December 11, 2010

Under-Rated Ray Stevens Albums...

Given the title of this blog it's easy to lump in a lot of Ray Stevens albums and classify them as under-rated...simply because I feel he's under-rated, period! Having said that it's nice to shine the light on a couple of mid '80s albums that were issued which have become under-rated in comparison to other projects released around the same time.

Some may wonder how can a greatest hits collection possibly be under-rated. Afterall, it contains hit songs and commercial singles. Well, this particular collection is under-rated because of a bigger seller hits collection released the same year, 1987. Greatest Hits featured pretty much all the signature hit songs from Ray Stevens while Greatest Hits, Volume Two featured other hits and more contemporary releases. During the mid '80s when newer audiences were discovering Ray Stevens...he was being marketed strictly as a country comedian by MCA...a lot of his earlier recordings were being re-issued on album and throughout much of the '80s and into the '90s there was a flood of Ray Stevens compilation albums and CD's all over the market. His earlier recordings were finding a new audience and the reason why Greatest Hits, Volume Two became under-rated is due to the high sales of it's predecessor, Greatest Hits. The Greatest Hits release became a huge hit album...and would eventually become a million seller. The reason it became a million seller is because it includes all the important releases in his career: "The Streak", "Everything Is Beautiful", "Gitarzan", "Shriner's Convention", "It's Me Again, Margaret", "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", etc. etc.

Some may wonder: "If those recordings is all it took for the album to go Platinum why didn't other compilation albums from the late '70s and early '80s go Gold or Platinum, too, since they basically all featured the same songs?".

The answer to that question, in my opinion, has to do with awareness, popularity, publicity, and timing. In 1983 the RCA label issued a Greatest Hits collection on Ray which featured just about all the songs on the 1987 compilation from MCA. The reason why the 1987 album went Platinum while the 1983 album didn't even reach Gold status is because of the lack of publicity and awareness. This is why in a lot of my blogs I shine the spotlight on albums that I feel didn't generate a lot of publicity from record companies.

Greatest Hits, Volume Two as I mentioned features several earlier recordings from Ray but unlike it's predecessor the collection includes a bit more modern-day recordings. The Platinum selling Greatest Hits that MCA issued in 1987 included only two recent recordings from Ray and those were 1984's "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and "It's Me Again, Margaret". By comparison, Volume Two featured recordings from 1985, 1986, and 1987 in addition to material from the '60s and '70s.

Each of the greatest hits albums MCA issued on Ray in 1987 were combined for a television-only collection titled Get The Best of Ray Stevens. This may be considered one of Ray's earliest ventures in direct-mail as it was only available by mail-order...and there was a commercial produced for the collection as well. I've got this particular collection and it's a 2 album in 1 release. The album opens up like a book as most double LP collections did. Each vinyl LP is housed in it's own separate sleeve. As you can see, the album cover is full of sight-gags. The microphone Ray is holding is stuck inside a stick of dynamite. He's got a black eye, he's lunging upward due to a "kick-me" sign attached to him, smoking a cigar that exploded, and is being squirted with water from a trick flower by one of the two clowns...who's also ready to throw a pie in his face. Not only this but a second clown has a trick gun and the chair has a whoopee cushion sitting on it. Ray's nickname is The Clown Prince of Country Music but the clowns on the album cover can also be a reference to a line in "Shriner's Convention" where some Shriner's were dressed up as clowns during the parade.

The Volume Two release boasted his current hit single at the time, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". The album also featured the brand new recording, "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", plus 1985's "The Haircut Song", 1986's "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?", the radio edited version of 1985's "The Blue Cyclone", 1961's "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills", and others. The unique inclusion of "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?" instead of an actual chart hit from 1986, combined with the fact that Ray continues to this day to perform the song in concert, has enabled the song to be thought of as an actual hit recording. The actual chart hits from Ray in 1986 were "Southern Air" and "The People's Court" while "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?" didn't reach the charts. It nonetheless is a great song.

I received a message from someone who found their way to this blog page asking if I'd make mention of an upcoming appearance from Ronnie Dove. Typically, this being a Ray Stevens blog, I rarely mention other artist's appearances but since Ray played a part in Ronnie's career in the mid '60s I decided to go ahead and make mention of the appearance. The appearance of Ronnie Dove will be on New Year's Eve, December 31st, and you can find out about it at the venue's web-site right here. Once there you can click "Contact Us" for the venue's street address and phone number, etc. etc.

Speaking of under-rated let's look at 1988's I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. I've written a few times about this album in the past. This particular album is the one that shows Ray on the cover dressed up as Will Rogers. The album's colors are black and orange and it features the following recordings...

1. Surfin' U.S.S.R.
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

There was a music video made of the opening track, the topical "Surfin' U.S.S.R.", which incorporates the stylings of The Beach Boys to tell the story of a Soviet submarine that crashes in Malibu, California. The music video includes additional footage not heard on the audio recording: An off-camera news reporter reads a fictional headline from a newspaper which leads to a comical interchange by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Ray, of course, vocally impersonates both political figures. As you can see from the track list it included the 1987 recording of "Mama's In the Sky With Elvis" as well as his version of Michael Jackson's hit song, "Bad". The arrangement starts out sounding like something you'd hear on an R&B album of that time period but mid-way through the song it turns into a much more countrified arrangement.

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