Merry Christmas!! In my final installment of The 12 Rays of Christmas we have the final four images. Up first is the picture sleeve that accompanied the original version of "Santa Claus Is Watching You". As I remarked in previous blog entries the 1962 original plays out like a children's novelty song...but it did reach the pop charts that year...landing in the Top-50. In the original we hear shades of what the song would later become but the storyline was definitely aimed at children. At first, the song never appeared on any of Ray's albums and was a single-only release for many years. It would eventually be placed on an album in 1970 when Mercury released The Best of Ray Stevens, a look back on some of Ray's recordings for Mercury Records in the early '60s. Later on as Mercury and their affiliate labels began to re-issue a lot of Ray's earliest recordings it would become something of a tradition to see "Santa Claus Is Watching You" appear on any number of Mercury and, or, Polygram compilations. I once got a Christmas card from Ray's fan club back when it was operational and it had a picture of Ray on it (of course) and when you opened it up it had a list of all the reindeer that appear in the 1985 re-recording of the song.
This was one of the many picture sleeves that accompanied Ray's novelty song, "Bridget the Midget", in 1971. A lot of the various picture sleeves accompanied the international release and most of them used a photo of Ray taken, I assume, from the same photo session because most of the pictures show Ray with a cabin or some sort of rural building in the background. In this image, although it doesn't show up well, there's a tree that Ray's standing in front of. I've got another picture sleeve of this single in my image collection that shows Ray sitting in front of a cabin-like building in the same clothing...making me assume the photo you see here and the other one were taken at the same time. The single was a Top-50 pop hit here in America early in 1971 but overseas it became something of a monster hit...although it was, as most novelty songs eventually become, polarizing. The single had it's greatest success in the United Kingdom where it reached the Top-5 on the music charts over there. It reached the Top-20 in other countries, too. The single wasn't part of any album when it was released...it would later be placed on a re-issued Greatest Hits collection in the mid '70s. It's anyone's guess why most of the picture sleeves that accompanied the single used the same kind of backdrop but the same couldn't be said for the image below...
This picture sleeve features Ray as he appeared in 1970...I assume the picture was lifted from one of his performances on his own summer show or any number of appearances on Andy Williams' program. In this release, as you can see, there's pen and ink drawings of Bridget and her backup group. Note how the group is dressed which is a visual reference to the hippie culture of the day. The song itself is all about a go-go dancer which immediately dates the song to the late '60s/early '70s era...but material that's dated doesn't necessarily mean that it's no longer entertaining or interesting especially when Ray puts a lot of creative energy into his recordings. Aside from Bridget and her group, there's also vocal appearances by the emcee and a demented fan who attempts to come up on the stage. Based upon the fan's demeanor and seemingly limited I.Q. it's a possibility that the fan's under the influence of something although that aspect is never explored. The first time I heard the song was on a CD from 1990 called His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits. The CD came into my possession at some point in the mid '90s and the song's been a favorite of mine ever since.
Ray joined Curb Records in 1990 and his first studio album for the label was Lend Me Your Ears. Obviously the title has a double-meaning. First off is the obvious...the tie-in with the Julius Caesar play and the often quoted "lend me your ears..." phrase. Secondly the CD's title can also be seen as a request to music buyers in 1990 to give this album a listen. I remember when this particular collection was released...Ray appeared on various programs on The Nashville Network promoting it and the release of two music videos: "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night". These were his third and fourth music videos...already having filmed "Surfin' U.S.S.R." in 1988 and "Santa Claus Is Watching You" in 1985. His take on "Help Me Make It Through the Night" was along the lines of Spike Jones and it's a music video that's one of his more wildest in terms of sight gags and quick edits. The 1990 collection also features "Barbeque", "This Ain't Exactly What I Had In Mind", "Cletus McHicks and His Band from the Sticks", and others.