July 31, 2011

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 3...

Unreal is quite an album from Ray Stevens. The collection came along in 1970 as the second album by Ray Stevens on the Barnaby label. Officially there are three exclamation points after the album's title but I hardly ever include them whenever I write about the album. This album includes a lot of topical songs...a keen understanding of history will go a long way for some to enjoy the collection as most of the songs deal with some sort of news item of the day. Protests, social turmoil, anti-war riots, and general chaos were on the menu during the late '60s/early '70s era. This one album, in particular, seriously tackled a lot of the issues of the day and it's one of his all-time best. The political aspect of a lot of the songs are common sense, middle-of-the-road observations of the 1969-1970 political scene. Ironically, much in the same way that a lot of Ray's modern-day songs reflect a common sense approach to 2011 politics the very same thing was happening on this album but with an obvious 1970 flavor. I always like to point out this 1970 album whenever a modern-day critic accuses Ray of "being political all of the sudden". Those who really pay attention to Ray's music are well aware of this album and are aware that Ray's an Independent thinker and continues to be one...in spite of what his critics would have you believe.

The album contains 11 songs...9 of which were written by Ray Stevens! The only songs that Ray didn't write were "Come Around" and "Talking". In the case of the latter Ray's brother, John, wrote the song. A writer credited as B. Smith wrote "Come Around".

The album's title, Unreal, or Unreal!!! as it appears on the album cover, as far as I know was lifted from "Sunset Strip". Within the song's chorus the background vocals (all Ray Stevens I might add!) can be heard singing "something Unreal about you!" several times. "Sunset Strip" is arranged to show reverence to the sounds of the Beach Boys. The song became a Top-20 hit on the Easy-Listening chart.

1. Sunset Strip
2. Can We Get To That? (social comment)
3. Imitation of Life (love song)
4. Night People
5. America, Communicate With Me (political/topical)
6. Come Around (social comment)
7. Loving You On Paper (topical)
8. Dream Girl (love song)
9. Monkey See, Monkey Do (social comment)
10. Talking (political/topical)
11. Islands (love song)

Besides "Sunset Strip", the album contains another Easy-Listening Top-20 hit...the very topical "America, Communicate With Me". The song is often misinterpreted today as being a full-on 100% show of support for liberal politics and the anti-war movement but in reality, if you listen carefully, Ray's political Independence is heard loud and clear as he examines the problems going on in the country and he offers his solutions on how problems can be solved.

The most revealing aspect of the song's true intent, for those still unclear about the song's message, is near the end when he sings about remaining loyal to the country and in spite of the wars and protests going on...brought about by both political parties...that he'll continue to be a patriot that won't turn his back on the country or wish it were like some foreign land whose people have no freedom or rights. The song, as I mentioned, has a distinctly Independent flavor and I can bet that Ray wrote the song and put it out to give a voice to those who were often over-looked by the extremes in both political parties. All anyone has to do is listen to the song's opening lines to understand how Independently thought out the song is...but nevertheless some people out there who've discovered the song in the last several years have gone to great lengths to paint the song in a decidedly liberal direction perhaps in the hopes of undermining Ray's modern-day political success with conservatives and those who consider themselves members of the Tea Party? Whatever their motive is the facts always defuse the left-wing bomb throwers of the world.

"Night People", "Sunset Strip", "Imitation of Life", "Islands", and "Dream Girl" depart from the political, topical, and social comment nature of the album. So it's like half the album is distinctly political and topical while the other half of the album breaks up the mood, just a bit.

The 1970 album was issued on CD and Mp3 in 2005. It marked the first time that all the songs from the album had been in commercial circulation in more than 30 years. Up until 2005 Ray's Barnaby albums had remained in the vaults and never re-issued on CD...but that all changed when Collectible's Records re-issued 6 of Ray's Barnaby albums in 2005.

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