Christmas songs. The title, Christmas Through a Different Window, demonstrates just how left of center the material is going to be. In fact, Ray appears left of center on the album cover. I like the way the lettering looks fancy but you have Ray peeking into the window on the lower right. Ray once explained that the album's title was based on how when people drive through their local towns during Christmas time you usually see holiday displays through the window's of people's houses as you drive by. A lot of families put their tree up in their living room in front of a window. Some purposely set holiday displays in their windows. So, Ray wondered what it would be like hearing about Christmas through a different window...a window that may appear in fine shape on the outside but once you come inside the image shatters. So, a lot of these songs deal with dysfunctional families and they deal with the silliness of political correctness. This theme is hit on right at the start with the opening song, "Guilt for Christmas".

Photobucket I like the album cover...an obvious reference to his 1984 hit "It's Me Again, Margaret". When this collection came along in 1990, I had all but one song. The song on here that I didn't already have in my collection was "Bridget the Midget", the last song. My grandfather bought me this at some point in 1992 or 1993...so the collection had already been on the market a couple of years. This waiting until either my parent's or my grandfather would buy me a Ray Stevens tape or CD was annoying at the time...I liked to have a CD when it was brand-new. I remember once we were in a store and there was a Ray Stevens tape that I didn't have. It was costly, according to my parent's, and they never bought it. It was the 1989 Beside Myself project. Well, that album was scarce to say the least...I finally found another copy at some other store several years later and my grandfather bought it for me. By then the tape was 4 years old and the price had came down. Anyway, because of all the waits I experienced with not being able to have a cassette tape or a CD when it was brand new is probably why I'm the way I am now. Once I get word of a new Ray Stevens project being released, I never wait around too much after it's released...I buy it as soon as I can...often times I pre-order an item just so I'll have it when it's brand new.

Photobucket This album is from 1975, The Very Best of Ray Stevens. I think the reason I happen to like this particular album cover is simply because it looks different than other Ray Stevens album covers from that era. Arms folded, leaning up against a tree in what could be Centennial Park down in Nashville, TN. Why this particular picture was chosen for a best-of compilation I have no idea but I happen to like it. There is another version of this album featuring a clean-shaven picture of Ray taken from the Turn Your Radio On album. I believe that release was in Canada and over-seas.

Photobucket I know of at least one person who doesn't care for this particular album cover. I happen to like it...the all white background and the white suit and the songs are really good, too. The album comes from 1978 and it's called Be Your Own Best Friend. All of the album covers are thumbnails and so you should click them for a bigger image. There were nine songs on this album and as was the case on a lot of Ray's albums, he's listed as a writer or co-writer on almost all of the songs. I'm not ranking the album covers in any particular order, though...and if you don't see an album cover it doesn't mean I hate it. This is just a small sampling of the album covers I happen to like.

Photobucket This comedy album from 1986, Surely You Joust, is one in a series of albums released by MCA on Ray during the mid 1980's that featured him in elaborate and eye-catching poses. Each of his first eight albums for MCA, including three best-of collections in 1987, show Ray in one wild costumed pose after the other. This 1986 album cover is no exception. Ray kind of had a theme going of dressing up as historical figures in both fiction and non-fiction. King Arthur is the subject on this album cover. There was no core theme to the song's, though. You had just about everything on this album. Everything from social commentary in the songs "Fat" and "Bionie and the Robotics" to TV show spoofs, "The People's Court", and a trio of songs about the great outdoors. One of the highlights is the "Southern Air" performance which features Ray and fellow country comics Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl. Ray plays the part of a passenger, Clower is the talkative pilot/captain, while Minnie plays the stewardess.

Photobucket Released in 1997 a lot of consumers thought that Ray was dressed up like Norman Bates' mother from the PSYCHO movies when in reality he was spoofing Whistler's Mother...this is why a picture of "whistler" appears in the frame...it shows Ray blowing a referee's whistle and the idea of the album title comes from the scenario that Whistler's mother is tired of whistling and so she decides from now on she'll Hum It, instead of whistling, and that's where the CD got it's title. If you Google "Whistler's Mother" you'll see the portrait that Ray's spoofing. Of course, the artist of the painting in the 1800's, his last name was Whistler...but in modern-day comedy his last name is spoofed and taken literally. This is the album that features the songs "Too Drunk To Fish", "Mama Sang Bass", "Virgil and the Moonshot", and the Gone With the Wind song, "I'll Be In Atlanta", among others.

Photobucket On this 1990 project, Ray's dressed as Julius Caesar. The background images were shot at the Centennial Park in Nashville. A Parthenon sits up on a hill and is the main attraction of the park. Julius Caesar was noted for saying the phrase: "friends, Romans, countrymen...Lend Me Your Ears..." and so Lend Me Your Ears became the title of this comedy album. The phrase, of course, doubles in meaning because it could also be said that Ray's asking the consumers to listen to the CD. The rabbit on the cover goes hand in hand with the album's title...a rabbit's most recognizable feature are their ears.

Photobucket Here we have Ray as Wil Rogers. The album title is based on an expression Wil is famous for: "I never met a man I didn't like". This one came along in 1988 and it had it's share of topical material, notably "Surfin' USSR" plus the satire on the hippie culture, "Old Hippie Class Reunion". There was a song about satellite TV, which at the time was growing in popularity but was still a mystery for those who didn't have that sort of item. The song is "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex". Ray does a spoof of Michael Jackson on this album...covering the song, "Bad".

July 7, 2009

Ray Stevens: Compilation upon Compilation

Photobucket This is one of the compilation albums that Mercury Records released. It's simply called Ahab the Arab although it's the same exact compilation as Funny Man featuring the exact same cover and the exact same songs in the exact same order. Compilation upon compilation have been released through the years. In recent years, though, there's been a drop in the amount of compilation albums that have been released. In the 1980's and 1990's there were a slew of hits collections and best-of collections on the market. I touched upon the abundance of compilation albums in some of my earlier blogs. Since the dawn of this decade there hasn't been as many compilation CD's and I don't know if that's because the labels have run out of idea's of how to package the songs or if Ray himself has figured out a way to put a stop to the compilation releases. In a magazine interview in the early 1990's a reporter half-jokingly mentioned that there were perhaps at least 60 compilation albums released on Ray through the years.

The songs on both of these albums are:

1. Ahab the Arab
2. Furthermore
3. Funny Man
4. The Deodorant Song
5. Harry the Hairy Ape
6. Just One of Life's Little Tragedies
7. Speed Ball
8. Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer

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Some of the compilation albums were official releases...but over half of them were released by independent labels or former labels that Ray recorded material for. Throughout it all, two labels have been stingy with their Ray material and those two labels are Warner Brothers and RCA. The studio albums he recorded on both labels from 1976-1982 have yet to surface in complete form in either CD or MP3. There was a 3-CD collection of Warner Brothers material issued in 1995 but it was in limited quantity. The RCA material hasn't really been showcased at all except for a 1985 compilation called Collector's Series.

One of the best compilation projects during the 1990's was this one from Rhino Records simply called The Best of Ray Stevens. There was a 1970's craze going on in the mid to late '90s and this CD as you can see featured caricature drawings of Ray and his cast of comical characters. The CD has liner notes written by Doctor Demento plus a few pictures of Ray from all points in time. I've wore out my CD copy...it likes to skip, just like a worn out vinyl album. I've either worn the CD out or a glitch happened all of the sudden because it stops playing two-third's of the way...but it's a good project. It was released in 1997 during Ray's 40th anniversary as a recording artist.

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A lot of the compilation albums feature a variety of album songs mixed in with the singles that were released commercially. I don't have an official total off the top of my head but Ray's charted close to 60 singles in his career, a combined total of singles that hit pop or country. Ray charted consistently on the Hot 100 pop chart throughout the late '60s on into the mid '70s but beginning in the early '70s onward more and more of his songs were hitting with the country audience that by 1980 he was a legitimate country star, no longer considered a pop cross-over, appearing on country music oriented programs and doing other things to endear himself to the country market.

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The Feeling's Not Right Again, the album known as the Barry Manilow parody album, was in reality a compilation album. Warner Brothers put together an album to support the single, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The songs on the album were pulled from his 1976, 1977, and 1978 albums. However, his second 1978 album, There Is Something On Your Mind, was over-looked. No songs from that album appeared on this one...
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Earlier I mentioned that not many compilation albums have surfaced on Ray Stevens in recent years. One of the few was released by Collectible's Records. It was a box set featuring 4 CD's. The collection featured six albums on three CD's: Everything Is Beautiful, Unreal, Turn Your Radio On, Nashville, Boogity-Boogity, and Misty. Each of the three CD's featured two complete albums. A fourth CD, The Last Laugh, was a compilation project that repeated several songs that were found on the other three CD's in the collection. As you can see, the collection was called Only The Best of Ray Stevens.

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July 6, 2009

Ray Stevens: Getting Crazy with Ray...

Photobucket A 1977 single from Ray Stevens entitled "Get Crazy With Me" featured a one of a kind arrangement. It wasn't exactly country and it wasn't pop, either...it had this different arrangement...several instruments I think were computer enhanced and were manipulated into sounding certain ways. The mid to late '70s period, known as the Warner Brothers era, featured Ray on the cutting edge of sound techniques and in-studio accomplishment. His publishing company, Ray Stevens Music, affiliated with BMI, was also reaping benefits from a couple of major hit singles recorded by other artists during this time period. The first, "Can't Stop Dancing", a song Ray co-wrote and later covered by pop duo The Captain and Tennille, became a Top-20 pop hit for the duo in 1977. Ray had recorded the song a year earlier in 1976 for his Warner Brothers debut album, Just for the Record. The other single Ray was associated with was "Way Down", a song recorded by Elvis. This song was on the charts at the time of Elvis' death. I touch upon this information off to the right side of the blog in the time-line.

Elvis and the Captain and Tennille weren't the only artist's to have songs published by Ray's company. Layng Martine, Jr at one time wrote for Ray. Ray produced/published the song, "Rub It In", which was recorded and released by Layng before Billy 'Crash' Craddock. Layng was the song's writer but Craddock's version became the major hit. Ray's publishing company was called Ahab Music at first. I believe in 1977 it switched names to Ray Stevens Music...at least I assume as much because the songs on his 1976 album shows Ahab Music as publisher while the songs from the 1977 album show Ray Stevens Music. Ray often publishes his own recordings...but every so often his company will publish outside material. In the early '90s Ray's company published two Sammy Kershaw hit singles: "Cadillac Style" and "I Can't Reach Her Anymore" because Mark Petersen was a songwriter for Ray Stevens Music.

As part of the publicity for "Get Crazy With Me", there was an issue of Country Song Round-Up available featuring Ray on the cover and the article "Get Crazy With Ray Stevens".

The song itself, as I touched upon, is very different from the standard Ray Stevens material...nothing before or since has sounded quite like this song. The music itself seems to suggest insanity...there are all kinds of techno sounds in the instrumentation. There is a video montage of the song available at You Tube. The sound quality is okay. The sound isn't superb, though, but you can hear for yourselves the techno/alternative instrumentation. Chances are you'll have to hear it for yourselves since I can't adequately describe it...it's originally from the 1977 album, Feel The Music, that I did a blog about several days ago.

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In the picture below, Ray's successful concert stops earned praise from a variety of venue owners and spokespeople. In the first review it's stated that Ray performed before 45,000 people at a Huntington, West Virginia Riverfest show. The promo also highlights how well Ray tackles the stage and the audience with his brand of music. Adjectives like "crowd pleaser", "entertainer", "extremely enjoyable", "superstar", and others highlight the promo piece.

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Ray Stevens: The Mercury Recordings

Although Ray Stevens officially recorded for Mercury Records for two years, 1961-1963, in that two year span he recorded quite a number of sessions. I've touched upon Ray's material for Mercury Records in other blog entries but I still like the way the picture sleeve of this CD looks. It takes snippets of pictures from the 1970 release, The Best of Ray Stevens, and pastes them onto a new background with an early 1980's picture of Ray. I don't have much information about how many recordings Ray did for Mercury...all I know is the material that's surfaced over the years...the material that was included on his first two albums 1,837 Seconds of Humor and This Is Ray Stevens, more specifically.

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The Mercury Records material features the blend of pop, R&B, and novelty styles that would continue to be a big part of Ray's recordings. As the years went by he added country elements to his recordings. Through the years Ray's Mercury material has surfaced on a variety of LP's and tapes and CD's...and now MP3's. The above picture is the 1970 release featuring a more contemporary artist rendering of Ray...for whatever reason a lot of the Mercury subsidiaries like to put a modern-day picture of Ray Stevens on their releases when the material is clearly from the early '60s.

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The album/CD above is called Ahab the Arab as well. A lot of the Mercury re-issues use the name of a song.

In 1989, Mercury/Polygram released an eight song collection called Funny Man which featured eight songs already found on the other Mercury collections. The album cover resembles the one above...a profile picture of Ray in the yellow/tan suit.

In 1996 Polygram released All-Time Hits which featured 8 songs on cassette and 11 songs on CD. The material wasn't all Mercury, though...but a good amount was. Two songs, "Shriner's Convention" and "One More Last Chance" were from 1980 and 1981...recorded for RCA Records. The other songs were recorded for Mercury. The picture of Ray was a contemporary one...

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1. Ahab the Arab; 1962
2. Butch Babarian; 1963 {CD exclusive}
3. Funny Man; 1963
4. Harry the Hairy Ape; 1963
5. Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills; 1961
6. My Dad; 1983
7. Santa Claus Is Watching You; 1962 {CD exclusive}
8. Speed Ball; 1963
9. One More Last Chance; 1981 {CD exclusive}
10. Furthermore; 1962
11. Shriner's Convention; 1980

Photobucket Ray returned to Mercury Records in 1983. He recorded one album, Me, and released a few singles. I have no idea as to what caused it but this album was never really promoted or publicized much at all. Perhaps behind-the-scenes chaos or turmoil prevented the album from being properly publicized/promoted? Everyone knows that publicity is a big factor in the advertising of a single or an album...I've gone through the vintage news time-line archives for "Ray Stevens + 1983" and there's no real publicity for the album. The song, "My Dad", comes from that 1983 album and it's on the All-Time Hits collection above. It reached the country chart in 1984...before you can ask, I've already checked the news archive time-line for Ray in 1984 and there's no mention of Me. However, Ray appeared on an episode of Fall Guy and performed "A Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee"...so there was some kind of publicity for the album but nothing conventional. For more information on this album, seek my blog entry about it. The archive blog entries are located to the right of the blog...click on the arrow next to each month and the blog entries will drop down.

July 3, 2009

Ray Stevens: Star Spangled Banner

On the eve of the 4th of July I wanted to touch upon a couple of patriotic/political songs in the career of Ray Stevens. I often cite a song that's found on Ray's 1989 serious-comedy showcase album, Beside Myself. This was, at the time, Ray's last album for MCA Records and it was the first time in six years that Ray had put love ballads and serious songs onto an album. The first five songs on this album were non-comical and the last five were comedy songs. Ray had a hand at writing nine of the ten songs found here.

Track number five is a song called "There's a Star Spangled Banner" about a man in the military whose been captured by the enemy and held prisoner. The setting is Beirut/Middle East and the song is written from a POW's perspective hoping that America/the flag will ride to his rescue. Ray gives some commentary about how the flag is not respected in other parts of the country but no matter how much the flag goes through hopefully it'll continue to remain a beacon for the values that America holds. I love the arrangement and the song...now, I know, in this day and time with everyone sensitive over just about anything, a song with this kind of pro-America sentiment causes a lot of our own people to be offended. Things used to not be that way. You can find this song on Beside Myself and At His Best, which is a CD re-issue of the 1989 album.

In 1991 Ray recorded an entirely different song, but kept the same chorus and song title, "There's a Star Spangled Banner". This version of the song isn't about a man being held prisoner in Beirut. This 1991 version is about the flag itself and all of the battles and wars that it's fought in. The Gulf War and it's aftermath was the reason for the alternate version...but don't quote me on that. This version of the song can be found on the 1991 Curb Records compilation, Greatest Hits, which was released in April of that year. Looking through history I found out the cease-fire was in February 1991 so that puts it about the time the Gulf War was still in the headlines.

So, there are two versions of the same song out there and my advise to you is to click on the song sample at the on-line music stores and listen and see which version you're buying...since the songs contain different verses but the same chorus, buy both songs.

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Late in 2001/early 2002, Ray had out the patriotic/political comedy song, "Osama Yo' Mama". It came complete with a music video and a more serious b-side, "United We Stand". The commercial CD single, which wasn't distributed heavily, sold enough to push the single to #1 on the Country Single Sales chart...it would remain the Top-5 for several months. "Osama Yo' Mama" of course is about Osama bin Laden and the disappointed he must be bringing his mother. "United We Stand" was originally a peace and brotherhood hit in the early 1970's in the latter years of the Vietnam War. Ray's version comes complete with grandiose arrangement, which a song like "United We Stand" needs. These two songs opened and closed the Curb Records CD, Osama Yo' Mama: The Album in 2002. The CD became a Top-30 hit.

"Hello Mama" was a sequel to "Osama Yo' Mama" and it featured the same melody but different lyrics. "Hello Mama" was also made into a music video...it can be found on the 2004 DVD release, The Complete Comedy Video Collection, as a bonus music video. "Hello Mama" is about Osama on the run in the Middle East and he consistently calls his mother with fears of being caught and sent to Guantanamo Bay. He's using cell-phones to contact his mother but finds that he has to destroy each one he uses because "Dubyah" might be tracing the call. It's just as funny but not as well-known as "Osama Yo' Mama". Each song was written by Ray and Buddy Kalb.

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In 2004, with the country still engaged in war and conflicts over-seas, Ray and co-writer Larry McCoy offered "Thank You", a song about the military men and women who are fighting overseas voluntarily. Typically during a war or any kind of conflict, the soldiers and the troops are often over-looked because the media and most talk-shows focus on the politics and the controversies surrounding a war and they often lose sight of the soldiers unless a body count is being reported. So, "Thank You" is a song about not forgetting the soldiers who voluntarily joined the military and thanking all parts of the military for what they do. There was a music video produced in 2004 as well as a 11 song CD.

Photobucket Looking on the back of the CD they list the 11 songs. One of the songs is an instrumental called "Boogie Woogie", the final track on the CD. The CD is all-serious and Ray is credited as a songwriter on eight of the eleven tracks. Two of the tracks are re-recordings, though. "Be Your Own Best Friend", a hit single back in 1978, and 1983's "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out". The songs Ray didn't write are "It Won't Be Easy", "Boogie Woogie", and "Pledging My Love". The track list for the CD:

1. Thank You
2. Come On Home To Baseball
3. Blue Angel
4. Pledging My Love
5. It Won't Be Easy
6. Let's Roll
7. Be Your Own Best Friend
8. Love Will Beat Your Brains Out
9. When I Get Over You
10. Stand Up
11. Boogie Woogie

Several of these songs were later put on the 2006 Curb Records release, Box Set largely because the Thank You album wasn't highly promoted. Meanwhile, the Box Set became a Top-5 hit on the Comedy Albums chart...one of the alternative charts Billboard publishes. The project originally was issued on his own label in 2005 but Curb distributed it in 2006.

Backing up 30 some years to the early '70s, Ray recorded a couple of brilliant patriotic/political songs...songs that he wrote. One of them was "Talking" which was featured on his 1970 album, Unreal. In the song Ray sings about the war going on but all it seems that people in Washington were doing is talking and setting up conferences and meetings instead of doing any overt action. On this same album we have "Loving You On Paper", a love song about a man in the war who gets through the day writing love letters to his girlfriend or his wife. It's never explained if the woman is his wife or his girlfriend...but whatever the relationship, the song deals with loneliness.

The big song from that album, though, was "America, Communicate With Me". This single openly asks the country to explain it's actions and communicate in an open manner. It mentions the assassinations that took place and all of the protesting and everything else going on.

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"America, Communicate With Me" became a Top-20 hit on the Adult-Contemporary chart. It peaked a few spots below the Top-40 on the Hot 100. These patriotic/political songs were grouped together under the protest song umbrella...although I wouldn't put Ray's war songs in that same category. While other war songs were pointed against the way the country was running, Ray's tended to be more about common sense...they were never in your face as far as political commentary goes...at least I don't think they were. Others may have a different impression. These 1970 songs were recorded during the time period Ray recorded "Everything Is Beautiful", which went to #1 and sold millions that same year.

Ray Stevens: I Want To Sing and Dance

The year was 1985 and the singer was Ray Stevens and the album was I Have Returned and the recording was "The Pirate Song". The sub-title was "I Want To Sing and Dance" which was a phrase heard prominently in the song. The concept was based upon The Pirates of Penzance, the opera from Gilbert and Sullivan. The song is a hilarious conversation between two pirates. One pirate being gruff, mean, bloodthirsty...the other being quite withdrawn and effeminate. The original recording of this song, as I started the blog writing about, was 1985. He re-recorded it in 1991 for his #1 With a Bullet CD. Ray made a music video of this song in 1999, which provided a third recording for the music video. The original recording is sang at a slower pace...making it more of a ballad. In 1991 he changed tempo but then for the music video he went back to the original arrangement and tempo. Of course, the music video shows us an outrageous depiction of the less than gruff pirate who just wants to sing and dance, hoping to land a part in the Pirates of Penzance.

Photobucket "Shiver me timbers!!" The gruff pirate is beside himself with disbelief over how a fellow pirate is disinterested in looting, plundering, fighting, killing, and general piracy of the high-seas. No matter what the gruff pirate mentions, it doesn't catch the interest of the effeminate pirate who turns out to be the gruff pirate's son as we discover during their on-going conversation/argument. The desire to sing and dance soon spreads to the gruff pirate...he demands that his crew start to sing and dance. If they don't he'll have them walk the plank. Then, in unison, everyone starts to sing the song's chorus...explaining how much they want to sing and dance. In the music video, if you look closely, Ralph Emery is among the pirates. The gruff pirate's name is Long John Blackbeard Peg-Leg Patch-eye Hook and the song is, naturally, sprinkled with pirate lingo.

July 2, 2009

Ray Stevens: Ned Nostril

Doing an impression of Johnny Cash, Ray tells the story of a man who has a little problem but the story allows the man to over-come his little problem and turn his misfortune into a positive character trait. The song is very funny and it's a parody of sorts on Johnny Cash's style of music...which is obviously why Ray sings the song in a Cash-like vocal style. The song appears on the 1984 album you see here, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens. Ray wrote the song and it's 4 minutes and 11 seconds in length. From the start of the song with that familiar musical intro on through the remainder of the song we're treated to an absurdly outrageous story of a baby, named Ned, who was born with a Pinnochio-like trait: the baby's nose would grow and apparently his nose continued to grow as he grew older. Ray tells us that Ned's heroes were Karl Malden, Jimmy Durante, and Pinnochio.

Ned's life in school is examined, especially in high school...and we're told about Ned's try-out's for the football and basketball team. Later on, Ned gathers up some of his friends and they start up a band. This band is a little bit peculiar due to the fact the bandmembers sniff ragweed to the point where they're all teary-eyed, allergy-ridden zombies pretty much. Ned, on the other hand, played his nose in the band. They dressed Hawaiian and the song's full title is: "Ned Nostril and His South Seas Paradise, Puts Your Blues On Ice, Cheap at Twice the Price Band, Ikky-Ikky Ukky-Ukky". The musical interludes in the song feature Ned and the band wheezing, sneezing, and coughing in rhythm. Ned attempts the drum, piano, and a horn after he forms the band but his nose gets in the way. He tried playing the drum but apparently he kept striking his nose instead of the drum. Also, his nose prevented him from seeing the piano. So, after these attempts, he realizes that it's best to just continue playing his nose as the band's front-man.

The album that this song appeared on became a Platinum album and it was his first for MCA Records. The bulk of the album's success, in reality, came a calendar year after it's release. The album came along in the latter part of 1984 but it reached it's peak on the album chart the next year, 1985. This wouldn't be the only time a Ray Stevens album would chart and then slowly but steadily climb up. Ray's follow-up album, I Have Returned, hit in October 1985 but it reached it's peak in March 1986. Of course, today, record companies don't have that kind of patience...that's a 5 month chart run to a peak position. Most albums today debut at their peak position...a lot of them debut at #1 or in the Top-5 and stay there throughout the remainder of their chart run. Anyway, those kinds of chart run's enabled Ray to capitalize on the success and popularity of his new 'country comedy' image and in 1986 he began his annual run of being named Music City News Comedian of the Year, a fan-voted award he was given through 1994.

July 1, 2009

Ray Stevens: Challenge write-up

A picture sleeve from 40 years ago...1969's "Have a Little Talk With Myself", a song that Ray wrote and performed on several TV programs of the 1969-1970 era. I love the dark pink lettering over top of the black background. The smiling Ray Stevens, which is how a lot of his pictures are described because of his notable smile that graces countless promo pictures and album covers. Ray at one time recorded a couple of smile songs: "Gimme a Smile" in 1976 and "With a Smile" in 1978. This picture sleeve from 1969 with his perfect looking hair and grin is a far cry from the shaggy hair look that appeared on his 1970 albums Everything Is Beautiful and Unreal. Of course, Ray's grin is intact. Over the course of the last 40 years Ray's face has become hidden underneath a beard. Modern-day audiences would not recognize Ray without his beard...of course, those who stumble upon my blog site will get a full dose of clean-shaven Ray Stevens.

The main purpose of this blog entry is to spread the word about a write-up in a magazine called "Challenge" which is affiliated with the Pilot travel centers, the chain of fuel stations carrying Ray's recent release, One for the Road. The write-up doesn't contain any new revelations for fans but still it's a write-up and it's a positive write-up, which makes it a worthy read in my book. The bulk of the write-up focuses on an interview Ray did in 2007 and so it isn't an up-to-the-minute interview. However, because this write-up appears in a magazine affiliated with the Pilot centers, chances are recognition for Ray's trucker CD will reach an audience unaware of it's availability. I assume Ray will be performing songs from this trucker CD when he starts his touring again later in the year. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I'll not be able to attend any concerts during the second half of his tour but I'm sure those who do will offer commentary or pictures.

This album from 1970 features shaggy hair Ray Stevens...a departure from the appearance in the picture sleeve above...and the thumbnail picture of Greatest Hits features the Ray Stevens look that contemporary audiences are familiar with. The Greatest Hits album was released by RCA in 1983 but it only featured two songs that Ray recorded for the label, "Shriner's Convention" from 1980 and "The Dooright Family", also from 1980. In a previous blog I wrote about my frustration in RCA not putting more singles on that collection but I guess the label redeemed themselves in 1985 with the release of Collector's Series which featured 8 recordings on the RCA label. Whether you're a long-time fan or are one just discovering his songs on the internet...Ray has a LOT of music to offer in various styles and genre's. He isn't all comedy...as you'll find out when you hear One for the Road.

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