August 29, 2011

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 9...

Released in 1988 is this comedy album that I've written about before...the collection of songs is called I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like as you can see. The album was almost overshadowed by the on-going success of his 1987 topical single, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". In previous blog entries I've mentioned the fact that a lot of newspaper columnists and commentators outside of country music were discovering Ray's 1987 single months after it had been a hit. Paul Harvey, for example, wrote a column about the song in early 1988 (nearly a year after it's release). In the meantime Ray's 1988 album featured 10 comical recordings...some of the recordings were adventurous in that their sound and production were unlike anything on previous Ray Stevens comedy albums of the era. The album's main attraction, at the time, was "Surfin' U.S.S.R." which Ray sang in the style of the Beach Boys. The music video offers visual gags...particularly a scene where Ray, dressed as a sailor, holds up a picture of John Lennon whereas his ship mates hold up pictures of Vladimir Lenin. The John Lennon reference is a nod to The Beatles song "Back in the U.S.S.R.". I've often felt that "Surfin' U.S.S.R." was inspired by the two extreme sounds of the Beach Boys "Surfin' U.S.A." and The Beatles "Back in the U.S.S.R.". The video contains other exclusive content not found on the audio recording...specifically the opening scene where Ray plays the part of an off-camera news broadcaster informing us about a meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev. In the exclusive content life-size puppets of Reagan and Gorbachev (along with their wives) appear on screen. Ray does vocal impressions of both Reagan and Gorbachev.

As you can see this is the 1988 vinyl record resting on top of my record player. These pictures are from 3 years ago and I've since gotten a different record player. Of course, I listened to the album once I stopped taking pictures! At the time that the pictures were taken the 1988 release had been around for 20 years. I may have posted these pictures in 2008 but again I may not have. I often like to spotlight albums and singles from Ray that reach a milestone of sorts and 2008 would've been this album's 20th anniversary. In addition to "Surfin' U.S.S.R." the other commercial single was "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive". That particular single made the country charts for a few weeks in 1988...ironically, though, the first single didn't reach the charts in spite of the Cold War topicality of the music video. Those were the only two songs issued as commercial singles from the album. In hindsight there should have been emphasis put on his wicked parody of the Michael Jackson song, "Bad". Ray covers the song and turns it into a country free-for-all. A song that appeared originally on 1987's Greatest Hits, Volume Two titled "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis" makes an appearance on this 1988 album. The dark humor of the song and it's melody fit in perfectly with the various styles heard on this collection. On this 1988 album Ray dabbles in the sounds of the Beach Boys, plays around with the blues on "The Booger Man", spoofs Michael Jackson, incorporates Jordanaire-type harmony vocals in "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", plays the part of a bewildered husband and father in "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex", and closes out the collection playing a couple of hippies commenting about their silver anniversary on the "Old Hippie Class Reunion". If all this wasn't exciting enough we get to hear "Blood and Suede"...a comical story dressed up as a haunting tale of a car wreck in Los Angeles. The song comes complete with Ray as the gruff, history laden storyteller. The serious, escalating music and hushed tone vocal delivery masks the obvious hilarity of the lyrics.

Track List:

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

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