November 7, 2010

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

Although it doesn't pertain to the entire world some places utilize time change. On Sunday November 7th at 2am the clocks were set back 1 hour to conclude Daylight Savings Time for the year. The gain of 1 hour will be the norm through the spring when the clocks are moved up 1 hour. Spring forward, Fall back. Speaking of setting the time clock back let's go back in time to was this year that saw the release of a couple of gospel songs from Ray Stevens which eventually lead to an entire gospel album, Turn Your Radio On. I wrote about "A Mama and a Papa" in a previous blog...and I posted one of the various picture sleeve's of the single, too. That particular single featured "Bridget the Midget" as the A-side but I came across another picture sleeve which shows "A Mama and a Papa" as the A-side and "Melt" as it's B-side.

The "Melt" song is originally what appeared as the B-side here in America...and as I remarked in a previous blog "Melt" has never been made available on any LP album, cassette, CD, or Mp3. To this day, as far as I know, it's only available as the B-side to "A Mama and a Papa". Let me see if I can describe the arrangement as best as I can for those who've never heard "Melt" before. It starts out with loud emphasis on if the microphone was placed inches above the hammers of the piano and it probably was. Ray delivers the song in a sort of melancholy voice which stands in contrast to the full-on, romantically charged lyrics...and the melody escalates as it reaches the chorus. When I first heard the song it made me think of something of British has that international sound, as I call it. Musically it doesn't sound like a song meant for America simply because of how different it sounded. The sound of a song, for Ray Stevens, is just as crucial as the actual lyrics. This is why he takes arranging any song seriously whether it's comical or non-comical. I've read quotes by Ray where he's said things like "I want my recordings to tell a story musically as well as lyrically".

I imagine half the fun for Ray is coming up with what instruments will be used on each recording. He's also said, when asked about his unique embrace of both country and pop, that a piano doesn't know if it's pop or country since it isn't a living creature...and a song doesn't know if it's pop or country. It's all up to the singer, producer, and music arranger to determine which style a song is to be performed; and, of course, Ray's been his own producer and arranger for decades and so whatever you hear from Ray on any of his albums throughout the last 40 plus years is a result of his own judgment and interpretation.

Speaking of music arrangement and the like...this particular single from Ray Stevens is glorious in it's production and performance. "Sunset Strip" obviously pays tribute to the Sunset Strip but it also doubles as a nod to the West Coast music scene of that time period...specifically the Beach Boys sound. Now, now...before anyone out there can say this is the type of song that the so-called former "liberal, Democrat Ray Stevens" preferred prior to his "Tea Party metamorphosis" I would encourage people to actually listen to the song before drawing any political conclusions. "Sunset Strip" is a non-political song...even though some who hear it may walk away with the belief that Ray's in love with all things California...including their mostly liberal politics. What I took from the song is a basic study of the social scene as seen through the eyes and mind of one brand new to that culture...not exactly an endorsement of any political party. Having the urge to escape real life for a day or two isn't indicative of being a Democrat or Republican...more or less it's basic human nature to get away from reality every now and then. "Sunset Strip" offers that escape. It's B-side, "Islands", is a love song about a relationship gone bad and how the man and woman reside on two separate islands, figuratively, unable to reunite. Each of these songs, from 1970, are from his Unreal album. This album was released a couple years ago on CD accompanied with his other 1970 album, Everything Is Beautiful.

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