January 29, 2012

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 17...

Good early Sunday morning!! We are a week away from the Super Bowl. The Pro-Bowl is tonight and I may or may not watch it. It all depends on the broadcaster's moods. Usually we get broadcasters who belittle the Pro-Bowl and attempt to take the joy out of watching it with their caustic comments. Even though people say that broadcasters shouldn't spoil the mood if a person really wants to watch a sporting event the truth is that broadcasters CAN spoil the mood if their style isn't harmonious with the viewer and that's why for me a broadcaster is important when it comes to whatever sport I'm watching on TV or hearing on the radio.

Now, taking a look at the You Tube numbers we see that Ray's current music video, "Mr. President - Mr. President" is inching closer to half a million on-line views. It's current total is 462,039. It's been on-line for 4 months and I expect it to smash through the 500,000 mark at some point in February. A gap of a little more than 28,000 views separates it from the half a million mark. The President gave one of the most low-rated State of the Union speeches in history several days ago...commentators viewed it as a replay of 2009, 2010, and 2011's speeches with just a tweak here and there for topicality purposes. I didn't watch the speech...I heard snippets of it during newscasts on both radio and TV and that's all I needed to hear to form my own conclusion that it was the same old-same old speech instigating class warfare, highlighting so-called economic unfairness and so-called inequality, and how the Government should be the solution to everybody's personal and financial problems but a little ol' thing called the Constitution keeps getting in his way. In other words it was the same old garbage as before more or less...maybe more since the speech ran overtime.

Speaking of the President, the "Obama Budget Plan" music video from Ray Stevens is nearing 1.1 million views. At the moment it has 1,088,519 views. It was uploaded 9 months ago and was a slow climb to half a million views. The recurring battles about the budget and the debt ceiling in the latter half of 2011 pushed the video into the million views stratosphere.

A recent controversy surrounding Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and the TSA in a Nashville airport caused some activity for Ray's video titled "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore". The video has 276,126 on-line views now and was the second single/video release from Spirit of '76 in 2011. The music video's been on-line for almost 1 year...11 months and counting. It's a lot closer to 300,000 views now than it was prior to the Rand Paul story. The TSA music video, as I theorized in a couple of blogs, hits home with those who travel frequently and have to deal with the screenings and invasive pat downs. The song's title refers to the phrase "fly the friendly skies" made famous by United Airlines. His 2010 anti-illegal immigration video, "Come to the U.S.A." is nearing 5.8 million views! The totals at the moment are 5,791,250! The Obama Care music video from 2009, "We The People", has 4,648,990 views. "Throw the Bums Out!" has 854,504 and "God Save Arizona" is in the 800,000 range too with 840,795 views.

A short 5 years ago Ray Stevens released this wonderful salute to the music of New Orleans. New Orleans Moon, from July 2007, features Ray's versions of many songs celebrating not only New Orleans but the entire state of Louisiana as well. There are 11 selections on the CD and like a few of Ray's albums in the past this one slipped through without a lot of fanfare. A lot of that presumably had to do with the simple fact that none of the songs are comical and as a consequence there's a large segment of the listening audience that prefer comedy and funny business from Ray Stevens instead of thought-provoking, serious work. This has long been the case...even when Ray was releasing only non-comedy albums year after year...there are just some people who expect/insist on Ray Stevens being the funny guy without a trace of seriousness. Now, of course, there are plenty of people who appreciate all the music from Ray Stevens...whether it's serious or comical. "New Orleans Moon", the title track, was written by Ray and Chuck Redden. As a side note, Chuck wrote "The New Battle of New Orleans", by the way. Ray and Buddy Kalb re-wrote a lot of the original lyrics in the song and Curb Records issued Ray's version in 2005 as a CD single in limited quantities. That song isn't on this 2007 CD but I decided to mention the 2005 single's existence anyway!

Meanwhile, the first track on New Orleans Moon is "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans". I purchased the digital download/Mp3 album of New Orleans Moon when it was brand new but have never purchased a copy of what they now call the physical CD. I plan on doing so at some point. On this CD you will hear Ray's take on "Basin Street Blues", "New Orleans", "Louisiana Man", "Louisiana", "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?", and "When The Saints Go Marching In" among several others. Pay attention for several impressions by Ray of Louis Armstrong.

This was a comedy album released in 1988 from Ray Stevens. I recently came across commentary about the album and some of the songs from it and so I decided to give some spotlight to it again. I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like is based upon a phrase attributed to Will Rogers that went something like: "I never yet met a man I Didn't Like". Given the connection it makes sense for Ray to dress up as Will Rogers on the album's cover. Consisting of ten recordings the material runs the gamut from satellite TV curiosities and Hollywood scandals to hippies and boogie men to the Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, and Elvis...and everything else in between. First things first is "Surfin' U.S.S.R." which became a music video. The video features an extended comedic routine at the start with parodies of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Ray supplies the voices for both. There are also parodies of their wives who get in a fight in the background as their husbands talk about U.S. and Soviet relations...leading up to Reagan inquiring about Malibu, California and why there happens to be a Soviet sub there. Cue the main song as the two start dancing. The audio recording doesn't feature the Reagan and Gorbachev parody, though, it's only available on the music video. "Blood and Suede" is the story song about a Hollywood car crash between a drunk driver and a singer. The singer was listening to his own album real loud while the drunk driver, in a Mercedes, plowed into the Porsche. The song carries satirical undertones about the fast living and fast cars image of Los Angeles and it's surrounding area, cut throat lawyers that exist everywhere but are glamorized in Hollywood movies, and the egotism that exists amongst celebrities in general (the singer, afterall, was listening to own Greatest Hits album prior to the crash). For those who have this album, as I do, take a more closer listen to the song. When I originally heard it for the first time in the early '90s I didn't soak in everything that the song addresses. At that time I was mostly fascinated with it's melody and Ray's hushed small town hamlet storytelling narration. On this particular album Ray performs songs in various vocalizations. There's the Beach Boys style in "Surfin' U.S.S.R.", a talking blues style on "The Booger Man", a broad exaggeration on Bob Dylan in "Old Hippie Class Reunion", Michael Jackson enunciation parodies in "Bad", and of course in "Blood and Suede" we have the hushed storyteller delivery. There are songs in Ray's natural voice, too: "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", "I Don't Need None of That", "Ethelene the Truckstop Queen", "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex", and "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive". The song about Charlene MacKenzie was released as a single and it charted on the Country Top 100...but it peaked in the low-80s on the charts. "Surfin' U.S.S.R." didn't reach the country charts but it was issued as a commercial single and music video. The album reached the Top-60 on the country charts in the fall of 1988 and remained a best-selling country album for more than 15 weeks.

One of the great recordings of Ray's career is his take on "Indian Love Call". Aside from the obvious vocalization there is the standout arrangement of the song which is unlike any version. Whereas usually the song is performed as a mid-tempo love ballad with the love calls being a trademark, in Ray's version we get the love calls but we also get the R&B flavored, doo-wop harmony in the background. As many Ray fans know he often over-dubbed his own voice on his earliest recordings and the choir of doo-wop vocalizations heard in the background are his own voice. When he performed the song on television around the time it was a single he'd use a click track which integrated his over-dubbed background into the live recording. Ray's only performance of the song on television, that I'm aware of, is a 1975 appearance on the Pop! Goes the Country program. I'm aware of this because I own a DVD which features the 1975 episode in it's entirety. Ray, with a full beard by the way, sings "Misty", "Indian Love Call", "Twilight Time", and does a duet with the other guest, Sammi Smith, on "Everything Is Beautiful" as the show's credits roll. I'd written about the Pop! Goes the Country DVD collections many blogs ago. You can look up the information about them by searching their web-site, Country Music DVD. The 1975 episode with Ray Stevens is on DVD Volume 4. There are a couple more DVD's featuring episodes with Ray, too. On each DVD there's multiple episodes featuring all sorts of country music celebrities as guests but for the purposes of this blog I only highlight the DVD releases with a Ray Stevens episode. "Indian Love Call" reached the country Top-40 for Ray in 1975 and was one of his last single releases for Barnaby Records prior to his switch to Warner Brothers in 1976. His ballad rendering of "Young Love" reached the country Top-50 in early 1976 while the wonderful "Mockingbird Hill" didn't reach the charts.

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