January 1, 2012

Ray Stevens and Ahab, a Golden Anniversary...

Happy New Year!! As we begin 2012 we take a look at a certain song from Ray Stevens that celebrates a Golden Anniversary this year. There were a lot of changes happening for Ray as 1962 got underway. In one of his first recording sessions of 1962 he recorded a song that would become his breakthrough hit, "Ahab the Arab". The song tells the story of an Arab named Ahab who's in love with a woman that happens to be part of a Sultan's harem. It's a comical love story with an Arabian back-drop. The single, in it's original form, ran well over 3 minutes...an unusually long running time for a pop music single. Mercury edited down the performance for the single release where it clocked in at 2 minutes, 47 seconds. The full length version, which includes a verse telling about the Sultan catching Ahab and the woman in the middle of an embrace, clocks in at roughly 3 minutes, 45 seconds. In interviews Ray often recalls how, at first, he wasn't happy with Mercury wanting to edit his song but everything worked out okay because the single hit the radio in the early summer of 1962 and in it's shortened form it became an immediate hit. The single would go on to sell more than 1,000,000 copies and earn a Gold certification from the RIAA. In those days there wasn't such a thing as a Platinum certification. Anything that reached a million copies in sales was certified Gold no matter how many millions a single would eventually sell. Today there's Platinum, Double-Platinum, Triple-Platinum, etc. etc. The Diamond certification is for CD's that sell more than 10,000,000 copies. The image below is an EP containing just four songs: "Saturday Night at the Movies", "Furthermore", "Julius Played the Trumpet", and "Popeye and Olive Oil". It was released during the time "Ahab the Arab" was becoming a household name. The EP was issued to radio stations only. I assume this was done because it spotlighted several songs that the label felt could potentially become hits and wanted radio stations to hear the songs ahead of time. "Furthermore", by the way, was released after "Ahab the Arab" but it didn't become the kind of hit that Ahab had become.

This is a compilation album featuring nine songs lifted from Ray's debut album for Mercury, 1,837 Seconds of Humor. The two songs from Ray's debut album that weren't featured on this collection were "Furthermore" and "The Rockin' Boppin' Waltz". The album was released by Pickwick Records and as you can tell from the album cover it's an illustration making reference to "Ahab the Arab" complete with the candy bars in the hand and the drawing of Ahab's love interest. Ahab is track six on this collection. I have this album in my collection...I found it on an on-line auction site quite a few years ago. It plays great, too. I wanted the album because of it's obscurity. I also wanted the album because I didn't have any of Ray's songs from his debut album on vinyl and so that was the main driving force behind my decision to purchase it. I still don't have a vinyl copy of 1,837 Seconds of Humor! I have it on CD, though. It was released on a CD with his second album, This Is Ray Stevens, by an Independent record company several years ago. (I have This Is Ray Stevens on vinyl by the way!)

MCA Records released this famous collection in 1987. I call it a famous collection because it became a Gold record a couple years after it's release but it didn't stop there. In the early '90s the collection was certified Platinum for over a million copies sold. The album features 10 recordings and it comes with liner notes by Ronnie Pugh. The album cover is a reference to Bonnie and Clyde, of course, and the slang term "hits" often used in gangster movies. This particular collection features "Ahab the Arab", the Monument recording from 1969, as track number eight. I was 10 years old when this Greatest Hits album was released and my grandfather bought the cassette version. In the liner notes it refers to "Ahab the Arab" being from 1962 (technically correct) but the recording on this collection comes from 1969 but there's no mention of this in the liner notes. The 1969 re-recording is funny, too, and it's this version that the public at large are more familiar with considering how many times it appeared on compilation albums throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s. I didn't get to hear the 1962 recording of the song until the early '90s when I came across a low-budget release called Funny Man that Polygram Records released. When I played the tape and heard the start of "Ahab the Arab" with it's distinct intro I first thought the label made a mistake...this wasn't the version I grew up listening to...but low and behold I unknowingly was hearing the original recording for the very first time...the complete recording...all 3 minutes and 45 seconds of it!

Released in 1990 on the Curb label, His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits features 10 of Ray's biggest and best-known comedy songs. "Ahab the Arab", as you can see, is track number seven. As explained above a lot of the compilation albums released on Ray during the '70s and '80s featured the 1969 recording of "Ahab the Arab". The recording comes from Ray's 1969 comedy album, Gitarzan. This 1990 collection is no different considering how accessible his Monument Records material had become. Barnaby Records, the label Ray recorded for during the first half of the 1970's (1970-1975), obtained the rights to most of Ray's Monument recordings and often included them on compilation albums of the era. The original recording of "Ahab the Arab", as explained above, was on Mercury Records and usually the only time the original recording of the song appears on a CD is if the distributor is affiliated in some shape, fashion, or form with Mercury Records. This particular collection was certified Gold by the RIAA for selling 500,000 copies. Unfortunately it didn't come with any liner notes but that's okay...I assume Curb Records wasn't exactly expecting the CD to sell half a million copies considering that the CD was released around the same time as Ray's first studio album for the label, Lend Me Your Ears.

"Ahab the Arab" as mentioned above was the breakthrough hit for Ray Stevens. It reached the Top-5 on the Hot 100 and the Top-10 on the R&B chart in the summer of 1962. The single sold more than a million copies and the characters from the song lent their name to several business ventures for Ray. First off Ray's publishing company was for a long time called Ahab Music Company. This name remained until 1977 when it was changed to Ray Stevens Music...and it's remained the name of his music publishing company ever since. An illustration of Ahab's camel, Clyde, and an illustration of a palm tree, became Ray's logo. In the '70s and '80s Ray often wore a ring with the camel logo on it. You can look up images on-line of Ray from this period to see what I'm referring to. In the 1990's Ray's label, Clyde Records, became the home of his music video releases. The label was launched in 1988 but it didn't see much of an impact until 1992 when Ray released Comedy Video Classics. In one recording session in 1962 Ray recorded "Ahab the Arab" for himself and played on the recordings of LeRoy Van Dyke's "Walk On By" and Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart". All three singles sold millions of copies.

In closing here is the music video that Ray made for the song in 1995. It contains the obscure portion of the song that was edited out of the original single release. A lot of his fans were only aware of the shortened version of the song since it's the version that appears on almost all of the many compilation albums that have been issued and it's the shortened version that Ray often performs in concert. The music video was made for Ray's movie, Get Serious!, that was released Direct-to-Home Video in 1995. The music video closed out the movie.

On Ahab's 50th Anniversary enjoy the 1995 music video...

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