January 22, 2012

Ray Stevens...the Radio gets a Ruby...

This is one of three projects that came along in 2005 from Collectable's Records. The company released 6 of Ray's studio albums for Barnaby Records in CD format...pairing 2 albums per CD for a total of 3 projects. An early complaint was the fact that they passed by his 1973 album, Losin' Streak, and other complaints came from the more purist of fans who were annoyed that the CD re-issues didn't stick with the exact track listing of the vinyl counterpart. In some instances, radio edits of songs were used instead of the full-length album versions. I didn't do much complaining because of the joy I got of finally seeing his Barnaby recordings in print again and for a lot of the songs it was there first time in CD format. At that point in time you had to have been part of the fan base that had bought the original vinyl albums in order to have been familiar with the complete Ray Stevens. I bought a lot of Ray's vinyl albums from on-line stores and so I was familiar with the songs before they were issued on CD but I realized there were plenty of people only familiar with Ray's singles and not his albums. Too many times consumers are only aware of what's commercially available (from radio airplay or video airplay on television) or what's being pushed by a record label or business organization. They don't seek out music on their own. When you purchase a full album by an artist you get to hear all of that artist...in other words you're not just being exposed to the catchy recordings designed for mass appeal (which are great to hear, too, but you know what I mean!).

Speaking of the radio edit, hardcore fans of Ray Stevens will more than likely know about the two takes of "All My Trials". There is the full-length album version and there is also the radio edit which cuts out a lot of the great instrumentation toward the closing of the song. The full version can be heard on the 1996 release, Great Gospel Songs, which Curb Records issued. It was a re-release of Turn Your Radio On with additional songs, "Everything Is Beautiful" and "A Brighter Day", included. The full-length "All My Trials" lasts 4 minutes, 33 seconds while the radio edit clocks in at a little over 3 minutes. There's like a minute or so of instrumentation taken out in the radio edit...for those familiar with the full-length version you'll certainly notice the difference. This 2 album on 1 CD release from 2005 features the radio edit copy of "All My Trials" as track 1. On the 1972 album it's track 7. In the meantime, the Turn Your Radio On album is a Ruby this year...the 40th anniversary of it's release. Now, of course, the terms Silver, Ruby, Gold, etc. etc. are way more associated with other events but I apply them to song and album anniversaries regardless.

Turn Your Radio On originally was released in 1972. In fact, the album reached the Country Album chart in February 1972 for a nearly 20 week stay...peaking in the Top-20. The album, as you can see, displays a smiling picture of Ray. The flashes of bright light on the LP I assume were added in to give the image a more heavenly glow but that's just my opinion. The album features 11 tracks altogether...4 of the songs were released as singles while a fourth recording in the collection is the title track of his 1969 album, Have a Little Talk With Myself. "A Mama and a Papa" hit first in the summer of 1971. The single charted in the Hot 100 based pretty much on the strength of sales. It obtained a bulk of it's airplay on Adult-Contemporary radio stations of the time. It was in the '60s that Adult-Contemporary started to become a viable alternative to radio that programmed youth-driven rock music. The format was titled Middle-of-the-Road and Easy Listening before it was changed to Adult-Contemporary in the late '70s. I refer to this style of music, collectively, as Adult-Contemporary regardless of what it's official chart name specified it as being labeled at the time. "A Mama and a Papa" reached the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary chart in the summer of 1971 and it also reached the Top-5 on Canada's version of the Adult-Contemporary chart. A writer by the name of Tom Autry is credited with writing the song.

"All My Trials" is also one of the 4 hits from the album. It's a song that's been recorded, in whole or in medley fashion, by hundreds of artists but NO version is like the Ray Stevens interpretation. The song is performed in the traditional style but the arrangement/choice of instrumentation is vastly different from what one might expect. Beyond the arrangement aspect is the amazing production work that went in to putting the song together. Ray overdubbed his own voice multiple times, in various harmonies, to create the massive choir effect. This same technique can be heard on most of the other recordings on this album, too, with a runner-up being "Glory Special" in it's extensive use of vocal overdubbing. "All My Trials", predictably, didn't gain a lot of support from pop radio stations, either, as gospel music has rarely gained acceptance amongst mainstream music buyers. Like it's predecessor, "A Mama and a Papa", the "All My Trials" single became a big hit on radio stations aimed at adults. It reached the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary chart in the fall of 1971.

The third single release from Turn Your Radio On was the title track. "Turn Your Radio On" is a song written by Albert E. Brumley and was the most widely known hit single from the album. Given that the single and album shared the same name, and the fact that it's the one of the few gospel songs from Ray to appear in countless compilation projects, also has something to do with that. Brumley also wrote "I'll Fly Away", which appears on the album. This is the back of Turn Your Radio On, by the way. "Turn Your Radio On" would go on to become one of his biggest hits in Canada as it reached the Top-5 on their Adult-Contemporary chart and the Top-10 on their Country chart. In America the single hit the Top-20 on the Country chart and the Top-25 on the Adult-Contemporary chart. In the United Kingdom it reached their version of the Top-40. Like the two predecessors, "Turn Your Radio On" didn't reach the pop Top-40 in America. A fourth single was released in the late summer of 1972 but it only had significant impact overseas. "Love Lifted Me", a rock/gospel interpretation of the gospel standard, reached the Top-10 in Bangkok which must have been a surprise!? The single didn't reach the charts in America, Canada, or England.

This reissue came along in 1982 on the CBS label. The picture of Ray has long been a favorite of mine. There's just something about that particular grin...no two grins are exactly the same and the one that comes the closest to this one is the grin that appears on the RCA Greatest Hits album of 1983. Oh yes, for those new to this blog, I'll discuss practically anything associated with Ray from his grin, facial expressions, and beard to his choice of stage clothing, his younger clean-shaven appearance, and how his performance styles have changed through the years. Now, obviously, with this being a gospel project the label could've picked a different image of Ray to use but they decided to go with the whimsical, grinning Ray which is what the general public is most familiar with.

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