January 6, 2011

Ray Stevens: 45's at 35...

Yeah, I've written about this period in Ray Stevens' career quite a few times over the years but given that 2011 marks the 35th anniversary of several recordings, in addition to a switch in record labels, and a personal anniversary for myself I felt like highlighting 1976 once more.

The year marked the beginning of his association with Warner Brothers records. An association which lasted through 1979. A lot of us fans of Ray Stevens often wonder if Ray was 'happy' while at Warner Brothers or wonder if he and the label had strained relations given the lack of publicity his albums and singles were getting, or not getting, compared to his 5 year run at Barnaby Records to start off the decade. This isn't to say that Ray wasn't successful during his Warner Brothers stay...he had a lot of success with his publishing company during this era and he did enjoy several hit songs sprinkled throughout that 3 year period, 1976-1979.

Just for the Record, the name of Ray's debut album on Warner Brothers in 1976, features two hit singles: "You Are So Beautiful" and "Honky Tonk Waltz". As a visual I decided to use a picture of myself with my new record player. I got this for Christmas last month. It's called a 5-in-1 Entertainment Center...it contains a turntable, radio, cassette player, CD player, and an Mp3 option. This is the third turntable that I have. I have the very first one I bought about 7 years ago...that one came from a newspaper advertisement. I didn't think they manufactured record players anymore and so when I saw the ad I called their number and did some other research to make sure the company was for real. The second record player I own is something I bought at a local shopping store about 3 years ago. It has a cassette player function that I've never tried. I already have a radio with a cassette player tape deck. This latest one I'll more than likely try the other functions just to see the results...but mainly it's for my vinyl albums and singles.

Back to Ray Stevens and 1976...the kick off single for the year was his take on "You Are So Beautiful". This rendition is along the same lines as his take on "Misty" a year earlier in 1975. In "You Are So Beautiful" we hear the banjo, fiddle, and steel guitar among other instruments and the delivery is much more up-tempo...way more up-tempo...than the ballad rendering of Joe Cocker. Ray's up-beat version of the song would become a Top-20 country hit...a definite success to kick off relations under a different record label. Warner Brothers promoted Ray as a country artist...a lot of the TV programs he appeared on from that point onward were country music oriented and much of his albums/singles were moved from the pop section to the country section inside record stores. In spite of the country music publicity the rest of Ray's material on Warner Brothers was still the easy-listening/pop music, with the-sometimes country flavor, that had been featured on nearly all of his 1970's albums for Barnaby Records.

Nevertheless, his debut for Warner Brothers by comparison to the rest of his output for the label in 1977-1979, was much more aligned with country music appeal. His follow-up to "You Are So Beautiful" was the ballad "Honky Tonk Waltz"...a ballad that is mid-tempo and combines two distinctly different styles into one performance: honky-tonk music and a waltz...and the performance became a Top-30 country hit in 1976. The theme of Just For the Record appeared to be music...for several of the song titles on his 1976 album had to do with music in some form or another. As you can see, the singles that were released from this album closed out each side of the record. Tracks #5 and #10.

1. Cornball
2. Gimme A Smile
3. Once In A While
4. One And Only You
5. You Are So Beautiful
6. Can't Stop Dancin'
7. OM
8. One Man Band
9. Country Licks
10. Honky Tonk Waltz

All of these songs, with the exception of "OM" and "Gimme a Smile" were re-released in 1995 as part of Warner Brothers 3-CD/cassette collection of the music he recorded for the label. The re-issued songs were part of the following collections: Cornball, The Serious Side of Ray Stevens, and Do You Wanna Dance?. Those 1995 collections were released with little fanfare and went out of print rather quickly. I believe you can still purchase those collections as Mp3's at Amazon but it's been awhile since I've checked Ray's Mp3 section.

Ray closed out 1976 with the release of "In the Mood", a recording released under the name of the Henhouse Five Plus Too. The recording, a novelty without question, features Ray chicken clucking Glen Miller's instrumental. This single was backed with "Classical Cluck" and the chart debut came in January of 1977...but it had been released late in 1976. The single reached the Top-40 of the country, pop, and UK music charts in early 1977...it's one of the two recordings that have come to define his stay at Warner Brothers, the other being his unexpected 1979 novelty hit "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Those two recordings are the ones that have appeared on the many compilation albums that surfaced in the 1980's and early 1990's and as a result those two songs have gotten the most exposure...they've gotten so much exposure that most people who've bought Ray Stevens collections through the years probably think Ray only had two hit songs while with Warner Brothers simply because his other recordings for the label have never appeared on any best-of or Greatest Hits release....until 1995 came along and the 3-CD/cassette project, that I mentioned earlier, was issued.

At the start of this blog entry I mentioned 1976 also marks a personal anniversary. Well, more like a birth year...I was born in December of 1976...so at the end of this year I'll reach the 35 mark.

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