September 4, 2010

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part Six...

Although not noted as a balladeer or a crooner, Ray Stevens has recorded his share of love songs through the years. His material was at it's most's most romantic, depending on how you look at it, while recording for RCA in the early '80s. This isn't to say he hadn't recorded love songs before...but a good look at his RCA material shows just how reliant he was on the love song. Although his first RCA album in 1980 was all-comedy he followed it in 1981 and 1982 with two back-to-back albums crammed with love ballads. "Written Down In My Heart" came along in 1982...I happen to love the became a Top-40 country hit that year and it's taken from his Don't Laugh Now album. As I've written about before, Ray was hell-bent on recording serious songs, and that is why not much time was given to the Shriners Convention album in 1980...after the title track quickly became a hit early in 1980 he found himself shifting focus toward serious material just as quickly. This is why nothing else was issued as a single from that 1980 shown how eager Ray was at getting back to non-comedy songs. This desire was made more evident late in 1980 when "Night Games", a single from a forthcoming album, was released. The forthcoming album turned out to be One More Last Chance. In fact, "Shriner's Convention" hit in early February of 1980 and "Night Games" was issued in September 1980. This didn't allow for much attention for further comedy singles as you can see. The 1980 album hit in February of 1980 as well...and remained on the country charts for more than 20 weeks.

Tragically, though, neither the 1981 or 1982 albums that Ray recorded for RCA entered the country album chart. Again...this is either because the label didn't accurately promote the albums or the very nature of the albums being romantic and in contrast with Ray's public image ultimately told the story. Ray's reputation was cemented on novelty songs...and the non-comedy songs that he recorded were considered off-beat as well due to their distinct presentation vocally and musically...the 1981 and 1982 albums represent Ray tackling straight-forward love songs with a mainstream approach. However, his cover of "Pretend" showcases what some would consider his off-beat/unconventional approach as the arrangement is full-blown Mexican/Spanish. I feel it rather bizarre that Ray's 1981 album would feature two Top-40 hit singles and yet fail to reach the album chart. The art deco was uniquely early '80s country music...urban cowboy imagery...and ten songs that ran the gamut of emotions.

1. One More Last Chance {Top-40 country hit}
2. Just About Love
3. Certain Songs
4. Melissa
5. I Believe You Love Me
6. Pretend
7. It's Not All Over
8. Let's Do It Right This Time
9. Take Your Love
10. Night Games {Top-20 country hit}

Hum It...yes, that's a comedy album Ray Stevens released in 1997 on the MCA label. His return to MCA was not necessarily a carbon copy of his original MCA era, 1984-1989, but it did spawn two new music videos in the form of "Virgil and the Moonshot" and "Too Drunk To Fish". Ray uploaded the music video of this song to You Tube 9 months ago...the video was taped/filmed in 1997. The video isn't uploaded on his main page at You Tube, though. It's instead located at a secondary profile page called RayStevensVEVO which features just this one music video and nothing else. The video features his songwriting friend, Buddy Kalb, periodically. Those familiar with Ray's career and his music videos will certainly recognize Buddy from the many different music videos Ray has starred in.

By the time Ray joined MCA again at some point in late 1996 the music industry had changed so much...not only in marketing strategies and demographics but also in content. MCA in hindsight perhaps didn't know how to market Ray Stevens as successfully as they had in the past. Also, the on-coming reliance on cyberspace and the internet severely crippled traditional methods of marketing...magazine publications were either going out of business or switching to on-line, text-driven resources with little to no place for visual publicity. In traditional music magazines you could skim through the pages and see advertisements for many CD's from newer acts and current superstars. In an on-line version of a magazine this form of marketing/advertising is scarce. MCA's first release on Ray was the retail distribution of his 1995 home video movie, Get Serious!. Ray had initially sold over a hundred thousand copies of the home video through television commercials. Ray would also launch the promotion campaign of the home video on an episode of the national prime-time program, Music City Tonight. The program aired on The Nashville Network and was hosted by Crook and Chase. The episode was billed as Get Serious Night and it featured Ray and quite a few guests that made cameo appearances in the movie. The home video would ultimately reach the Top-5 on Billboard's Video chart in early 1997. Ray released just two audio albums for MCA and both of them came in 1997. Hum It was first and then by year's end he issued a much-anticipated holiday album, Christmas Through a Different Window.

This album got a bit more publicity thanks in part to a series of Christmas concerts that Ray addition to publicity generated the following Christmas seasons when he did several concerts at the Acuff Theater. These concerts were heavily promoted on the Grand Ole Opry...I can still remember hearing Opry announcers like Eddie Stubbs and former announcer, Hairl Hensley, reading the commercials for Ray's holiday concerts. Ray appeared on The Statler Brothers Show and performed a couple of songs from the album: "The Annual Office Christmas Party" and "Bad Little Boy". In the performance of that song Ray was seated on a gigantic rocking chair in an attempt to make him look small. Ray performs the song in a little boy voice.

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