December 27, 2009

Ray Stevens: Musings from a loyal fan

While searching the internet earlier tonight I never realized it until now that in just about every instance where someone says they're a fan of Ray Stevens they almost always say that they've been a fan since they were a kid or a teenager. I've yet to come across someone on-line that says that they just discovered Ray Stevens and that they're in their 40s, or older. It made me wonder how many people out there learned of Ray Stevens in their youth. Chances are the biggest reason most younger people of today say they've been a fan of his ever since their childhood is due in large part to the comedy songs and the comedy music videos. They appealed to audiences of nearly any age that cared to take a listen or take a look when it came to a music video. In my case I became a fan of his in my childhood, too. The material from his 1984 comedy album, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens, was among my first exposures to his songs. I then heard the hit songs from his 1987 Greatest Hits album which contained quite a few 1960's and 1970's recordings...and then there was the 1986 Surely You Joust album along with the 1987 Crackin' Up album. Those four albums, I should say cassette tapes, were my grandfather's until I took possession of them in my teenage years. I grew up on those 1980's albums and his comedy side had always been my preferred choice. It still is my preferred choice but as I got older and was able to add to the modest collection, all of his non-comedy songs throughout his long career became just as familiar to me through repeated listens as the comedy material I grew up hearing. Today when I hear the 1980's comedy songs he recorded for MCA it always causes me to think back to the times when I'd listen to the recordings on car trips with the grandparent's.

I added vinyl albums to my Ray collection this decade. Thanks to my internet access around the start of the decade I was able to shop at places like eBay and Amazon and other on-line stores that often sold vinyl albums you just couldn't find anywhere...not even flea markets in my area carried anything by Ray Stevens on vinyl. So, thanks to the internet and some other sources, I was able to slowly build a collection of Ray Stevens on vinyl in both 45 and LP format. The album that I'm looking at is his 1988 album, I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. I had actually found it on cassette in the early 1990's and my grandfather bought it for me. I had thought at the time I had stumbled upon a rare collection of material because none of the songs were the early '90s I had seen Ray various times on television shows and he never performed songs from that album. So, I figured it was a rare album. It turns out that the album was popular with his audience and with comedy music fans at the time but it lacked a popular single that could have helped keep the album more noteworthy. It's a great collection of songs, though, and several of the songs on the album became popular through word-of-mouth and exposure on social network sites.

Here the vinyl album is, sitting on my turntable. There are 10 songs on the collection...a couple of the songs are quintessential novelty in their strange and peculiar way. The songs in question are the album closer, "Old Hippie Class Reunion", the bluesy "Booger Man", and the darkly humorous "Mama's In The Sky With Elvis" which originally appeared a year earlier on Greatest Hits, Volume Two. Several songs on here take an absurd look at the ordinary and by doing so enhance the mundane into the entertaining. For example, "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex" is a country romp and stomp sing-a-long about satellite television and all of the perks that come with it. The humor comes from the inexperience a family has with more adult-oriented programming that you can't see with basic cable. A vague reference to Dr Ruth is heard within the song's lyrics. "I Don't Need None of That" is a song about the unexpected things that pop up in life.

Track List:

1. Surfin' USSR
2. The Booger Man
3. Mama's In the Sky With Elvis
4. Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex
5. Bad
6. The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive
7. Blood and Suede
8. Ethelene The Truckstop Queen
9. I Don't Need None of That
10. Old Hippie Class Reunion

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