January 13, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 22...

Although we're a few months shy, 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of I Have Returned reaching the #1 spot on the country album chart. The comedy album from Ray Stevens was released late fall 1985 and it started a slow climb to #1. One of the key factors in Ray's longevity is the way he can prolong just about any song, album, or home video/DVD and get all that he can from each project. This album, released in 1985, reached the country album chart in October of 1985...and it didn't reach it's peak until March 1986. See, I wasn't exaggerating when I said that it was a slow climb to #1...a 5 month climb specifically. This is not usual for most albums, of course. Typically an album debuts in or around it's peak position...most albums by country artists today routinely debut in the Top-10. A lot of singers have albums that debut at #1 as well...it's highly unusual for a CD to debut on the album chart and then reach it's peak 5 months later. Prolonged publicity and prolonged attention spans just aren't commonplace in today's music scene...unless you're Ray Stevens and therefore have the talent and ability to prolong your music for months at a time...racking up considerable longevity in the process.

Turning 25 this year is his 1986 comedy album, Surely You Joust. The name of the album, of course, is a pun on the phrase "surely you jest". The Knight in Shining Armor is a reference to King Arthur. Ray had been appearing in costume as historical figures on his first two comedy albums on MCA: 1984's He Thinks He's Ray Stevens has Ray in costume as Napoleon while 1985's I Have Returned, shown above, shows Ray in costume as General MacArthur...and this time around we have Ray in costume as King Arthur. Ray's Clyde the Camel logo is prominently on display. On this particular album there were a few urbane comedy recordings, if that's the proper word? There were still large aspects of country comedy and the rural life on this album...particularly in the album's first two tracks: "Southern Air" and "The People's Court".

Incidentally, "Southern Air" is a trio recording. It features Ray along with Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl. "The People's Court" features a rural couple who decide they've had enough of one another and it's time to go on TV and tell the world all the problems they have with each other. Ray uses him famed grandmother vocal impression for the wife, Myrna Louise. As Arlow, the husband, Ray speaks in a thicker rural accent. The picture on the left is the seldom seen flip-side image of Ray's 1986 album. A few of Ray's albums would feature different poses on the flip-side taken during the same photo session. This, of course, caused the flip-side of his album covers to be as highly entertaining and eye-catching as the front sides were. "Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation" and "Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat" conveyed a southern feeling as well.

Hi-tech gadgetry and computers were the main focus on "Bionie and the Robotics", an incredible recording where Ray sings most of the song as if he were a robot. "Fat" is a song about a man who feels as if he's so overweight to the point where he can hardly fit in his car among other things. It's a very funny recording and a slice of social commentary in that it pokes fun at the health-conscious. A performance of Ray singing this song when it was brand new, in 1986, can be found on You Tube. The 1986 album also features "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?" and it's also available on You Tube from the same 1986 TV appearance. Unfortunately the interview segment from the TV show isn't uploaded...I had asked the uploader if he had the interview segment, too, but I never got a reply. This album closes with "Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol", a song detailing Ray being pulled over for speeding and the eventual nightmare that ensues when he learns that characters he's sang about in previous recordings actually exist and are mad at him. Dudley Dorite turns out to be Bubba, a character from "Shriner's Convention"...Dorite's deputy is Coy, also from that same song. It goes on and on from there. The track list...

1. Southern Air- w/Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl
2. The People's Court
3. Bionie and the Robotics
4. Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation
5. Fat
6. Can He Love You Half as Much as I?
7. Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat
8. The Camping Trip
9. Camp Werthahekahwee
10. Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol

Moving on...

I have no idea who Al Campbell is but this description accompanies the #1 With a Bullet CD on a variety of on-line music stores...

quote: "#1 with a Bullet collects ten tracks recorded during Ray Stevens' tenure with Curb Records in the late '80s and early '90s, including the original versions of "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens," "Working for the Japanese," and "Power Tools." This collection is a good bargain for the budget-conscious, but does not feature any of his classic novelty tunes from the '60s and '70s. ~ Al Campbell."

It's an embarrassing description, if you happen to be dedicated/loyal fans of Ray Stevens, because of the way the CD is being erroneously detailed. The writer of the description apparently thinks that #1 With a Bullet is a compilation CD due to his remark that the CD "collects 10 tracks recorded during Ray Stevens' tenure with Curb Records in the late '80s and early '90s". Ray was still on MCA in the late '80s. He didn't join Curb until early 1990. The closing remark is also an example of how the descriptive language from the writer implies that he thought this CD was a compilation when he states that it doesn't contain any of Ray's classic novelty songs from the '60s and '70s.

The fact of the matter is #1 With a Bullet wasn't a compilation CD. It's considered a studio CD. The difference between a compilation and studio CD is that a compilation features previously recorded material from the past while a studio CD features newly recorded songs. The title of the CD clearly must have confused Campbell but then if he had did just a little bit of research on the CD he wouldn't have written a description that lacks accuracy. This description, as I mentioned, accompanies this CD on most on-line music stores...leaving some to think that the material on the CD was previously released at some point. This studio CD, released in 1991, turns 20 this year...something I remarked on in a previous blog.

Later this year will mark the 15th anniversary of Get Serious becoming available in retail stores. The actual month, 15 years ago in 1996, was December. Get Serious had been available exclusively through direct-mail as well as Ray Stevens' fan club during late summer 1995 through late summer 1996. The home video had sold more than 200,000 copies, qualifying it for Double-Platinum certification, prior to it's retail distribution during the 1996 Christmas season. The home video movie would eventually become a multi-week chart hit on Billboard's weekly video chart...spending nearly 30 weeks as one of the best-selling home videos in the country. This is the same chart where Ray spent months at #1 with Comedy Video Classics in 1993 and into 1994 as well as Ray Stevens Live! throughout 1994. Get Serious made it's chart debut late January 1997 and would remain consistently ranked among the top-sellers in home video through July 1997. Due to the passage of time and the fact that this home video movie has long been unavailable it's caused a lot of people to have no idea that it exists. The home video movie was advertised on TV in 1995...though mostly confined to The Nashville Network...but it also shown up on other television channels as well. It didn't receive the massive advertising that Comedy Video Classics and Ray Stevens Live! had received but Get Serious did get it's fair share of publicity at the time of it's release. I'd say the home video stopped being manufactured by MCA at some point in 1998 and since that time it's become obscure.

Here's another review I've written of the movie and it contains spoilers. Spoilers, for those unaware, is review jargon indicating that within the review there will be commentary that may reveal climatic moments and so for those who don't want to know a lot about the film before they see it for themselves they may hold off on reading a review that contains spoilers...so, here's the Get Serious review complete with several spoilers...

The plot of the movie was built around political correctness but it also spoofed the music industry as well...at a time when consolidation in the music industry was becoming far too frequent. In Ray's movie he records for Integrity Records but it's soon bought by a Japanese conglomerate named SoSumi Records. A scene in the movie shows construction workers literally chain-sawing the Integrity Records sign from the front lawn and replacing it with the glossy looking SoSumi Records, complete with Japanese music playing in the background. The new label is pronounced "So Sue Me".

The Paul Lynde-sounding Damien Darth, the record executive, wants to make too many unnecessary changes...the big change is trying to make Ray Stevens "get serious" and stop all the comedy songs and video making. Ray, at first thinking it's a joke, is soon horrified that the executive is serious with the suggestions. Ray refuses...which causes friction between him and the executive. In revenge the record executive and his underlings hatch a plot to ruin Ray's career by hiring fake protesters to accuse Ray of being politically incorrect. They figure with an artist as clean-cut as Ray Stevens the only way they can harm him is accuse him of being politically incorrect.

During the rehearsal of the "Ahab the Arab" music video the actress playing Fatima complains about supposedly sexist lyrics. The actress, of course, was hired by the record executive to protest the song. Moments later, the actress is seen talking to TV reporters outside the studio and fueling the fire about political incorrectness in Ray's songs.

The plot thickens as a group of people, rounded up by Dudley Dorite and therefore have no connection to the record executive, decide to band together and protest Ray's comedy as being insensitive...this group of people happen to have the same names of characters that have appeared in various Ray Stevens songs: Harv Newland, Sister Bertha, Clyde, etc etc. and their main complaint is character defamation.

Longtime fans of Ray will no doubt realize that his 1986 recording, "Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol", plays a big part in this movie's sub-plot. In fact, Dudley Dorite is one of the main characters in the movie. Dudley's played by Ray's frequent songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb.

Mid-way through the movie Ray is reunited with a former lover, Charlene MacKenzie. Eventually Ray is arrested, taken to court, and later put inside a dungeon...literally. He encounters a family who've been chained up in the dungeon for decades.

Later, Charlene breaks Ray out of jail and the two of them embark on a long journey evading Dudley Dorite and his group in addition to the record executive and his group. By movie's end the record executive has become more and more sinister...to the point of madness. I believe this is a spoof on how controlling record executives and those in the music industry generally are when it comes to the roster of artists on the various record labels. Damien Darth becomes so obsessed with controlling Ray's music direction AND life by this point. The irrational, corrupt psychiatrist Sickmind Fraud enters the action around this time, too. Obviously a play on the name, Sigmund Freud.

Sickmind apparently spends most of his day riding a toy horse and making passes at his nurse...which is what we see him do in his first scene. Ray portrays Sickmind...with a heavy Americanized German dialect. Also, Sickmind is dressed as Napoleon...and now you all understand why Ray's dressed the way he is on the home video's cover. Sickmind later sings "I Used To Be Crazy"...one of the last music videos in the movie. The song originated in 1989 on Ray's excellent Beside Myself album and in that recording Ray sings the song in his own voice...but in this 1995 re-recording he sings it in character as Sickmind Fraud.

In addition to the conventional movie there are 10 all-new music videos interwoven throughout:

1. Gitarzan
2. The Woogie Boogie
3. Shriner's Convention
4. Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol
5. We Don't Take Nuthin' Off Nobody**
6. The Dooright Family
7. Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens*
8. Can He Love You Half as Much as I?
9. I Used To Be Crazy
10. Ahab the Arab

(*)- "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" was one of the new recordings did exclusively for the movie. It's performed as a duet with his co-star, Connie Freeman, the actress playing the part of Charlene MacKenzie. The two of them are hiding in a chicken coop, dressed in chicken costumes, and upon discovery by Deputy Coy they try to escape but not before they perform that song-and-dance number.

(**)- "We Don't Take Nuthin' Off Nobody" is a partially performed recording/music video. The full-length recording of the song is available on the Get Serious soundtrack. Ray sings the song in character as Luther, the head of the family that's been chained up in a dungeon for decades because they refused to pay an inexpensive bill. Luther has a thick southern accent in addition to long hair and a long beard.

The movie, being a comedy, ends on a happy note with Ray being cleared of all charges and all accusations with the record executive being put in his place. The movie features cameo appearances by a string of performers associated with country comedy and country music in general: Charlie Chase, Chet Atkins, Johnny Russell, George Lindsey, Williams & Ree, and James Gregory. Jerry Clower is a supporting player...his appearances are sprinkled throughout the movie. An actor named Tim Hubbard portrays the easily confused Deputy Coy. Ray's brother, John Ragsdale, plays the role of Clyde and can also be seen as an Indian in the "Woogie Boogie" video as well as playing a member of The Sultan's army. Buddy Kalb plays the part of Dudley Dorite/Bubba as well as a Woogie Indian and The Sultan. Michael Airington portrays the power hungry, obsessive record executive Damien Darth. Ray not only plays himself but he also portrays an Indian, a Calcutta rug salesman, a Judge, Luther, Gitarzan, Coy and Bubba in the "Shriner's Convention" music video, Daddy Dooright, Sickmind Fraud, and of course, "Ahab the Arab".

Get Serious can often be found on eBay...so for those fans of Ray Stevens who want the only movie he's ever made I encourage you to seek out the movie. It's highly entertaining and satiric in places. If you pay close attention in the opening scenes where Ray's inside the offices of the record company you'll no doubt notice all those Gold and Platinum albums and singles on the wall awarded to Ray Stevens through the years. They're all legitimate. In one scene you can clearly see the Platinum certification plaque for his 1987 MCA album, Greatest Hits. There's also a plaque displaying several Gold singles side by side indicating the various millions of copies a single had sold. Back then, Gold certification was 1,000,000 copies and higher...there wasn't any certification for music that sold half a million as there is today. It wasn't until 1976 that the Platinum certification was introduced for sales of 1,000,000 and higher. Gold certification then became indicative of 500,000 {half a million} in sales.

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