January 9, 2010

Ray Stevens: We The People are Awakened

The feeling continues to grow as "We The People" climbs into the Top-30 on Amazon's best-selling MP3 list. As far as country music MP3's are concerned it's still among the Top-3. The official web-site of Ray Stevens crashed multiple times on Friday January 8th and a lot of it had to do with increased traffic which as everyone knows causes a web-site to crash. I believe a lot of this increased traffic stems from the television exposure that Ray's music video had in a brief segment on The O'Reilly Factor. I think that the exposure helped to introduce the song to those who aren't as conversant when it comes to social networks like You Tube or Facebook and as a result even more visitors checked out Ray's web-site looking for the ObamaCare information. There's always a risk or a slim chance that an internet hit isn't well known outside the confines of cyber-space. Some people who don't frequent places like You Tube or just don't even pay attention aren't going to know a music video is available. One of the things that this experience has done with "We The People" taking on a life of it's own is that a good 75 to 80% of people weren't even aware that Ray had been active. A lot of people make the statement that they thought he had retired or had died years ago...so on one hand it's satisfying to see Ray get a lot of media hype and attention and on the other hand it's ironic to see that a lot of people didn't, on their own, seek Ray's music out and instead are just becoming aware of his presence through the "We The People" song.

There's also a good chance that people who discovered Ray through this song will check out his catalog of music...which dates back to the late 1950's. I think one of the things that's surprising to a lot of people who weren't really into all things Ray Stevens is how serious he actually is. As I mentioned in the earliest blog entries that I wrote, Ray had always wanted to be taken seriously and sing serious songs and love ballads but he had a sense of humor and also wanted to express it occasionally. The thing that happened, as long-time fans already know, is that the love ballads and non-comical songs weren't obtaining the same degree of attention from the buying public. One of the things that may be fascinating for some to learn is that the music critics, both in pop and country, almost always gave Ray's serious side good reviews and they would groan and bellyache whenever he'd issue a comical song or an entire album of comical songs. The exact opposite would occur with the buying public...with the exception of a few non-comical songs from Ray that achieved Top-40 rankings, nearly all of his biggest commercial successes came with the comical material. So it was like the buyers wanted fun and silliness from Ray while the critics wanted the serious, thought-provoking Ray.

Those who are amazed or surprised that Ray has serious opinions and world views perhaps thought that an artist known for light, comical banter doesn't take anything seriously? That's just my guess as to why some out there are shocked or stunned by the song...more stunned that it came from someone like Ray whose branded "safe" or "non-threatening". I think the very idea that the song comes from someone the public would least expect is where the 'novelty' aspect comes from...even though the lyrics are dead-serious. This is where I think the genius of Ray Stevens shines through and it has to do with the song's arrangement and the humorous music video imagery. The arrangement is bouncy and the chorus is catchy while the music video is funny to watch...and something else that's funny...

I've been a fan of Ray's 1974 single, "The Moonlight Special", ever since I first heard the song. It was on a 1983 Greatest Hits tape that RCA issued. The tape came into my possession during the early '90s when I located it at K-Mart. The song is a parody of the Midnight Special TV show which featured Wolfman Jack. I happen to think that the inability of a lot of teenagers and even young adults to laugh at themselves is why the single wasn't as big a hit as I think it should have been. As far as statistics go the single peaked just inside the Top-75 of the pop music chart and I believe it was based upon strength of sales instead of airplay. I did a blog entry about this single and titled it "Anniversary Under the Moonlight". 2009 had marked the single's 35th anniversary. The song itself is broken into three acts and the Sheep Dog acts as presenter/emcee. The Sheep Dog, of course, is the Wolfman Jack parody. Ray's own voice appears throughout singing the chorus of the song...but mostly the song is composed of his impressions of Wolfman Jack and the guests appearing on "The Moonlight Special".

For those who want to hear an R&B, bluesy take on "Indian Love Call" look no further than Ray's version of the song. He recorded it in 1975 and it became a Top-40 country music hit. Surprisingly the single didn't do as well with the pop audiences and that's perhaps because the overall feel of the song didn't mesh with the sound of pop radio at the time...or another reason could be that pop music DJ's didn't like the song altogether, no matter whose singing it. Some songs just seem to have this vibe that causes DJ's or music buyers to freak out and they don't want to hear the song by any artist and perhaps "Indian Love Call" is one of those songs? If that's the case the sentiments don't extend to the pop-standards crowd who loved the first known recording by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in 1936. Slim Whitman recorded the song in 1952 and his version is often considered the definitive recording because of his yodeling techniques when phrasing some of the lyrics. Ray's version I'd assume was a sleeper hit with country audiences because it doesn't exactly sound 'country' and the origins of the song aren't 'country'. I will make the assumption that a big factor in the song's acceptance had to do with Ray himself and perhaps the country DJ's getting a kick out of Ray's bluesy arrangement.

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