January 30, 2012

Ray Stevens and some of Those Great Albums...

Feel The Music, from 1977, continues to be one of the great albums from Ray Stevens. The album itself features a musical display of easy-listening pop and a couple of jazzy-country recordings. The label Ray recorded this for was Warner Brothers. I got ahold of this particular album several years ago from eBay and up until that point in time I had never saw what the back of the album looked like. On the back there's a publicity picture of Ray along with an illustration of the back of a stereo speaker. As you can see, the image that's on front of the album is the stereo speaker. The album contains 10 songs...9 of the 10 were written by Ray Stevens while the lone exception, "Set The Children Free", was written by Buddy Kalb. Interestingly, though, during the time that this album was released the music on here was considered mainstream country. This had to do with the simple fact that most major country music radio stations in the mid to late '70s were playing mostly up-tempo or slow ballad songs with a decidedly pop production and instrumentation. This style of pop-country being released by a whole host of country music acts inspired the creation of the television program, Pop! Goes the Country. In hindsight the music on Ray's 1977 album is much more in step with easy-listening and soft rock than it is with country music but nevertheless it was marketed at country music audiences in 1977 and as a result the album and the singles charted country. The album reached the Country Top-50 while "Dixie Hummingbird" and "Get Crazy With Me" were released as singles. "Get Crazy With Me" is a great song and it incorporates a lot of funky musical accompaniment...enabling some of the instrumentation to become non-verbal hooks. It reached the lower half of the Top 100 Country chart in 1977 during a chart run of less than 7 weeks. "Dixie Hummingbird", in the meantime, was the complete opposite. It's jazzy-country arrangement and uptempo delivery created a catchy recording that enabled the single to knock on the door of the Country Top-40, mostly through sales and steady airplay during the single's first few weeks on the market. Sadly, though, it peaked several slots below #40 on the Country single charts and didn't get the chance to really compete with the airplay heavy Top-40. It hung around on the charts for nearly 10 weeks, though. Some of the other songs on this album are "Alone With You", "Road Widow", "Save Me From Myself", the title track "Feel the Music", and "Junkie For You".

This Warner Brothers album from Ray Stevens, Be Your Own Best Friend, released in 1978, came into my collection in the late '90s. At that point in time I was beginning to track down Ray's vinyl albums but I never really had much of a chance to really expand on that until I got on-line in 2002 and was able to visit on-line auction sites and music stores that sold vinyl albums regularly. Up until 2002 I only had a couple of Ray's vinyl albums that a local flea market had for sale. This was one of the first vinyl albums of Ray Stevens that I was able to get my hands on in the late '90s. I had only heard a few of the songs on this album (thanks to the 1995 3-CD project that Warner Brothers issued!). I was obviously interested in hearing the songs whose titles I had long known of but up until then had never heard. "With a Smile" is a slow ballad and one that fits the mood that the album, overall, I assume was attempting to convey. "You're Magic" became one of my all-time favorite songs after I heard it the first time. You can also add "Comeback" to that category, too! In this song Ray sings like a man possessed...in the song he plays the part of a man who definitely wants the woman in his life to comeback to him. He makes this fact perfectly clear! I love the way the chorus goes and the sing-a-long feel. The album contains 9 songs and I think a lot of that has to do with the running time of quite a few of the songs. "Comeback", for example, is lengthy as is "L'amour", "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right", "The Feeling's Not Right Again", and the title track, "Be Your Own Best Friend". Each of those songs are well over 3 minutes in length...with some close to 4 minutes.

Here's one of the more recent albums from Ray Stevens released on his own label, Clyde Records. 2010's We The People came together as a result of the viral success of his You Tube music video, also titled "We The People". The subject matter is political and as a result the video/song has it's fans and it's detractors. The album contains 22 songs which convey a political message but there are other songs on the collection that express patriotism and offer recognition to what's called small-town America and the values that consist in 'fly over country'. In fact, there's a song on this album called "Fly Over Country" which highlights the practice of some politicians who leave their relatively smaller hometowns for Washington, D.C. and only return to their hometown several weeks prior to election day. This album is not a ha-ha let's have a lot of fun kind of project even though the music videos of some of the songs on here, available on You Tube, are visually whimsical and light-hearted. The music video releases from this album include: "We The People", "Caribou Barbie", "Come to the U.S.A.", "Throw the Bums Out!", and "The Global Warming Song". Ray's 2004 single, "Thank You", was added to this 2010 album to add to the patriotic material. The other patriotic songs on here are "Let's Roll", "Stand Up", "The Fallen Ones", "Midnight in Baghdad", and his "Pledge of Allegiance/Star Spangled Banner" medley. Small-town America gets recognized in "Fly Over Country", "Safe at Home", "Dear Andy Griffith", and "Kings and Queens". The rest of the songs, in addition to the ones that were made into music videos, are strictly in the political vein: "We Are the Government", "Solar Powered Song", "Three Fractured Factions", "Obama Nation", "Sucking Sound", and "If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus". If you're counting that's 21 songs, yes? There is one song on here that has nothing to do with politics or the military...it's his updated version of "Mr. Businessman" which was lifted from a concert a few years ago. He dedicates the song to a certain businessman who epitomizes the lyrics almost to a tee.

Released in 1985, this overview of Ray Stevens on RCA features 8 recordings. Collector's Series was the umbrella title for a lot of artists who recorded or still recorded for RCA at the time. Each release featured 8 songs and so that's exactly the amount of songs you get in the album spotlighting Ray Stevens. Unlike the other artists given the Collector's Series spotlight, Ray recorded for RCA for just three years: 1980, 1981, and 1982; although research shows he was under contract with RCA from late 1979 through early 1983. With only 3 studio albums to choose material from we get 3 recordings from his 1982 album, Don't Laugh Now, 3 recordings from his 1980 Shriner's Convention comedy album, and 2 recordings from his 1981 One More Last Chance album. A track list of 8 songs on a compilation album, no matter the artist, is something that I imagine is difficult to assemble. This 1985 release came into my possession in the early '90s. I already had a 1987 version of this album which removed 1981's "One More Last Chance" in favor of 1980's "Put It In Your Ear". This meant that the 1987 re-issue featured 4 songs from 1980, 1 from 1981, and 3 from 1982. The 1987 re-issue was released on CD in 1992. This collection was my introduction to 7 of Ray's RCA recordings...previously I had only heard "Shriner's Convention". His RCA recordings (1980-1982), like the Warner Brothers recordings (1976-1979), have never been kept in print for any extended amount of time. This 1985 release and the 1987 and 1992 re-issues remain the only compilations to focus exclusively on his RCA recordings. His Warner Brothers recordings haven't been in print since 1995...except for the Mp3 release of those 1995 CD's a few years ago. As far as studio albums go there's not been any CD re-issue of any Warner Brothers or RCA album by Ray Stevens...and for a lot of fans it just doesn't make much sense why those studio albums have yet to see the light of day in CD or Mp3 format.

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