January 8, 2012

Ray Stevens and Televangelists, A Silver Anniversary...

The year, 1987, 25 years ago...a Silver Anniversary for a certain single from Ray Stevens. "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" came about in 1987 amidst the various scandals going on in the world of televangelism. One of the song's writers, Chet Atkins, often remarked that the song was written long before televangelists became embroiled in scandals. Obviously, though, the single's release was perfect timing as it's content spoke to a lot of people. The song's writers are Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer and it appears on a variety of Ray Stevens albums. It's home album, as I like to call it, arrived in 1987 and titled Crackin' Up. This particular album from Ray was filled with a lot of nutty comedy...as the title suggests...and "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" leads off the collection. One of the things that's noticeable about the album now, and was probably just as noticeable in 1987, is that "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" comes off as more serious than the other tracks even though it's as comical as everything else on the album. Some of the other tracks on this album include songs with titles such as "The Flies of Texas Are Upon You", "Cool Down Willard", "Sex Symbols", and "Three Legged Man". "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" found it's way onto the 1991 Greatest Hits release from Curb Records in 1991. On the collection it was track 9 while the album's final track was a newly recorded alternate take on "There's a Star Spangled Banner", a song Ray originally recorded with almost entirely different lyrics barely two years earlier in 1989. The original is on Beside Myself. The 1991 version uses the same title, melody, and chorus of the 1989 original but the verses are entirely different. The Curb collection below spotlights almost exclusively on the non-comical recordings with the exception being 1969's "Along Came Jones" and 1987's "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". A rare inclusion on this collection is his 1975 take on "Indian Love Call", a hit single from Ray that didn't get quite the attention it should've gotten in the ensuing years.

Get The Best of Ray Stevens was the third hits album released on Ray in 1987. The first, of course, was Greatest Hits and the sequel, Greatest Hits, Volume Two, shown below. This Get The Best of Ray Stevens was sold on television and it contains 2 vinyl albums worth of material. The commercial for the collection ran a little more than a minute and I saw it a few times but wish I could see the commercial again. Amazingly, though, in this era of You Tube it hasn't resurfaced. "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" isn't featured on this collection due to the fact that this album was issued earlier in 1987 prior to the single's release. Nevertheless this 20 song collection is a wonderful stroll through musical lane. The collection features his bluesy, slow tempo version of "Furthermore" from 1984 instead of the uptempo version he did in 1962.

Greatest Hits, Volume Two pulled 8 songs from Get The Best of Ray Stevens and added then current single, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", as track 1 and a newly recorded song, "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", as track 5. For the longest time this was one of the only collections in print that featured his 1979 hit "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" as all of his Warner Brothers recordings (with the exception of "In The Mood") had long been out of circulation by 1987. "In The Mood", recorded as a band of chickens and released as the Henhouse Five Plus Too in 1976, is on this Volume Two release. In fact, that recording and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" are the only recordings Ray did for Warner Brothers that appear on compilation albums in spite of the fact that he had quite a few more hit singles with the label than just two recordings. As I've often said, if you don't own the original vinyl albums that Ray released on Warner Brothers in the late '70s as I do and if you still haven't purchased the digital downloads of a trio of 1995 releases spotlighting his Warner Brothers material then you're going to be out of luck at hearing the material because there's always the possibility that one day the songs will become unavailable all over again. Two of those 1995 releases, currently available as Mp3 digital downloads at Amazon, are: Do You Wanna Dance? and The Serious Side of Ray Stevens. A third release from Warner Brothers in 1995, Cornball, for whatever reason has never been released as a digital download.

One of the things that the internet allows is to travel back in time and read vintage news articles. I often do this sort of thing in my never ending research about Ray Stevens, his music, and his career. Here's a Google item, a reprint of a 1987 news article from the Gainesville Sun that appeared in their May 31, 1987 issue. The article was written by Joe Edwards and is one of those syndicated articles that are often printed in multiple newspapers. The article is a write-up of "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" and it includes quoted commentary from Ray about the song, religion, and televangelists. The song can be found on the 1993 collection below which is simply titled, Collection.

This CD was a little bit more ambitious in that it features 14 tracks instead of the standard 10-11 songs per release. The project features "Surfin' U.S.S.R." and "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O.", from 1988 and 1989 respectively. Neither single reached the country charts but over the course of time both songs have become popular recordings in his career due to their exposure on You Tube and in the case of "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O." the exposure it got at his Branson, Missouri theater in the early '90s. "Santa Claus Is Watching You" is featured on this collection, too. This recording, from 1985, became popular by way of music video exposure and the fact that it was featured on his #1 Gold album, I Have Returned. "Surfin' U.S.S.R." became a music video, too, and was seen by the millions of people who purchased Comedy Video Classics in 1992 and 1993. On Ray Stevens Live!, the 1993 home video, it includes a performance of "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O.". The performance explains why the song became such a fan favorite in concert. The last time I saw Ray in concert he performed "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" and it was great! The song was nominated for a Grammy in 1988 and he performed it on several non-country music oriented television shows in addition to the obvious country programs on The Nashville Network and the syndicated Hee-Haw series. The song also managed to get mentioned on Paul Harvey's radio program and in his columns during the televangelist scandals of the late '80s.

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