In my previous blog entry I examined the year 1992 and today we'll journey 30 years prior to that in 1962! This is the year that is all-important in the career of Ray Stevens because it was 1962 that saw the debut of "Ahab the Arab". This single would tickle the funny bone of America and eventually peak inside the Top-5 of the Hot 100 pop chart. If that wasn't exciting enough the single also crossed-over and reached the Top-10 on the R&B chart. The single was reported to sell over a million copies...it was the third million selling single that Ray was a part of during a recording session at Mercury. Ray took part in the recording of "Wooden Heart" by Joe Dowell and "Walk on By", a huge hit for Leroy Van Dyke. The producer of Ray's material in 1962 was a man by the name of Shelby Singleton. In those days Ray wasn't the producer of his songs but he dabbled in arranging and session work and he slowly stepped into the producer's chair once he joined the Monument label. Ray wrote or co-wrote a large majority of his songs...something that would continue virtually non-stop through the early 1980's before he scaled back on his songwriting to maybe one or two per album.
The teenage love ballad "It's Been So Long" is the B-side of "Ahab the Arab". It's amazing that although the single sold in the millions because of the A-side nobody remembers the B-side...and perhaps one of the trade-offs in the early and mid '60s for Ray is that while he was becoming known in the pop music world as a novelty artist/comedy singer he was allowed to put serious, non-comical recordings as B-sides. Possibly someone out there would have thought to turn the single over and listen to the serious artist beneath the comical image...and perhaps there were people out there who in fact did listen to the single's B-side but certainly not enough people to garner attention to it...and so it would take several years before the serious side of Ray Stevens gained a widespread following.
Late 1962 saw the release of the holiday single, "Santa Claus Is Watching You". There is a longer version and then there is the edited version for radio stations. The longer version includes additional lyrics and features Ray describing the click-clack-click of the reindeer hoofs and the direction in which the reindeer are flying amongst other things. The radio edit cuts out this verse...but the edit is so obvious that those who are unaware that there are two versions could tell there was an edit in the recording. Ray's speech pattern jumps from mid-tempo to up-tempo in split second fashion in the radio edit that you're left wondering "was something cut out?".
The unedited recording of the song is on the Rhino collection, The Best of Ray Stevens. The single would peak in the Top-50 on the pop chart...it would get almost entirely re-written by Ray in 1985 and it's that recording most people are familiar with. The 1962 recording is much more directed at children while the 1985 update is geared toward the adults. The edited version can be found on All-Time Hits, issued by Mercury in 1996 as well as the 1970 compilation, The Best of Ray Stevens, that Mercury released. In addition to the 1997 collection from Rhino, the unedited 1962 version of the song can be found on You Tube...uploaded by a user named verycoolsound...and here it is...